Most Affordable Hidden Gem Colleges for the Middle Class | 2023 Rankings

Hidden Gems Colleges Middle Class AffordabilityIt’s no secret that college can be expensive. But that doesn’t mean “not affordable.” This year, College Raptor wanted to highlight some hidden gem colleges that are most affordable for the middle class. We rank the most affordable colleges based on the estimated net price at each institution for a “typical” middle-class family.

We defined our “typical” middle-class family for these rankings as:

  • A family of four with one student in college
  • Family income of $80k
  • Family assets (excluding primary residence) of $50k.
  • In cases of Public colleges, we assess affordability based on College Raptor’s net price estimates for in-state students.

In addition to the above requirements for middle-class affordability rankings, Colleges on the College Raptor Hidden Gem list had to:

  • Receive fewer than 5,000 applications a year
  • OR less than 40th percentile of applications received by all schools in that state
  • Have fewer than 7,000 undergraduate students enrolled
  • Be on the top 500 overall rankings list

The following colleges are true hidden gems that offer middle-class affordability.

Here are the top 25 Hidden Gem Colleges that are affordable for the Middle-Class.

Abraham Lincoln once called VMI the “West Point of the South.” This military college is located on the Maury River in the Shenandoah Valley. Red, yellow, and white make up the official colors of the VMI Keydets sports teams. VMI has an acceptance rate of just under 60%, a first-year retention rate of 80%, and a six year graduation rate of 85%.
Location Lexington, VA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,698
A selective school, Berea College has an acceptance rate of only 33%, 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and a first-year retention rate of 87%. Students are charged no application fee and there is no tuition to attend Berea, but the school does have a work-study program which requires at least 10 hours a week. The money earned can be used towards other expenses.
Location Berea, KY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,432
SUNY Poly was formed in 2014 and also founded and manages the Computer Commercialization Center (Quad-C) here. The school offers a range of professional, technical, and liberal arts programs and has a 77.5% acceptance rate and 82% first-year retention rate. Top majors at the school include Computer and Information Sciences, Business Administration, and Registered Nursing.
Location Utica, NY & Albany, NY
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 3,044
The New College of Florida is a liberal arts school that’s part of the State University System of Florida. The school has a contract system – instead of grades, students are given written evaluations and semester-long contracts, agreeing to pass a certain number of classes each semester. The idea behind this is that it encourages academic experimentation and curiosity for other topics.
Location Sarasota, FL
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 726
Cal Maritime is a specialized campus of the 23-campus Cal State University system. Students get to learn on a training ship that serves a floating classroom/laboratory, called "Golden Bear." The student-to-faculty ratio is 13:1 with a 77% first year retention rate. 94% of graduates are employed within three months of graduation. The most popular major by far is Marine Science followed by Mechanical Engineering and Business Administration.
Location Vallejo, CA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 952
The University of North Carolina at Asheville, also known as Asheville, is the only liberal arts institution in the school system. Founded in 1927 as Buncombe County Junior College, it became part of UNC in 1969. The over 240 athletes are known as the Bulldogs, compete in the Big South Conference, and wear blue and white.
Location Asheville, NC
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 3,363
Lawrence University was the second coeducation institution in the U.S., founded in 1847. The three most popular majors are Music Performance, Economics, and Psychology. Many alumni went into careers in politics, music, and sports. The campus sits along the winding Fox River. The bachelor’s degree is the highest level of education offered.
Location Appleton, WI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,430
Sharing a campus with Cascadia College, University of Washington's Bothell Campus is actually the largest campus branch in the state. Over 97% of students are from Washington. UW Bothell has over 30 undergraduate degrees, 15 Master’s degrees, study abroad programs, and weekend/evening college classes available.
Location Bothell, WA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 6,304
Located about two and a half hours west of Minneapolis, UMN Morris offers 34 majors programs. The school offers 125 clubs and organizations to their students, 97% of whom receive some sort of grant aid. With a cozy 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio, the most popular major here by far is Biology/Biological Sciences. Psychology and Business Administration are also relatively sought-after majors.
Location Morris, MN
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment Morris, MN
“Petimus Credimus” is the Latin motto of Bob Jones University, which means “We Seek, We Trust.” The school offers up to the doctor’s degree, though 88% of the students study at the undergraduate level. Many undergraduates will study Business Administration and Management, Accounting, and Registered Nursing. 97% of students receive grant aid.
Location Greenville, SC
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,029
The University of New Hampshire at Manchester, also known as UNH Manchester, is part of the state’s public university system. The school has a focus on programs related to urban issues; popular majors include Biology, Mechanical Engineering, and Speech Communication and Rhetoric. UNH Manchester boasts a 96% placement rate for graduates.
Location Manchester, NH
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 717
Freed-Hardeman University is a 150-year-old Christian based institution whose motto is “Truth, Beauty, and Wisdom”. The school has an 88% acceptance rate and 99% of students receive grant aid. Registered Nursing is by far the most sought-after major followed by Psychology and Elementary Education.
Location Henderson, TN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,188
Although they offer 75 majors, popular majors at Gustavus Adolphus College Psychology, Biology, Business, Economics, and Speech Communication and Rhetoric. The school does not charge students for applications and 98% of those attending actually receive institutional grant aid. Gus the Lion is the mascot for the school’s sports teams - the Golden Gusties. Black and gold are the official school colors.
Location St. Peter, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,230
More commonly known as Sewanee, The University of the South sits on 13,000 acres. These grounds are more commonly known as “The Domain” or “The Mountain.” Many of the stunning buildings are done in a Gothic style including the many chapels. The university also founded the Sewanee Review in 1892, which is the oldest continuous literary magazine in the country.
Location Sewanee, TN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,800
Beloit College’s campus is located next to the Rock River, just north of the Illinois and Wisconsin border. 58% of applicants are accepted. With a 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio and a six-year graduation rate of 78%, Beloit’s most popular major is Psychology. Their colors are orange, black, and white, and their mascot is a polar bear.
Location Beloit, WI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 978
Offering more than 50 majors to undergraduates, Speech Communication, Marketing, Mechanical Engineering, Business, and Accounting are the most popular choices at Grove City College. The school is host to about 150 student organizations, several publications, and a radio station (one of the first in the country).
Location Grove City, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,277
“Veritatem, Justitiam Diligite” is the motto of the University of Dallas. In English it means “Love Ye Truth and Justice.” All students attending receive financial aid from the school, averaging about $28,325 per student. With a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio, the university also has an 81% first year retention rate and admits 53.8% of applicants.
Location Irving, TX
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,489
Founded in 1840, St. Mary’s College of Maryland was originally known as St. Mary’s Female Seminary. It actually shares its campus with Historic St. Mary’s City, which is the state’s first colony and capital. A majority of students attending today are female, but the school is co-educational and has been since 1949.
Location St. Mary’s City, MD
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,508
Simmons University is a women’s school with an impressive 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio. The university boasts an 84% first year retention rate. Only 28% of enrolled students are undergraduates, with the remaining 72% being graduate students. With more than 60 majors programs, the most popular major by far is Registered Nursing.
Location Boston, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 6,263
100% of students attending OBU receive institutional grants from the school ($18,386 on average per student). Located on the Ouachita River, the university opened in 1886 and has gradually expanded in the last 25 years. Ouachita Baptist University has a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio, an 81% first year retention rate, and a 74.1% acceptance rate.
Location Arkadelphia, AR
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,704
Pitzer College accepts only 17% of applicants, making it a highly selective school. A majority of these students come from California, Washington, and Oregon. It is one of the Claremont Colleges and focuses on Media Studies, Behavioral Studies, Social Sciences, and International Programs. Environmental Science, Psychology, and Economics are popular majors.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 922
A majority of students attending SUNY Maritime College study Marine Science/Merchant Marine Officer, followed by Mechanical Engineering. The school offers a week-long, hands-on summer camp for STEM which includes 3-D printing, chemistry, coding, waterfront activities, engineering design, and more.
Location Throggs Neck, NY
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,671
Wheaton College was founded by evangelical abolitionists in 1860 and would become a stop on the Underground Railroad. Business/Managerial Economics is by far the most popular major at the school. Athletic teams are known as The Thunder. They wear blue and orange and compete in the NCAA Division III in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin.
Location Wheaton, IL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,908
Often referred to as simply the Citadel, this school has a patriotic motto of “Honor, Duty, Respect.” Its campus is located on the Ashley River. Though a military college, the most popular majors include Business/Commerce, Mechanical Engineering, and Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement Administration. The school colors are Citadel blue, navy, and white.
Location Charleston, SC
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 3,740
Truman is a liberal arts university named in honor of Harry S. Truman, who was a Missouri native. Many first-year students decide to stay on at the school (88% first year retention rate) and nearly 50% of students will graduate with no student loan debt. Popular majors include Business Administration and Management, Kinesiology and Exercise Science, and Biology. The beloved Bulldog is their mascot and wears purple and white.
Location Kirksville, MO
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 4,655

College Raptor is uniquely qualified to estimate college affordability as we are a leading provider of net price calculators to colleges across the U.S. Check out College Raptor’s free match tool to see if your favorite college is affordable for you.

About our methodology

Colleges are ranked based on a combination of factors, including graduation rates, campus diversity, endowment per student, and other data as reported via the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) for the most recently-available enrollment year. Some colleges may have been excluded from rankings based on certain criteria, including specialization and classification. Learn about our full methodology.

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