Hidden Gem Colleges in the Far West US | 2024 Rankings

From sunny beaches to snowy mountains to rainy coasts, the Far West region is beautifully diverse. In addition to a variety of landscapes, the Far West is home to a variety of both well-know and “hidden gem” colleges and universities. The 2024 Hidden Gem Colleges in the Far West list shines some light on great schools that you may not have heard of but definitely should learn more about!

To qualify as a Hidden Gem, a school must meet the following requirements:

  • Receive fewer than 5,000 applications per year.
  • Have fewer than 7,000 undergraduate students.
  • Offer 5 or more unique majors.
  • Have a 10% acceptance rate or higher.

We’re considering the following states as part of the Far West: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

*Note: We feature the top 3 Hidden Gems per state, however not all states had 3 schools that met all of our criteria, and so some may only feature one or two.

Hidden Gem Colleges in the Far West 2024


Known as UAF or simply “Alaska,” is a flagship, land grant, space grant, and sea grant school. Blue and gold are the official colors of UAF and the mascot is Nanook, a mighty polar bear of Inuit legend. Ice hockey, skiing, track, and volleyball are popular sports for the Nanooks. There is a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio.
Location Fairbanks, AK
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 6,607
The smallest in the trio of University of Alaska schools, Southeast is located in the state capital and is further divided into three campuses: Juneau, Sitka, and Ketchikan. Southeast’s mascot is Spike the Humpback Whale. Though Southeast offers up to the master’s degree, 89.7% of students study at the undergraduate level.
Location Juneau, AK
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,923
Alaska Pacific University, also known as APU, was originally called the Alaska Methodist University when established in 1957. It is right next to the University of Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Native Medical Center. APU offers up to the doctor’s degree level of education. 97% of students receive institutional financial aid to help cover costs.
Location Anchorage, AK
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 595
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Harvey Mudd College offers programs only related to Science and Engineering. It has an 13% acceptance rate, 97% first year retention rate, and a 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Part of the Claremont Colleges, their colors are black and gold. The men’s teams are known as the Stags and the women are known as the Athenas.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 922
A member of the Claremont Colleges, Scripps College is a private liberal arts women’s school. It’s known for its historic campus as well as its extensive curriculum. The campus is currently listed in the National Register of Historic Places and often gets mentioned for its beautiful grounds. Environmental Science, Psychology, and Political Science and Government are common majors.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,099
Pitzer College accepts only 18% 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. Research and Experimental Psychology, Organizational Behavior Studies, and Environmental Science are popular majors.
Location Claremont, CA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,212


Chaminade University of Honolulu accepts just over 93% of applicants. With a 71% first year retention rate, the school has a 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Top majors include Registered Nursing, Criminal Justice, and Psychology. Total, the school offers 10 fields of study to undergraduates.
Location Honolulu, HI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,369
A liberal arts school, UH Hilo’s most popular majors include Business Administration and Management, Pharmacy, and Psychology. Red and black are the colors of the Vulcans, who compete in the PacWest conference. Students come from all over the country to study at UH Hilo, though 69.9% are from the state of Hawaii itself.
Location Hilo, HI
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 2,977
Part of the University of Hawaii system, West Oahu’s (UHWO) motto is Maluna aʻe o nā lāhui āpau ke ola ke kānaka. This is Hawaiian for “Above all nations is humanity.” 95.9% of students who apply are accepted, with 25% of these students deciding to attend UHWO the following fall. Many will go onto major in Business Administration and Management.
Location Kapolei, HI
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 2,913


Located at the foot of Mount Scorpion Mountain, Nevada State College practices sustainable principles on their 511-acre campus. While NSC is a very ethnically diverse school, 99% of students call Nevada their home state. The most popular major by far is Registered Nursing and about 91% of students receive grant aid.
Location Henderson, NV
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 7,169


Linfield University, a Division III school, offers 55 majors programs. Of those, Elementary Education, Psychology, and Marketing/Marketing Management are the most popular. The school recently opened a new 84,400 square foot science complex to meet Oregon’s demand for skilled STEM workers. Students enjoy a 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio and 81% first year retention rate.
Location McMinnville, OR
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,720
Willamette University is the oldest university found in the western part of the United States. It was founded in 1842 as the Oregon Institute. Today, the school accepts about 81% of students. There are about 350 athletes known as the Bearcats. Wearing cardinal and gold, they participate in 20 different varsity sports in the Northwest Conference.
Location Salem, OR
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,909
George Fox University, also known as GFU, is a private Christian university. With an 79% first year retention rate, the school also has a 15:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Student athletes at GFU are known as the Bruins and are members of the NCAA Division III Northwest Conference. Their colors are navy blue and gold.
Location Newberg, OR
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 4,028


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 180 majors, study abroad programs, and weekend/evening college classes available. 85% of students stay at the school after their first year.
Location Bothell, WA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 5,735
Pacific Lutheran University has a noble motto - “Educating for Lives of Thoughtful Inquiry, Service, Leadership, and Care.” Business Administration, Registered Nursing, Kinesiology, Elementary Education and Teaching, and Biology are the top five most popular majors. Notable alumni include Rosanna Pansino, Marissa Meyer, and Michael Peterson.
Location Tacoma, WA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,633
Whitworth University’s motto is, “Education of Mind and Heart.” The most common majors among students are Biology, Psychology, and Business Administration and Management. 78% of students return after freshman year and 76% are expected to graduate within 6 years. Whitworth’s colors are crimson and black.
Location Spokane, WA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,415

*Note: While Nevada did not have any colleges that qualified under our Hidden Gems criteria this year, we included the closest match. In the spirit of Hidden Gems, we feel it’s important to include schools from all states, so students and families know about the opportunities around them.

Why is the Far West a Great Place to Go to School?

The Far West is home to several National Parks, including the largest in the country – Wrangell-St.Elias in Alaska. So, exploring the many outdoor wonders is reason number one that the Far West is a great place to go to school. For those who love the ocean, there is surfing, beach volleyball, and bonfires. And of course, mountain lovers can wander and camp in the Pacific Coast Ranges.

In addition to enjoying diverse outdoor activities, the region is great for foodies who enjoy anything from farm-to-table restaurants to a diverse international food culture. The cities in the Far West are also home to tons of museums and the country’s number one-rated zoo — the San Diego Zoo. There is literally something here for everyone to enjoy.

Interested in any of these Far West Hidden Gem colleges? Check out College Raptor’s free match tool to see if they’re a good fit for you!


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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