Hidden Gem Colleges in the Great Lakes Region | 2024 Rankings

The Great Lakes are so impressive that they get a section of the US named after them. In addition to its thousands of lakes, it’s also home to some amazing schools. For this year’s Hidden Gem colleges in The Great Lakes, we wanted to highlight some of the small but mighty colleges and universities that call the region home. 

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

These schools tend to be on the smaller side as a result but deserve to share the spotlight. Each holds its own when it comes to student and campus life, majors, minors, and other amazing opportunities.

States included in the Great Lakes Hidden Gems list include Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Hidden Gem Colleges in the Great Lakes


Wheaton College was founded by evangelical abolitionists in 1860 and would become a stop on the Underground Railroad. Business 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 2,885
A liberal arts college, Lake Forest College is located just a half mile from Lake Michigan and just 30 miles north of Chicago. The school offers 32 majors of which Business, Research Psychology, and Finance are the most popular. Lake Forest College offers a $0 application fee for undergraduate students and around 60% of applicants will be accepted.
Location Lake Forest, IL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,753
Known as the Titans, athletes attending Illinois Wesleyan University wear green and white. The university has a 11:1 student to faculty ratio and a 75% four year graduation rate. The liberal arts college’s motto is “Scientia et Sapientia” or “Knowledge and Wisdom.” Illinois Wesleyan does not charge students an application fee.
Location Bloomington, IL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,527


Wabash College is a small undergraduate men’s school. They accept 62% of applicants and have a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio. The student paper, The Bachelor, has been in publication since the early 1900’s. Rhetoric and Composition, Economics, and Political Science and Government are among the popular majors.
Location Crawfordsville, IN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 835
Taylor University offers over 50 different undergraduate programs, some of the most popular being Elementary Education and Teaching, Psychology, and Business Administration and Management. Over 22% of students at Taylor University are involved in athletics. Known as the Trojans, they wear purple and gold.
Location Upland, IN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,221
Saint Mary’s College was founded in 1844 by the Sisters of the Holy Cross and is an all women’s school. Competing in the NCAA Division III, the students are known as the Belles. Popular majors include Registered Nursing, Business Administration and Management, and Biology/Biological Sciences.
Location Notre Dame, IN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,519


Hillsdale’s motto is “Virtus Tentamine Gaudet” or “Strength Rejoices in the Challenge.” The school has a 96% first year retention rate and an 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio. All students who attend are required to take courses on the “Great Books,” the United States Constitution, and Science courses. 76% of students will graduate within 4 years.
Location Hillsdale, MI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,678
Also known as K College, Kalamazoo College is the leading producer of Peace Corps members out of small liberal arts colleges. Their motto is “Lux Esto,” which is Latin for “Be Light.” The most popular major is Biology, followed by Business and Chemistry. Kalamazoo College has an 86% first year retention rate.
Location Kalamazoo, MI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,210
Calvin University was founded in 1876 but known as Calvin College for most of its existence. It only became a university in 2019. The chapel on campus holds daily services and the spire is higher than all of the school’s academic buildings. The college has a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio and an 86% first year retention rate.
Location Grand Rapids, MI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,231


John Carroll University has over 70 majors available to undergraduates, with Speech Communication and Rhetoric, Biology/Biological Sciences, and Marketing/Marketing Management being popular choices. The school was founded in 1886 and became coeducational in 1968. Alumni include Brian P. Cleary, Wade Manning, and Jack Kahl.
Location University Heights, OH
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,922
“Fortitude and Prudence” is the motto of the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Located along the Ohio River, this school has a first year retention rate of 86% and a six year graduation rate of 76%. Believe it or not, only 18.97% of the incoming class calls Ohio home. Others come from all around the country to attend.
Location Steubenville, OH
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,656
In 2022,4,229 students applied to Baldwin Wallace University and 77% were accepted. Originally established in 1845 as the Baldwin Institute, the school would get its current moniker in 2012. BW has a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio and an 82% first year retention rate. The most popular major is Business Administration and Management followed by Registered Nursing.
Location Berea, OH
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,220


Lawrence University was the second coeducation institution (founded in 1847) in the US. The three most popular majors are Music Performance, Econometrics and Quantitative Economics, and Psychology. Offering only bachelor’s degrees to students, many alumni have gone into careers in politics, music, and sports. The campus sits along the winding Fox River.
Location Appleton, WI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,426
Beloit College’s campus is located next to the Rock River, just north of the Illinois and Wisconsin border. 66% of applicants are accepted. With a 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio and a six-year graduation rate of 71%, Beloit’s most popular major is Biology. Their colors are orange, black, and white, and their mascot is a polar bear.
Location Beloit, WI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 964
Known as the Green Knights, student athletes at Saint Norbert College are members of the NCAA Division III Midwest Conference and wear green and gold. Saint Norbert has a 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio and a 69% four year graduation rate. The school’s motto is “docere verbo et exemplo,” or “to teach by word and example.”
Location De Pere, WI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,882

Why is the Great Lakes Region a Great Place to Go to School?

For those who love the outdoors, the Great Lakes region offers some unique opportunities for exploration! From kayaking to rock climbing and hiking to fishing, you will never run out of amazing activities in this part of the United States. And if you love the cold, particularly snow, you’ll definitely love the area. Many schools, including those on this list, have one-of-a-kind traditions you won’t find anywhere else in the country!

Interested in any of these Great Lakes 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.