Hidden Gem Colleges in the Southwest US | 2024 Rankings

Home to vast deserts, sprawling cities, rugged mountains, and deep canyons, the Southwest is a dynamic and unique region. The area also boasts some of the most unique colleges in the country. While some big names call this area home, too, we are highlighting “hidden gems” of the region – or schools that are accessible and amazing, but you may not have heard of…yet.

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.

For this hidden gems list, we’re including the following states as part of the Southwest: Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Hidden Gem Colleges in the Southwest


Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott campus is located just north of a wildlife sanctuary and the Willow Creek Reservoir. Alumni of the school have gone on to have impressive careers as astronauts, scientists, military members, authors, athletes, and politicians. 96% receive institutional grant aid while attending, too.
Location Prescott, AZ
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,162
A for-profit school, the University of Advancing Technology offers 25 total degree programs to students. Cyber/Electronic Operations and Warfare is the most popular major, followed by Computer Game Programming, Game and Interactive Media Design, and Digital Arts. Students need to finish a “Student Innovation Project” and internship before they can graduate.
Location Tempe, AZ
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 860
Prescott College, which offers up to a doctorate, does not charge for applications and every student receives institutional grants. Accepting nearly every student who applies, Environmental Studies and Psychology are the most popular majors. Most sports at the school are intramural, though Prescott does have a competitive cycling team.
Location Prescott, AZ
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 969


The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology offers over 30 degree programs, the most popular of which are Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science, and Electrical and Electronics Engineering. A space-grant college, New Mexico Tech has a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio and 75% first year retention rate.
Location Socorro, NM
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,689
Offering up to the master’s degree, 75% of students attending Eastern New Mexico University are undergraduates. ENMU does not charge application fees at either level and the school has a 28% acceptance rate. Over 350 student-athletes compete as the Greyhounds in sports like track, basketball, football, soccer, and rodeo. They can also be eligible for scholarships.
Location Portales, NM
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 5,106
University of the Southwest only accepts 45.4% of students; 69.5% of those accepted will decide to attend. 97% of those attending will receive an institutional grant, which is $5,896 on average. Class sizes are large – the university has a 19:1 student-to-faculty ratio. 83% of students decide to stay on after the first year.
Location Hobbs, NM
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,066


There are more women than men at both the undergraduate and graduate levels at OCU, where 98% of students receive institutional aid. The school accepts 70% of students who apply. On the field, Oklahoma City University’s Stars are cheered on by other students wearing blue and white and their mascot, a ram named Starsky.
Location Oklahoma City, OK
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,550
“Educate the whole man,” is the motto of Oral Roberts University. The campus is located by the Arkansas River and is known for its unique architecture. One notable alumni includes Kathie Lee Gifford, and many other ORU students have gone onto impressive careers in music, sports, literature, and media.
Location Tulsa, OK
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 5,051
A bald eagle features on Oklahoma Christian University’s seal, and also serves as mascot and namesake to the OC athletic teams. 99% of students receive institutional grants from the school. They also offer its full time students laptops, iPhones, and iPads, and students can take advantage of IT support.
Location Edmond, OK
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,537


“Veritatem, Justitiam Diligite” is the motto of the University of Dallas. In English it means “Love Ye Truth and Justice.” The UD Crusaders compete in sports like soccer, lacrosse, track and field, and basketball. 62.4% of the students study at the undergraduate level. The University of Dallas also has a 12:1 student to faculty ratio and an 77% first year retention rate.
Location Irving, TX
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,328
LeTourneau University got its start as the LeTourneau Technical Institute in 1946 where the classes were almost entirely veterans who had just returned from World War II. It would get its current name in 1989. 98% of students attending today receive institutional grants from the university – an average of $17,773 per student.
Location Longview, TX
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,536
The University of St Thomas accepts 97% of students. In 2022, they received 1,123 applications and accepted 1,089 of them. 515 of these students enrolled. Common majors for students include Registered Nursing, Biology/Biological Sciences, Psychology, and General Studies. 86% of students receive institutional grant aid ($19,095 on average).
Location Houston, TX
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,588

Why is the Southwest a Great Place to Go to School?

If you like the heat and shy away from the cold, the southwest United States may be a strong choice for your education. Between the mountains and the canyons, there is plenty to explore during your downtime. And if you love studying outdoors, you’ll never run out of opportunities to do so in this part of the country!

The cities themselves also offer plenty of activities from unique museums to zoos to theme parks. And if you are a foodie who loves tacos and other Mexican/Tex-Mex, you’ll love feeding your brain (and tummy) during your study breaks.

Interested in any of these hidden gem colleges of the Southwest? 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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