Most Affordable Hidden Gem Colleges for the Middle Class | 2024 Rankings

College is expensive, and parents and students alike are constantly looking for ways to keep costs low. But did you know that some schools are more affordable than others, particularly for middle-income families? The colleges we listed below are the “hidden gems” of the best and most affordable colleges and universities out there.

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, schools on the College Raptor Hidden Gem list had to:

  • 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.
  • Be on the top 500 overall rankings list.

The schools on this list may have lower tuition, higher endowment programs for their eligible students, and other factors that make them more affordable than their counterparts.

Top 25 Hidden Gem Colleges most affordable for the Middle-Class

Bryn Mawr is a highly selective school, with an acceptance rate of about 31%. A distinguished women’s college, Bryn Mawr is part of the Seven Sisters College consortium, expanding students’ academic opportunities. With an 90% first year retention rate, Bryn Mawr also has a 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio.
Location Bryn Mawr, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,742
Business Administration and Management is the most popular major among students at SUNY Polytechnic Institute, but the college offers a number of programs in engineering, engineering technology, nanoscale engineering, and other related STEM areas. Currently, this school has a 13:1 student-to-faculty ratio and a 79% first year retention rate.
Location Utica, NY
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 2,842
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, Business, and Psychology. UNH Manchester boasts a 92% placement rate for graduates.
Location Manchester, NH
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 534
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 1,520
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 71%, a first-year retention rate of 82%, and a six-year graduation rate of 77%.
Location Lexington, VA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,512
“Enter to learn, go forth and serve,” is the motto of Keene State College. Keene State offers several different scholarships for incoming students. The majority of the students who attend come from the New England area and 99% of students receive grant aid. Occupational Safety and Health Technology, Psychology, and Business Administration and Management are the most popular majors.
Location Keene, NH
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 2,872
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 1,704
Originally a vocational college for women, Georgia College and State University became co-educational in 1967. One of the most notable alumni is famed writer Flannery O’Connor. The school offers more than 40 majors; Kinesiology and Exercise Science, Registered Nursing, and Research and Experimental Psychology being the most sought after of the programs.
Location Milledgeville, GA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 6,315
Mount Holyoke College is the oldest member of the Seven Sisters colleges. Their motto is Psalms 144:12 – “That our daughters may be as cornerstones, polished after the similitude of a palace.” The campus features a botanic garden, an art museum, and John Payson Williston Observatory. Experimental Psychology, Biology, and Econometrics and Quantitative Economics are commonly chosen majors.
Location South Hadley, MA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,392
Muhlenberg College is a midsize private, liberal arts college about an hour and half north of Philidelphia. Over 70% of students who attend this Lutheran college come from three states - Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. 77% of students will graduate in four years, has a 8:1 student to faculty ratio, and a 91% first year retention rate.
Location Allentown, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,959
Freed-Hardeman University is a 150-year-old Christian based institution whose motto is “Truth, Beauty, and Wisdom”. The school has over a 91% acceptance rate and 98% of students receive grant aid. Registered Nursing is by far the most sought-after major followed by Bible/Biblical Studies and Health and Physical Education/Fitness
Location Henderson, TN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,330
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
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
Grove City College is a non-denominational college that has a high acceptance rate of 71% and they receive around 2,100 applications annually. Over half the students that attend are from Pennsylvania, and another majority come from surrounding states. With an 88% first year retention rate, 76% of students will graduate in 4 years.
Location Grove City, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,289
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
Although they offer 75 majors, popular majors at Gustavus Adolphus College include Psychology, Biology, Business, Registered Nursing, and Political Science and Government. The school does not charge students for applications. 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 2,072
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
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
Messiah University has a 13:1 student-to-faculty ratio and an 86% first year retention rate today. Originally the Messiah Bible School and Missionary Training House in 1909, the school would become a college in 1951 and a university in 2020. Students have to sign a Community Covenant if they decide to attend the school.
Location Mechanicsburg, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,231
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 689
Milligan University is a Christ-centered liberal arts university. All students attending receive financial assistance to help them afford tuition. On the 355-acre campus, the university has a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio and a 72% first year retention rate. Of over 100 majors offered, the most popular include Business Administration and Management and Psychology.
Location Milligan, TN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,105
Niagara University is a liberal arts, Catholic affiliated university. The school has a 90% acceptance rate and it’s free to apply to NU. Students can choose to participate in over 100 clubs and organizations. Of more than 80 majors offered, Education is by far the most sought after followed by Registered Nursing and Criminology.
Location Niagara University, NY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,858
Simmons University is a women’s school with an impressive 7:1 student-to-faculty ratio. The university boasts an 81% first year retention rate. Only 31.3% of enrolled students are undergraduates, with the remaining 68.7% 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 5,710
This university is named in honor of Harry S. Truman, who was a Missouri native. Popular majors include Business Administration and Management, Kinesiology and Exercise Science, and Biology. Athletes are known as Bulldogs and their mascots are Spike and Simone. 91.5% of students at Truman State study at the undergraduate level.
Location Kirksville, MO
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 3,960
W&J College is a liberal arts school located on a 65-acre campus just 30 miles from Pittsburgh. The school has 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio and 83% first year retention rate. All students receive institutional grant aid ($35,616 average per student). Business/Commerce is the most popular major followed by Psychology and English Language and Literature.
Location Washington, PA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,151

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.

Interested in any of these most affordable hidden gem colleges? College Raptor’s free match tool matches you with schools that are a good fit for you academically AND which are most affordable to your specific situation!

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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