Hidden Gems of the Midwest

These midwest regional gems represent some of the finest colleges in America that are often overlooked. Students at each one of these school cherish their experiences and exit their academic institutions with well-defined skills in their department, strong networking connections, and invaluable memories. Most of these schools represent small liberal arts colleges, some of which are focused in large part around the Christian religion, while others are more strongly tied to social justice. No matter a students background, any one of these hidden midwest gems will provide a supportive and welcoming educational environment.

Methodology:

  • All information is cited from the unbiased, independent NCES.gov’s College Navigator
  • To ensure our rankings methodology cannot be duplicated without our knowledge, we have withheld some aspects of the calculations. Please contact us at the email address provided below for more in-depth calculations and criteria
  • Our sponsored schools are paid advertisements that are not affiliated with our site’s individual school rankings.  They are clearly defined with the word “SPONSORED” as to not confuse our readers with what has been methodologically researched and ranked by our site editors and researchers as compared to the independently sponsored schools that pay for their placement on our site. For more information regarding our rankings or our sponsored schools, please email us at [email protected]

These schools were chosen for a variety of reason that made them Hidden Gems within their state, including low student enrollment, depth, and variety of degree programs, academic resources and opportunities inside and outside of majors, student satisfaction, and faculty expertise.

UNIVERSITY OF NORTH DAKOTA – Grand Forks, ND

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For students interested in health and physical fitness, the University of North Dakota has been celebrated as the fittest college campus in the United States for many consecutive years. This school has been a model of health for other colleges and universities across the nation for years and also offers facilities and wellness centers that are just as decorated. University of North Dakota students can absolutely immerse themselves in their own athletic and health-centered passions through numerous programs—UND was one of the first higher education institutions to become a member of CEO Cancer Gold Standard in their initiatives focused on cancer risk reduction and early detection! This school is the only one in the county to utilize a student-led investment group—the Center for Innovation and Dakota Venture Group.

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VALLEY CITY STATE UNIVERSITY – Valley City, ND

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Valley City State University is a small college founded in 1890 that has been ranked as the No. 1 Public Regional College in the Midwest by U.S. News and World Report as well as other reputable resources. The pristine, 55-acre campus was named “the most beautiful college campus in North Dakota” by BuzzFeed, and rests in Valley City, which, in 2017, was designated the “Most Beautiful Town” in the state by Expedia. VCSU supports one of the best departments for Elementary Education in America. The well-accredited programs offer undergraduate and graduate students numerous endorsements and certification preparation programs that develop some of the strongest teachers in the nation. Valley City State also supports all of its students with the distribution of free laptops!

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AUGUSTANA UNIVERSITY – Sioux Falls, SD

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At Augusta University, with an 11:1 faculty-to-student ratio, students maintain strong educational relationships with their professors, who engage with them on a level that ignites their passion for discovery. This supportive academic community gives students outstanding opportunities in Lutheran-centered coursework, which has received recognition from various resources, such as Forbes and U.S. News. Students live in an area that is a growing and thriving metropolis, giving them the ability to engage with real-world industries in an incredibly beautiful area. There is a wide range of exciting online programs, and some of the disciplines that are the most well-respected include Education, Business, Nursing, and Chemistry. The campus provides a vast 100-acre expanse of green space used for frisbee tournaments, bonfires, and all manner of fun experiences for Augustana students.

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SOUTH DAKOTA SCHOOL OF MINES AND TECHNOLOGY – Rapid City, SD

This small South Dakota school is populated by 2,778 students with a 15:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Founded in 1885, SD Mines has a long history of excellent STEM academics, engaged learning approaches, and thrilling paid internship experiences. SD Mines has partnered with National Geographic in the research of fossils numerous times, and in 1981 a fully intact triceratops skull was flown from the Badlands to the university! The STEM programs provide extremely challenging and rewarding programs, including Bachelor’s-to-Master’s degrees that can be completed in less time than it would take to complete undergraduate and graduate degrees separately. There are also outstanding doctoral programs available! Student/faculty-led teams and clubs have competed internationally and have won impressive awards in computer programming and bladesmithing. Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, this college rests on an impeccably beautiful and spiritual region that offers innumerable outdoor excursions and adventures.

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NEBRASKA WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY – Lincoln, NE

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Students at Nebraska Wesleyan University reside in the second largest city in that state. The average enrollment is about 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students, all of whom are well-supported by exciting internships and real-world opportunities throughout their college lives. NWU is well-known for their thriving study abroad and service learning programs that take students to thrilling environments and communities to learn through hands-on projects. An independent United Methodist University, the school reflects the tradition of implementing and integrating meaning and value in the pursuit of education and learning. NWU is also well-known for their excellence in coursework and is one of the most diverse schools in all of Nebraska that is also incredibly well-liked by enrolled students and alumni. Many have become Fulbright Scholars, Academic All-Americans, and NCAA Post-graduate Scholarship winners! The school is very supportive of student activities, events, and clubs, and fosters the development of many skills and interests outside the classroom. A huge number of graduates go on to enter prominent master’s programs, which is a testament to the excellent coursework from NWU!

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UNION COLLEGE – Lincoln, NE

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Union College is all about partnerships—between students and faculty, professionals and organizations in various industries, alumni and graduate programs, and many more invaluable connections. The institution supports its students through their acquisition of degree programs as well as with positions of employment within their field. Expert faculty members give students access to all of the most state-of-the-art resources and techniques. There is a strong sense of school spirit and comradery at Union College that fosters independence as individuals and professionals, while also building upon teamsmanship and leadership. Majors at UC total over 50 bachelors degrees, and often these supply students with over 27 different total concentrations and emphases that further specialize their understanding within their field, and introduces them to new disciplines which they may not have previously considered.

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BENEDICTINE COLLEGE – Atchison, KS

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Nestled along the Missouri River, Benedictine College is a gorgeous campus that has been named an official hidden gem of the Midwest for three consecutive years by College Raptor and U.S. News and World Report. This school has supported Nobel prize winners, mission trip leaders, Catholic bishops, university presidents, and other such highly impressive professionals who have graduated from BC, and who are contributing great things to the world over. Students in this school absolutely adore the campus itself, which provides them with all of the comfort and excitement they could ever ask for, offering a huge range of events, student clubs and organizations, volunteer opportunities, study abroad programs, and much more! Many consider this school one of the very best in the country and supports one of the top 50 nursing programs in America. Over the next several years, students can look forward to new buildings and amenities as the college revamps the campus to be even better suited to their outstanding population of students!

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FRIENDS UNIVERSITY – Wichita, KS

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Friends University is a Christian school of Quaker heritage that is founded on supporting curiosity and research and diversity of experience. The college has received numerous awards and accolades for their various programs, such as the Accounting degrees and the Health Administration degrees. The academic community cherishes and supports one another in learning and working relationships, and encourages individuals to seek more out of their education than a degree. The campus itself provides excellent opportunities for students to engage with peers, faculty members, and guest lecturers in the acquisition of higher knowledge and understanding surrounding their interests, education, and God. Friends University maintains strong partnerships with organizations and businesses throughout the state of Kansas and the nation, giving students superb opportunities to enter into prominent positions of employment and exciting internships.

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ST. OLAF COLLEGE – Northfield, MN

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At St. Olaf College, education expands and permeates throughout the entire campus, enriching the lives of students well beyond the classroom. Diverse learning opportunities give students the opportunity to work with others to achieve a comprehensive set of college-wide learning goals. A huge percentage of students and alumni (86-94%) attested to the empowering nature of the degrees at St. Olaf, claiming that they vastly improved their critical thinking, writing, and communication skills throughout their coursework. This school encourages its students in their self-development so that they may have the tools and understanding to effect positive change, not only within their careers and professional lives but within their spiritual and personal lives as well. St. Olaf embraces “the entire undergraduate experience.”

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GUSTAVUS ADOLPHUS COLLEGE – Saint Peter, MN

Gustavus Adolphus College is a competitive, highly selective, private liberal arts college that is guided by five core values: excellence, community, justice, service, and faith. Firmly rooted in Lutheran and Swedish heritages, this college has a rich history of diversity in its student life. Individuals have a slew of opportunities to engage with the campus through one of the 120 special interest groups and organizations, 12 student-run religious organizations, and other community-engaged events. The Campus Activities Board keeps a regular flow of entertainment and events scheduled throughout the school year, and the campus itself includes over 340 beautifully landscaped acres. Gustavus Adolphus is also affiliated with numerous distinctive organizations such as the Nobel Conference, Phi Beta Kappa, the Peace Education Program, Three Crowns Curriculum, and more!

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GRINNELL COLLEGE – Grinnell, IA

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Grinnell College has a very personalized approach to individual student’s educations: there are no distribution requirements so that students can shape and design their own learning pathways without being obstructed by classes that they find unnecessary. Class sizes allow students to be recognized as individuals as they are small and intimate, even the intro classes! Grinnell has a tremendous endowment, which makes their facilities, extracurricular activities, organizations, and coursework outshine many other small liberal arts colleges throughout the country. Grinnell believes in “free inquiry the open exchange of ideas,” so that faculty and students work together to create the most far-reaching courses possible. This college is also highly focused on building students careers from their first day so that graduates exit their program as seasoned professionals ready to take on the world!

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LUTHER COLLEGE – Decorah, IA

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Luther College’s main goal for its students is to shine a light on the connections between disciplines and thus create a bond between students of all majors. The “thoughtful and rigorous curriculum” engages the world at large, rather than focusing students’ educations through a small, limited perspective. This inclusive learning construct has granted Luther College spots on lists of the nation’s best small liberal arts colleges. Students feel at home in the welcoming and supportive educational community, as well as the small town of Decorah. Luther also highly values internships, externships, and study abroad opportunities, as well as collaborative experiences with professors and researchers. Luther maintains study-away destinations in 41 countries, which students can take advanced during January Term—a three-week period between semesters that allows students to study whatever subject they desire in great depth! In this way, and many others, Luther College is a warm, welcoming, and invigorating academic environment.

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MISSOURI UNIVERSITY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY – Rolla, MO

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The Missouri University of Science and Technology is well-known for their engineering programs and has been recognized as the third best engineering college in the country by USA Today. While this area is what the college is best recognized for, they also support more than 97 other degree programs through what is one of the best national public research universities in the nation. The school cultivates an environment of curiosity, discovery, and experiential learning that takes students outside the classroom and into immersive opportunities! Missouri S&T Also runs 20 extracurricular design teams that give student members the opportunity to engage with and explore new-age technologies, such as self-driving cars and rocket science, and perhaps even contribute to the industries themselves with new discoveries.

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TRUMAN STATE UNIVERSITY – Kirksville, MO

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Truman State University supplies its students with high-quality academics and a dynamic campus environment, both of which have earned it a place on the list of “America’s Best Colleges” from U.S. News and World Report. This school is home to a wide variety of innovative degree programs that are offered at an affordable price without sacrificing any standards of excellence. Many students choose Truman University for its well-reputed coursework that is provided with great affordability. Students routinely give TSU a five-star rating on various college and professor review website, claiming that the warm and inviting campus provides in-depth support services to its students. The school also provides students with Activity Fairs, where they can choose different organizations, clubs, and sports with which to be involved, and every year starts off with the Truman’s Dawg Fest Celebration with music, food, and games!

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BELOIT COLLEGE – Beloit, WI

Beloit College has an incredibly active student body! The enrolled students are involved with over 100 different clubs and organizations, and nearly 75% of the student body is involved in some kind of athletics. Class sizes average at about 15, giving students a voice and a personality in the classroom so that they can forge long-lasting and meaningful relationships with classmates, peers, friends, and professors. The campus is surrounded by lush greenery to support the various sports teams and is home to fascinating architecture, ancient Indian burial mounds, and displays of public artwork. The cafeterias provide a delectable array of food choices for meat-eaters, vegetarians, vegans, and more. 94% of the faculty members at Beloit College hold a Ph.D. and bring worlds of knowledge and experience to the more than fifty majors. The coursework and professors have been recognized by numerous industries such as the Wright Museum of Art and the Marjorie and Hames Sanger Center for the Sciences.

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LAWRENCE UNIVERSITY – Appleton, WI

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Lawrence University’s coursework provides an 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio, which gives students all of the professorial care and attention that anyone could ask for. There are numerous one-on-one learning opportunities in what is known as Engaged Learning at Lawrence, which involves challenging and meaning learning experience by exploring, debating, researching, creating, and practicing directly with individual professors. Lawrence also maintains an enormous Conservatory of Music that houses 28 unique areas of study for the professional orchestral students. Three campuses provide infinite possibilities for Lawrence students who want to experience and engage with the various specialties of the academic institution and its many facets. The campus creates a highly engaging atmosphere for students who are looking to take advantage of every corner of their education!

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ILLINOIS WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY – Bloomington, IL

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Illinois Wesleyan produces some of the most successful graduates of any college, and is a small, tucked away school in Bloomington, Illinois. Alumni of this incredible institution have gone on to lead Fortune 500 companies, produce Hollywood films, conduct research at the Mayo Clinic, and pursue career paths in positions across the world. Success at IWU is due in large part to the absolutely superb faculty who provide individualized attention inside and outside of the classroom. IWU believes that the student-teacher relationship is of vital importance, and offers numerous opportunities to forge these strong mentorships. The campus also offers engaging opportunities in community service, social life, environmental sustainability, political activism, spiritual development, and champion athletic teams. The Titans have won 132 conference championships with 116 athletes named Academic All-Americans. Illinois Wesleyan is a truly impressive example of the country’s top academic environments.

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WHEATON COLLEGE – Wheaton, IL

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Wheaton College operates under a guiding motto: For Christ and His Kingdom, giving all of the academic and extracurricular pursuits at the college this same overarching principle. Nearly all of the faculty members hold terminal degrees and bring an enormous amount of experience and knowledge to the classroom, as well as a defined and dedicated love for Christ and His teachings. The campus has been recognized as one of the most beautiful in the country and offers a warm and welcoming community. U.S. News and World Report, as well as the Princeton Review, have repeatedly recognized Wheaton for its affordability without sacrificing quality of coursework or instruction. Students have nothing but glowing things to say about the college and its professors, both of which make a humongous impact on their lives as professionals and as individuals. This beautiful academic institution provides its students with a safe environment to grow and explore their interests, and have a great time in the process!

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HOPE COLLEGE – Holland, MI

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Hope College is an extremely well-accomplished academic institution that offers its students all of the educational amenities that anyone could ask for. A “research powerhouse,” this college is awarded more National Science Foundation grants for undergraduate research than any other liberal arts college. The campus is home to its own Pelletron particle accelerator in the historic Van Vleck Hall, which is only one example of the many outstanding resources and opportunities available to students of all pursuits and majors. The campus itself borders Lake Michigan, giving students access to exciting beach activities and water sports, as well as the vast biome itself to use in scientific pursuits within the college. U.S. News and World Report ranked Hope in the top five undergraduate institutions for research and creative activity, and the college has received many other awards for excellence in academia.

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KALAMAZOO COLLEGE – Kalamazoo, MI

Kalamazoo College is known for its dedication to social justice and is a welcoming campus and community to students of all diversities and backgrounds. The student population is made up of 1,436 students from 43 states and 28 countries. The college provides numerous scholarships and grants for students of color, making it an affordable private college. The average class size presents a 13:1 student-to-faculty ratio, giving students direct and personal access to their professors, who can engage with them more fully. Kalamazoo is also nationally renowned for the K-Plan: depth and breadth in liberal arts and sciences, learning through experience, international engagement, and a senior individualized project. This approach to each student’s undergraduate degree gives them a worldly understanding of their major, and invaluable global networking contacts and opportunities to rely on post-graduation.

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EARLHAM COLLEGE – Richmond, IN

Above all, Earlham College values preparation for future career paths and lives of meaning and purpose. The challenging and extremely rewarding majors have given graduates the motivation, understanding, and experience to enter into prominent graduate programs across the country, as well as into service positions in the Peace Corps and other volunteer organizations, or into positions of international leaders, scientific research, business owners, writers, artists, and much more. Earlham ranks 29th among 1,306 schools for the percentage of graduates that go on to earn Ph.D. degrees. The town of Richmond in which the college of Earlham resides was ranked an All-America City in 2009, and the 800-acre campus includes 600 acres of woods, streams, ponds, and prairies used for outdoor actives and scientific research. 94% of the student body lives on campus in the beautiful residence halls and 20+ theme and friendship houses. There are over 60 student organizations and an exciting schedule of events and activities on campus throughout the year.

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DEPAUW UNIVERSITY – Greencastle, IN

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DePauw University is a nationally-renowned academic institution that is home to 2,300 students from across the globe, as well as one of the nation’s first Schools of Music! This school uses a unique approach to undergraduate education, in that students are exposed to multiple disciplines through a distinctive course structure before narrowing their focus. In this way, DePauw University students often discover passions and intellectual interests that surprise them! These students are surrounded by a network of social engagement opportunities through the student-run clubs and organizations that promote meaningful relationships, community engagement, and intercultural competency. Students are immersed in the life of the campus which nurtures their passion for discovery and involving themselves within their particular communities.

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DENISON UNIVERSITY – Granville, OH

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Routinely ranked as one of the finest liberal arts colleges in America, Denison University offers college students one of the most beautiful learning environments in the country. Top notch professors instruct challenging and rewarding courses and departments, giving their students access to all of the most state-of-the-art resources available. The athletics at Denison also offer some of the most gratifying and competitive experiences in a student’s life, teaching them about leadership and teamsmanship alike. Students are also offered phenomenal financial assistance, which is awarded to over 90% of the student body. The school provides a school-year schedule that is absolutely packed with social activities to keep the campus lively and exciting. Denison demands a lot from its students, who pour themselves into their education, and the levels of critical thinking, creative writing, and communication skills exhibited by graduates are remarkable.

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OBERLIN COLLEGE – Oberlin, OH

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Oberlin College is well-known for its dedication to social justice and cultural diversity—twenty years prior to the Civil War, the school had already graduated their first black student! The academic calendar utilizes a 4-1-4 approach, giving students more concentrated, major-focused education in the fall and spring semesters, with a mini-winter-term in the middle that allows students to exercise outside interests such as music, dance, or robotics. The gorgeous campus gives students access to a world-class music conservatory, first-rate art and history museums, and comforting residence halls. Oberlin has a strong dedication to the health and wellness of its students and offers confidential, individualized assistance to any student experiencing health problems of any kind—physical, mental, or spiritual. Oberlin is also focused around putting the academia in the hands of the students so that they have control over their own educations without having to conform to pre-set college standards.

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JOHN CARROLL UNIVERSITY – University Heights, OH

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A Jesuit Catholic university, John Caroll derives a major source of inspiration from Saint Ignatius of Loyola and the centuries-long commitment to academic excellence and the service of the common good. U.S. News and World Report have designated this school in the top 10 Midwest US regional universities for 20 consecutive years, which is absolutely outstanding. Bloomberg Businessweek ranked John Carroll the #1 school in that nation for preparing students for employment, and many other reputable resources have ranked this small, liberal arts college as one of the finest available, yet it still remains under the radar for most applicants. There is a constant supply of fun things to do on campus, such as the annual Relay for Life cancer fundraiser that takes place every Christmas season, and Late Night at John Carroll which features dancing, ice skating, and more! Students love John Carroll for its top-notch academics, proximity to exciting things to do, and the safeness of the campus itself.

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