There are schools across the country that are waiting for passionate and dedicated students, and yet may also be off the beaten path. This list contains mostly small liberal arts colleges and universities that provide students with outstanding campus-life, impressive curricula, and invaluable extracurricular activities. Find a perfect match at one of these Hidden Gems of the Southwest!
- All information is cited from the unbiased, independent NCES.gov’s College Navigator
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These schools were also selected due to their average student enrollment, student reviews and happiness, and quality of degree programs. Information concerning the school’s popularity and academic quality was gleaned from various sources and statistical databases such as Niche.com.
EMBRY-RIDDLE AERONAUTICAL UNIVERSITY – Prescott, AZ
This small college in Prescott, Arizona offers some of the most outstanding science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs in the country. The STEM Education Center has been in existence for over 90 years and provides students with the know-how and skill to make an impact on their communities as well-educated scientists. With 9 labs and studios, the STEM Center is a state-of-the-art facility that is well-stocked with all of the most technologically advanced equipment and resources. Aeronautical students have access to the Riddle Ramp, which is an incredible fleet of planes, as well as to excellent flight simulators, in a Flight Department that is committed to safety and professionalism that is second to none in the flight training community. The beautiful campus provides students with amazing outdoor recreation, and there are exciting events planned throughout the year!
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PRESCOTT COLLEGE – Prescott, AZ
Another outstanding institution of higher education in Prescott, Arizona: Prescott College has been educating students since the 1960’s, and operates under the central goal: “to produce the leaders increasingly crucial to successfully meeting the challenges of the changing world.” There is a huge emphasis put on collaborative teamwork as the cornerstone of education and rejects the idea of hierarchical thinking. In this way, Prescott students learn to be natural leaders and team-players who go on to make a difference in their field of expertise. This school is actively engaged in social justice and activism, and the campus represents a diverse and inclusive student body. There is a strong sense of community and connection at Prescott, and with a 72% retention rate for first-time students, individuals feel incredibly satisfied and well-taken-care-of.
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CLAREMONT MCKENNA COLLEGE – Claremont, CA
30 miles east of Los Angeles, nestled on an incredibly scenic campus, Claremont McKenna College educates students through strong, real-world coursework and in roles of responsible leadership. Claremont McKenna is part of a 7-college consortium that is modeled after Oxford University and is distinguished by 11 world-class research institute, such as the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship which foster business initiatives between students and partnerships with the college. With an enrollment of 1,338, students can look forward to small class sizes and immediate access to their professors. Some of the most renowned and popular areas of study are in the economics, political science, government, and humanities. The campus atmosphere is studious and well-dedicated to collaborative learning, while also providing students with exciting opportunities and a vibrant social scene. Athletics are strong at Claremont McKenna, as are the student-lead clubs and organizations, making this school, truly, a hidden gem of the Southwest.
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SOKA UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA – Aliso Viejo, CA
Soka University of America is a small, non-profit institution of higher education that provides uniquely excellent undergraduate and graduate degree programs. With an 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio, individuals have a tremendous amount of access to their professors and end up forming long-lasting relationships with teachers, advisors, classmates, and other peers throughout their time in school. SUA has been ranked on numerous occasions as one of the Top 25 National Liberal Arts Colleges and Top 15 Best Value Colleges by U.S. News and World Report. The school is founded on Buddhist principles of peace, human rights, and the sanctity of life. The campus is diverse and welcoming, and about 40% of the student body comes from more than 45 countries around the world. Undergraduate and graduate programs feature traditional, well-founded degrees, as well as new and exciting programs such as Life Sciences. SUA students go on to answer the need for global leaders with practical skills and experience.
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POMONA COLLEGE – Claremont, CA
Founded in 1887, Pomona College has been educating students for 131 years in Claremont, California. The academics offers a broad range of degree programs, with over 48 majors in arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Of the 1,670 students in attendance at Pomona, a huge percentage comes from 63 nations across the globe, as well as all 50 states, making the campus a diverse and far-reaching network of individuals. The student-to-faculty ratio is 8:1 and small class sizes give access to all of the resources and aid that anyone could ever dream of at an institution of higher education. The 140-acre campus has seven colleges and consortiums, all of which are housed in beautifully designed buildings. 10 of the 15 residence halls have been LEED certified—1 silver, 6 gold, and 3 platinum! The campus is 35 miles away from Los Angeles, which gives students outstanding opportunities in prominent internship positions and community outreach.
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SCRIPPS COLLEGE – Claremont, California
Scripps College is a small, women’s liberal arts school dedicated to the development of the intellects and talents of women through active participation in the community. This internationally recognized leader in women’s education has accumulated numerous grants for student and faculty research, curriculum development, and educational initiatives, which gives individuals incredible opportunities to expand their scope of knowledge and experience in their field of study. Scripps is a member of a five-college consortium, which gives yet even further opportunities to connect with various professionals, professors, and students in different majors. Students have only the most glowing things to say about Scripps and the nurturing academic environment that it has created. The beautiful campus is often described as being almost resort-like, and the impeccable food makes each student feel at ease throughout their challenging programs.
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FORT LEWIS COLLEGE – Durango, CO
Fort Lewis College offers their students a blend of small class sizes, dynamic and integrated academic programs, and a strong liberal arts perspective throughout a transformative learning experience. Students are immersed in coursework that strongly educates them in fostering entrepreneurship, leadership, and creative problem-solving. With 3,356 students, the class size average is about 20, and 98% of classes have fewer than 50. The stunning campus overlooks the Animas River Valley and downtown Durango, Colorado. The architecture features unique and distinctive themes and quarried sandstone that gives “Native pueblo building still and evokes the Four Corners’ landscape and colors.” Students have the opportunity to major in undergraduate and graduate programs that emphasize critical thinking, and every year there are a huge number of research opportunities, field studies, public performances and presentations, study abroad programs, and conferences on campus, making Fort Lewis College a distinctive and exciting place to learn!
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COLORADO COLLEGE – Colorado Springs, CO
Colorado College utilizes a special approach to their academics called The Block Plan. Using this approach, students do not take multiple classes at a time, but instead study one class for 4.5 hours per day, over a period of 3.5 weeks, and there is 8 block per academic year. In this way, students are able to become fully engrossed in their coursework without the distractions of other classes, and individuals are encouraged to develop their own independent blocks! This also allows them to form stronger relationships with their classmates and professors such that they have long-lasting networks of peers. There are 4-day breaks between each block, giving students time to take advantage of fun activities and events across an incredibly gorgeous campus and Colorado landscape. The 2,000 Colorado College students will be seen engaging in passionate debate and communication inside and outside the classroom, and the campus is an encouraging learning community.
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REGIS UNIVERSITY – Denver, CO
An academic environment that is shaped by the traditions set forth by the Jesuit Catholic sect of Christianity, Regis University is a strong institution of higher education that aims to develop students as a whole person. Despite their Christian foundations, Regis is welcoming to students of all faiths and backgrounds, and the award-winning faculty members are highly dedicated to all of their pupils. In addition to the on-campus programs, a huge draw of this school is their outstanding online programs, which combined, support over 11,000 students. Regis has been consistently ranked as a Top Tier Western University by U.S. News and World Report, and the campus houses over 10 centers and institutes, such as the Innovation Center which links students with local businesses, and the O’Sullivan Art Gallery which features work of nationally recognized artists. The opportunities at Regis University are truly unmatched.
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BENEDICTINE COLLEGE – Atchison, KS
Established in 1868, Benedictine College is founded on the divine principles of the Benedictine Order by two monks who sought to create a prominent school in Atchison, Kansas. There are a huge number of new and recently renovated buildings on campus such as the new Recreation Center, Residence Halls, and Sports Facilities. Since 2000, there have been many alumni to achieve outstanding awards, positions of employment, and recognition for their success, which include 13 bank presidents, 8 university presidents, 7 bishops, 2 Kansas Secretaries of Commerce, and 1 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. All of these successes can be attributed in large part to the strength and stability of the Benedictine College majors of which there is a large and varied amount. There are also exciting extracurricular opportunities such as The Discovery Program, which promotes innovate educational practices and active teaching-learning relationships through collaborative problem-solving.
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NEWMAN UNIVERSITY – Wichita, KS
Past and current students of Newman University proudly profess their love and dedication to their school, according to the scholastic statistics website Niche.com. This higher education institution is a fabulous learning environment that is founded on Catholic values and traditions, however, is also welcoming and respectful of students of all faiths. The challenging and rewarding programs are designed to educate the mind and inspire the spirit in a way that goes beyond the classroom and the traditional student-teacher relationship. There a strong spirit of outreach at Newman University, that extends to Western and Southeast Kansas, as well as Colorado and Oklahoma. The staff and faculty are extremely dedicated to the success of their students, who also profess the excellent and supportive relationships that they build between one another and that last a lifetime. The campus is quiet, small, and calm, giving individuals a welcoming break from the typical raucous college party atmosphere for those who are more dedicated to sensible and academically-inclined activities.
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MIDAMERICA NAZARENE UNIVERSITY – Olathe, KS
MidAmerica Nazarene University offers both online and on-campus students well-established majors, minors, degree-completion programs, masters degrees, and certificate options. Students find a home on the 105-acre campus in Olathe, Kansas, which is one of the largest cities in the state, and the school MNU maintains 10 beautiful academic buildings including the 40,000 square foot Bell Cultural Events Center, a cutting-edge Virtual Patient Center, and a Simulation Nursing Studio. The school is well-connected throughout the community, which offers excellent opportunities to complete projects and internships, and establish prominent networking connections. The low tuition rate and high-level of financial aid opportunities give all students access to the outstanding education no matter their fiscal position. Students at MNU feel safe and supported by the administration, teachers, as well as the friendly atmosphere of the campus.
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SIERRA NEVADA COLLEGE – Incline Village, NV
Resting on the shores of the stunningly beautiful Lake Tahoe, Sierra Nevada College is “like no place on earth,” and is a place where students will walk a unique academic path. The degree programs are a collaborative partnership between students, teacher, and the entire college, with engaging, out-of-the-classroom, real-world projects. The on-campus facilities feature the Holman Arts and Media Center studios, to which students have 24/7 access, as well as the platinum LEED-certified green laboratory, which is the first of its kind in Nevada. There are exciting and unique programs of which students can take advantages, such as the Ski Business and Resort Management degree or the Outdoor Adventure Leadership degree, and Incline Village is recognized as America’s Top Ski Destinations, therefore students have access to local businesses and organizations to give them access to invaluable experiences and networking connections.
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NEVADA STATE COLLEGE – Henderson, NV
At the foot of Mount Scorpion sits the 511-acre campus belonging to Nevada State College, which includes a wide array of energy-efficient classrooms fit with solar panels, as well as community spaces and teaching gardens. The only four-year, comprehensive public institution in Nevada, NSC supports students in 45 majors and minors in classes that average about 26 in size. There are generous Financial Aid and Scholarship opportunities allotted to a sizable portion of the student body. Students can take advantage of the exciting and varied clubs and organizations focused around social justice, cultural awareness, and more, such as the Black Student Organization, the American Sign Language Club, and the Academic Queers Club. Nevada State College is dedicated to hands-on learning to give student store than just book knowledge, and there are amazing for-credit internship opportunities in Biology, Business, Criminal Justice, Environment Resource Science, History/Pre-Law, Psychology, and Visual Media. Anyone can and will find a supportive academic home at NSC.
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ST. JOHN’S COLLEGE – Santa Fe, NM
St. John’s College, since it’s founding in 1696 as King William’s School, has established a vibrant community of learning that is focused around collaborative inquiry. The Santa Fe Campus opened in 1964 and produced the college’s first graduate programs in 1967. Since then there have been many different, highly successful programs set up at SJC, including prominent doctoral degrees, such as the nationally renowned PhD in Humanities. The professors consistently receive outstanding recognition for their excellence in research and teaching and push students to delve deeply into the works of Homer, Plato, Euclid, Nietzsche, Einstein, Woolf, and many more. Students have wonderful things to say about both the administration and their teachers, and happily, engage in incredibly challenging, yet highly rewarding, programs that drive them to think critically with teams of peers. Not only that, but the tutors and academic resources are extremely well-celebrated by all, and help to form a strong learning environment.
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EASTERN NEW MEXICO UNIVERSITY – Portales, NM
Eastern New Mexico University operates under a strong mission to “emphasize liberal learning, freedom of inquiry, cultural diversity, and whole student life.” This school maintains an impressive 90 program options, 1,200 unique courses, as well as an excellent array of online degree options. Many courses utilize on-site video conference courses at Cannon Air Force Base, Clovis, Hobbs, Roswell, Ruidoso, and other locations. Some top undergraduate majors at this school included Business Administration, Nursing, Criminal Justice, Communicative Disorders, and Aviation Science! Some students attend EMNU entirely online and are very happy with their decision to do so. With a 97% student satisfaction rate, this is as popular as any school can get, and ENMU is one of the most affordable colleges in the Southwest United States, as well!
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NEW MEXICO INSTITUTE OF MINING AND TECHNOLOGY – Socorro, NM
This superb Southwestern school was founded in 1889 as the New Mexico School of Mines, and in 1951 became the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. Located in the spectacular Rio Grande Valley, New Mexico Tech is a luscious green campus that also includes an 18-hole championship golf course! Undergraduate degree programs are strongly focused around science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and faculty members are highly involved in their students’ success throughout their rigorous programs. Coursework is quite challenging, yet there are innumerable academic resources upon which students can fall throughout their schooling. The tuition is highly affordable, particularly for STEM degree programs, and the administration is extremely supportive of its students. Professors are well-published researchers who bring worlds of information to the classroom, and classes are team-based and include real-world projects with private companies and government agencies.
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OKLAHOMA CITY UNIVERSITY – Oklahoma City, OK
Oklahoma City University is a private, urban university located in the uptown district of Oklahoma City. Affiliated with the United Methodist Church, Forbes has listed OKCU as one of the “Best Christian Colleges,” as well as one of the “100 Best College Buys.” The academics offer students 70 undergraduate and 20 graduate degree programs that are made up of a wide range of disciplines in the liberal arts, fine arts, sciences, and business. There are excellent opportunities in the University Honors Program, and OKCULEADS is the President’s Leadership Class designed for students who have demonstrated outstanding leadership in academics and extracurricular endeavors. Students almost ubiquitously agree that the professors put a considerable amount of effort into the education of individual persons. There are plenty of exciting opportunities on campus to see music, watch plays, and engage in outdoor activities.
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ORAL ROBERTS UNIVERSITY – Tulsa, OK
On a 263-acre campus in south Tulsa, Oklahoma, lies Oral Roberts University which seeks to educate the spirit, mind, and body of each individual student through challenging and thorough curricula. ORU is highly dedicated to individual student outcomes in 76 undergraduate and 12 graduate degree programs, as well as 2 doctoral degrees. There are also excellent online programs, study abroad opportunities, educational partnerships, and outreach work throughout the town of Tulsa. Students come from all 50 states and 89 different countries from around the world so that the population is highly diverse and distinctive in its makeup. This Christian university is “founded in the fires of evangelism and upon the unchanging percept of the Bible,” giving students and faculty members alike access to strong principles, and classes will often begin with a short prayer from the teacher. ORU has been recognized as one of the best colleges in its region by reputable resources such as The Princeton Review.
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UNIVERSITY OF SCIENCE AND ARTS OF OKLAHOMA – Chickasha, OK
The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma is a diversely accredited institution of higher education that has received recognition from such organizations as the Council on Education of the Deaf. This excellent school operates under the mission to provide liberal arts and science academia “by combining an interdisciplinary core curriculum with superior instruction in major fields of study.” The university is strongly tied to the city of Chickasha and maintains partnerships with the Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Council, and other civic organizations. The tuition is extremely affordable at less than $9,000 per year, with extensive financial aid and scholarship opportunities, as well! Some of the most popular majors at the school include Business Administration, Elementary Education, and History. The friendly atmosphere of the campus gives students, faculty, and staff a profoundly encouraging environment in which to learn, where people support one another through all types of challenges.
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WESTMINSTER COLLEGE – Salt Lake City, UT
Located in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Westminster College is a nationally recognized school and, according to their website, has been identified for its exemplary commitment in four distinct areas—“engaged students, great teaching, vibrant community, and successful outcomes.” There is a strong spirit of community engagement and service to the public at Westminster, and more than 1,900 students participate in service-learning every year. Faculty at this school are consummate professionals in their fields, and more than 90% hold the highest degrees of their discipline. Nursing students can look forward to attending one of the strongest institutions for their field, and have access to state-of-the-art training facilities where nursing is a popular major. The gorgeous campus is thick with greenery and has beautiful, old buildings in which students attend classes, perform, and reside throughout their college lives.
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AMERITECH COLLEGE – Draper, UT
Ameritech College is a healthcare-focused institution that has been specializing in this field since 1979 and is dedicated to establishing students with certificates and degrees in as little time as possible. According to their website, Ameritech provides one of the largest and highest-ranking nursing programs in the state and is best known for its accelerated programs. The school also offers online healthcare degrees since 2009, giving distance education students just as much access to the outstanding programs as on-campus students. The student-centered administration fosters a “culture of integrity” that is focused around open communication and ethical decision-making. Students longingly review their alma mater and professors, as well as the friendly and supportive nature of the entire campus. Ameritech is committed to establishing a culture of caring on its campus, which considers the whole person and embodies respect.
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SOUTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY – Georgetown, TX
Southwestern University is a school made-up of award-winning researchers and professors that work collaboratively with students in a highly effective learning environment. Students and alumni alike create groundbreaking achievements in their respective fields that foster an atmosphere of camaraderie and support among peers. While all the undergraduate programs at this school give students outstanding opportunities and resources, some of the most popular degrees include business, psychology, and communications programs. The administration is well-committed to each individual student, from the financial aid department to academia to student outreach. There is a consistent enrollment of about 1,300 students, which keeps class-sizes at a reasonable attendance, access to professors impeccable, and gives individuals a voice with which to communicate ideas to a receptive audience of classmates and teachers.
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TRINITY UNIVERSITY – San Antonio, TX
At Trinity University, the myriad degrees provide outstanding academic opportunities. The Pathways curriculum blends together liberal arts and sciences with business and pre-professional programs and is also largely focused around education in writing, speaking, and problem-solving skills. Students have access to 47 different majors that are taught by faculty of whom 97% have Ph.D. degrees in their fields. Trinity has been training students of all kinds for over 140 years, and today offers some of the most prestigious programs in Texas, while still offering small class sizes and incredible access to professors. Some of the most popular programs at the school include communications, political science and government, and psychology, all of which include excellent resources and opportunities inside and outside of Trinity University. Located in historic San Antonio, Texas, the campus overlooks downtown, which offers excellent museums, riverwalks, parks, and music!
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LETOURNEAU UNIVERSITY – Longview, TX
LeTourneau University, also known as “the Christian Polytechnic University,” highly values real-world, hands-on experience that educates students in approaching critical issues in their areas of study. LETU offers impressive programs in Mechanical Engineering and Business Administration and Management that are guaranteed to give students invaluable opportunities. Students are dedicated to their studies and success, and the school is also a fantastic place for military veterans to achieve their degrees. The population at LETU represents over 50 different denominations and faiths, 46 states, and 35 countries, making the campus life rich and diverse in its undertakings and activities. 71% of students are engaged in more than 20 intramural sports such as football, ultimate frisbee, and air hockey, and there are over 30 student-led organizations on campus! LeTourneau also offers superb online degree programs that are some of the most popular in the United States.