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The Hidden Gems: Colleges Not in the Rankings

When it comes to choosing a college, many students and parents rely heavily on college rankings to make their decision. These rankings, such as those published by U.S. News & World Report, are often seen as the ultimate authority on which colleges are the best. However, there are many hidden gems out there that don’t make it onto these lists but still offer an excellent education and unique opportunities for students. In this article, we will explore some of these hidden gems and why they are worth considering.

The Limitations of College Rankings

While college rankings can provide some useful information about a school’s reputation and resources, they have several limitations that can make them misleading or incomplete. Here are a few reasons why relying solely on rankings may not give you the full picture:

  • Subjectivity: Rankings are often based on subjective criteria, such as surveys of college administrators or reputation among peers. These factors may not accurately reflect the quality of education or the student experience.
  • Focus on Selectivity: Many rankings heavily weigh factors like acceptance rate and average SAT scores, which can favor elite institutions and overlook schools that prioritize access and diversity.
  • Lack of Transparency: The methodologies used to calculate rankings are often not fully disclosed, making it difficult to understand how the rankings are determined and what factors are considered.
  • One-Size-Fits-All Approach: Rankings tend to treat all colleges as if they are the same, without considering the unique strengths and missions of each institution.

Given these limitations, it’s important to look beyond the rankings and consider other factors when choosing a college. This is where hidden gems come into play.

What Are Hidden Gems?

Hidden gems are colleges and universities that may not have the same level of name recognition or prestige as those at the top of the rankings, but still offer exceptional educational experiences. These schools often have smaller class sizes, dedicated faculty, and a strong sense of community. They may also have unique programs or specialized resources that can provide students with opportunities for personal and academic growth.

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Hidden gems can be found in all types of institutions, from small liberal arts colleges to regional public universities. They may be located in rural areas or in the heart of a bustling city. What they all have in common is a commitment to providing a high-quality education and a supportive environment for their students.

Why Consider Hidden Gems?

There are several reasons why students should consider hidden gems when searching for a college:

  1. Individualized Attention: Hidden gems often have smaller class sizes and lower student-to-faculty ratios, which means students can receive more individualized attention from professors. This can lead to deeper learning, more meaningful mentorship relationships, and a greater sense of belonging.
  2. Unique Programs and Opportunities: Hidden gems may offer specialized programs or unique opportunities that are not available at larger, more well-known institutions. For example, a small college might have a strong focus on undergraduate research or offer a specialized major that aligns with a student’s interests and career goals.
  3. Tight-Knit Community: Hidden gems often have a strong sense of community and school spirit. With smaller student populations, students have the opportunity to form close relationships with their peers and faculty members. This can create a supportive and collaborative learning environment.
  4. Affordability: Hidden gems are often more affordable than their higher-ranked counterparts. Many of these schools offer generous financial aid packages and scholarships, making them a more accessible option for students who may be concerned about the cost of education.
  5. Opportunities for Leadership and Involvement: With fewer students competing for leadership positions and extracurricular opportunities, hidden gems can provide students with more chances to take on leadership roles and get involved in campus activities. This can help students develop valuable skills and experiences that will benefit them in their future careers.
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By considering hidden gems, students can find colleges that align with their individual needs, interests, and goals, rather than simply relying on a ranking system that may not capture the full range of options available.

Examples of Hidden Gems

Now that we understand the value of hidden gems, let’s explore some examples of colleges that often fly under the radar but offer exceptional educational experiences:

1. College of the Atlantic

Located in Bar Harbor, Maine, the College of the Atlantic is a small liberal arts college with a unique focus on human ecology. The college offers interdisciplinary programs that explore the relationships between humans and the environment. Students have the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning through fieldwork, internships, and research projects. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1, students receive personalized attention and mentorship from faculty members.

2. New College of Florida

New College of Florida, located in Sarasota, is a public liberal arts college that emphasizes independent learning and student-driven education. Students design their own academic programs and work closely with faculty advisors to pursue their interests and passions. The college has a strong focus on undergraduate research and offers numerous opportunities for students to engage in hands-on learning and collaborative projects.

3. St. John’s College

With campuses in Annapolis, Maryland, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, St. John’s College is a private liberal arts college with a distinctive curriculum centered around the Great Books of Western Civilization. All students participate in a common curriculum that explores the foundational texts of Western thought. The college emphasizes close reading, critical thinking, and lively discussions. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 7:1, students have ample opportunities to engage with faculty and fellow students in small seminar-style classes.

4. Truman State University

Truman State University, located in Kirksville, Missouri, is a public liberal arts and sciences university that offers a rigorous academic experience. The university is known for its strong programs in the sciences, humanities, and social sciences. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 16:1, students have the opportunity to work closely with faculty members on research projects and receive personalized attention in the classroom.

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5. University of Mary Washington

The University of Mary Washington, located in Fredericksburg, Virginia, is a public liberal arts university with a strong emphasis on undergraduate education. The university offers a wide range of majors and minors, as well as opportunities for research, internships, and study abroad. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 14:1, students have the opportunity to build close relationships with faculty members and receive individualized attention.

These are just a few examples of the many hidden gems that can be found across the country. Each of these colleges offers a unique educational experience and a supportive community for students to thrive.


While college rankings can provide some useful information, they should not be the sole factor in choosing a college. Hidden gems offer exceptional educational experiences and unique opportunities for students. By considering these colleges, students can find institutions that align with their individual needs, interests, and goals. Whether it’s a small liberal arts college with a focus on undergraduate research or a public university with a strong emphasis on the sciences, hidden gems can provide students with the education and experiences they need to succeed.

So, the next time you’re researching colleges, don’t forget to look beyond the rankings and consider the hidden gems that may be waiting for you.

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