Hidden Gem Colleges and Universities See Which Solid Schools Give the Most Bang for Your Buck

Some colleges – Stanford, Harvard, Yale, MIT – have a name that carries a well-earned reputation for educational excellence. But there are dozens of colleges across the country, oftentimes with less name recognition, also providing an exceptional educational experience.

This list of 35 underrated, hidden gem colleges and universities highlights the benefits of attending these schools, whose students enjoy high employment after graduation and an average cost of tuition below those lofty big-name universities. Tuition at Yale University, for instance, is $51,400 for the 2017-2018 school year. Tuition at the costliest university in this list is just under $17,000, and most institutions featured here cost half that amount. These colleges were chosen for the following factors:

  • Top 25 percent of schools whose students are employed after graduation
  • Top median half of salary after graduation
  • Lowest 25th percentile for cost of tuition and fees
  • Top median half for number of available programs
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number University University Information
1 North Dakota State University

Photo credit: NDSU

This public land-grant research university has its flagship campus at Fargo (city slogan: Fargo. North of Normal), with extension centers and research locations across North Dakota. The university had a total enrollment of more than 14,300 students in 2017.

North Dakota State University offers a total of 254 degree programs, including many that dovetail with the state’s many rural industries and its booming oil industry. Students can study agricultural and biosystems engineering, crop and weed sciences, natural resource management, and the entire ecosystem of North Dakota’s vast rangelands. Yes, it gets cold up there, but that doesn’t stop intrepid students and locals from enjoying Food Truck Park as weather permits and a growing brewery and distillery scene. The university features an exceptional 94 percent admissions rate, and 94 percent of graduates were employed 10 years after enrolling at NDSU.

2 University of Wisconsin-Stout

Photo credit: UW-Stout

UW-Stout, a member of the University of Wisconsin System, is located in scenic Menomonie in western Wisconsin. The university, which was founded in 1891, offers a small-town college experience – the population of Menomonie is just over 16,000. Lake Menomin sits in the heart of the city, as does the Red Cedar River with its miles of bike trails.

University of Wisconsin-Stout in 2001 was awarded the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award by former President George W. Bush. The award recognizes outstanding business, healthcare and educational institutions in the U.S. The university was recognized for its strong leadership, strategic planning, performance results and sharp focus of faculty and staff.

Students who complete one of the university’s degree programs report a 97 percent employment rate, and 93 percent of graduating students were still employed 10 years later. Just over 93 percent of applicants are admitted as well.

3 South Dakota State University

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Nestled in thriving Brookings, the fourth-largest city in the state, South Dakota State University enrolls more than 12,000 students each year, making it the largest postsecondary institution in the state. The university also serves students from neighboring Nebraska and North Dakota; however, more than one-third of all the university’s graduates remain living in South Dakota.

SDSU offers a wide range of academic programs in agricultural and biological sciences, including majors in agricultural education and agricultural leadership. The university also is home to the South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station, a partnership between the school and the U.S. Department of Agriculture where scientists and faculty members carry out research at experimentation locations throughout the state.

South Dakota State University makes our list of hidden gem colleges based on its high 91 percent admissions rate and the fact that just over 93 percent of graduates were employed a decade after enrolling in the school. College Magazine named SDSU number one for best school for out-of-state students.

4 Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania

Photo credit: Cgboeree, Wikipedia – Public Domain

Locals refer to this public university in the borough of Shippensburg as “The Ship.” The college was founded in 1871 and is a member of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

Students enjoy the school’s modest 20:1 student-faculty ratio, meaning they can expect a good deal of interaction with their professors. A hidden gem about “The Ship:” the school is the only state university in Pennsylvania that offers undergraduate degrees in computer engineering, electrical engineering, entrepreneurship, and mechanical and software engineering. The university also has an exceptional accounting program – accounting students have one of the nation’s best first-time pass rates (78 percent) for the Certified Public Accounting exam. Shippensburg University admits 89 percent of all applicants, while tuition and fees cost just over $10,000 as of spring 2018.

5 Missouri University of Science and Technology

Photo credit: Wikimedia: Adavidb – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

At the northwest edge of Missouri University of Science & Technology’s campus, students can marvel at a partial reconstruction of the ancient site Stonehenge. The school makes our list of hidden gem schools due to its high 88 percent admissions rate and modest cost of tuition and fees at $9,048. Ten-year graduates of the university also enjoy median salaries of $67,100, the highest median salary of any of the 35 institutions featured here.

Missouri University of Science and Technology is well-known for its strong engineering programs – when it was founded in 1870 Missouri S&T was one of the first technological schools west of the Mississippi. The university’s renowned college of engineering and computing is a hidden gem amongst regional educational institutions due to the fact that it offers 18 undergraduate degree programs, the majority of which are accredited by the Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). There also are 19 master’s and Ph.D. programs to pursue at the college of engineering and computing.

6 Illinois State University

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Located smack-dab between the major cities of Chicago and St. Louis and less than a three-hour drive from each, Illinois State University was the first public university in the state of Illinois when it was founded in 1857. The university offers 76 undergraduate degree programs, 41 master’s degrees and 10 Ph.D. programs.

Illinois is the country’s second-largest producer of corn and soybeans, so it’s no small wonder that Illinois State University offers a wide range of undergraduate and graduate degrees in agriculture, including agribusiness, agronomy management, food industry management, agriscience, and agriculture communications and leadership. The university also offers seven master’s programs in biological sciences.

Annual enrollment at Illinois State University is approximately 21,000 students, and 62 percent of the university’s graduates remain in the state of Illinois. The university makes our list of underrated colleges in part because of its exceptional 88 percent acceptance rate and because 81 percent of freshman return for their sophomore year.

7 Saint Cloud State University

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Saint Cloud State University is located on a 100-acre campus between the Beaver Islands on the Mississippi River and the City of St. Cloud in Minnesota. With an annual enrollment of approximately 15,000 students, St. Cloud State University is one of the largest public postsecondary institutions in the state.

Tuition at the university is a modest $7,814, and the school features more than 200 degree and educational programs. The university is a hidden gem for turning out students to work in the state’s flourishing medical device industry. Minnesota houses more than 480 FDA-approved device manufacturers. The university’s master’s degree programs in applied clinical research, regulatory affairs and services and medical technology quality provides students with a professional pipeline for careers with companies who create and lead new medical devices through the FDA approval processes.

8 University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

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This public university in the city of Eau Claire in west-central Wisconsin first opened its doors to 159 students in 1916. The university makes our list of hidden gem schools based on its high 85 percent admissions rate and 93 percent employment rate for graduates 10 years after enrolling at the university, but there’s another reason why this school is a hidden gem: Eau Claire. The college town of Eau Claire embraces independence and lays claim to being the “indie capital of the Midwest,” and has been compared to indie hotspots such as Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas.

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire offers undergraduate students more than 80 educational pathways, while grad students can pursue 13 different master’s degrees or a doctorate degree in nurse practicing. The university places a strong emphasis on liberal arts curriculum that encourages students to work with experts in their chosen fields or meet people of different cultures.

9 East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania

Photo credit: ESU

East Stroudsburg University is a member of the 14-institution Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. The university was founded in 1893 as a school for teachers.

The university offers 55 different undergraduate degrees from its five colleges. Students who want to carry their education past the baccalaureate level can pursue one of 22 master’s programs or a doctoral degree in educational leadership. Undergraduate degrees include study in biotechnology and chemical biotechnology, earth-space science, sport management and industrial physics. Master’s programs include study in management and leadership in sport, professional and digital media writing and educational leadership, among others.

Students love the size of the campus, which is manageable to get around in, and they also love Warrior Promise, which is the school’s guarantee to offer the same fixed-rate tuition for all four years for degree-seeking students.

10 University of North Dakota

Photo credit: University of North Dakota

This public research university was founded in 1883 by the Dakota Territorial Assembly a full six years before North Dakota became a state. It’s the state’s largest and oldest college with an annual enrollment of more than 15,000 students.

The John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences is a hidden gem offering degrees in space studies, atmospheric sciences and earth system science and policy, while the college of business and public administration offers degrees in entrepreneurship, aviation management, operations and supply chain management.

Ninety-four percent of all graduates of UNS were employed a decade after leaving the university, which admits 82 percent of all applicants. It gets cold in Grand Forks, no doubt, with an average January high temperature of 15 degrees. Students can warm up at one of the coffee houses in the area, including Urban Stampede, where students can always find a cozy study nook and dream about September, which boasts an average temperature of 70 degrees.

11 University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The next underrated college in our list is the third-largest university in the state of Wisconsin. Located on a 173-acre campus in Oshkosh in the Fox Cities region of northeastern Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh offers nearly 200 academic majors and admits more than 80 percent of all applicants.

University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh has many online programs that make it a hidden gem for distance education. The university offers nine fully online bachelor’s degree, and five completely online master’s degree pathways. Tuition at the university is a modest $7,487, and 94 percent of all graduates had jobs 10 years after enrolling in a degree program at UW Oshkosh.

Students looking for an edible hidden gem in Oshkosh need look no further than the fried cheese curds (you are in cheese country, after all) at Pete’s Garage Bar, which is buzzing at all hours of the day and night and a favorite of UW-Oshkosh students.

12 University of Iowa

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UI is the oldest postsecondary institution in the state of Iowa. This underrated college is located in Iowa City, which consistently garners recognition as a favorable place to live by several different media outlets. Students are rabid about their beloved Hawkeyes sports teams, and they are just as passionate about student life – there are more than 500 student organizations and 26 fraternities and sororities on campus. The college also boasts 409 educational programs, the most of any institution on this list.

University of Iowa had a total enrollment of more than 33,000 students in fall of 2016, including students from all 50 states and 114 different countries. Campus-wide student-faculty ratio was a favorable 16:1. The university has garnered national recognition for its writing programs, particularly its graduate program in creative nonfiction writing that requires a two-year residency with the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Although UI flies under the radar of many Iowa students, it boasts an 81 percent acceptance rate and tuition and fees of $8,104.

13 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

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This university, also part of the University of Wisconsin System, is an anchor institution in the city of Whitewater. Located just an hour from Milwaukee, the small university in the southeastern corner of the state may not be the first choice of students with their sights set on a big college environment, but it has the second-lowest cost of tuition and fees of any school in this list at $7,637. It also has a very high transfer rate – during the three-year span from the 2014-2015 academic year to the 2016-2107 school year, approximately one-third of all freshman students at UW Whitewater were transfer students. Many of those students transfer to UW Whitewater from other institutions in the University of Wisconsin System or from Madison Area Technical College.

UW-Whitewater also boasts a favorable 81 percent admissions rate, and more than 94 percent of its graduates had jobs a decade after enrolling at the university, making it a true hidden gem of education for residents of southeast Wisconsin.

14 University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Yet another school on the list of hidden gems is part of the University of Wisconsin System. This underrated university is located at La Crosse in the heart of the Driftless Wisconsin Area in the western part of the state. It’s a region of mixed scenic beauty featuring peaceful countryside, sculpted limestone bedrock valleys and rolling forested hillsides. The unique topography of the Driftless region was never shaped by retreating glaciers during the last Ice Age.

UW La Crosse has an annual enrollment of more than 10,500 students, and more than 80 percent of students are from Wisconsin. UW La Crosse offers nearly 100 undergraduate academic programs and 21 graduate degrees. Grad students also can pursue two doctoral degree programs at the college, which makes our list of underrated institutions with a high 80 percent acceptance rate and 94 percent rate of employed graduates 10 years after enrollment.

15 Westfield State University

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Founded in 1839 by noted educator Horace Mann, Westfield State University was the first co-educational college in the U.S. to offer an education regardless of a student’s gender or race. Westfield is a modest-sized city in Massachusetts that once was a prominent manufacturing center for the buggy whip industry – and it’s still known by its informal nickname “Whip City.”

Westfield State University offers nearly 100 educational programs taught within the framework of the Westfield State Experience, the university’s signature program that highlights various aspects of students’ educational journeys from freshman year to graduation day. Educational programs culminate in capstone courses, projects and senior events that prepare students for the transition into the workforce or for graduate school. It’s this signature program, along with an 80 percent acceptance rate and modest cost of tuition and fees, that make Westfield State a truly underrated college.

16 University of Northern Iowa

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Bigger doesn’t always mean better when it comes to educational institutions. UNI earns its hidden gem status after consistently garnering accolades from the likes of Princeton Review and U.S. News and World Report as an exceptional regional Midwest institution and for its academic programs, most notably its highly selective M.B.A. program.

UNI offers more than 90 undergraduate majors, including the top teacher education program in the state of Iowa. The university’s department of curriculum and instruction offers a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, elementary education and middle-level education, and graduate degrees in literacy education, school libraries studies, instructional technology and elementary education. There’s also a Doctor of Education in curriculum and instruction.

The university’s continued recognition for value and academics, as well as its strong emphasis on teacher education programs, helps it land in these rankings of underrated colleges. UNI features annual tuition and fees of $7,817 and an acceptance rate just under 80 percent.

17 Keene State College

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons by John Phelan – Own work, CC BY 3.0, 2

Students seeking a hidden gem college should check out this small liberal arts university in Keene, N.H. The college has an annual enrollment of less than 4,000 students, with an average student-faculty ratio of 16:1 that delivers a more personalized educational experience.

Tuition is Keene State College offers more than 80 academic programs, and the college has a 79 percent admissions rate. Keene State College’s academic programs are developed to foster academic excellence and civic responsibility – the heart of the college’s emphasis on a liberal education. All students are expected to graduate with strong academic, communication, interpersonal, critical-thinking and intercultural skills that can help distinguish them from their peers in the workplace. More than 90 percent of graduates held jobs a decade after they began their educational journey at Keene State College.

18 University of New Hampshire-Main Campus

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The University of New Hampshire’s main campus is the state’s flagship public research institution. It’s not only close to the spectacular White Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, it’s about an hour’s drive from historic Boston – even shorter when taking the train, and there’s a station right on campus.

The main campus is located at Durham, a quintessential New England college town. Its home to more than 15,000 students enrolled in 200 different academic programs. Class on average had a modest 18:1 student-faculty ratio. University of New Hampshire hosts the largest undergraduate research conference in the U.S. More than 1,800 UNH students present at the 12-day event.

University of New Hampshire in Durham is an underrated college due to its exceptional research activities that span from the depths of earth’s oceans to the edge of the solar system. The university receives more than $100 million annually in competitive external funding.

19 University of Missouri-Columbia

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The University of Missouri in Columbia was the first public college founded west of the Mississippi when it opened in 1839. That’s why the campus is located next to downtown Columbia, placing dining, shopping and music venues within a short walk from campus. College life also includes exploring outdoors activities such as caves, cliffs, forests, streams and miles of biking trails.

Mizzou has an annual enrollment of more than 30,000 students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries. The college’s focus on research, teaching and scholarship has earned it a place in the prestigious 60-member Association of American Universities. Science, engineering, math, technology and health account for as much as 40 percent of all degrees earned at Mizzou, which offers more than 300 degree programs. Its diverse online degree options make it a hidden gem for distance learning — students can pursue 90 different online degree programs.

20 Indiana University-Bloomington

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IU is the flagship institution in the eight-school Indiana University system. The Bloomington campus was founded in 1820 and had an enrollment of more than 43,000 students in 2017.

Bloomington was named by NerdWallet as the best city in the U.S. for work-life balance. The campus consistently earns accolades from numerous media outlets for the strength of various academic programs, including graduate programs in nonprofit management, environmental policy management, public affairs, M.B.A., music, theatre and design. The college offers more than 550 academic degree and certificate programs. The campus enjoys statewide support for its beloved Hoosiers NCAA basketball team, and students can join one of more than 750 student organizations and 70 fraternities and sororities on campus.

IU makes our list of underrated colleges by delivering an exceptional college and academic experience for a modest cost of tuition at under $11k, which is far lower than competing private colleges. It also boasts a 78 percent acceptance rate.

21 Citadel Military College of South Carolina

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This historic military school is a landmark institution in the scenic city of Charleston, S.C. The college was founded in 1821 and is one of six U.S. military colleges. The Citadel consistently earns accolades as a top regional public university in the south, as well as for being a veteran-friendly institution.

The college has an annual enrollment of about 3,300 undergraduate and graduate students, with a low 13:1 student-faculty ratio in graduate classes. Students at The Citadel make up the South Carolina Corps of Cadets, and educational programs are taught within college’s core values of promoting honor, duty and respect. The Citadel is a hidden gem college based on its modest cost of tuition at $11,364 in spring 2018 and its 76 percent acceptance rate. An education at this prestigious military institution is within reach for some students who may not otherwise be able to gain entry into a military school.

22 University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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University of Nebraska’s flagship campus at Lincoln is the state’s premier teaching, service and research university. The college offers more than 280 academic programs and serves as a pipeline for delivering educated professionals into the state’s workforce.

The university’s efforts in basic and applied research in the areas of agriculture, environmental and natural resources are recognized in the state’s legislative statutes. In the 2016-2017 academic year the university conferred more than 5,300 degrees, including nearly 4,000 bachelor’s degrees and 300 doctoral degrees.

Lincoln bills itself as the ultimate college city. Lincoln has a population of about 300,000 and enjoys world-class entertainment at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The city is the cornerstone of the burgeoning Silicon Prairie tech scene, and residents also are deeply passionate about their beloved Cornhuskers sports teams. With all its offerings, University of Nebraska at Lincoln is truly a hidden gem for education when compared to schools charging five times the cost – and tuition was $8,367 in spring 2018, far lower than competing institutions.

23 University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth

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This university, located in Dartmouth about an hour south of Boston on the South Coast region of Massachusetts, is a Tier-1 national doctoral research university. Total enrollment for the 2016-2017 academic year was 8,647 students.

UMass Dartmouth is highly regarded for its distance education programs. About 70 percent of all students take online classes or are pursuing online degrees at UMass Dartmouth. The university offers 51 undergraduate degrees, as well as 25 master’s programs and 12 doctoral degrees. There are 15 bachelor’s degrees, and seven are offered either completely online or in hybrid format, making UMass Dartmouth a hidden gem for its breadth of online offerings. Tuition and fees in spring 2018 were under $13k, and the university has a favorable 76 percent admissions rate.

24 University of Minnesota-Duluth

Photo Credit: U of Minnesota-Duluth

University of Minnesota at Duluth is a medium-sized regional university offering more than 130 educational programs. The university has 93 undergraduate programs, and grad students can pursue master’s degrees in 20 different fields or a Doctor of Education. Duluth is the state’s fourth-largest city and offers students easy access to student-favorite restaurants, music venues and a variety of career and outdoor recreational opportunities…and who doesn’t love a bulldog for a mascot?

Students enjoy the scenic campus location on 244 acres that overlook the shores of Lake Superior. The school has undergone significant expansion and added eight new buildings to accommodate an influx of students. More than 11,100 students attended the university in 2017, including 56 percent from outside of Minnesota. These factors, combined with the school’s high acceptance rate and cost of tuition, help make this school a hidden gem.

25 Michigan Technological University

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Graduates of this medium-sized public research university in the city of Houghton enjoy the second-highest median annual salaries — $64,700 — of all colleges featured here. That fact has been recognized in “best-of” lists compiled by Forbes, SmartAsset, Payscale.com and Money Magazine.

The campus is located on 925 acres overlooking the Keweenaw Waterway near Lake Superior. The school’s web site lets students know it snows a lot on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – the campus receives an average of 200 inches of snow each year. Championing that rugged climate, however, coupled with rigorous academic programs in STEM disciplines, make Michigan Technological University college an underrated college. The university offers bachelor’s and master’s more than 120 undergraduate areas of study. More than 7,300 student attended the university in 2017 – including 4,680 students in its college of engineering. That college offers 16 engineering degree pathways with many different concentrations.

26 Fitchburg State University

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Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts is a large regional public university in the city of Fitchburg about 50 miles west of Boston. Fitchburg is home to many museums and historical sites – the city was first settled in 1730.

Students who enroll at Fitchburg can attend a medium-sized New England school that offers more than 100 academic programs, yet still be close to all the cultural experiences and career opportunities available in Boston. Enrollment was 7,262 students in fall of 2017, and Fitchburg State accepts 75 percent of all applicants. Students enjoy skiing at nearby Wachusett Mountain, and there are more than 60 student-run organizations on campus. These factors, as well as tuition costs just under $10,000 in Spring 2018, make Fitchburg a hidden opportunity for a classic New England college experience.

27 Augusta University

Photo Credit: Flickr By Flickr user Stacie Wells – Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Augusta University in Georgia is one of four public research universities in the University System of Georgia. The college’s roots stretch back to 1828, and it now has satellite campuses in four other Georgia cities. In April the city of Augusta, Georgia’s second-largest city, hosts The Master’s, the most prestigious tournament in professional golf.

Nestled along the shores of the Savannah River, Augusta University is home to the state’s first public medical school — Medical College of Georgia is the eighth-largest medical school in the country. The health science campus is located in the heart of downtown Augusta and houses the largest nursing program in the state, as well as Dental College of Georgia, the only dental school in the state. This wide range of academic offerings, coupled with the region’s deep history, make Augusta University an underrated college.

28 University of Rhode Island

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URI at Kingston is the land and sea grant university for the state of Rhode Island. Total enrollment was more than 18,000 students in the 2016-2017 academic year, with 44 percent of students living out of state.

The university offers 82 bachelor’s degree programs, and its 70 graduate degree pathways were the choice of just over 2,000 students. One-third of all students live on campus among 26 residence halls. Students can enjoy activities such as kayaking on the Narrow River, visiting Fort Adams State Park or Beavertail Lighthouse and Park in nearby Jamestown, or taking the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. The Atlantic Ocean plays a major part in the college’s culture and history, and that’s reflected in undergraduate academic programs such as aquaculture and fishery technology, ocean engineering, geological oceanography and marine biology.

These diverse educational and recreational opportunities make URI a hidden gem for an exceptional college experience.

29 University of South Dakota

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This hidden gem school is the flagship public university for the state of South Dakota. The university is located in the city of Vermillion in the southeast corner of the state. Classes began in 1882, and classes held at the university’s historic Old Main building are steeped in history and tradition. Annual enrollment is approximately 10,000 students, including about 2,500 graduate students.

Vermillion offers students exceptional recreational opportunities, including kayaking the Missouri River, biking, and access to Great Bear Recreational Park. It also offers a low 2 percent sales tax, so students can may save a bit of money while living in Vermillion. Tuition and fees at the university were under $9k in spring 2018, and 92 percent of graduates were employed a decade after enrolling at USD. The college offers 173 academic programs, including nearly 40 online degrees. With its medium-sized student population, wide range of academic programs and healthy study-play balance, University of South Dakota is an underappreciated option for a college education.

30 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Photo credit: By CBGator87 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Virginia Tech has its flagship campus at Blacksburg and additional educational centers across the state. Each year, more than 34,000 students enroll at the university and pursue 110 bachelor’s degrees programs or an incredible depth of graduate degree pathways. Virginia Tech offers 170 master’s and doctoral degree programs, making it a true gem for graduate- and professional-level education.

Graduates of Virginia Tech enjoy high median annual salaries of $60,500 10 years after graduation, and 94 percent of graduates were employed a decade after enrolling. The university received a record 27,178 applications in fall of 2017, but it has a 73 percent acceptance rate. The on-campus Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets also distinguishes the university – it’s one of just three campuses in the country with an active corps of cadet and civilians on campus.

31 Towson University

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Towson University is a member of the University System of Maryland. It’s the largest university in Baltimore with an annual enrollment of more than 22,000 students. The university has garnered national recognition for its academic offering and graduate school, as well as overall value. Tuition at Towson University was less than $10k in spring 2018, and the university has a 73 percent admissions rate.

Towson University’s seven colleges offer 65 undergraduate degree programs. Its graduate school offers more than 75 advanced degrees and certificates, though, which makes the university an exceptional choice for students interested in earning master’s or doctoral degrees.

The college’s emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship has led to key partnerships with leading business and community organizations in the region. Student life at Towson University means getting involved – there are more than 200 student organizations on campus. Foodies will find plenty of options nearby, with restaurants offering Korean, Peruvian, Mexican and good old American bar food.

32 University of Mary

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University of Mary is a private Catholic college located in the town of Bismarck, N.D. It bills itself as one of the most affordable private colleges in the nation – tuition and fees were $16,685 in spring 2018. University of Mary also features a high 96 percent admissions rate.

The main campus sits on a serene bluff overlooking the city and the Missouri River. All freshmen and sophomore students are required to live on campus, which fosters greater sense of community – and better grades. Students at the university can pursue more than 60 undergraduate degrees, 14 master’s degrees or three doctoral programs. All curriculum is infused with Christian, Catholic and Benedictine values to help prepare students to be ethical leaders upon graduation.

Bismarck, the state capital, offers students nearby access to national and state parks, diverse arts and entertainment offerings, and outdoor adventures ranging from hiking the Badlands to biking along the city’s many miles recreational trails. These factors and its cost of tuition make University of Mary an underrated college.

33 SUNY College at Geneseo

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This hidden gem school is a member of the State University System of New York. SUNY Geneseo, founded in 1871, offers an exceptional liberal arts education. It’s been recognized by Princeton Review, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, U.S. News & World Report and other media outlets for its value and quality of educational offerings. Tuition was $8,113 in spring 2018, and the college has a high 73 percent admissions rate. The college is the premier institution in the town of Geneseo.

SUNY Geneseo offers 40 areas of undergraduate study, and graduate programs in education and accounting. Enrollment was just over 5,600 students in fall of 2016; however, there are more than 200 student organizations on campus. When not engaged in their studies, students at SUNY Geneseo often can be found paddling along the Genesee River, biking on Nation’s Road, whitewater rafting at Letchworth State Park, or swimming at Conesus Lake. Its wealth of outdoor activities, exceptional educational programs and affordability make SUNY Geneseo a hidden find for a great college experience.

34 James Madison University

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James Madison University is a centerpiece in the town of Harrisonburg, Virg. The university has been recognized for being a green college and for value of quality education.

Students can pursue 133 degree programs culminating in either a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree and also enjoy a low 16:1 student-faculty ratio. Fall 2017 enrollment was 20,779 students, including 1,888 graduate students.

The 675-acre campus is located in Virginia’s scenic Shenandoah Valley and is close to the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park and Shenandoah River. Student life in Harrisonburg is a mix of rigorous academic study coupled with outdoors ventures, vibrant nightlife in the city’s historic downtown district, and making new friends at a wide range of popular community events. Harrisonburg boasts the first arts and cultural district in the state of Virginia. Students can access art exhibits, concerts, open mic nights and film festivals throughout the year. With its diverse cultural and academic offerings and busy student life, James Madison University makes our list as an underrated college.

35 Rowan University

Photo credit: Rowan University

Rounding out our list of underrated institutions is this public research university in Glassboro, N.J. that also has a satellite campus in Camden. More than 14,000 students each year choose Rowan University, which offers more than 80 undergraduate degree programs and 60 master’s programs.

The school is a popular among New Jersey residents for good reason – it’s earned accolades for its engineering, business, communications and osteopathic medicine programs, as well as for overall value among public schools. Tuition at Rowan is $12,864.

The recently completed $350 million Rowan Boulevard renovation project linking the campus to Glassboro’s vibrant downtown retail district redefines the student experience at Rowan University. Students can be found enjoying meals, shopping and working in small offices along the one-third mile corridor. The campus is just a short drive from Philadelphia, where students can find even more cultural activities and potential jobs in their chosen fields. Its access to local and regional attractions, excellent educational programs and 71 percent acceptance rate help make Rowan University an ideal choice for new college freshmen or transfer students.

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