10 Best “Hidden Gem” Universities in New England

New England is well-known for its active college scene, with over 100 institutions of higher education calling New England home.

Many of the world’s most well-known colleges are right here in New England – schools like Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth are all synonymous with elite northeast education.

However, there are a number of excellent universities in New England outside these well-known Ivy League institutions.

A number of these universities have significant research expenditures, contribute to the local economy, and even have employment rates just as high as nearly any other school.

Today, we outline 10 amazing “hidden gem” universities in New England.

What qualifies a school as a hidden gem?

One, the school has to have demonstrated excellence over the last decade in the form of research, rankings, employment rating of graduates, student satisfaction, and more.

Secondly, the school cannot yet be in the top 200 in the US News national universities ranking list.

Third, the school must have the status of a university. While there are many excellent, hidden-gem liberal arts colleges in New England, for this article we are focusing on university-based programs.

Finally, the schools listed here are unique from the colleges listed in another “hidden gem” list we published recently.

Here are our picks for 10 of the best “hidden gem” universities in New England.

Southern Connecticut State University (New Haven, CT)

Southern Connecticut State University
Wshyam, Buley Library, CC BY-SA 4.0

This hidden gem of a university is home to many of New England’s top specialty programs, including teaching as well as nursing. SCSU has an annual NCLEX (licensing exam for nurses) pass rating between 90% and 100%, significantly higher than the average of 73% nationwide.

SCSU is one of New England’s best universities for study-abroad opportunity; SCSU students can explore over 100 destinations through the school’s International Education programs.

SCSU is constantly innovating its curriculum to meet the demands of the 21st century. One recent addition to their curriculum is a program in Data Science, one of the fastest-growing job markets in the country with an annual starting salary of approximately $130k.

Alumni of SCSU include New York Giants General Manager Dave Gettleman as well as Wonder Years actor Dan Lauria. 

Roger Williams University (Bristol, RI)

Roger Williams University
Kenneth C. Zirkel, Roger Williams University School of Art, CC BY-SA 4.0

Roger Williams University (RWU) is among New England’s best schools for career outcomes; incredibly, students have a 95% rate of employment within two years of graduating. Interestingly, RWU is home to Rhode Island’s only law school.

Roger Williams is hardly just a New England school; this university has a strong presence throughout the world, having established campuses in London and Florence, as well as several sister institutions in countries including France, Brazil, and Vietman.

RWU is paving the way for increased access to higher education. Included in RWU’s financial accessibility initiatives are: increasing scholarship value of merit-based and need-based financial aid, removing GPA requirements for merit-based scholarships (which means those scholarships will not be revoked based on academic performance), reducing room and board cost by $800, and efforts to eliminate lab fees altogether.

RWU sets a golden standard for queer and trans student inclusion via inclusive policies and actions. Nestled in the heart of RWU campus is the Queer and Trans Advocacy Center, which oversees campus-wide inclusion initiatives, policies, and procedures.

Bridgewater State University (Bridgewater, MA)

Bridgewater State University
Kenneth C. Zirkel, Boyden Hall, Bridgewater State University, CC BY-SA 4.0

Just 30 miles outside of Boston, Bridgewater State University is a true New England hidden gem.

Bridgewater State University was recently designated by the Council On Undergraduate Research as one of the best undergraduate research programs in the country, a prestigious honor for this regional university. 

Founded by legendary educator Horace Mann, BSU has long held a special tradition throughout New England and beyond as one of the most prominent teacher-training institutions. In fact, it is known as the “birthplace of teacher education in America.”

The ample access to ground-breaking, experiential research opportunities gives BSU students a unique advantage in the job application process, as confirmed by the 95% of BSU graduates who are employed within 2 years of graduation.

Salem State University (Salem, MA)

Salem State University
Fletcher6, Salem State University, CC BY-SA 3.0

An important university in New England, Salem State offers an education not readily available at most other schools.

One of the school’s defining features is its annual Speaker Series. Established nearly four decades ago, Salem State has provided a spotlight for many of the world’s great speakers, including Presidents Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton, comedian Jay Leno, NFL coach Bill Belichick, and poet Maya Angelou, among many others.

Through the speaker series, students have the opportunity to listen and engage with important historical figures in America. Few schools can offer a similar opportunity for their community.

What makes Salem State a hidden gem, however, is not only its unique speaker series; it has risen substantially over the last decade. Now enrolling over 9,000 students, this school was named a Top Producer of Fulbright awardees in both 2011 as well as 2017.

Salem State has had an unusually large & positive influence for the local economy; in fiscal year 2014, Salem State generated over $820m for all of Massachusetts. 

Over 60,000 people call Salem State their alma mater, including NBA coach Tom Thibodeau as well as House of Representatives member John Tierney.

Plymouth State University (Plymouth, NH) 

Plymouth State University
Magicipiano, Plymouth State U Rounds Hall, CC BY-SA 4.0

Plymouth State was recently designated by the Carnegie Classification among the best schools nationwide for its contribution to the community. Only 6% of all higher education institutions received this prestigious accolade, further demonstrating the community-first mentality of this school’s students and faculty.

Originally chartered as a teacher’s school in the mid-19th century, today Plymouth State is a hidden gem university enrolling over 6,000 students. 

Unlike traditional universities, Plymouth State has a unique curriculum: eschewing the traditional “department” model, Plymouth breaks its curriculum into what the school calls “clusters.” Clusters are programs of an interdisciplinary nature, a few of which being Arts and Technology as well as Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Speaking of entrepreneurship, Plymouth State is among the best schools in the northeast championing and incubating small business. Through its Enterprise Center, opened in 2013, Plymouth State assists local businesses and start-ups; many PSU students participate in these businesses as interns and even find eventual employment in them post-graduation.

A number of publications have recently lauded Plymouth, including Niche who has ranked PSU in the top 10% nationwide for “colleges with best professors.”

University of Massachusetts, Boston (Boston, MA)

UMass Boston is the only school in the entire University of Massachusetts system based in a major American city, giving it a unique edge for students interested in an urban environment for their education.

The excellence of UMass Boston begins with its unusually accomplished faculty, many of which are among the most respected throughout New England. These include Pulitzer-prize winning poet Lloyd Schwartz, prominent economist Julie A. Nelson, and Benjamin Mollow, an important physicist who discovered the eponymous Mollow triplet.

Over the last 5 years, UMass Boston has substantially risen; several new buildings have been erected in this time, including the $182m Integrated Sciences Complex over 200,000 square feet in size, as well as the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, whose inauguration ceremony included the presence of Barack Obama.

A number of UMass Boston’s programs rank in the top 100 nationwide according to US News, including rehabilitation counseling, public affairs, and education.

Johnson & Wales University (Providence, RI)

Johnson & Wales University
Kenneth C. Zirkel, Johnson and Wales Culinary building, Harborside campus, Providence RI, CC BY-SA 4.0

Johnson & Wales is best described as a career-oriented university, focusing on helping its students find sustainable, satisfying employment post-college.

Perhaps what Johnson & Wales is best known for is its culinary program. Among the largest of its kind in the country, nearly 1,700 students are enrolled in this major, making it the most popular academic discipline at this university. All four Johnson & Wales campuses are ranked in the top-12 culinary schools nationwide.

However, what makes Johnson & Wales is more than just its culinary program; it is an ideal education for the student who likes hands-on, experiential education. Amazingly, Johnson & Wales is partnered with over 950 internship-providing programs nationwide. 

The impact of Johnson & Wales is global; students from 57 countries study here. Additionally, alumni of Johnson & Wales are employed in over 120 countries nationwide.

Johnson & Wales has campuses not just in Providence, but also in Charlotte, Miami, and Denver.

Central Connecticut State University (New Britain, CT)

Central Connecticut State University
Sage Ross, Central Connecticut State University Student Center, CC BY-SA 3.0

Among the more selective of Connecticut’s public universities, Central Connecticut State University is home to approximately 12,000 students.

CCSU has been on the rise over the last decade, implementing many new initiatives to further its curricular offerings. Some recent additions include the 4,800 square foot Bichum Engineering Laboratory as well as a number of residence halls.

In fact, in the last decade alone, Central Connecticut State has invested an amazing $394m in its facilities, bolstering its appearance and classroom offerings. 

Recently ranked by The Princeton Review among the nation’s “Best Northeastern Colleges,” CCSU has produced recipients of the Fulbright as recently as 2019

Alumni of CCSU include well-known actor Richard Grieco as well as former Dallas Cowboys head coach Dave Campo.

University of New England (Biddeford & Portland, ME)

Maine’s largest private university is not only one of New England’s top hidden gem universities, it is also among the northeast’s very best higher education institutions.

In 2014, UNE set out on an ambitious mission; called the “Moving Forward Campaign,” UNE raised $60m towards its future mission of making University of New England among the nation’s best schools in terms of student opportunity, curricular innovation, and contemporary facility.

Amazingly, in less than 6 years, UNE is now ranked as a top national university in the most recent edition of US News. 

UNE is also perhaps best known nationwide for its prestigious Marine and Medical Biology programs, as well as its graduate nursing offering at its Portland campus. However, it has a number of other top-tier programs, including Business, Data Science, and more.

Recently, Fitch gave UNE an A+ rating for its financial solubility in late 2019, denoting the positive economic growth of the school. Another unique ranking UNE recently received includes one from the prestigious Brookings Institution, who called UNE the 2nd-best school in Maine for increasing a students’ career earnings

Interestingly, UNE’s College of Osteopathic Medicine is the only medical school in the entire state of Maine.

Sacred Heart University (Fairfield, CT)

Sacred Heart is not just a great hidden gem, but also one of the nation’s premiere Catholic colleges.

Sacred Heart University has been recently ranked highly by US News as well as the Princeton Review. Among the more selective colleges throughout New England, the total student body of Sacred Heart is approximately 8,500 students.

Many Sacred Heart programs are among the highest-ranked throughout the nation. These include their undergraduate business program, which Bloomberg rated among the top in the nation in 2016.

Other highly-rated offerings include Sacred Heart’s Nursing program, which featured a 100% pass rate in the class of 2018 for the NCLEX (licensing exam for nurses). The average pass rate throughout the US is just 73%.

This past year, Zippia called Sacred Heart one of the top-5 universities in Connecticut for getting a job. Amazingly, in 2017, 98% of their students found employment within one year of graduation.

Students at Sacred Heart consistently score their student life very favorably, particularly their theatre arts scene. Beginning in 2009 with a full-scale production of Rent, the school’s Theatre Arts Program has risen to become one of the best schools for extracurricular drama in the northeast.