The 10 Best “Hidden Gem” Catholic Colleges in the US

For many, the right education begins with a Catholic college.

We all know the big name Catholic colleges – schools like Notre Dame, Georgetown, Villanova, and Boston College.

Don’t get me wrong – those four schools are amazing colleges that have produced great alumni and have tremendous faculty.

However, what if I told you there are some amazing Catholic colleges oftentimes overlooked in national rankings lists. I am talking about schools with tremendous research programs, a wide array of activities, and much more to offer students.

Today, in our continued “hidden gem” series of articles, we are examining amazing, top-tier Catholic Colleges that are true hidden gems.

These schools have produced internationally renowned alumni, have top programs, and nationally on the rise.

Although we have reviewed a few other Catholic schools in other hidden gem lists, in an effort to showcase the widest variety of hidden gem schools, we are only looking at universities not yet listed in one of our other hidden gem articles.

Without further ado, here are College Gazette’s picks for 10 of the top hidden gem Catholic Colleges in the US.

Regis University (Denver, CO)

Regis University
Jpock, Regis University-Main Hall, CC BY-SA 3.0

Our list starts off with the only Jesuit university in the entire Western Rocky Mountain Region, Regis University. 

One special focus of Regis University is in medicine, as demonstrated by their highly-rated Rueckert-Hartman College for Health Professions. This school offers a few highly-employable Doctoral degrees, including Pharmacy, Physical Therapy, and Nursing. According to Registered Nursing Organization, Regis has some of the best RN programs available in the US.

For 23 years, Regis has been named a “Top School in the West” by US News and World Report

Through Regis’ Jesuit Worldwide Learning initiative, students can serve citizens of developing countries, including Myanmar, Kenya, and Zambia. Since the founding of Jesuit Worldwide Learning in 2010, nearly 10,000 students have participated in this service-oriented program.

Over 10,000 students call Regis their home; additionally, the school has nearly 80,000 alumni.

Manhattan College (New York, NY)

A liberal arts college, Manhattan College was recently named by MONEY Magazine as the #1 Transformative College in the nation. This ranking evaluates which schools help students succeed the most considering economic factors and other variables.

Additionally, the Brookings Institute called Manhattan College a Top-10 college in the country when it came to actual vs. expected mid-career earnings back in 2015. 

However, what makes Manhattan College special is hardly its rankings, but rather, its people, programs, and offerings.

Over 80% of the student body is undergraduate, which is comparable to other liberal arts colleges. This means nearly all of the university’s student resources are allocated towards the undergraduate population, whereas many research universities allocate the majority towards graduate students.

One of Manhattan College’s signature extracurricular activities is the Manhattan College Pipes & Drums, a musical ensemble who perform in many local NYC parades, including the NYC Saint Patrick’s Day Parade.

With 50,000 alumni working worldwide, past students include a NASCAR team owner, soap opera stars, several NYC mayors including Rudy Giuliani, and a number of University presidents.

University of Portland (Portland, OR)

University of Portland
M.O. Stevens, Franz Hall University of Portland, public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

With approximately 4200 students in total, the University of Portland is a small, private Catholic University based in Oregon. 

Looking at reviews from Unigo as well as the school’s own Facebook page, students describe the teaching environment around them to be encouraging, open, and having close 1-on-1 relationships with professors at the school. 

In 2020, University of Portland ranked as the 2nd best college in Regional Universities West by US News.

Life around campus is endless. They include There are also a lot of places around campus to visit like the Art Museum and the Opera. There you can even get discounted tickets if you’re a student at the university.

College of Saint Scholastica (Duluth, MN)

College of Saint Scholastica
Vclark1, Tower Hall, CC BY-SA 4.0

The College of Saint Scholastica is over a century old, having been founded in 1912. It’s spread across 186 acres and has a total enrollment of nearly 4,000 students. 

Based in Duluth, College of Saint Scholastica Campus overlooks its Minnesota city as it stretches to Lake Superior.

A number of programs at the College of Saint Scholastica are renowned,including a health information management program. It was actually the first college in the country to grant both a Bachelor’s as well as Master’s in this much-needed major. Students in this major are provided hands-on experience working in medical clinics or equivalent healthcare facilities in an operational capacity.

One thing we like about the College of Saint Scholastica is its dedication to individualism among incoming students. Part of their efforts towards this goal is being a test-optional college; students can apply without needing to submit SATs and ACTs, instead being judged by their grades as well as individual merits.

Duluth is a great city to go to college due to a strong outdoors winter culture complete with skiing, sledding, and more.

Lewis University (Romeoville, IL)

You may have heard of Lewis University’s most prominent alumni. They include 8-time Grammy award-winning artist Chaka Khan as well as Kay Cannon, who wrote the Pitch Perfect films. 

However, what makes Lewis University special is not just its alumni; it is home to several of the best programs a Catholic College has to offer in 2020.

One of Lewis University’s best known programs is in Aviation. The school has a flight team that competes with 80 other schools; in some years, their flight team is ranked among the top 5 nationwide

Lewis University is regularly cited by both US News as well as The Princeton Review among the top regional universities in the midwest.

Approximately 6,600 students call Lewis University home, which is a 20% increase in enrollment from 15 years ago. It truly is a hidden gem Catholic College on the rise.

University of Detroit Mercy (Detroit, MI)

University of Detroit Mercy
Pfretz13, UDMCommons, public domain, details on Wikimedia Commons

The University of Detroit Mercy, founded by Jesuit Priests nearly 150 years ago in 1877,  is known for its strong focus on science and technology. The faculty of the College of Engineering and Science is currently conducting groundbreaking research on Assistive Technologies for disabled persons. These include electronic equipment and false limbs which may assist in every day chores and even in caring for children.

The largest Catholic University in the state of Michigan, the school houses a number of other “hidden gem” programs. One such program is their law clinic, which has won numerous awards from the American Bar Association, including the Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access with Meritorious Recognition in 2012.

Other clinics the school houses include a Dental Clinic. These facilities demonstrate the university’s special priority in assisting & engaging their community.

Speaking of community engagement, one of the University of Detroit Mercy’s most unique offerings is a Center for Social Entrepreneurship. One of their programs here is the CSE Boost, an 9-week workshop for “social organizations” – the purpose of this is to help bolster the local economy and business of Detroit, making this university, in a way, a business leader in the Detroit economy. 

Rockhurst University (Kansas City, MO)

Rockhurst University
Jzsj, RU central tower, CC BY-SA 4.0

The core of the Rockhurst experience is a service-based education. Nearly all of the school’s 3,000+ students participate in community service, outputting approximately 25,000 hours towards Kansas City and surrounding communities. This number represents a significant commitment reflected in the values of this university – placing community and service as a number one priority.

In fact, this school’s engagement with the community has been recognized by The White House; in 2008, Rockhurst received the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction. Rockhurst has also been awarded a Carnegie Foundation award for its commitment to service excellence.

Recently, Rockhurst University acquired Saint Luke’s College of Health Sciences. This move adds more than 700 students to Rockhurst’s total count, including Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD students. 

Gannon University (Erie, PA)

Gannon University
Doug Kerr, Erie, Pennsylvania, CC BY-SA 2.0

Gannon University was founded in 1925 in Erie, the fourth largest city in Pennsylvania and one of the ports on the Great Lakes. The university, like most Catholic Colleges in the US, emphasizes faith, leadership and social responsibility, as well as inclusiveness.

Almost 15 years ago, Gannon launched an unprecedented $25m campaign to transform its school and campus. With that investment, the school erected a technology incubator fostering local business development, a renovated science center, and a new academic center.

One of Gannon’s flagship student programs is known as LIFECORE. LIFECORE is a university-sponsored initiative helping students to grow outside the classroom; to this end, the school stages events appealing to LIFECORE principles, including spiritual, physical, and emotional, and culture growth. 

The idea of LIFECORE is simple; Gannon prepares students not to just become productive students, but also self-discovered, aware individuals.

St. Edward’s University (Austin, TX)

St. Edwards University
LoneStarMike, St Edwards University, CC BY-SA 3.0

Saint Edward’s is among the highest Fulbright-producing Catholic colleges in the nation. In 2014 alone, 5 students were awarded the prestigious Fulbright prize. Since 2008, 66 Fulbright winners have been produced by St. Edward’s

In the past 5 years, St. Edward’s has undergone tremendous innovation to its programs. This included developing greater partnerships with Austin-based businesses; the idea behind this is to help bridge and foster connections between local corporations and students seeking internships, jobs, and other opportunities.

In 1999, St. Edward’s embarked on a huge renovation project. The result of the school’s tireless fundraising efforts have been an amazing success, with $300 million(!) worth of campus and school technology improvements.

The students at St. Edwards are remarkable in their achievements; each year, 70,000 combined hours of community service are performed by the 4300 students at St. Edward’s.  

Rankings for St. Edward’s include a “Top Colleges” Designation by Forbes, “Green College” by The Princeton Review, and a National Survey of Student Engagement award.

Xavier University (Cincinnati, OH)

Xavier University
w_lemay, Xavier University, CC0 1.0

Founded in 1831, this amazing hidden gem school has over 7,000 students in a campus measuring 190 acres.

Xavier places a significant emphasis on undergraduate study and liberal arts education, although a number of excellent, highly-specialized graduate programs exist as well. Rankings for this school include a Best Value nod by Kiplinger as well as a #2 “up-and-coming” ranking. 

Xavier boasts significant learning outcomes for their students, including an 86% of pre-med students accepted into graduate school, well above the national average of 45%. Additionally, the school has many offerings for their students, including 90+ majors, 60+ minors, and over 150+ clubs and extracurricular activities. 

All students at the school are required to take the Core Curriculum based around the Ratio Studiorum, a document of Jesuit ideals including philosophy, foreign language, mathematics, and more. The

One unique offering Xavier is home to is their “Alternative Break” program. This unique program helps students find opportunities for volunteer services during Spring Break, reflecting the school’s commitment to service-based leadership.