The 10 Best “Hidden Gem” Colleges in the Midwest

When it comes to colleges in the Midwest, you’re familiar with the major state schools: Ohio State University, University of Michigan, University of Illinois, University of Kansas… the list goes on.

But what about lesser-known schools? The ones that might not have the top-ranking football team or the largest student population?

The Midwest is home to a number of notable colleges that might typically fly under the radar. But oftentimes, that’s what makes these colleges so special — they’re true hidden gems.

In the spirit of sharing some of these hidden gems with the rest of the country, we ranked our top 10 hidden gem colleges in the Midwest.

10. St. Cloud State University (St. Cloud, Minnesota)

Saint Cloud State University
Xylem22, SCSU Miller Center, CC BY-SA 3.0

This public institution, located about an hour northwest of Minneapolis, landed No. 30 on the U.S. News and World Report list of top public schools in the Midwest in 2020.

Although it might not be as well known as the University of Minnesota, St. Cloud State University (SCSU) is the fourth-largest public university in Minnesota with more than 14,000 students.

Additionally, the school has nearly 110,000 alumni around the world. Some notable names include John Stumpf, former chairman and CEO of Wells Fargo; Leo Kottke, Grammy-nominated acoustic guitarist; and Richard Dean Anderson, a producer and actor known for his lead on the TV series, “MacGyver.”

The school gives students plenty of opportunities to explore various programs, activities, and organizations. For one, it has more than 200 undergraduate programs. It also has more than 200 student clubs and organizations as well as sports, including ice hockey, wrestling, and basketball.

SCSU emphasizes the importance of applied learning, offering students a number of research, study abroad, and internship opportunities.

9. Wright State University (Fairborn, Ohio)

This public research institution is located in Fairborn, Ohio, a town of approximately 32,000 people. 

Wright State University was initially established in the 1960s as a branch of Miami University and Ohio State University. It was named in honor of Orville and Wilbur Wright, who lived in nearby Dayton. Several years later, the school became its own entity. Today, it has more than 13,000 students. 

Although Wright State offers 292 degree programs, a few of its schools have recently been nationally recognized. For starters, its nursing school was named one of the top-ranking by Nursing Schools Almanac. Additionally, The Princeton Review named its business school one of the best in the country.

And here’s a fun fact about Wright State: It has an underground tunnel system, one of the most extensive pedestrian tunnel systems at a college. It runs two miles and links up 20 of the 22 academic buildings on campus.

8. Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, Indiana)

Indiana Wesleyan University
manutdglory, Iwupac, public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

This private Christian university is located in Marion, Indiana, a town of less than 30,000 located about an hour and a half outside of Indianapolis. The school itself has nearly 14,000 students. It’s the largest private college in Indiana.

Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) has claimed several titles from the U.S. News and World Report. It was ranked No. 25 for Midwest universities and No. 14 for best undergraduate teaching.

It’s worth noting there are about 3,000 students on campus, while more than 10,000 are national or global students who study online or attend classes at its centers in Indiana, Kentucky, or Ohio. The school offers many online, adult, and graduate programs for working adults.

IWU also offers degrees focused on Christianity. These include children’s ministries, sports ministries, worship arts, biblical literature, and intercultural studies, to name a few.

7. Fort Hays State University (Hays, Kansas)

Fort Hays State University
Sesamehoneytart, Fort Hays State University Sheridan Hall, CC BY-SA 4.0

Fort Hays State University (FHSU) is a public university located in Hays, Kansas, the largest city in Northwest Kansas with a population of 20,000. It’s mostly known as a college town, the home of FHSU. On its 200-acre campus, you’ll find about 4,500 students. (Like IWU, FHSU also has a robust online program with more than 7,000 virtual students.)

According to the U.S. News and World Report, some of the school’s most popular majors are business, management, marketing, education, and psychology. After graduation, 96 percent of students land jobs or enter grad school.

Here’s a fun fact: Nola Ochs graduated from FHSU and became the world’s oldest college graduate in 2007. She was 95. 

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