The 10 Best “Hidden Gem” Private Universities in the US

If I were to ask you what the best private universities in the country are, you would probably name schools like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Undoubtedly, schools like these three are legendary institutions graduating many of the finest minds not just today, but for both centuries past and generations to come.

However, getting an excellent education does not necessarily equate to attending a top-10 university in the US. Rather, the best way to get an outstanding education is finding schools fitting a specific student exceptionally well.

All of this brings us to our conversation today about 10 amazing “hidden gem” private universities. These are schools that you may or may not have heard of, yet they offer some of the finest educations a private university can offer.

All of these schools are currently ranked on the US News National Universities list, a list that only ranks about 10% of all schools nationwide. For this particular hidden gem list, we are focusing on private universities ranked after number 150 on the US News National Universities list with an enrollment of fewer than 25,000 students. 

We have published several other hidden gem lists, primarily focusing on public universities, liberal arts colleges, and regional universities in different states. 

Without further ado, here are College Gazette’s picks for 10 of the best “hidden gem” private universities in the US.

Wilkes University (Wikes-Barre, PA)

Wilkes University
Smallbones, Weiss Hall Wilkes B PA, CC0 1.0

Named after influential British politician John Wilkes, Wilkes University in Pennsylvania is classified as a “Doctoral/Professional University” by the Carnegie Classification, which awarded just 14 private institutions in Pennsylvania with this prestigious designation. Other Pennsylvania schools on the same list include Carnegie-Mellon, Villanova, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Facilities at Wilkes are state-of-the-art and comparable to those of the highest-ranking institutions. They include the Cohen Science Center, a 35 million dollar facility complete with a rooftop greenhouse, LEED silver standards for environmental consciousness, and departments in biology, health sciences, and earth sciences, among others. Other facilities include the impressive Eugene Shedden Farley Library, which contains nearly 300,000 total volumes.

Wilkes University is home to one of the most distinguished Lecture Series in the country, inviting some of the world’s greatest minds to speak on campus every year. Some of the names to have spoken at Wilkes University include author Norman Mailer, Washington Post writer Bob Woodward, and Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

Wilkes University is ranked in the US News National Universities list, which lists only 10% of all higher education institutions in the country. Other rankings by US News for Wilkes include mentions in their Best Undergraduate Engineering Schools and Top Performers on Social Mobility lists.

Misericordia University (Dallas, PA)

Misericordia University
photo by Misericordia University via Flickr Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0

Hands-on experiential learning is at the heart of the Misericordia University experience, as this school is home to one of the most intriguing programs in the country, the Guaranteed Placement Program. In this one-of-a-kind program, Misericordia guarantees all alumni placement in a job within six months of graduation. If a student does not find a job in this time, Misericordia finds them a paid internship in their chosen major.

Although Misericordia may be a true hidden gem, that does not mean it is easy to get accepted into. Nearly half of Misericordia’s incoming class, according to the Misericordia website, graduated from the top 25% of their high school, making students here highly qualified academically.

With a student body of less than 3,500 total students, Misericordia may be described as akin to a liberal arts college, where students can have significant 1-on-1 time with their professors unencumbered by a massive student body so often seen in some other major universities. For the student seeking a smaller and more intimate learning environment, Misericordia represents a compelling option.

Roosevelt University (Chicago, IL)

Roosevelt University
Ken Lund, Wabash Building, Roosevelt University, Chicago, Illinois , CC BY-SA 2.0

Internationally, Roosevelt may be a true hidden gem, however, it is a well-known school in its home city of Chicago. Roosevelt is home to one of the nation’s premier performing arts schools, the Chicago College of Performing Arts. At this prestigious conservatory of music and the arts, 600 students from around the world gather to study both music as well as theatre. Faculty at this conservatory include over two dozen musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as well as actors whose credits include film, television, and Broadway roles.

Roosevelt has one of the most impressive-looking facilities in any urban campus, the new Wabash building. Located in downtown Chicago’s Loop, this complex is the second-tallest academic building in the entire country!

Outside of the performing arts, one of Roosevelt’s most unique programs is the Robert Morris Experiential College, abbreviated as RMEC. At RMEC, students are exposed to a career-first approach to education, where hands-on learning in and out of the classroom helps the student become a more competitive candidate in a contemporary job market. 

Based in Chicago, Roosevelt may very well epitomize what an excellent urban campus is supposed to feel like for the student interested in a city, surrounded by culture, the arts, business, and superior education.

Adelphi University (Garden City, NY)

The oldest higher education institution in Long Island, Adelphi is a prestigious Doctoral university home to nearly 8,000 total students. Founded as Adelphi College in 1863, the school gained official recognition as a university over 55 years ago in 1963.

One interesting offering at Adelphi is the Levermore Global Scholars program, a distinct academic initiative promoting diversity and enriching students’ global perspectives. Through this program, students can participate in internships, study abroad programs, seminars, and even activities with the United Nations. In fact, this program is sponsored by United Nations Academic Impact, an initiative aligning colleges closer to the UN’s mission.

Adelphi is home to many prestigious programs, with dedicated schools for psychology, education, public health, and more. 

One extraordinary program at Adelphi is in business, presented through the school’s Robert B. Willumstad School of Business. In 2020, Adelphi’s business school was ranked by the Princeton Review among the Best Business Schools in the entire country. Several of Adelphi’s School of Business faculty members are regularly quoted in major publications, including Newsweek and US News

According to PrepScholar, the average GPA for admission into Adelphi is 3.52, which is an “A” average, making Adelphi an academically competitive school for admission.

Bellarmine University (Louisville, KY)

Bellarmine University
Murph5253, Siena Complex, CC BY-SA 3.0

A prestigious, private Roman Catholic university based in Kentucky, Bellarmine is designated by the Carnegie Classification as a “Doctoral/Professional University.” 

Bellarmine is known for its continued devotion to campus and curricular expansion. Within the last 15 years, Bellarmine has added several schools to its university, including its School for Communication as well as its School of Environmental Studies. Interestingly enough, Bellarmine is the only school to have an undergraduate environmental studies program in all of Louisville.

Alumni of Bellarmine have found success in every major field. They include the former CEO of Sirius XM Joseph P. Clayton Jr., Kentucky Secretary of State John Young Brown III, and former NBA coach John MacLeod.

Mercer University (Macon, GA)

Mercer University
User:Korea2006, Mercer University Central Quadrangle, CC BY-SA 3.0

Founded in 1833, Mercer is a top-tier university consistently ranked by US News among the top two private universities in Georgia alongside Emory. Additionally, because of Mercer’s outstanding commitment to research, this school is ranked by the Carnegie Classification as an “R2: Doctoral University – High Research Activity,” a distinction given to just a small number of universities nationwide.

Mercer is widely recognized for its commitment to the community. The Carnegie Foundation for Advancement in Teaching recognized Mercer in 2015 with the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction, an award given to less than 5% of all US-based higher education institutions.

In 2018, Mercer undertook one of the most ambitious campaigns for expansion in all of higher education. Named Inspire: Mercer’s Vision for the Decade Ahead, this initiative includes a $200 million commitment to new facilities, a growth in undergraduate enrollment, and raising significant funds for the school’s endowment. Mercer’s significant efforts have created the campus’s most ambitious facility, the Spearman C. Godsey Science Center, a remarkable 143,000 square foot facility complete with over 65 labs and lecture rooms.

Mercer’s students have won many of academia’s most prestigious awards. These include Fulbright and Goldwater Scholarships, appointments to the Peace Corps, and more. 

Because of Mercer’s excellent education relative to its competitive cost, Mercer is ranked among the best value schools in the country by US News. 

Widener University (Chester, PA)

Widener University
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Widener University is known for its strong commitment to community service, having been named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll many times since the award’s inception in 2006. This honor, bestowed by the US government, awards colleges and universities showcasing outstanding contributions from both students and faculty towards local and state community initiatives.

Perhaps the most prestigious program available at Widener University is in law. Widener actually has two law school campuses in which they serve law students, one based in Delaware and the other based in Harrisburg, PA. Widener consistently graduates some of the top lawyers in Pennsylvania. Since 1998, over 3,600 Widener students have taken the bar exam, the highest of any Pennsylvania school. Widener’s bar passage rate is impressive, with both campuses routinely graduating over 80 percent of students on the first bar exam.

Widener is among the relatively small percentage of all US colleges and universities with the designation of “Doctoral/Professional University” by the Carnegie Classification. This designation reflects Widener’s commitment to research, with an annual expenditure rivaling other top-tier east coast universities.

Quinnipiac University (Hamden, CT)

Quinnipiac University
User:Wasted Time R, Quinnipiac University Arnold Bernhard Library, CC BY-SA 3.0

Although Quinnipiac may be a hidden gem nationally, it is a well-known and beloved university in Connecticut, attracting students from all of New England. In 2020, Quinnipiac was ranked by Zippia as the #1 school nationwide for getting a job after graduation

Quinnipiac is perhaps best known for being home to the “Quinnipiac University Poll,” a large and influential public polling center with a staff of approximately 300 people. The polling institute’s findings are regularly cited by major publications, including USA Today, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, among others.

Several of Quinnipiac’s programs are ranked among the top in the country. They include the law, business, and medical schools, all of which were ranked highly by US News in 2021. Other publications have ranked, in previous years, programs at Quinnipiac highly, including The Princeton Review. Additionally, Quinnipiac is ranked among the top 20% of universities nationwide by Forbes, US News, and the Wall Street Journal.

Belmont University (Nashville, TN)

Belmont University
LawTN, Belmont Law Baskin Center, CC BY-SA 4.0

An outstanding university based in Nashville, Belmont is a true hidden gem serving over 8,000 students. Belmont’s claim to fame nationally is its top-tier music program. Home to the only accredited music business program accredited by the AACSB, an organization ordinarily accrediting traditional business programs, Belmont’s music students benefit tremendously from the school’s strategic position on Nashville’s “Music Row.”

Outside of music, Belmont has many excellent programs. One of its newest institutions, the Belmont University College of Law, has seen unprecedented growth over its single decade in existence. According to published statistics in 2019, a remarkable 97% of Belmont’s first-time Bar Passage exam takers passed the test. Other schools boasting such a high pass rate above 95%? Only the most elite schools, including Harvard and Yale, typically have such high bar pass rates.

Additionally, Belmont has expanded tremendously in recent years in its art and design programs. In 2018, Belmont acquired the O’Moore College of Design, and in 2020, Belmont announced a merger with the Watkins College of Art, Design, and Film. 

Belmont’s students excelled in high school, with over 25% of their students graduating high school in the top 10% of their class

Nova Southeastern University (Fort Lauderdale-Davie, FL)

Nova Southeastern University
Dgreco, Horowitzfrontatnsu, CC BY-SA 3.0

Nova Southeastern is a remarkable university based in Florida with approximately 20,000 students and over 170,000 alumni! Although Nova has many programs, they are most well-known for their excellent medical and health sciences degrees, with students finding careers in pharmacy, dentistry, optometry, medicine, and more. 

Because of Nova’s significant contribution to research expenditure, particularly in the health sciences fields, Nova is designated as an “R2: Doctoral Universities – High Research Activity” by the Carnegie Classification. Less than 10% of all universities in the entire country earn this prestigious designation, showcasing Nova’s unique commitment to R&D.

In recent years, Nova’s dedication to expanding the campus was fully apparent when the Collaborative Research building, an impressive 215,000 square foot facility, was opened in 2016. Additionally, in 2018, Nova began construction on a 600-unit residence on campus to expand undergraduate housing.

One of Nova’s most unique programs is in oceanographic research! With its ideal location near the water, Nova is home to the Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography, a department affiliated with several national science organizations, including the National Coral Reef Institute. 

Throughout its history, Nova has hosted a series of lectures by notable individuals through their Life 101 series. Past speakers for Life 101 have included actor James Earl Jones, Olympian Michael Phelps, and others. Another one of Nova’s lecture series, the aptly titled Distinguished Speakers Series, has attracted thought leaders Spike Lee, Salman Rushdie, and even Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama. 

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