These 10 Colleges Are Higher Education’s Best Kept Secrets

When it comes to researching colleges, it’s easy to gravitate toward the classic top-ranking lists. After all, who doesn’t want to go to a “top” or “best” school?

But the truth is, sticking to these types of mainstream lists could cause you to miss out on some hidden gems. That’s why we put together a list of colleges we consider “best kept secrets.”

So what makes a school a best kept secret?

For one, all schools on this particular list are liberal arts colleges.

Secondly, you won’t find any of these in the most recent list of US News & World Report’s top-70 liberal arts colleges.

Second, these are schools with proven track records. They have successful programs, exhaustive lists accomplished students and alumni, and a number of noteworthy faculty members.

So, before you restrict your college search to the typical “best of” lists, here are College Gazette’s picks for the top 10 best kept secrets in higher education:

Linfield College (McMinnville, OR)

Linfield College
DerRichter, RileyCenter (Linfield College), CC BY-SA 3.0

Linfield College is about an hour’s drive from Portland, and it offers students a host of opportunities to get involved. On campus, you’ll find more than 50 clubs and organizations, including Esports Club, Flow Arts Club, and Hawaiian Club.

The college also offers a number of sports (Go Wildcats!). In fact, Linfield has the longest streak of consecutive winning seasons across all levels of college football — 64 seasons to be exact. For those interested in performing arts, there are 14 musical groups on campus and a popular theater program.

In the classroom, Linfield promotes collaborative research, creative projects, internships, community service, and study abroad programs. It offers a wide range of liberal arts majors, too, from digital art to international relations to wine studies (seriously!).

Moravian College (Bethlehem, PA)

If you haven’t heard of Moravian College, a private liberal arts college in eastern Pennsylvania, then you’re missing out. It’s actually the sixth-oldest college in the country. Perhaps more interesting, it was established by a 16-year-old girl named Benigna von Zinzendorf in 1742.

And despite other colleges trying to snag this title, Moravian College was the first college to accept women. It was also the first college to accept Native Americans and offer classes in their own language.

Today, the college is no longer only a female seminary school, and it’s merged with its male counterpart to form Moravian College. It hosts a little more than 2,000 students, and its most popular majors include health sciences, business, sociology, psychology, and biological sciences.

And while Moravian College is rich with history, it’s also embracing the future. It gives each student an Apple MacBook Pro and iPad when they accept their offer to the school, so everyone can start their freshman year on equal ground.

It also wants students to be included in big decisions pertaining to the college. In addition to having a student government, it goes one step further and elects two students to its board of trustees. These students serve two-year terms, representing the student body and voting on important matters.

Oh, and its mascot is Mo, a rescued racing greyhound, who hangs out on the school’s dog-friendly campus.

Westmont College (Santa Barbara, CA)

Westmont isn’t the name of some wealthy founder or land donor. It’s a bit more straightforward than that. It’s simply an ode to Westmont College’s location — a combination of “West” and “mountains.”

Here’s a quick historical tidbit: In 1925, an earthquake hit Santa Barbara, causing about $111 million worth of damage in today’s money. A man named Dwight Murphy helped rebuild the city, and Westmont College is housed, in part, on his former 125-acre estate. 

Today, you’ll find a combination of historical and modern buildings, nestled between the ocean and the mountains.

One thing that makes Westmont unique is its dedication to Christianity. It holds chapel three times a week and offers a number of student-led ministries, including Potter’s Clay, which sends students to Ensenada, Mexico, each year during spring break.

Westmont College’s graduates have ranked No. 23 on Forbes’ list of liberal arts colleges whose grads earn the highest salary upon graduation. It also landed itself a spot on Business Insider’s list of most underrated colleges in America. A true hidden gem!

Wheaton College (Norton, MA)

Wheaton College
Kenneth C. Zirkel, Mars Center for Science and Technology at Wheaton College, CC BY-SA 4.0

Wheaton College (Massachusetts) is not to be confused — and is in no relation to — Wheaton College (Illinois). This Wheaton College is a non-denominational liberal arts college tucked between Providence, Rhode Island, and Boston, Massachusetts.

The school offers more than 100 majors, and 97% of its alumni have graduated and moved on to full- or part-time jobs or are pursuing professional degrees. (For context, that’s one of the highest percentages on this list!)

Recent grads have gone on to become data analysts at Google, software engineers at Microsoft, and editorial assistants at Oxford University Press. For those who choose to attend graduate programs, the top-attended school is Harvard University.

In addition to academics and post-collegiate successes, students at Wheaton have fun on campus, too. About half participate in sports — varsity or recreational teams. There are a number of student clubs, too, including archery club, songwriting club, and even an improv comedy group.

The school doesn’t offer Greek life. Instead, you’ll find themed houses, which are designed to bring students who share a common interest together. These houses include the Art Haus, the Emerson Feminist Perspective House, the Outdoors House, and the Renaissance House, which focuses on representing women of color. You’ll find these houses situated throughout campus.

Stonehill College (Easton, MA)

Stonehill College
Kenneth C. Zirkel, Ames Estate aka Stonehill College, CC BY-SA 4.0

Stonehill College is located just a stone’s throw from Wheaton College, another school on this list, and, even if you haven’t heard of it, you might know of some of its notable alumni. The list includes Scott Thompson, former CEO of Yahoo and former president of PayPal; Duke Castiglione, former ESPN SportsCenter host; and Judith A. Salerno, President of the New York Academy of Medicine.

On campus, the private Catholic liberal arts college is well equipped to serve its students. In 2019, it unveiled its new Leo J. Meehan School of Business building, which includes a Bloomberg classroom, a capital markets room, and a simulated boardroom. Business students have plenty of opportunities to learn outside the classroom, too, with a number of internship, study abroad, research, and volunteer opportunities.

If you don’t want to study business, you’ll find the May School of Arts and Sciences, which houses a range of liberal arts degrees. Stonehill College’s engineering program is unique in that it offers a dual-degree program in partnership with the University of Notre Dame.

College Factual recently ranked Stonehill’s healthcare administration, criminology, and marketing programs as some of the best in the country.

Beloit College (Beloit, WI)

Beloit College
Chicfriend88, JOHNSON, CC BY-SA 4.0

Beloit, one of America’s best kept secrets in higher education, is actually the oldest continuously operating college in the state of Wisconsin.

It has also landed itself a spot on former New York Times editor Loren Pope’s list of “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Pope noted the college’s ability to produce graduates who continue to grow and make significant contributions to society.

The college was founded by Yale graduates back in 1846. Their goal was to ensure students graduate well equipped for the changing times. Back then, it was the mid-19th century, but the sentiment remains the same today.

The school wants to prepare you to network across industries, manage teams with diverse backgrounds, and think critically and creatively — tools you’ll need to thrive in your post-graduate career.

Beloit College is all about bringing outside experiences into the classroom. It emphasizes the importance of getting outside the classroom, with internships (it’s not too far from Chicago, Madison, and Milwaukee) and study abroad programs. It also has a center for entrepreneurship, which is a dedicated space that features students’ ventures in art, digital media, music, and start-ups.

Here’s a fun historical fact: You’ll find animal-shaped mounds across campus — about 20 of them. These date back to between 400 and 1200 AD and were built by Native Americans. One is in the shape of a turtle, Beloit College’s unofficial mascot.

Elizabethtown College (Elizabethtown, PA)

Elizabethtown College, located about 20 minutes from Hershey, Pennsylvania, commits to “educate for service” (that’s the school’s motto). That means many facets of the school center upon community service.

In fact, Elizabethtown College offers a unique Community-Based Learning program. This combines your traditional classroom experience with community experiences. Courses in the program run the gamut. There’s a volunteer income tax assistance program for business students, a music therapy professional seminar for art students, and a psychology of stress course for psychology majors.

Elizabethtown College gives students the opportunity to focus on sustainability projects as well. The school’s Green Fund helps cover the cost of these sustainable student-led projects. These have included the installation of solar panels, the implementation of a bike-sharing program, and the creation of an on-campus organic garden.

In addition to its service efforts, the school also offers students opportunities to get involved in clubs (hide-and-seek, anyone?) and sports (go Blue Jays!).

Drew University (Madison, NJ)

Drew University
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Drew University has been nicknamed “University in the Forest,” because its campus is tucked in the woods — though is still less than an hour from New York City by train.

The campus sits on William Gibbons’ 19th-century estate. (Remember the Gibbons v. Ogden case you learned about in American history? That’s him.) It’s been the background for a number of well-known films and TV shows, including “The Incredible Hulk” (2008), “The Sopranos,” and “Friday Night Lights.”

Drew University really began to gain national attention when former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean served as the school’s president from 1990 to 2005. He boosted fundraising efforts, expanded students’ student abroad opportunities, and renovated historical buildings on campus.

Today, Drew University offers even more opportunities for students, especially when it comes to hands-on experiences. These include a semester on Wall Street, where students attend classes twice a week in New York City’s financial district, and the Drew Summer Science Institute, which pairs students with faculty members to work on a full-time research project.

Additionally, students have interned at a number of big-name employers, including Goldman Sachs, Google, Sony Music, and CNN.

Drew makes our list of best-kept secrets, because although it hasn’t been featured on your classic “Top 40” lists, it’s been included in The Princeton Reviews lists for 385 best colleges, best value colleges, green colleges, and colleges that create futures.

Ursinus College (Collegeville, PA)

Ursinus College
Rob266, Pfahler Hall of Science Ursinus College, CC BY-SA 3.0

Have you heard of Ursinus College? Maybe not, but that’s why it tops our list as a best-kept secret. (It’s pronounced er-sigh-nus, by the way.)

Although it’s located in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, where the population is barely over 5,000, it’s only a 25-mile drive to Philadelphia and is within a three-hour drive to New York City, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.

Like Beloit College and the University of Puget Sound (ranked fourth and fifth on our list), Ursinus College also made the list of top “Colleges That Change Lives.” One main reason? Its financial accessibility. All qualified students receive at least $21,000 in financial aid each year. And, although the school doesn’t require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores, high scores can unlock bigger scholarship opportunities.

Additionally, students who graduate from Ursinus report feeling prepared for the “real world.” From the class of 2018, 94 percent of graduates went on to become employed, enroll in graduate programs, or take part in a service, such as the military or a fellowship.

This likely has to do with the fact that every Ursinus College student takes part in what it calls an Experiential Learning Project before graduation. These projects range from research to internships to study abroad programs to student teaching.

University of Puget Sound (Tacoma, WA)

University of Puget Sound
Joe Mabel, UPS – McIntyre Hall, CC BY-SA 3.0

Like another school on this list, The University of Puget Sound (abbreviated UPS) also landed a spot in Loren Pope’s classic text “Colleges That Change Lives.”

Pope described Puget Sound as a “bright spot on the map of American higher education” due, in part, to its beautiful location (two hours from ski areas and two national parks!), friendly students, and thoughtful professors.

In fact, The Princeton Review included Puget Sound in its list of top 20 schools with the most accessible professors. The school’s student-to-faculty ratio is 11:1, meaning there’s a good chance you’ll get to know your professor — even conduct research alongside them.

If you’re planning to earn your doctorate degree after graduation, Puget Sound will make sure you’re prepared. In fact, the college is ranked in the top 7 percent of schools whose graduates go on to earn doctorates. Additionally, The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked the school in the top 10 colleges with the highest number of Fulbright Scholars.

The University of Puget Sound’s graduates have gone on to attend grad school at Columbia University, Harvard University, Stanford University, and Yale University, to name a few. It also has alumni working at big-name companies, which include Amazon, Apple, Boeing, Microsoft, and Netflix. Talk about great connections!

Oh, and the university isn’t all about the academics. Students have a lot of fun, too. Be sure to ask about the history of the school’s hatchet.