4 Affordable Hidden Gem Colleges With High Student Appeal

One of our great joys at College MatchPoint is finding wonderful colleges with innovative programs that are also affordable. Given the crazy cost of higher education these days ($70,000 a year for many private colleges), price-sensitive families can get a huge bang for their buck by discovering colleges that aren't already be on their radar.

We’ve uncovered a number of hidden gems that are incredibly generous with merit aid and have excellent programs to back them up. So, if you’re interested in colleges that can save your family tens of thousands of dollars, consider whether one of these four might deserve a place on your student’s list.

The University of Alabama in Huntsville

If your student has a 1390 or above on their SAT and a 4.0 GPA, The University of Alabama in Huntsville will pay 100% of your tuition, even for non-Alabama residents. That doesn’t include room and board or fees, but it's still an amazing deal—and all you have to do to keep it for the next three years is maintain a 3.0 GPA and take a minimum of 12 hours of classes per semester. Check out this scholarship chart to see the generous merit aid available for those with lower test scores and GPAs.

Why might your student choose The University of Alabama in Huntsville?

  • Southern Living recently named Huntsville the best college town in the South.

  • Your student loves STEM and is a budding engineer or scientist (half the undergrads are either engineering or science majors).

  • Your student wants a medium-sized school (about 7,000 undergrads).

  • Your student wants to intern or work in the tech industry (Facebook and Google have offices in Huntsville, and it has been named a top 10 destination for tech jobs).

  • Your student wants to go to a college that has a warm, friendly vibe.

University of Missouri (Mizzou)

If your student wants that traditional big school experience with top sports teams to cheer on, lots of traditions, and Greek life, University of Missouri might warrant a place on their list. In addition to a range of merit scholarships, what makes University of Missouri extra affordable is that you can get in-state tuition after your first year by checking off a few easy requirements, such as filing a petition and getting a Missouri driver’s license.

Why might your student thrive at University of Missouri?

  • They are interested in journalism, a pre-health track, engineering, or business (all are top programs).

  • A large town of about 120,000 is more appealing to them than a city or rural campus.

  • Your student loves traditions and will be excited about dressing up for game days (men often wear bow ties and khakis).

  • Your student is inspired by a beautiful campus.

  • Your student is an aspiring veterinarian—Mizzou has an early entry veterinary program.

St. Louis University (SLU)

Significant merit scholarships are given at St. Louis University, a beautiful medium-sized school in the heart of St. Louis. With a 3.7 GPA and a 28 on the ACT, your student is automatically eligible for a $24,000 merit scholarship, and it tiers down from there. Standout programs include nursing, engineering, and business (including international business). There’s a direct-admit six-year Physical Therapy Master’s degree program, and the school will hold a spot for you in the law or pharmacy school when you get in as an undergraduate if you’re interested in either of those options.

Why else might your student consider St. Louis University (SLU)?

  • They’re interested in becoming a pilot—SLU has a program in aviation management as well as flight science.

  • Your student is committed to social justice; that’s a big vibe on campus.

  • Your student wants a mid-sized school and doesn’t care about having big-time college sports.

  • Small classes offer the best learning environment for your student.

  • Your student is Catholic (36% of students are Catholic).

Belmont University

While Belmont University isn’t necessarily known for giving large amounts of merit aid, at about $50,000 total cost of attendance, it’s already a bargain compared to other private colleges—and it does give general scholarships of $3,000-$10,000, with a minimum 27 ACT and 3.7 GPA. Located in lively Nashville, Tennessee, Belmont’s campus has been named one of the most beautiful by Architectural Digest, and it is often called one of the most innovative schools.

Why might Belmont be right for your student?

  • Your student wants to be in the music business—Belmont has a top 10 program.

  • They have a strong Christian faith and want to be around like-minded students.

  • Creativity is your student’s thing, whether it’s music, art, or drama. Most students carry their musical instrument with them on campus, and there’s always music playing.

  • Your student wants to be a nurse. With a minimum 22 on the ACT and a 3.0 high school GPA, they'll be directly admitted into the nursing program.

  • Your student wants a medium-sized school (8,700 students).