15 Top Hidden Gem Colleges in Virginia


Ready to start your journey?

15 Hidden Gems in Virginia

Hidden Gems in Virginia offer quality education and online degree programs and are some of the best small schools in the Commonwealth. Virginia is one of the first 13 colonies of the US, it is the home of the first colony, and it has some of the oldest colleges in the country. The commonwealth boasts a rich history of higher education, and Virginia’s public colleges and universities also offer very affordable tuition.

In addition to the large state schools, there are some excellent small public colleges in Virginia. Furthermore, there are many wonderful small private colleges in Virginia. These schools offer quality education, and the ones on our list also have online degree programs. These Hidden Gems in Virginia are some of the best schools you’ve never heard of!

How We Ranked The Hidden Gems in Virginia

The editors at Online Schools Guide found smaller schools in Virginia with an excellent academic reputation that offer online degree programs. Then, we ranked the programs based on the cost of attendance and the number of online offerings.

1. Averett University

website: Averett University

Averett University is a private Baptist university nestled in the small Virginia city of Danville. The school opened in 1859 as a college for women only. Then, in 1969 it became a 4-year, coeducational institution.

Today, the school is a forerunner in offering over 30 online degree programs. Curriculum plans allow plenty of flexibility for working adults to pursue their associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees through Averett’s Graduate and Professional Studies division.

Furthermore, students can begin their coursework on several start dates in either January, March, May, August, or October. A variety of degree programs are entirely online. These include a Master of Business Administration (MBA), a Master of Accountancy, and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with different concentrations. Students can take one of many other accredited online degree programs.

Location: Danville, VA

Online programs: 33

2. Bluefield University

website: Bluefield University

Bluefield University opened its doors in 1922. The school prepares students for fulfilling careers in their choice of studies in over 70 areas of study. With a student enrollment of around 1,100, this Christian community emphasizes both learning and faith. The university campus is in the Virginia city of Bluefield, from which it takes its name. Students can attend in-person classes at the main campus or elect for an online program.

At Bluefield, students can choose from at least 14 online bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. Some programs include an MS in Biomedical Science and a popular Registered Nursing to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN). Online programs make it more convenient for students who continue working while earning their degree or those with children at home to raise.

Location: Bluefield, VA

Online programs: 14

3. Virginia State University

website: Virginia State University

Virginia State University opened in 1882 when the state’s legislature passed a bill to charter the Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute. VSU is a historically black college (HBCU) in the Virginia city of Petersburg. The school is also the nation’s first fully state-assisted, four-year institution of higher learning.

VSU offers several online courses, fully online bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, and certificate programs. The online format allows students to continue to work full or part-time while completing this coursework since they can access their classes at any time of the day or night.

Location: Petersburg, VA

Online programs: 5

4. Stratford University

website: Stratford University

Touted as a private university of higher learning, Stratford University offers degree programs for not only recent high school graduates. Working professionals, people wanting to change their career fields, and even international students attend this school.

The university’s primary goal is to prepare students for successful careers through quality educational programs. Stratford designs its degree programs to meet the needs of the students, current and future employers and the communities where graduates work.

Stratford offers certificates, diploma programs, and also degree programs. These include associate, bachelor, and graduate degrees. In addition, the university offers all classes in an asynchronous format, allowing students to access their study materials at any time, day or night, seven days each week. Therefore, students have plenty of flexibility to complete their assignments online whenever they have time, which helps eliminate time constraints. In-person classes are available for students who prefer the format.

Location: Alexandria, VA

Online programs: 19

5. Eastern Mennonite University

website: Eastern Mennonite University

Eastern Mennonite University began as a small Bible academy in 1917. The school’s main campus is on the outskirts of the Virginia town of Harrisonburg and has affiliations with the Mennonite Church. In addition, EMU has a second campus in Pennsylvania and an Online Campus.

The school offers several academic fields of study at the undergraduate, graduate, and seminary levels to more than 2,000 students each year. In addition, the university strongly encourages students, faculty, and staff members to practice their faith and values by providing service to others in the community. Some ways the community practices include cross-cultural activities, peacemaking events, and sustainability awareness for the environment around them.

The university offers an array of various online degree programs, including five bachelor’s degree programs and eight master’s and doctorate programs in a variety of areas of study, such as Business Administration, registered nursing to a bachelor of science in nursing, Leadership, and Organizational Management, Doctor of Nursing Practice, Master of Arts in Education: Restorative Justice in Education, masters in human resources, master of science in nursing, and several more.

Location: Harrisonburg, VA

Online programs: 14

6. Emory and Henry College

website: Emory and Henry College

Located in the Highlands of Virginia, Emory and Henry College opened in 1836 with the belief that higher education can transform people’s lives and make a better world for everyone. The college’s name comes from Bishop John Emory and Patrick Henry. Emory was a Methodist church leader, and Henry was the first governor of Virginia. The name symbolizes the school’s emphasis on both civic engagement and spiritual growth. EHC boasts an award-winning faculty, and the E&H online program allows students to achieve their goals by taking their classes anytime in any place.

Emory & Henry Online was created to provide high-quality online and hybrid courses and programs for students from various backgrounds under different circumstances. The school offers several other degree programs that are entirely online, such as Small Business Venture Growth and Nursing RN to BSN.

Location: Emory, VA

Online programs: 2

7. Virginia Wesleyan College

website: Virginia Wesleyan College

Established in 1961, Virginia Wesleyan University is touted as the premier university of Coastal Virginia when it comes to the liberal arts and sciences. Nestled on a 300-acre campus in beautiful Virginia Beach, the university enrolls about 1,600 students annually in undergraduate, graduate, and online programs. Virginia Wesleyan University offers ten entirely online undergraduate degree programs and two graduate programs online. All students enrolled in the online programs receive the same high-quality instruction from faculty as traditional students. In addition, they have access to all student resources, including tutoring and the use of the college’s library on campus.

The university’s first online program was a graduate program for a Master of Business Administration degree. The school now offers a total of 13 online bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, including a master’s degree in Health Care Administration and Finance and several bachelor’s degree programs in a variety of fields of study, such as Business Administration, Comprehensive Liberal Studies, Criminal Justice, Digital Music, Environmental Studies, and Information Systems.

Location: Norfolk, VA

Online programs: 13

8. Bridgewater College

website: Bridgewater College

Bridgewater College opened in 1880 and prides itself on its commitment to students to build connections for life to provide them with more opportunities to grow and flourish. The school offers plenty of opportunities for students to participate in theatre, sports, music, clubs, and organizations while helping students connect with each other and develop their leadership skills. The college is a private liberal arts institution in the Virginia town of Bridgewater and enrolls about 1,800 students each year.

The college offers a fully online program where students can earn their Master of Science in Human Resource Management (MSHRM) degree through the flexibility that an online program provides. The university also offers an array of other courses online as part of the “hyflex” format, which combines both in-person and online classes and students at the same time.

Location: Bridgewater, VA

Online programs: 1

9. Longwood University

website: Longwood University

Longwood University started in 1839 and is in the Virginia town of Farmville, known as America’s oldest two-college town. Steeped in tradition and history, the school’s sizeable scenic campus has many historical buildings. This public university enrolls more than 4,800 students each year and offers more than 100 areas of study.

Longwood provides students with the tools to succeed in their chosen career paths. Online degree programs in business provide students with the flexibility to work and attend classes. There are 5 degree options for students interested in an MBA. Students can choose from five tracks in General Business, Data Analytics, Marketing, Economics, or Real Estate. In addition to flexibility, this online Master of Business Administration graduate degree is affordable. Virginia residents enjoy low tuition rates, and out-of-state tuition is only around one percent (1%) more per year than residents pay.

Location: Farmville, VA

Online programs: 5

10. Shenandoah University

website: Shenandoah University

Shenandoah University is a private school located in the Virginia town of Winchester. It is one of five institutions of higher education in Virginia affiliated with the United Methodist Church. With an enrollment of about 4,000 students each year, the school offers more than 200 areas of study throughout its six colleges and schools. These include the Business, Arts and Sciences, Nursing, Pharmacy, and Health Professions.

In addition to the campus degree programs, Shenandoah students can also enroll in an online degree program. The university offers an array of online learning options, including accelerated degrees, certificate programs, and undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Location: Winchester, VA

Online programs: 23

11. Hampton University

website: Hampton University

Hampton University is a private research university that is also an HBCU. It opened in 1868 to provide education to freedmen. First named Hampton Agricultural and Industrial School by Black and White leaders of the American Missionary Association, it later took its current name. The school is in the coastal Virginia town of Hampton.

In addition to doctoral and certificate programs, Hampton offers several associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees entirely online. Students who must work while earning their degrees have the flexibility necessary to achieve their academic goals. Some degree programs include business administration, counselor education and supervision, philosophy in nursing, education specialist, educational management, and several more.

Location: Hampton, VA

Online programs: 17

12. University of Mary Washington

website: University of Mary Washington
University of Mary Washington logo

Named for the mother of George Washington, The University of Mary Washington opened in 1908. The university prides itself on small yet highly interactive classes and a very innovative and accessible faculty. UMW’s campus boasts 3 colleges, including Arts and Sciences, Education, and Business, for students to embark upon various degree programs. Mary Washington is in the Virginia town of Fredericksburg, about an hour south of the nation’s capital Washington DC. As a result, students have plenty of opportunities for unique internships, recreational opportunities, and research trips.

Students can enroll in several online graduate and certificate programs through the university’s College of Education Endorsement and Certificate Programs. Master’s degrees in Business Administration and Geospatial Analysis are also available.

Location: Fredericksburg, VA

Online programs: 2

13. Ferrum College

website: Ferrum College

Ferrum College is a private liberal arts school connected to the United Methodist Church. This private school opened in 1913 in the Virginia town of Ferrum. A beautiful campus is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Several nearby state parks, rivers, and lakes offer students and faculty members outdoor recreation. This is one of the best small colleges in Virginia for students who love the outdoors!

Students at Ferrum can choose from various liberal arts and professional programs, such as business, musical theatre, environmental science, agriculture, criminal justice, teacher education, and recreational leadership. In addition, the school offers course equivalencies and a variety of online courses and degree programs through its online winter and summer terms.

Location: Ferrum, VA

Online programs: 1

14. Radford University

website: Radford University

Radford University was founded in 1910 by the Virginia General Assembly as the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Radford. Its purpose was to expand Virginia’s public school system by educating more students to become public school teachers.

Today, Radford University is a public university that enrolls nearly 9,000 students yearly in various undergraduate and graduate degree programs. The university is on a gorgeous 211-acre campus. Students at Radford University strive to be of service to the Commonwealth of Virginia and the nation in general through an array of academic, cultural, human service, and research programs. It offers 76 bachelor’s degree programs in 47 different areas of study, three associate degree programs, and six certificate programs for undergraduates. In addition, the school offers 28 master’s programs in 23 areas of study and six doctoral programs at the graduate level.

The school also offers 13 post-baccalaureate certificates and one post-master’s certificate. In addition, to meet the different needs of its large population of students from all walks of life and experiences, the university offers several graduate degree programs and certificate programs entirely online. Some programs include a Doctor of Education, Doctor of Nursing Practice, Master of Business Administration, Bachelor of Business Administration Online Degree Completion Program, and several other degree programs.

Location: Radford, VA

Online programs: 35

15. University of Richmond

website: University of Richmond

The University of Richmond was founded over 180 years ago and offers various academic programs of study for over 3100 undergraduate students each year. Many classes integrate hands-on experience, and highly qualified faculty members always welcome curiosity and questions. It is one of the top 25 liberal arts universities in the United States and offers classes on campus and entirely online.

From data analytics and education to human resource management in information systems, the University of Richmond offers a variety of certificate and degree programs that are entirely online. These programs are accessible and flexible for working professionals, adult students, and anyone who wants to embark on a non-traditional path to achieve higher education through the university’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies (SPCS).

Location: Richmond, VA

Online programs: 4

What is a Hidden Gem in Virginia?

A Hidden Gem in Virginia is a college or university with a smaller student body. Many of these schools are private religious schools. However, small liberal arts colleges in Virginia and smaller state schools also fit into this category.

What are the Benefits of Attending a Small College or University in Virginia?

A small college and a large university can be very different and significantly impact your college experience. Of course, you will probably earn an excellent education at any established institution. But what about other factors that will make your college experience the best it can be?

Hidden Gems in Virginia are small colleges and universities where students thrive. Many of these schools have a lower student-to-faculty ratio. So students can get more direct attention from instructors. In addition, reduced class size means professors, not TAs, usually teach the course. And overall, students get a more personal education and feel like a part of a community.

Why Do Students Attend Small Colleges or Hidden Gems in Virginia?

Students attend small colleges and universities for many reasons. A lot of students like the idea of a smaller campus and community. A university the size of your small town can seem overwhelming after high school with a class of 500.

This idea of a community also extends to values. Many students, especially those attending a religious institution, want to live and go to school with other students with the same values.

Are Small Colleges that are Hidden Gems in Virginia More Expensive?

Public colleges and universities receive significant funding from the state and federal governments. Since private institutions don’t have the same access to government funding, they have to charge more. Therefore, private college tuition is almost always more expensive than tuition at state-supported schools.

However, many students don’t realize that most private schools have additional funding for students. The money comes from school endowments and gifts. This school-based aid considerably reduces what a student pays when calculated into the total cost. Therefore, the final price of private school tuition can be less than what you read on a website. Furthermore, it will be different for each student since financial need is part of the calculation. Many students are surprised that private schools can be less expensive than state schools. So, it is worth going through the steps to find out about the schools you want to attend.

Are Smaller Colleges Better?

The best college or university for you is the one that meets your needs. Because everyone is different, only you know the right fit for you. So, it is essential to understand where you will thrive. More prominent universities are great for Independent learners who don’t need a lot of help from professors. However, students who need more individualized attention may find smaller classes, and a smaller school is a better fit for them. And one of our Hidden Gems in Virginia may be the place for you!


Ready to start your journey?