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Top 10 Most Underrated Colleges in the Southwest

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Parents and students often seek out name-brand schools. In the Southwest, many associate schools like Rice University with prestige, with its low acceptance rate of 11%. However, there are many other schools with a strong return on investment (ROI) that can also offer you an excellent education and prepare you for a meaningful career. Based on the data we’ve collected over the years, here are the 10 most underrated colleges in the Southwest.


How We Put This List Together

Traditional college rankings do a decent job of ranking the best universities, but some serious factors that get left out in those formulas. When we look to advise families on colleges that are underrated, our primary focus is on outcomes — more specifically financial outcomes like starting salary and ROI, as well as qualitative outcomes like job placements.

We took into consideration the following criteria:

  • Cost of attendance and generosity of financial aid & scholarships
  • One and five-year ROI after graduation
  • Financial performance of specific majors
  • Qualitative data on career outcomes like job placements and grad school progression


The Top 10 Most Underrated Schools in the Southwest

1. University of Houston


Offering more than 300 degrees, the University of Houston ranks 171 in the U.S. News and World Report. However, it also ranks among the top 50 for ROI. The university particularly excels in STEM fields, especially chemical and petroleum engineering.


Students who excel in school should have no problem securing a slot (and scholarship) at UH. Like some other public universities in Texas, the university has assured admissions for high-achieving students, meaning you’re guaranteed admission if you are in the top 10% of your high school class, or meet minimum standardized tests scores and grades.


2. University of Texas at Austin


This prestigious public university is already well-regarded; U.S. News ranks it at 49. Its ROI is even stronger with a position in the top 25.


Offering rigorous honors programs with research-oriented curricula across many fields, the university excels in numerous disciplines, especially business and STEM areas. There are many scholarships, including ones specific to the schools within the larger university.


3. Texas Tech University


Like the University of Houston, Texas Tech has assured admissions for students who meet certain academic standards, and it automatically grants scholarships based on the same criteria.


Texas Tech and its surrounding area are driven substantially by the oil and petroleum industries in Texas, and the university offers a strong engineering program. The university is ranked 187 by U.S. News and is among the top 75 in terms of ROI.


4. Louisiana State University


Louisiana’s flagship university, LSU excels in STEM disciplines, especially chemical and petroleum engineering. LSU can prepare students for a career in an industry associated with the Louisiana oil corridor, which runs from Baton Rouge to New Orleans.


LSU has a U.S. News ranking of 140 and is among the top 70 in terms of ROI. The university offers numerous types of scholarships, ranging from $500 to a full ride, and boasts $300,000,000 in financial aid and scholarships awarded each year.


5. Louisiana Tech University


The university is especially strong in STEM disciplines, particularly chemical and petroleum engineering, and emphasizes its diversity and high-impact learning practices.


As with LSU, students can take advantage of opportunities working with the Louisiana oil corridor. Louisiana Tech has partnerships with large and small businesses, enabling students to prepare for and find jobs. This is why it ranks among the top 50 schools with regard to ROI, though U.S. News places it outside the top 200 overall.


6. University of New Mexico


New Mexico’s flagship university, the University of New Mexico is located in the heart of Albuquerque, offering a distinctive campus environment with a Pueblo Revival Architectural theme.


UNM is ranked 187 by U.S. News and is among the top 100 for ROI. There are many scholarships available, particularly for in-state students.


7. University of Texas – El Paso


Among the top 150 for ROI, UTEP is strong in engineering, driven by the oil and petroleum industries in Texas. The university states that it “seeks to extend the greatest possible educational access to a region which has been geographically isolated with limited economic and educational opportunities for many of its people.” It ranks outside the top 200 in the U.S. News and World Report.


8. Oklahoma State University


With its main campus in Stillwater, Oklahoma State University offers plenty of resources to students from diverse backgrounds. The university is driven by the oil and petroleum industries in the state and is also a good engineering and pre-med option, appearing in the top 75 for ROI. OSU ranks 157 in U.S. News.


9. University of Arkansas


Located close to Bentonville, where WalMart is based, the University of Arkansas is among the top 75 in terms of ROI and ranks 152 in U.S. News. The university sits on a hilltop overlooking the Ozark mountains. It boasts as a graduate and former president J. William Fulbright, creator of the Fulbright Scholarship Program. U of A’s business and engineering programs are particularly notable.


10. University of Oklahoma


Among public universities, the University of Oklahoma ranks first in enrollment of National Merit Scholars and among the top ten in Rhodes Scholars graduates. It has an ROI in the top 75 and ranks 124 in U.S. News. The school boats a strong engineering program and has an honors college in addition to 152 majors.


Looking for more underrated colleges and universities to explore? Check out The Top 10 Most Underrated Colleges in the U.S..


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Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.