Briar Cliff University - Colleges of Distinction - Colleges of Distinction
Briar Cliff University
Briar Cliff University, a Catholic Franciscan institution, is committed to helping students chase their...

Briar Cliff University

Sioux City, Iowa

With a University-wide orientation toward service and outreach, Briar Cliff was founded in 1930 by the Sisters of Saint Francis of Dubuque, with a mission to educate students in the Franciscan tradition of service, caring, and openness to all.


Briar Cliff University provides an outstanding education, offering more than 30 majors for undergraduates as well as an array of graduate and online degree-completion programs. Because a majority of Briar Cliff’s classes are taught by full-time faculty and not adjunct or graduate instructors, students easily connect with their professors, forming close relationships as they work side-by-side on research projects and build outstanding professional networks.


What Briar Cliff offers inside the classroom is only part of its distinction. The University is nationally recognized for its community outreach, boasting six consecutive years as a member of the President’s National Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. Collectively, its compassionate students commit over 10,000 hours annually to service projects both within their local community and abroad.



Student Profile

Fall 2016 Enrollment
972 undergraduate students
81% of undergrad students are full time
52% male — 48% female
5% of students are from out of state

Faculty Profile

2016-2017 Academic Year
64 full-time faculty
58 part-time faculty
14 to 1 student/faculty ratio

Residence Life

Fall 2016
80% of first year students live on campus
44% of all students live on campus

School Location

Perched on a beautiful, 70-acre hilltop overlooking the Sioux City, Iowa skyline on one side and rolling prairieland on the other, the Briar Cliff campus provides safety, scenery, and a strong sense of community. Briar Cliff is ranked among the safest college campuses in the state of Iowa. From the moment students set foot on campus, they’ll experience a genuine feeling of acceptance that will forever shape their lives.

High-Impact Practices

Read more about the importance of High-Impact Practices

First-Year Seminars and Experiences X
Common Intellectual Experiences X
Learning Communities X
Writing-Intensive Courses  
Collaborative Assignments and Projects X
Undergraduate Research X
Diversity/Global Learning X
Service Learning, Community-Based Learning X
Internships/Coops/Practicums X
Capstone Courses and Projects/Senior Experience X


79% of students began in Fall 2015 and returned in Fall 2016 (full time, first time freshmen)


44% of students graduated in 6 years


Nonresident aliens 5%
Hispanic/Latino 15%
Black or African American 9%
White 66%
American Indian or Alaska Native 2%
Asian 1%
Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander 1%
Two or more races 1%
Race and/or ethnicity unknown 0%


Briar Cliff belongs to the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC), which is made up of 11 private schools from Iowa, South Dakota, and Nebraska, all of which emphasize a healthy balance between academics and athletics. The University competes in 18 sports for men and women including baseball, basketball, cheer, cross country, dance, football, golf, soccer, softball, track and field, volleyball, and wrestling. The “Blue Crew,” a collection of student fans, wear the school’s colors (blue and gold) to cheer on fellow students. Bolt, a Charger horse, is the school’s mascot.

Briar Cliff is also an NAIA Champions of Character institution. As proud Chargers, therefore, Briar Cliff students develop life-shaping qualities that stick with them long after competition has ended. Each BCU athletic team plans a service project each year, exemplifying the community-oriented mission that the University values most.

Other Information

Higher Learning Commission
Briar Cliff University is accredited as a degree-granting institution by the Higher Learning Commission and is a member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Since 1945, the Higher Learning Commission has granted Briar Cliff University full accreditation. The most recent reaffirmation of accreditation was granted in 2015.

Education Program
The education program of the University is approved by the State Department of Education of Iowa for the certification of teachers.

Nursing Program
The Bachelor of Science in Nursing and the Master of Science in Nursing programs at Briar Cliff University are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Social Work Program
Briar Cliff’s face-to-face and online Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. The social work department has been accredited by the CSWE since 1974.

More Distinctions

  • Briar Cliff’s four-year radiologic technology program is ranked among the top 50 in the nation, according to an annual report by The Community for Accredited Online Schools.

  • Briar Cliff University is ranked No. 2 in a list of the 2015-16 "Best Online Colleges in Iowa," according to (AC Online), a leading resource for online learning and college affordability information.

  • Briar Cliff University is ranked No. 10 on a list of the nation’s top Catholic online colleges, according to an annual report by the website

  • Briar Cliff University is ranked ninth on a list of the nation’s top online Bachelor of Social Work degrees, according to the annual “College Choice” website report.

  • Briar Cliff University ranks among Iowa’s safest colleges, according to an annual report by the website

  • Briar Cliff University’s Master of Science in Nursing degree is ranked No. 10 among the highest quality online graduate nursing programs for 2016, according to

  • Briar Cliff University ranks among America’s Best Regional Colleges, according to the U.S. News & World Report “Best Colleges 2015” edition.

  • Briar Cliff University’s online social work and nursing degree completion programs are each ranked among the Top 25 in the nation, according to an annual report by The Community for Accredited Online Schools (

  • Member of The Council of Independent Colleges

  • Member of The Higher Learning Commission

  • Member of The Iowa Association of Independent Colleges and Universities

  • Member of The Iowa Association of Colleges for Teacher Education

  • Member of The Iowa College Foundation

  • Member of The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities

  • Member of The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities

  • Member of The Association of Franciscan Colleges and Universities


Briar Cliff students have the distinct and rare honor to conduct undergraduate research alongside their professors. Through their collaborative work, students get to bulk up their résumés and graduate school applications as well as form close relationships with valuable professionals to add to their networks.

In addition to one of the region’s only educational cadaver labs, Briar Cliff is home to fully equipped laboratories that complement students’ nursing, kinesiology, chemistry, and biology studies. The University is also surrounded by 150 acres of the nation’s largest urban tallgrass prairie, an outdoor classroom that is just as beautiful as it is educational. BCU also maintains the Siouxland Research Center in order to help nonprofit organizations in the area perform research.


Briar Cliff’s liberal arts education blends each student’s major studies with a general education program that exposes them to all the intellectual, emotional, and religious foundations one needs to be fully equipped for the world’s diverse challenges. The four components of Briar Cliff’s General Education include Intellectual Foundations, Competencies, Service, and Franciscan Core. Together, these requirements ensure every student a fully-rounded education that perfectly supplements their choice of major.


Briar Cliff’s selective honors program pushes the most tenacious students to maximize their potentials as intellectual scholars. The program opens up possibilities for its students to engage in active learning collaborations such as exclusive seminars, individual research projects, community outreach initiatives, and priority access to foreign study opportunities.


BCU encourages student participation in both national and international travel experiences. These experiences immerse students in new cultures and stretch them to understand new perspectives and ideas. Recent trips abroad have included France, Italy, Tanzania, Costa Rica, Chile, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Activities Offered

Campus Ministries X
Choral groups X
Concert band  
Dance X
Drama/theater X
International Student Organization X
Jazz band X
Literary magazine X
Marching band  
Model UN  
Music ensembles X
Musical theater  
Pep band  
Radio station X
Student government X
Student newspaper X
Student-run film society  
Symphony orchestra  
Television station X


“Franciscan Life,” Briar Cliff’s First-Year Seminar, introduces incoming students to the cultural and historical foundations of Briar Cliff University through an exploration of the school’s Catholic Franciscan traditions. The course also familiarizes students with the academic expectations, skills, and demands of college life at Briar Cliff.


Through its Learning Communities initiative, Briar Cliff places first-year students into groups of students who share similar interests. These students enroll in similar classes and team up in service projects, adjusting to the college lifestyle side-by-side.


Briar Cliff has a host of writing courses that develop students’ skills as communicators and critical thinkers. Introduction to College Writing offers students multiple opportunities to practice essay planning, writing, and revision on a variety of topics. Creative Writing introduces students to the craft of creative written expression in a variety of literary genres, providing students ample guidance and practice in developing their artistic interests. Communication courses teach students how to write for different media types. At Briar Cliff, students have access to a wide range of writing intensive courses and all share the common value of helping students think critically and communicate effectively.

The University’s Writing Center is a valuable resource open to all students. Its services help students learn to hold their own as college-level writers, helping them understand how to structure arguments and display an understanding of grammar, articulation, structure, and cohesion.


The Professional Development School not only gives education majors fulfilling hands-on experience, but it also enriches the education of students from local elementary and high schools. This collaboration between BCU and the broader community provides students with the extraordinarily rare opportunity to gain hundreds of hours of experience in the classroom before they even begin student teaching.

Common Core

Arts/fine arts X
Computer literacy X
English (including composition) X
Foreign languages X
History X
Humanities X
Mathematics X
Sciences (biological or physical) X
Social science X


Other: Library Collections

Class Size Breakdown

Size 2-9 10-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-99 100+ Total
Number of Classes 127 111 68 15 19 13 0 353


Briar Cliff’s student mentor program establishes a consistent foundation of support throughout the campus community. It is a symbiotic system of students helping other students, whether that be through academic or emotional support. Peer mentors, course mentors, writing mentors, social mentors, tech mentors, and research mentors ensure that every student has someone to turn to for any help throughout their lives in college.


Briar Cliff students have countless opportunities to lead service projects every year. Their volunteer efforts, both locally and abroad, bring meaningful change to communities all over the world. Not only do these projects make a strong impact on the lives of those they help, but they also enrich students’ skills and values with experiences that they will remember long after they graduate.


Founded in 1989, the Briar Cliff Review is a nationally renowned literary and art magazine that showcases emerging writers and artists. Its annual publication has played a significant part in developing several authors’ careers, including New York Times and #1 international best-selling author Jenna Blum.

Campus Housing Options for Undergraduates

Coed dorms X
Men’s dorms  
Women’s dorms  
Apartments for married students  
Apartments for single students  
Special housing for disabled students  
Special housing for international students  
Fraternity/sorority housing  
Cooperative housing  
Theme housing X
Wellness housing  
Other housing options  


Service is a core component of the Briar Cliff experience. As a foundation of the University’s education, service activities help students to develop a lifelong willingness and sense of responsibility to contribute to the communities in which they live. Academic departments individually define the service component for their majors, creating a unique array of opportunities for students to apply their studies to real-world change. The minimum requirements for each service component must include either a 10-hour service project or a service-learning experience.


Briar Cliff faculty and advisors have a vested interest in helping students succeed. They actively assist students in finding the best internships possible, including regional and national opportunities. This hands-on experience is invaluable to students. Recently, Briar Cliff students have interned with the U.S. Congress, American Red Cross,, Heritage Foundation, Mayo Foundation, Microsoft, the Iowa Department of Human Services, and the Harlem Globetrotters.


Capstone courses are required for certain majors at Briar Cliff. This type of course culminates the many learning experiences from the student’s major into one final class. Capstones allow students to apply the theories they learned in class toward a hands-on project that exemplifies each student’s growth.


Admissions Fall 2016

1,491 Total Applicants
226 Total Admissions
210 Total Freshmen Enrollment

15.16% of applicants admitted

Admissions Deadlines for 2017-18 Admission

Rolling admission? Yes

Admissions Factors

Very Important
Academic GPA
Standardized test scores

Rigor of secondary school record
Character/personal qualities

Class rank
Application Essay
Extracurricular activities

Freshmen Profile 2016

  25th Percentile 75th Percentile
SAT Critical Reading 420 490
SAT Math 440 540
SAT Writing    
SAT Essay    
ACT Composite 18 24
ACT Math 16 24
ACT English 16 23
ACT Writing    

Freshmen Admission Process

  1. Complete an Application for Admissions
  2. Submit transcripts and test scores.
  3. Visit Briar Cliff’s campus.
  4. Complete a housing application.
  5. File for financial aid.
  6. Apply for Briar Cliff scholarships.
  7. Submit a $100 enrollment deposit.
  8. Sign up for New Student Registration Day.




Tuition $28,650
Fees $1,136
Total $29,786
Room and Board (on campus) $9,086
Estimated Total On Campus $38,872


Average Financial Aid Packages 2015-2016 final

$33,359 First year students
$14,647 All undergrads

Financial Aid Breakdown 2015-2016 final

26.4% on average, the percentage of need that was met
24% of financial need students that had need fully met

$14,647 Average need-based scholarship or grant award
$4,837 Average need-based loan

Aid Informatoin

Each year, Briar Cliff awards over $20 million in financial aid to more than 1,300 students in the form of grants, scholarships, loans and work study employment. Briar Cliff believes in the value of a Catholic education, and it is Briar Cliff’s mission to make higher education accessible and affordable. As such, all first-year students are awarded financial aid based on merit, talent, leadership, and financial need. Financial aid is awarded annually and FAFSA applications are available on Oct. 1. Briar Cliff’s FAFSA code is 001846.

Students enrolling at Briar Cliff can apply for up to 15 different scholarship categories with values ranging from $1,000 to full tuition.