While there may not be an ‘official’ list of Ivy League Schools in the Southern United States, a handful of universities in the South are packing a punch. Keep reading to learn more about the Southern Ivy League!
The so-called ‘Magnolia Conference’ was cooked up by the chancellor of Vanderbilt University to foster relationships with other schools through athletic competition.
However, making the conference official never came to fruition, and in 2022, the list of schools ranking among the best in the country has widened beyond the original league. These days, most of the original league and a few newer schools have become known as ‘Southern Ivies.’
A famous name or belonging to an elite list isn’t the only thing that makes a school worthy of consideration. Duke and Vanderbilt rank higher than a few official Ivy League schools (Cornell comes in at #12, Brown at #15) on Forbes. And in addition to high rankings, each has a lot to offer in terms of student lifestyle.
Although there is no official list of the southern Ivy League schools, the schools below are ranked based on these criteria:
Below is the table of the ranking of the unofficial list of the Southern Ivy Leagues.
Here is a glance at 14 of the highest-ranking schools in the South, according to both Forbes and U.S. News.
Located in Durham, North Carolina, Duke University is the highest-ranked school in the South, according to several ranking systems. US News ranks Duke at number ten in the National Universities rankings and 16th in Best Value Schools.
In fact, the site lists the median starting salary for Duke graduates at over $68,000– the highest of all schools in this article. For reference, the median starting salary for graduates from Harvard University (which ranked as the second-best university in the country, is $69,000.)
Aside from being a true Southern Ivy academically, Duke is an athletic powerhouse. A target for men’s Basketball players, the Blue Devils are said to be in the top 5 teams at the college level in the history of the sport.
If you’re looking to live somewhere that offers a little extra outside the classroom, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, is the place for you.
The school has a lot to offer to those with diverse interests. Are you a math whiz by day but a guitarist by night? This is the place to go. Nashville is known for its deep roots in the music industry, so if you love live music, you could catch a show or two on a study break.
Vanderbilt offers just over 70 undergraduate majors and a full range of graduate and professional degrees across ten schools and colleges. If you somehow manage to get stir-crazy, you can take advantage of the school’s study abroad program, offered in just over 40 countries.
Source: Vanderbilt University
Staying with schools in urban settings, Rice University is another great option for city-slickers when it comes to high-ranking schools in the south. Located in Houston, it offers a “dynamic student life in the nation’s fourth largest city,” according to its profile page in the U.S. News school rankings.
The Rice Owls have won 14 varsity NCAA Division I championships and are well known for their strong baseball program. However, if you’re more interested in being in the bleachers than on the bench, there’s a perk: Students receive free tickets to all varsity athletic events.
Not to mention the interesting history of Rice University, which involves the murder of its millionaire founder by his valet. But murder mysteries and athletics aside, the school is best known for its strong business and engineering programs.
Source: Rice University
If you’re looking for a more insular college-town experience, the University of Florida is worth considering. Located near Gainesville, the campus has a very suburban feel and does not require freshmen to live on campus.
This school has a diverse set of prominent programs that range from journalism to agriculture to business. U.S. News highlights the extremely high ratio of faculty to students– which sits at about 17:1, and over half of the classes offered have fewer than 20 students, so if you’re looking for a more intimate learning environment comparable to a high-school class, this is the school to attend.
It is also the home of the renowned Florida Gators, who famously acted as test subjects for the popular sports drink ‘Gatorade,’ which you may need to drink after partaking in a ‘Gator Night’ which offers free entertainment and midnight snacks to students.
Source: University of Florida
Another classic college experience, students at Emory in Atlanta tend to spend all four years living on campus. It would follow that there’s a Greek community that’s running strong.
If hitting the gym is important to you, Emory may be your place to call home. All undergraduates are required to take two courses in physical education, even if they’re not participating in Varsity athletics. But it’s not all about being a jock, Emory boasts strong science, business and economics programs.
Chapel Hill in North Carolina is another college town. Like Duke, UNC at Chapel Hill is a big basketball school. Two NBA stars played for UNC’s Tar Heels: Vince Carter and Michael Jordan.
However, the school has other extracurricular programming that stands out. For example, it's a student-run radio station and newspaper. The school also has an incredibly high ratio of faculty to students at 15:1, and just under half of the classes are made up of less than 20 students.
If a deep-rooted history screams prestige to you, this school might be it. Started by Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia (UVA) is a part of Charlottesville’s extensive history. Although Ivy League schools do not exist in Virginia, UVA is s highly desired institution for higher education.
The school highlights the wide variety of local entertainment, claiming the city has the highest number of restaurants per capita, and yet there’s also refuge for those who feel more at home in nature.
Many students head out into the hills for skiing or snowboarding in the winter or onto the Rivanna River in the summer. There’s even a regular environmental cleanup event that allows students to make use of the school’s fleet of watercraft for free.
Speaking of history, William & Mary, named after the King and Queen who founded the school, is the second-oldest school in the U.S. (the first being Harvard.) That’s right, the school dates back to 1693, back when the U.S. was not the U.S. at all, and Virginia was still one of the 13 royal colonies.
As such, it is fitting that the school has been ranked the best by U.S. News & World Report for its graduate program for U.S. Colonial History. Even with such an illustrious history, William & Mary is also known as a ‘Public Ivy’, one of eight schools in the country with that designation.
Source: William & Mary
If you’re a world traveler, the Georgia Institute of Technology has expanded quite impressively beyond its namesake state. Other than the campuses in Savannah and Atlanta, Georgia Tech also has campuses in Costa Rica, France, Ireland, Singapore and China.
As an institution that seeks to produce forward-thinking engineers, the school has a history of being ahead of the curve. Georgia Tech was one of the first to admit women in 1952, and it claims to be the first university in the Deep South to admit African-American students without a court order in 1961.
Source: Georgia Institute of Technology
You know the saying, everything is bigger in Texas, and it actually is true when it comes to this school. The University of Texas at Austin is said to be one of the largest in the U.S.
There are 156 programs within 13 schools for undergraduates to choose from and over 1,100 clubs and organizations for students to throw themselves into. The university also claims to attract a whopping $650 million in funding for its research. The school has no shortage of projects ranging from psychological studies on speech processing, to engineering studies involving machine learning that undergraduates can participate in.
Source: College Board
Tulane University isn’t considered an Ivy League; however, it is highly ranked. The school is located in New Orleans, Louisiana, and offers an extensive array of more than 75 majors and minors, presenting diverse opportunities for your undergraduate journey.
The school's curriculum is designed to be comprehensive and interdisciplinary, offering exposure to a wide range of subjects, including humanities, fine arts, social sciences, and sciences. Additionally, during your first year, you'll engage in TIDES (Tulane Interdisciplinary Experience Seminar), which provides an academic framework for exploring your new environment in New Orleans.
If Tulane University sounds like the school for you, you should consider applying!
Source: Tulane University
Wake Forest University is a private university located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It was founded in 1834 and hosts around 9,000 students.
Although Wake Forest University isn’t considered an Ivy League, it does offer a rich academic experience with over 50 majors, 60 minors, and programs across seven colleges and schools. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 11 to 1 and nearly all undergraduate classes having fewer than 50 students, personalized attention is a priority.
Furthermore, 60% of recent graduates have participated in study abroad programs, enhancing global perspectives. The university's diverse community of over 5,400 undergraduate students from 47 states and 48 countries fosters a dynamic learning environment where students can explore their passions and thrive.
Source: Wake Forest University
If you’re thinking about going to school in the south but are having trouble deciding what school to attend, check out this free Compare College Tool. This tool helps you compare schools and, therefore, helps you pick one to attend!
Still mulling over which school is right for you? Or in a rush? Here are some fast facts to keep in mind.
No, not officially. But Duke ranks higher than two official Ivy League schools in two ranking systems, and many other schools rank higher regarding the best school for value.
Duke ranks highest, closely followed by Vanderbilt and Rice.
Yes, figuratively speaking, Duke is a Southern Ivy. Duke is the top-ranked school in all the Southern states.
While there are no ‘official’ Southern Ivy League Schools, there are plenty of schools to choose from that are well-respected, have a long history, and whose programs are recognized as having great value for money.