If school spirit, sports culture, and manageable living costs are important to you, you’ll want to read this guide to the best colleges in the South. Whether it’s Duke in North Carolina or the University of Florida, attending one of the best colleges in the South can make acquiring a great education fun.
A university's academic reputation is important, but a lot more goes into your final choice of school.
The schools in this list were selected according to their national rankings. In addition to academics, this post will highlight the affordability, student resources, sports culture, and community life of all the following southern schools. Get ready for a lot of Greek life, Division I football, and great barbecue!
Here’s a list of the best southern colleges, spread out across several states so you can find the school that’s in your ideal city:
The education at Duke University is well worth the Ivy league-esque costs. This is largely due to Duke’s brilliant student support system.
This includes several unique opportunities for engagement with faculty, including a $70 allotment to invite a faculty member to a conversation over lunch and a series of informal dinners hosted by faculty in their homes.
Duke University is also home to The Archive: the school’s literary magazine. If you’re a creative storyteller, poet, artist, or photographer, The Archive will help you thrive by considering your work for publication.
Vanderbilt University offers 70 undergraduate programs in liberal arts and sciences, engineering, music, education, and human development. Considering the wide range of offered programs, it’s a good bet that Vanderbilt offers an education fit for your interests.
However, Vanderbilt’s strongest selling point may be its mandatory experiential learning. All first-year students must participate in an experiential learning project relating to their chosen area of focus.
In the current job climate, relevant work experience during college is an absolute necessity. Immersion at Vanderbilt is invaluable for you during and after university.
Also, if baseball is your game, then Vanderbilt is your school. The Vanderbilt Commodores baseball team was the 2019 NCAA championship winners and are ten-time regional champs. In fact, the team is so good that Vanderbilt was the only school with multiple first-round picks in the 2021 MLB draft.
Washington University in St. Louis is a private institution that has a great academic support system. There are tutoring services for students who need help in math, statistics, economics, business, and engineering courses. The Writing Center also assists students with writing papers and preparing for presentations.
Moreover, the school offers an MCAT prep course if you're a prospective med student.
Rice University in Houston offers more than 50 undergraduate majors among six divisions of study. You can find your preferred program in architecture, engineering, the humanities, music, natural sciences, and social sciences. Beyond these programs, you can find many more minors in other disciplines.
The university also cultivates a close-knit community by assigning all students to one of 11 residential colleges. Moreover, Rice takes much pride in its Division I basketball team, the Rice Owls. In fact, students are entitled to free tickets to Owls games.
Emory University is a relatively metropolitan university with a student body of 69% out-of-state and 18% international students. Emory may be your best choice in the South if you're more comfortable in a multicultural atmosphere.
Emory is also unique in requiring students to complete two physical education courses. If you thrive in the gym-class atmosphere through high school, Emory’s your college. Learn more about this excellent school in our complete guide to Emory University.
The University of Virginia is extremely accommodating toward national guard members, military service personnel, and veterans due to its impressive list of “state tax advantages, education and tuition assistance, employment assistance, vehicle tags benefits, as well as hunting and fishing license privileges.”
UVA is not only accessible and accommodating but fun as well. In fact, the college has cultivated a thriving community with over 800 clubs to join and 17 courts, fields, and rec centers. Moreover, Greek life is a large part of the UVA experience.
The University of Florida is a public institution and is probably best known as the home of the Florida Gators NCAA Division I football team. The UF community is as close as it is spirited. This is most apparent every Friday during Gator Nights, where students come together over free entertainment and late-night snacks.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has many opportunities for students to get involved with their university community. Almost 20% of the student body partakes in the university’s Greek organizations.
The university is also the home of the North Carolina Tar Heels basketball team, which Micheal Jordan played for during his NCAA career.
Moreover, UNC-Chapel Hill is your perfect fit if you have an early interest in media. You can hone your journalistic skills by working for the Daily Tar Heel, UNC’s student-run newspaper. Alternatively, if you’re a podcast addict, you can get involved with radio through WXYC, UNC’s radio station.
Wake Forest University is a private institution that offers 45 major and 60 minor undergraduate programs to its students, catering to any academic interests you may have.
Also, more than 60% of WFU’s student body participates in the school’s study abroad programs that give access to more than 70 countries. WFU is as much an international university as it is a southern college.
Wake Forest does a lot to ensure it has a booming campus life. For instance, the college requires that students live on campus for at least six semesters, familiarizing themselves with the school community. Also, its Division I football team’s fierce competition with other North Carolina-based teams does a lot to stir up school spirit.
The Georgia Institute of Technology offers bachelor’s degrees in several divisions of study, including business studies, computing, design, engineering, liberal arts, and the sciences. The university also cultivates a close-knit student body, as about 45% of undergraduates live on campus.
While Georgia Tech is one of the top Southern universities, it isn’t contained just within the Southern states. The university has additional campuses in neighboring Savannah, Ireland, France, Costa Rica, Singapore, and China. In other words, Georgia Tech is a school spread out across three continents.
There is a special appeal to the culture of southern cities, their athletic fixations, and the slower, less costly way of life. If you’re still contemplating whether education in the South is right for you, read on and be swayed.
Tuition costs are enough of a financial burden. Throw in housing costs, groceries, and other encountered expenses, and university life can quickly become financially untenable. This is especially true in cities where many top northern schools are situated.
Vanderbilt is in Tennessee, the 17th most affordable state. Rice is in the 22nd most affordable state of Texas, and Georgia Tech and Emory are in Georgia, the country’s 13th most affordable state.
This compares to Ivy league states in the North, like Connecticut and Massachusetts, the 10th and third most expensive US states, respectively.
A strong selling point of many of the universities listed above is their wonderful school spirit. This rich student life is often directly related to the deep love of Division I sports, with football being the most beloved of them all.
In the South, collegiate football is often a state-wide fixation. Needless to say, the dedication to local NCAA teams is at a fever pitch on actual southern campuses among the student body. Football provides students with a regular opportunity to come together, have fun, and embrace pride in their academic institution.
Good barbecue is a matter of great contention in the South. In Texas, they insist on using dry spice rubs to perfect their briskets and roasted pigs. In stark contrast, North Carolinians consider any barbecued meat that isn’t drenched in a vinegar-based sauce as not real barbecue.
Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the best colleges in the South.
Here is a list of the two best colleges in the South with a student population of less than 5000:
High Point University is a private institution in High Point, North Carolina. It is ranked as the very best regional college in the South. The cost of tuition and fees is about $41,916. Greek life is also alive and well at High Point, with 15 fraternity and sorority chapters for you to join.
Florida Polytech is a public institution located in Lakeland, Florida. It is ranked as the third-best regional college in the South. The cost of tuition and fees is around $4,940 in-state and $21,005 for out-of-state students.
Here is a list of the three best colleges in the South dedicated to the liberal arts:
If you’re interested in attending these schools, ensure your application is competitive.
As wonderful as an education in the South may be, there are a couple of downsides for some potential students. Heat and humidity are among the most easily forgotten parts of living in the South. It may seem minor, but if you can’t stand sweltering weather, you may want to steer clear of a southern school.
Another troubling possibility is that if you’re not careful, southern colleges' Greek life and school spirit can work against you. Fun and community are a massive part of your university years, but constant partying or fraternity/sorority-based activities may hinder your academics.
This shouldn’t be a problem if you have a good sense of work/life balance, but it is something to consider.
There are a few minor cultural differences you should know about before packing up and moving southward. For instance, many southern states tend to be more religious. If you are not, this doesn’t mean anything to you, except that you will see many Baptist churches. If you are devout, you may like the subtle religiosity of the South.
This Southern religiosity also means businesses, especially bars and liquor stores, are often closed on Sundays. It’s a negligible cultural difference, though it might take some getting used to.
A degree from a Southern college is just as good as a degree from a comparable Northern college. Fair employers have little geographic bias when it comes to your academic history.
While it is true that employers would rather see a degree from an Ivy League university, any of these quality small colleges in the South will still impress them.
The best schools in the South are Duke University, followed by Rice and Vanderbilt Universities.
The best private schools in the South are Duke and Vanderbilt Universities. Both schools are extremely competitive, so ensure you keep your application strong.
The most prestigious school in the South is Duke University. Followed by:
If you’re considering attending these schools, ensure your application is strong!
A couple of schools have been dubbed the Harvard of the South. These include Duke and Vanderbilt University.
Southern colleges are some of the top-ranked in the nation. Admission can be difficult – but not impossible! Whether you’re looking to attend school in Charlotte or Georgia, our admissions consultants are here to guide you.
Education at a Southern institution can get you the perfect mix of a spirited academic community, a rich local culture, and a quality learning experience. Whether it’s football, the barbecue, the great schools, or Greek life, there are many wonderful reasons to attend college in the South.
Now that you know how beneficial and fun a Southern education can be and understand all the brilliant Southern schools you can attend, nothing stops you from applying to the best colleges down South.