The 20 Best Colleges in the South

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Temperate weather, southern hospitality, and gorgeous landscapes encompassing everything from sandy beaches to pastoral countryside to rugged mountains are just a few reasons why people love the South. Another reason: the region‚Äôs schools, which include a handful of CollegeVine‚Äôs best public schools along with a collection of prestigious institutions known as the ‚ÄúSouthern Ivies.‚ÄĚ

 

Our Ranking Methodology

 

Below is a list of the 20 best colleges in the South. The list was constructed with a focus on school quality, outcomes, and return on investment (ROI), along with considering a host of other factors such as retention rate, selectivity, endowment per student, student-faculty ratio, median earnings, and cost of attendance. You can find CollegeVine’s rankings in their entirety here. 

 

20 Best Colleges in the South

 

1. Duke University 

 

Location: Durham, NC

Acceptance Rate: 4.3% (Regular Decision) 

Middle 50% SAT: 1480-1570

Middle 50% ACT: 33-35  

Undergrad Enrollment: 6,994

 

Rigorous academics, a well-known study abroad program, and incredible access to the ‚ÄúResearch Triangle‚ÄĚ (a geographic area home to Duke, North Carolina State University, and UNC-Chapel Hill, along with a variety of prominent businesses) is appealing to many high schoolers hopeful to attend Duke. Another draw is the university‚Äôs basketball team. The Blue Devils are the fourth-winningest men‚Äôs basketball team and have taken home five NCAA championships. The rivalry on the court between Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill (winner of six NCAA championships) has become one of the best in college sports.¬†

 

Learn more about Duke University and what it takes to get accepted.

 

2. Rice University

 

Location: Houston, TX

Acceptance Rate: 9.3% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1460-1570

Middle 50% ACT: 34-36 

Undergrad Enrollment: 4,076 

 

Located in Houston, Texas, the most diverse city in the U.S., it comes as no surprise that Rice University is home to one of the most diverse student bodies in the country‚ÄĒUSA Today ranks the university 23rd on its list of inclusive student bodies. Helping the school attract students from across the U.S. and globe, and making it one of the best colleges in the South, is its generous financial aid policy. Rice practices need-blind admissions and meets 100% of demonstrated need for domestic applicants. The school is need-aware for international applicants but will also meet 100% of their demonstrated need.¬†¬†

 

Another factor keeping college affordable and accessible is Rice’s OpenStax Program, an initiative based at the university to create peer-reviewed, openly licensed textbooks, which are available in free digital formats. 

 

Learn more about Rice University and what it takes to get accepted.

 

3. Vanderbilt University 

 

Location: Nashville, TN

Acceptance Rate: 10% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1470-1570

Middle 50% ACT: 33-35 

Undergrad Enrollment: 7,057


A Vanderbilt education is best described as excellent, affordable, and accessible. The university‚Äôs reputation for academic excellence is well deserved and it is commonly grouped among a collection of prestigious colleges in the southern U.S. known as the ‚ÄúSouthern Ivies.‚ÄĚ Helping Vanderbilt remain affordable and accessible are its student-friendly admissions and financial aid policies. For domestic students, Vanderbilt is need-blind, meets 100% of demonstrated need, and does not include loans in its financial aid packages.

 

Learn more about Vanderbilt University and what it takes to get accepted.

 

4. Washington & Lee University

 

Location: Lexington, VA

Acceptance Rate: 24.5%

Middle 50% SAT: 1350-1500

Middle 50% ACT: 32-34

Undergrad Enrollment: 1,822

 

One of the defining traits of Washington & Lee University is its unique academic calendar, which is divided into two 13-week terms and an immersive four-week Spring Term. Spring Term provides students the opportunity to explore a topic in depth‚ÄĒthey can choose from roughly 200 courses both on campus and abroad‚ÄĒand work hand-in-hand with their peers and professors.¬†

 

It‚Äôs hard to have a discussion about Washington & Lee University without mentioning its name: the school is named after Geroge Washington and Robert E. Lee‚ÄĒboth of whom were slave owners and one the commander of the Confederate States Army‚ÄĒwhich is problematic for numerous reasons. Despite the controversy surrounding the university‚Äôs namesakes, it voted to keep the institution‚Äôs name as it is as recently as June 2021.¬†¬†

 

Learn more about Washington & Lee University and what it takes to get accepted.

 

5. Emory University 

 

Location: Atlanta, GA

Acceptance Rate: 19.2% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1400-1510 

Middle 50% ACT: 31-34 

Undergrad Enrollment: 7,010

 

Emory offers its students the unique opportunity to attend both a small liberal arts college and a major metropolitan university. The university’s Oxford College, in Oxford, Georgia, (about 45 minutes from Atlanta) is a liberal-arts-focused two-year residential college known for its small class sizes and close student-faculty relationships where Emory freshmen and sophomores can begin their college careers. After two years at Oxford College, students head to the university’s main campus for their junior and senior years.   

 

Learn more about Emory University and what it takes to get accepted.

 

6. Davidson College

 

Location: Davidson, NC

Acceptance Rate: 25% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1310-1460

Middle 50% ACT: 1290-1460/30-33 

Undergrad Enrollment: 1,983

 

Davidson’s Honor Code is at the foundation of everything from the classroom to campus life, and is one reason the school is among the best colleges in the South. The Honor Code dates back to the school’s founding in 1837 and every Davidson student agrees in writing to abide by it; in turn, there is a deep trust between students, staff, and faculty. Take-home and self-proctored tests are prevalent, as are efforts to reunite found belongings to the students who have lost them.  

 

Learn more about Davidson College and what it takes to get accepted.

 

7. University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill

 

Location: Chapel Hill, NC

Acceptance Rate: 23.5% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1270-1446

Middle 50% ACT: 27-33 

Undergrad Enrollment: 19,355 

 

UNC has earned a reputation as one of the finest public universities in the nation and one of the best colleges in the South. UNC is often grouped among a collection of colleges known for their superb academics and sterling reputations called the ‚ÄúPublic Ivies.‚ÄĚ UNC‚Äôs excellence is nothing new‚ÄĒit has the distinction of being the U.S.‚Äôs first public university (officially holding classes in 1795) and the only one to award degrees in the 18th century.¬†

 

Learn more about UNC-Chapel Hill and what it takes to get accepted.

 

8. Wake Forest University 

 

Location: Winston Salem, NC

Acceptance Rate: 32% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1300-1460

Middle 50% ACT: 30-33 

Undergrad Enrollment: 5,441


Wake Forest‚Äôs motto is ‚ÄúPro Humanitate‚ÄĚ (For Humanity) and something the university takes very seriously‚ÄĒmore than half of Wake Forest students actively volunteer in the community. Helping facilitate student service is the Volunteer Service Corps (VSC). Founded in 1989, the VSC is partnered with over 55 community agencies and 35 student organizations and has set the ambitious goal to recruit and place every student as a volunteer.

 

Learn more about Wake Forest University and what it takes to get accepted.

 

9.  University of Virginia (UVA)

 

 

Location: Charlottesville, VA 

Acceptance Rate: 20.6% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1330-1490

Middle 50% ACT: 30-34  

Undergrad Enrollment: 17,311

 

Thomas Jefferson has a long list of illustrious achievements: author of the Declaration of Independence, third President of the U.S., and renowned inventor, just to name a few.  Another notable accomplishment of Jefferson’s was founding UVA. Jefferson was involved in everything from planning the curriculum and hiring the faculty to designing the school’s grounds and buildings. 

 

An interesting remnant of Jefferson‚Äôs influence on UVA is that students are referred to as first-years, second-years, and so on, rather than freshman, sophomores, etc. This is because Jefferson believed an education at UVA is just the beginning‚ÄĒpeople never stop learning.¬†¬†

 

Learn more about UVA and what it takes to get accepted.

 

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10. Tulane University  

 

Location: New Orleans, LA  

Acceptance Rate: 9.7% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1360-1470

Middle 50% ACT: 30-34  

Undergrad Enrollment: 7,700

 

Located in the heart of New Orleans, Tulane offers unrivaled access to ‚Äúone best big cities in the U.S.‚ÄĚ A melting pot of many people and cultures, New Orleans is renowned for its music, food, and events, along with all the other characteristics you expect of a major metropolis: museums, pro sports, and a major airport. Tulane is also tightly connected with the New Orleans community and was the first research university in the nation to make community service a degree requirement. Last year, Tulane students performed more than 780,000 hours of community service in New Orleans.¬†

 

Learn more about Tulane and what it takes to get accepted.

 

11. University of Richmond 

 

Location: Richmond, VA   

Acceptance Rate: 30.9% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1290-1440

Middle 50% ACT: 30-33  

Undergrad Enrollment: 3,291

 

The inclusion of the University of Richmond among the best colleges in the south is in part thanks in part to programs like the ‚ÄúRichmond Guarantee.‚ÄĚ The Richmond Guarantee is a commitment to every undergraduate at Richmond which makes them eligible to receive a fellowship of up to $4,000 for an unpaid or underpaid summer internship or faculty-mentored research project. Other programs at the university, like Richmond‚Äôs ‚ÄúPromise to Virginia‚ÄĚ (which provides grant-based financial aid equal to full-time tuition, room, and an unlimited meal plan to Virginia residents), ensure that students of all backgrounds are represented on campus.¬†

 

Learn more about the University of Richmond and what it takes to get accepted.

 

12. College of William and Mary 

 

Location: Williamsburg, VA   

Acceptance Rate: 36.5% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1360-1520

Middle 50% ACT: 31-34  

Undergrad Enrollment: 6,543

 

Founded in 1693, William and Mary is the second-oldest institution of higher education in the country‚ÄĒit‚Äôs named after the British monarchs ruling at the time and is the first and only American institution of higher education to receive a coat of arms from the College of Heralds. Today, William and Mary maintains its traditional title of ‚ÄúCollege,‚ÄĚ despite it actually being a highly rated research university.¬†¬†

 

Learn more about William & Mary and what it takes to get accepted.

 

13. University of Florida

 

Location: Gainesville, FL

Acceptance Rate: 31.1% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1310-1450  

Middle 50% ACT: 29-33

Undergrad Enrollment: 34,931

 

When people mention the University of Florida, thoughts typically turn to sunshine, alligators, and football. However, the school is also home to the largest student-run paper in the nation, The Independent Florida Alligator. The Alligator serves a regular audience of more than 50,000 readers and its alumni are employed in newsrooms across the country and include four Pulitzer Prize winners.  

 

In 2019, the University of Florida was the only school in the nation on the list of top 10 baccalaureate origin institutions both for Black and Hispanic PhDs in the natural sciences and engineering.

 

Learn more about the University of Florida and what it takes to get accepted.

 

14. Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech)

 

 

Location: Atlanta, GA

Acceptance Rate: 21.3% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1380-1520

Middle 50% ACT: 31-35

Undergrad Enrollment: 16,561

 

Life at Georgia Tech has changed a lot since its founding as an all-male industrial school in 1885. For example, the school’s inaugural class of 84 male students has grown to 16,000 undergraduates today, and in 1890, the first two engineers to receive their degrees from the school flipped a coin for the honor of going first. Despite not admitting women until 1952, females now make up over 30% of the student population.   

 

Learn more about the Georgia Institute of Technology and what it takes to get accepted.

 

15. University of Texas ‚Äď Austin¬†

 

Location: Austin, TX

Acceptance Rate: 31.9% 

Middle 50% SAT: 1220-1450

Middle 50% ACT: 26-33

Undergrad Enrollment: 40,048

 

UT Austin is one of the largest schools in the nation‚ÄĒ50,476 students (40,000+ of which are undergraduates) call the university home. They say everything is big in Texas, and that includes UT Austin‚Äôs undergraduate offerings. The University of Texas ‚Äď Austin offers bachelor‚Äôs degrees in more than 170 fields‚ÄĒranging from Architecture to Women‚Äôs and Gender Studies‚ÄĒthrough its 12 undergraduate colleges and schools.¬†

 

Learn more about the University of Texas ‚Äď Austin and what it takes to get accepted.

 

16. Berea College

 

Location: Berea, KY

Acceptance Rate: N/A

Middle 50% SAT: N/A

Middle 50% ACT: N/A

Undergrad Enrollment: 1,652

 

Berea College is one of the country‚Äôs eight federally recognized work colleges‚ÄĒinstitutions that integrate work, learning, and service along with helping to reduce the cost of higher education. Nearly all (98%) of Berea‚Äôs domestic first-year students are Pell Grant eligible. The ‚ÄúBerea Tuition Promise‚ÄĚ covers 100% of tuition costs, which for most Berea students adds up to over $176,000 across four years. On average, Berea students just pay an average of $1,000 toward housing, meals, and fees.¬†

 

Learn more about Berea and what it takes to get accepted.

 

17. Virginia Tech 

 

Location: Blacksburg, VA

Acceptance Rate: 65.7%

Middle 50% SAT: 1170-1370

Middle 50% ACT: 25-31

Undergrad Enrollment: 30,020 

 

Students at Virginia Tech will find a wide area of fields to study, as the school is home to eight undergraduate colleges and offers more than 110 bachelor‚Äôs degree programs. Virginia Tech‚Äôs motto is Ut Prosim, which means ‚Äúthat I may serve.‚ÄĚ One way Virginia Tech students serve is in the Corps of Cadets‚ÄĒone of only two senior military colleges in the U.S. located within a major state university. In the 2018-2019 academic year, there were 1,127 cadets‚ÄĒabout 4% of undergraduates.

 

Learn more about Virginia Tech and what it takes to get accepted.

 

18. University of South Florida (USF)

 

Location: Tampa, FL

Acceptance Rate: 49.2%

Middle 50% SAT: 1170-1310

Middle 50% ACT: 25-30

Undergrad Enrollment: 38,579

 

Looking to jump-start your college career? The University of South Florida is the college for you. Early Admission at USF is a form of dual enrollment through which eligible high school students are admitted to USF as full-time students for fall and spring semesters of their high school senior year and take courses with credit applied to both their baccalaureate degree and their high school diploma. On the other end of the age spectrum, Florida residents over 60 years old can take certain undergraduate and graduate classes for free. 

 

Learn more about the University of South Florida and what it takes to get accepted.

 

19. Spelman College 

 

Location: Atlanta, GA

Acceptance Rate: 52.5%

Middle 50% SAT: 1060-1190

Middle 50% ACT: 20-25

Undergrad Enrollment: 2,207

 

Founded in 1891, Spelman College is the oldest HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) in the nation. As one of the top HBCUs in the country, Spelman is often among a collection of colleges called the ‚ÄúBlack Ivy League.‚ÄĚ Spelman is a women‚Äôs college and a leader in the education of women of African descent. That said, you‚Äôll find an abundance of diversity at Spelman‚ÄĒstudents from 43 states and 10 countries are found on campus.¬†

 

Learn more about Spelman and what it takes to get accepted.

 

20. Furman University 

 

Location: Greenville, SC

Acceptance Rate: 55.3%

Middle 50% SAT: 1260-1382

Middle 50% ACT: 28-32

Undergrad Enrollment: 2,345 

 

Founded in 1826, Furman is the oldest private university in South Carolina and is known for its stunning campus which is commonly included among the best college campuses in the country. Since 1974, Furman students have been required to attend four Culture Life Programs (CLP) per semester. CLPs originate from the three areas of the university‚ÄĒreligion, academics, and student life‚ÄĒand forge a sense of community.

 

Learn more about Furman and what it takes to get accepted.

 

What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?

 

Wondering what your odds of acceptance are at one of these great Southern schools? CollegeVine can help! Our free chancing engine considers factors like grades and standardized test scores along with elements such as extracurricular activities, awards, and achievements to predict your odds of acceptance at hundreds of schools in the South and across the country. 

 

Remember to build a balanced school list including safety, target, and reach schools to put yourself in the best position to find the perfect school for you. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!


Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.

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