The 11 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’s schools, which include four of CollegeVine’s best public schools along with a collection of prestigious institutions known as the “Southern Ivies.”


The 11 Best Colleges in the South


Duke University 


Location: Durham, NC

Acceptance Rate: 9% 

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1500-1560/33-35  

Undergrad Enrollment: 6,600


Rigorous academics, a well-known study abroad program, and incredible access to the “Research Triangle” (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’s basketball team. The Blue Devils are the fourth-winningest men’s 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.


Rice University


Location: Houston, TX

Acceptance Rate: 3,900 

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1480-1550/34-36 

Undergrad Enrollment: 11% 


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—USA 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.


Vanderbilt University 


Location: Nashville, TN

Acceptance Rate: 10% 

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1470-1570/33-35 

Undergrad Enrollment: 6,800


A Vanderbilt education is best described as excellent, affordable, and accessible. The university’s 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 “Southern Ivies.” 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.


Washington & Lee University


Location: Lexington, VA

Acceptance Rate: 1,800  

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1370-1480/32-34 

Undergrad Enrollment: 21%


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—they can choose from roughly 200 courses both on campus and abroad—and work hand-in-hand with their peers and professors. 


It’s hard to have a discussion about Washington & Lee University without mentioning its name: the school is named after Geroge Washington and Robert E. Lee—both of whom were slave owners and one the commander of the Confederate States Army—which is problematic for numerous reasons. A decision on the future of the university’s name is expected in June 2021. 


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


Davidson College


Location: Davidson, NC

Acceptance Rate: 19% 

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1290-1460/30-34 

Undergrad Enrollment: 1,800


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.


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Emory University 


Location: Atlanta, GA

Acceptance Rate: 19% 

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1410-1550/32-35 

Undergrad Enrollment: 7,000 


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.


Wake Forest University 


Location: Winston Salem, NC

Acceptance Rate: 29% 

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1320-1490/30-33 

Undergrad Enrollment: 5,200 


Wake Forest’s motto is “Pro Humanitate” (For Humanity) and something the university takes very seriously—more 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.


Wake Forest is looking to improve the lives of its students as well—it was the first top 30 university to make standardized tests optional, a policy that resulted in a 30% increase in diversity in the undergraduate population.


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


University of Virginia (UVA)


Location: Charlottesville, VA 

Acceptance Rate: 26% 

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1340-150/30-34  

Undergrad Enrollment: 16,700


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’s 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—people never stop learning.  


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


University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill


Location: Chapel Hill, NC

Acceptance Rate: 23% 

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1320-1500/28-34* 

Undergrad Enrollment: 19,100 

*ACT score converted from SAT score 


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 “Public Ivies.” UNC’s excellence is nothing new—it has the distinction of being the U.S.’s 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.


University of Florida


Location: Gainesville, FL

Acceptance Rate: 39% 

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1330-1470/30-34 

Undergrad Enrollment: 35,400


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, 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.


Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech)


Location: Atlanta, GA

Acceptance Rate: 22% 

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1390-1530/32-35

Undergrad Enrollment: 16,000 


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.


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. 



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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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