Top 25 Best Colleges in the Southeast: 2018 Rankings

A gold star badge that says "College Raptor Top 25 Best Colleges in the Southeast 2018."The Southeast region offers a wide variety and distribution of colleges within its borders. Known for its beautiful weather and rich cultural history, this diverse area has a college experience for every student.

Schools in the Southeast range from large research universities to small liberal arts institutions. Whether public or private, southeastern schools have a lot to offer.

For the purposes of this list, the following states are considered the southeast region of the US: Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and Kentucky.

Here are College Raptor’s picks for the Top 25 Best Colleges in the Southeast. Find The Best College For Me:

25. New College of Florida

Red brick sidewalk leading towards College Hall at the New College of Florida.

Flickr user Larry Miller

  • Location: Sarasota, FL
  • Student Enrollment: 861
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

Originally founded as a private college in 1960, it has since become an honors college in the State University System of Florida. Of the 1,660 applications the school receives every year, it accepts around 1,010 of them. The average incoming freshman at the New College has an ACT score between 26–31 and an SAT score between 1,200–1,380.

24. Furman University

Furman University Bell Tower with the lake in the foreground.

Flickr user Matt Bateman

  • Location: Greenville, SC
  • Student Enrollment: 2,884
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Although it began as a theological institution in 1826, Furman is now a private, coeducational liberal arts college. The diverse student body at Furman is made up of people from 46 states and 53 countries.The school’s top three majors are Health and Clinical Sciences, Business Administration, and Political Science.

23. Sewanee–The University of the South

duPont Library at Sewanee - University of the South.

Flickr user Courtney McGough

  • Location: Sewanee, TN
  • Student Enrollment: 1,797
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Sewanee, a member of the Associated Colleges of the South, is currently owned by 28 southern dioceses of the Episcopal Church. The school receives on average 4,500 applications per year, and accepts only 1,830, making its acceptance rate 41%. Sewanee’s school colors are purple and gold, and its NCAA Division III sports teams are known as the Tigers.


22. University of South Carolina–Columbia

  • Location: Columbia, SC
  • Student Enrollment: 33,724
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

South Carolina offers more than 350 courses of study, the most popular of which are Experimental Psychology, Exercise Physiology, Biology, Finance and Business. The school also owns the largest collection of Scottish literature outside of Scotland as well as the largest collection of Ernest Hemingway’s work.

21. Elon University

  • Location: Elon, NC
  • Student Enrollment: 6,631
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Established in 1889 by the United Church of Christ, the university now provides a diverse offering of academic courses of study. The average incoming freshman at Elon has an SAT score ranging from 1,130–1,300 and an ACT score between 25–29. As well as the five schools on its main campus, Elon also has a satellite campus in nearby Greensboro.

20. North Carolina State University at Raleigh

Red NC State University name sign on the outside of a silver building

Flickr user Suzie Tremmel

  • Location: Raleigh, NC
  • Student Enrollment: 34.015
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

Founded as the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts,  NC State was formed by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1887. The university has land, sea and space grants, and forms part of the Research Triangle with Duke University and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

19. James Madison University

  • Location: Harrisonburg, VA
  • Student Enrollment: 21,227
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

Although it is currently a co ed university, James Madison was originally a women’s school when it was founded in 1908. Its NCAA Division I athletic teams are cheered on by Duke the Dog, the school’s mascot. James Madison’s most popular majors are Community Health Services, Speech Communications and Liberal Arts.

18. Rhodes College

Student walking towards a Rhodes College campus building.

Flickr user David Siu

  • Location: Memphis, TN
  • Student Enrollment: 2,063
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

The academic environment at Rhodes places emphasis on small class sizes, student research and writing. Of the 4,670 applications the university gets each year, 2,190 are accepted, making the overall acceptance rate 47%. The school’s colors are cardinal and black, and its mascot is the lynx.

17. University of Miami

2 students walking around the University of Miami campus.

Flickr user Jaine

  • Location: Coral Gables, FL
  • Student Enrollment: 16,825
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

UM places significant emphasis on research in all courses of study, attracting approximately $346.6 million in sponsored research grants every year. The university’s NCAA Division I athletic teams compete as the Miami Hurricanes. UM’s school colors are orange, green and white.

16. Florida State University

In front of a Florida State University campus building with the fountain in the foreground.

Flickr user Jackson Myers

  • Location: Tallahassee, FL
  • Student Enrollment: 40,830
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

FSU consist of 16 different colleges with more than 360 courses of study offered, the most popular being Psychology, Criminal Justice, English, Finance and Biology. The university also houses Florida’s only national laboratory–the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, and one of the country’s largest museum/university complexes.

15. Centre College

  • Location: Danville, KY
  • Student Enrollment: 1,367
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Founded by Presbyterian leaders, Centre College rarely cancels classes, even on federal holidays like Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Labor Day. Its athletic teams compete in NCAA Division III as the Colonels, and school colors are gold and white. The average Centre student has an ACT score of 26–31 and an SAT score of 1,180–1,390.

14. Tulane University of Louisiana

Brown brick building on the Tulane University of Louisiana campus.

Flickr user Brock Tice

  • Location: New Orleans, LA
  • Student Enrollment: 12,485
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Founded as a public medical college in 1834, Tulane became a general university in 1847 and was privatized in 1884. The school’s mascot is Riptide the Pelican, and its colors are olive green and sky blue. The student body of Tulane is quite diverse, with around 85% of its students coming from over 300 miles away.

13. Clemson University

Tillman Hall in Clemson University with leafless trees and cars on the foreground.

Flickr user Let Ideas Compete

  • Location: Clemson, SC
  • Student Enrollment: 22,698
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

This land-grant and sea-grant university is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains next to Lake Hartwell. The school also manages the adjacent Clemson Experimental Forest used for education and research. Out of the seven colleges, the most popular undergraduate majors are Business, Biology and Psychology.

12. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

War Memorial Gym building at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Flickr user Christopher Bowns

  • Location: Blacksburg, VA
  • Student Enrollment: 32,663
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

Virginia Tech was originally established as Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College in 1872. This university manages the largest research portfolio in the state of Virginia, totaling $513 million. Virginia Tech is a land-grant university, and includes educational facilities in six statewide regions and Switzerland.

11. Georgia Institute of Technology–Main Campus

Tech Tower in Georgia Institute of Technology--Main Campus.

Flickr user Wally Gobetz

  • Location: Atlanta, GA
  • Student Enrollment: 25,034
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

Georgia Institute of Technology, more commonly known as Georgia Tech, has many nationally recognized programs but most noteable are in engineering and biological sciences.  Founded in 1885, the institution now has a global presence with campuses in France and China.  Student athletics are also a large part of life at GT as the Yellow Jackets compete on a national level.


10. Wake Forest University

Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University with students walking on the foreground.

Flickr user Allen Forrest

  • Location: Winston-Salem, NC
  • Student Enrollment: 7,837
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

This school was known as Wake Forest Manual Labor Institute until 1839. Notable alumni of Wake Forest include author Maya Angelou, mathematician Phillip Griffiths, and Senators Richard Burr and Kay Hagan. The school’s colors are old gold and black, and its NCAA Division I athletic teams compete as the Demon Deacons.

9. University of Georgia

  • Location: Athens, GA
  • Student Enrollment: 36,130
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

UGA is the state’s flagship university and is the birthplace of the American system of public higher education.  It is also known for having one of the country’s largest and best research libraries.  Athens is consistently ranked as one of the best college towns and the campus of UGA is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.  The Bulldog’s most historic athletic rivalry is with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.   

8. University of Richmond

Jepson Hall in University of Richmond campus with orange flowers on the foreground.

Flickr user Rob Pongsajapan

  • Location: Richmond, VA
  • Student Enrollment: 4,181
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

UR was founded by Baptists in 1830 as a manual labor institute for men interested in becoming ministers. The university also hosted the first televised “town hall” presidential debate between George H.W. Bush, Ross Perot, and Bill Clinton in 1992. Among its five schools, the most popular majors for undergraduates are Business, Accounting and Biology.


7. University of Florida

University of Florida campus main entrance.

Flickr user Todd Van Hoosear

  • Location: Gainesville, FL
  • Student Enrollment: 50,654
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

As a large public research university, it is divided into 16 colleges offering over 100 undergraduate majors and 200 graduate degrees.  UF also operates over 150 research centers and institutes.  Their “Florida Gators” in bright orange and blue have won over thirty-nine national team championships.  

6. Davidson College

A lawn with a table and two chairs in front of a Davidson College campus building.

Flickr user melystu

  • Location: Davidson, NC
  • Student Enrollment: 1,784
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

This liberal arts college has an average incoming freshman ACT score of 28-32 and an average SAT score of 1,280–1,430. Their latin motto is “Alenda Lux Ubi Orta Libertas” which translates to: “Let learning be cherished where liberty has arisen.” Their mascot is known as Will E. Wildcat.

5. Emory University

Psychology building and the Paul Rudolph-designed Cannon Chapel in Emory University.

Flickr user Georgia Popplewell

  • Location: Atlanta, GA
  • Student Enrollment: 13,788
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Emory is one of oldest private colleges in the country and was established in 1836. The university, which receives approximately 20,500 applications per year, is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. The school’s top three majors are Business Administration and Management, Biology, and Economics.

4. Washington and Lee University

Washington Hall at Washington and Lee University.

Flickr user Robert of Fairfax

  • Location: Lexington, VA
  • Student Enrollment: 2,172
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

W&L’s school motto is Non Incautus Futuri—Not unmindful of the future—which makes sense as the school was partially named after a very forward thinking historical figure: George Washington. The second part of this school’s name comes from Robert E. Lee, who served as the university’s president until his death. The school’s Mock Conventions held during every presidential election year has shown a remarkable record of accuracy over the years.

3. College of William and Mary

Tucker Hall at the College of William and Mary.

Flickr user benuski

  • Location: Williamsburg, VA
  • Student Enrollment: 8,484
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

This historic school was royally founded. King William III and Queen Mary II sent letters in 1693 to establish the school, making W&M the second oldest institute of higher learning in the United States after Harvard. Their mascot is the griffin, and they play in the NCAA I-FCS division. Track, football, soccer, and swimming are popular sports on campus.

2. Vanderbilt University

Students gathering outside at the Vanderbilt University campus.

Flickr user Tom Hart

  • Location: Nashville, TN
  • Student Enrollment: 12,567
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit

Named in honor of rail and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, the academically rigorous school accepts students with average ACT scores between 32–36 and average SAT scores between 1,430–1,580. Although the university is in the middle of urban Nashville, the campus is a designated national arboretum and has over 300 species of plants.

1. Duke University

Duke University is ranked first of the best colleges in the southeast.

Flickr user Chris Lawrence

  • Location: Durham, NC
  • Student Enrollment: 15,984
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Of Duke’s nearly 16,000 students, the majority of them are in the graduate school. Well over 31,000 applications are sent in to this university every year, though only about 11% or so are accepted. Duke has a 7:1 student to faculty ratio, and a 97% first year retention rate. Lacrosse, football, and soccer are popular sports on campus.

About our methodology

Colleges are ranked based on a combination of factors, including graduation rates, campus diversity, endowment per student, and other data as reported via the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) for the most recently-available enrollment year. Some colleges may have been excluded from rankings based on certain criteria, including specialization and classification. Learn about our full methodology.

Interested in any of these schools? Check out College Raptor’s free match tool to see if they’re a good fit for you!

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