The 25 Best Colleges in the Southeast – 2016 University Rankings

Top25_Southeast_CollegeSteeped in much tradition, the Southeast is a place of diverse culture and history.

And, so, too, are the colleges in this region. From the massive public universities that comprise the SEC and its storied sports sagas to new and cutting-edge liberal arts colleges with emphasis on science and discovery–there are great schools all around this area of the country.

For our rankings of the best colleges in the Southeast, we evaluated each school based on a set of criteria that included things like graduation rates, diversity, selectivity, and more.

All told, we came up with 25 that came out on top.

Here are the 25 best colleges in the Southeast:


25. Hendrix College

Source: Flickr user hardgravephoto.

Source: Flickr user hardgravephoto.

Conway, AR

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,431

Hendrix College is a small, private liberal arts college near central Arkansas. With about 1,400 undergraduate students, the college is regularly recognized as one of the top-tier liberal arts colleges in the nation and offers 34 majors and 38 minors.

Learn more about Hendrix College


24. North Carolina State University at Raleigh

Source: Flickr user kmolive.

Source: Flickr user kmolive.

Raleigh, NC

Undergraduate enrollment: 24,536

NCSU is the largest college in the Carolinas with an undergraduate enrollment of almost 25,000. The public university is known for its Engineering, Agriculture, and Life Sciences programs and was original established as the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in 1887. It also has a textiles college, which enrolls almost 1,000 undergrads in majors related to everything from fashion design to fiber/polymer sciences.

Learn more about NC State


23. Wofford College

Source: Flickr user zenmama.

Source: Flickr user zenmama.

Spartanburg, SC

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,615

This private liberal arts college offers degrees in a range of majors and enrolls about 1,600 undergraduate students. Wofford is recognized for its emphasis on international learning and study abroad programs, with more than 200 available in 59 different countries.

Learn more about Wofford College


22. Clemson University

Source: Flickr user hdescopeland.

Source: Flickr user hdescopeland.

Clemson, SC

Undergraduate enrollment: 16,931

With about 17,000 undergraduate students, Clemson is made up of 6 colleges offering degrees in a range of fields. Some of the most unique offerings at Clemson come from the College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Life Sciences (CAFLS), which offers courses on sustainable farming, food packaging systems, biomedical sciences, and more. The college is also known for participating in extensive automotive and vehicle technology research in conjunction with companies like BMW and Microsoft.

Learn more about Clemson University


21. Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus

Source: Flickr user hectoralejandro.

Source: Flickr user hectoralejandro.

Atlanta, GA

Undergraduate enrollment: 16,931

Georgia Tech’s roots date back to the Civil War, as the college was first established as part of the Reconstruction, in an effort to revitalize industry in the South. Since its start as a Mechanical Engineering school, it has grown to nearly 17,000 undergrads and now houses 31 academic departments with majors in engineering, liberal arts, sciences, computing, and more.

Learn more about Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus


20. Rhodes College

Source: Flickr user dwysiu.

Source: Flickr user dwysiu.

Memphis, TN

Undergraduate enrollment: 2,027

Rhodes College offers students a unique campus experience, noted for its stone and Gothic architecture in an urban setting near the heart of Memphis. Of its 2,000 undergrads, around 30% go on to graduate school, and the college is lauded for its alumni having a 95% acceptance rate at law and business schools, and their medical school acceptance rate being nearly double the national average.

Learn more about Rhodes College


19. James Madison University

Source: Flickr user mdsnbelle.

Source: Flickr user mdsnbelle.

Harrisonburg, VA

Undergraduate enrollment: 18,431

James Madison University is a public research university that spans 720 acres, including over 120 campus buildings. With a 6-year graduation rate of 81%, JMU claims the distinction of having the highest graduation rate of any college in the South. It also has a 92% freshman retention rate, which ranks it among the best in the nation.

Learn more about James Madison University


18. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Source: Flickr user vthokiefans.

Source: Flickr user vthokiefans.

Blacksburg, VA

Undergraduate enrollment: 24,034

Best known as Virginia Tech, this college in western Virginia enrolls almost 25,000 undergraduate students and is known for its pivotal role in advancing science and technology across a number of fields. Its Bioinformatics Institute is a foremost facility of its kind globally, researching and applying biological data to learn more about infectious diseases, viruses, and pharmaceuticals.

Learn more about Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


College Raptor’s match tool is free and takes just minutes.


17. University of Miami

Source: Flickr user 25500642@N04.

Source: Flickr user [email protected].

Coral Gables, FL

Undergraduate enrollment: 11,380

University of Miami is a private research university located near (but not in) Miami, FL. It’s well-respected as being a very active source of research in many areas. Notably, UM has recently started construction on a 2 million sq ft Life Science Park, which will house a number of departments and research facilities related to the Life Sciences.

Learn more about University of Miami


16. Elon University

Source: Flickr user mpd01605.

Source: Flickr user mpd01605.

Elon, NC

Undergraduate enrollment: 5,599

Elon University is a private liberal arts college that enrolls almost 6,000 undergraduate students in rural North Carolina. It is often lauded as one of the “best value” colleges among private colleges nationally, and often cited as having some of the best campus amenities and facilities in the country.

Learn more about Elon University


15. University of Georgia

Source: Flickr user zlatko.

Source: Flickr user zlatko.

Athens, GA

Undergraduate enrollment: 26,278

The University of Georgia’s main campus in Athens comprises about 400 buildings and 17 separate schools and colleges dedicated to subjects ranging from Journalism to Ecology. With more than 26,000 undergraduate students, the UGA is the United States’ oldest state-chartered university and is regularly recognized as one of the nation’s best public research universities.

Learn more about University of Georgia


14. Centre College

Source: Flickr user aikcu.

Source: Flickr user aikcu.

Danville, KY

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,381

This small, liberal arts college is nestled into central Kentucky. With an undergraduate-only enrollment of about 1,400, the college offers a range of liberal arts degrees, with students most often studying Economics, History, or Biology.

Learn more about Centre College


13. Furman University

By Green Grass (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Green Grass (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Greenville, SC

Undergraduate enrollment: 2,797

This private liberal arts college is the oldest in South Carolina. With 2,800 undergraduate students, the college is often recognized as being especially rigorous in its coursework, and for its commitment to sustainability. The campus is also recognized for its beauty and a large, 40-acre lake, which is one of its most notable features.

Learn more about Furman University


12. University of Florida

University of Florida - Best Large Colleges

Source: Flickr user necosky.

Gainesville, FL

Undergraduate enrollment: 33,168

University of Florida boasts more than 150 research centers and institutes on campus, plus an offering of 16 different academic programs. Among many accolades, this public research university has top-tanked programs in such diverse subjects as Audiology, Analytical Chemistry, and Occupational Therapy.

Learn more about University of Florida


11. Sewanee-The University of the South

Sewanee - Best Small Colleges

Source: Flickr user auvet.

Sewanee, TN

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,620

With about 1,600 undergrads, The University of the South has intentionally retained its small enrollment as a way to maintain academic excellence and personalized campus feel. Despite being small in number, Sewanee has a large reputation for producing some of the nation’s best grads and is particularly noteworthy for their pre-medicine, pre-law, pre-business, and pre-nursing programs.

Learn more about Sewanee-The University of the South


10. Wake Forest University

By Jijithecat at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

By Jijithecat at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Winston Salem, NC

Undergraduate enrollment: 4,823

Wake Forest is one of the nation’s preeminent private research universities with an endowment of more than $1 billion. It is especially known for its Biological Sciences programs and is a leader in research related to nanotechnology and molecular materials/engineering.

Learn more about Wake Forest University


9. University of Richmond

By Talbot0893 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Talbot0893 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

University in Richmond, VA

Undergraduate enrollment: 3,215

This private liberal arts college is noted for its Business and Leadership programs. It’s also one of the few universities in the nation which practice “need-blind” admissions, not considering a student’s financial need when deciding whether to accept or deny their application.

Learn more about University of Richmond


8. Davidson College

Davidson College - Best Small Colleges

Source: Flickr user melystu.

Davidson, NC

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,788

This private liberal arts college is settled in a lakeside college town that shares its name. Davidson College enrolls more than 1,700 undergrads and boasts a unique College Farm area, which provides fresh, naturally-grown produce used in the dining facilities.

Learn more about Davidson College


7. Emory University

By Revesq (Own work (Revesq)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Revesq (Own work (Revesq)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Atlanta, GA

Undergraduate enrollment: 7,836

Emory University is a private research university that boasts an endowment of nearly $7 billion, making it among the top 20 in the country. Its 9 academic divisions include schools and colleges for programs ranging from Public Health to Theology, though it is most often noted for its extensive health sciences and medical research programs.

Learn more about Emory University


6. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill - Best Large Colleges

UNC South Building” by YeungbOwn work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons.

Chapel Hill, NC

Undergraduate enrollment: 18,370

Regularly regarded as one of the nation’s top research universities (not to mention their legacy for dominance in NCAA basketball), UNC Chapel Hill is home to more than 18,000 undergrads from every state in the union. It’s known not just for academic excellence, but also for offering generous scholarships and financial aid, as well as an extensive study-abroad program that takes students to 70 countries around the world.

Learn more about University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


5. College of William and Mary

By Pascal Auricht [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Williamsburg, VA

Undergraduate enrollment: 6,271

W&M is a public research university that enrolls more than 6,200 undergraduate students. It’s recognized as a so-called “public Ivy,” offering an education comparable to the Ivy League at a public institution. Notable alumni include Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler.

Learn more about College of William and Mary


4. Washington and Lee University

Lexington, VA

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,855

Among one of the most-respected, rigorous, and selective private liberal arts colleges in the country, Washington and Lee University is home to approximately 2,000 undergrad students. Business Management, Economics, and Accounting are the three most-popular majors.

Learn more about Washington and Lee University


3. University of Virginia-Main Campus

Source: Flickr user small_realm.

Source: Flickr user small_realm.

Charlottesville, VA

Undergraduate enrollment: 16,087

With 16,000 undergrads, UVA is recognized for having the highest first-year retention rate of any college in the southeastern U.S. The public research university is located near the Appalachian Mountains and offers many majors and programs, including Business, Liberal Studies, and Biology, the three most popular among students.

Learn more about University of Virginia-Main Campus


2. Vanderbilt University

By Jbaker08 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jbaker08 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Nashville, TN

Undergraduate enrollment: 6,835

Comprising 4 schools (Arts and Science, Engineering, Education and Human Development, and Music), Vanderbilt enrolls nearly 7,000 undergrads and offers more than 70 academic majors. The private research university is located in one of the nation’s most vibrant cities, Nashville, but is also noted for its abundance of green space despite the urban setting.

Learn more about Vanderbilt University


1. Duke University

Duke University - Best Colleges in the Southeast

Source: Flickr user OHinOZ.

Durham, NC

Undergraduate enrollment: 6,646

Duke University enrolls about 6,500 undergraduates and offers 46 art and science majors, plus 4 engineering majors, and the IDEAS program, which allows students to construct their own custom engineering major–one of the only such programs in the country. Its reputation for education excellence extends to nearly every program offered at the college, and its Durham campus extends over more than 8,500 acres and contains more than 250 campus buildings, making it among the largest college campuses in the country.

Learn more about Duke University

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

View all of the 2016 Best Colleges rankings from College Raptor

Kaeli Nieves-Whitmore

2 thoughts on “The 25 Best Colleges in the Southeast – 2016 University Rankings”

  1. Robert says:

    William and Mary’s “photograph” is of Reid Hall which is a building in Lexington, VA and located on W&L’s campus

    1. Tyler Hakes Tyler Hakes says:

      Robert, I double checked on this and I think you may be mistaken. This photo is the Sir Christopher Wren building on the W&M campus.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *