Hidden Gems in the Southeast | 2019

Hidden Gems in the Southeast

If you want to find the best colleges in the Southeast United States, it’s important to look at more than just big name schools. You may be surprised by these diamonds in the rough just waiting for you to discover them.

For the purposes of this list, we’ve included the following states as part of the Southeast region: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

We’ve included the top three hidden gem schools for each state. However some states may not have had three colleges that qualified.

To qualify as a College Raptor Hidden Gem, a school must have the following requirements:

  • Receive fewer than 5,000 applications a year
  • Have fewer than 7,000 undergraduate students enrolled

Here are College Raptor’s picks for hidden gem colleges in the Southeast!


Samford University

  • Flickr user Andy Montgomery

    Location: Homewood, AL

  • Student Enrollment: 5,471
  • College Type: Private

Many Samford students come from all over the southern United States, including many from Texas, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee. Samford’s school colors are blue and red, and they compete athletically as the Bulldogs in NCAA Division I sports. They have a student-to-faculty ratio of 12:1.

Birmingham Southern College

  • Wikimedia Commons user Jwrandolph

    Location: Birmingham, AL

  • Student Enrollment: 1,293
  • College Type: Private

BSC has a student-to-faculty ratio of 13:1. In addition to bachelor’s degrees in over 50 majors, BSC also offers dual degree programs, interdisciplinary, and individualized majors. This is a fairly selective school with a 62% acceptance rate. Birmingham students compete in sports as the Panthers.

University of Alabama in Huntsville

  • Wikimedia Commons user Anivron

    Location: Huntsville, AL

  • Student Enrollment: 8,468
  • College Type: Public

UA Huntsville offers over 90 undergraduate and graduate level degree programs, has 18 NCAA sports (including a Division I hockey team) and numerous extracurricular organizations students are invited to join. Their mascot is a Charger (Charger Blue) and their colors are blue and white.


Hendrix College

  • Wikimedia Commons user Ronny Willhite

    Location: Conway, AR

  • Student Enrollment: 1,328
  • College Type: Private

Biology, Psychology, Economics, Biochemistry, and Health Services are the five most popular majors on campus. Hendrix sports the colors orange and black, and are known as the Warriors. Their ancient Greek motto (εἰς ἄνδρα τέλειον) translates to “Unto the whole person.” Hendrix has gone through quite a few name changes, including Central Institute and Trinity College.

John Brown University

  • Wikimedia Commons user Tom Morgan

    Location: Siloam Springs, AR

  • Student Enrollment: 2,708
  • College Type: Private

Psychology is a required core class at John Brown University, and students who decide to major in this subject go on to study and develop their research skills. With an 85% first-year retention rate, students are often from Arkansas and Texas, but many come from all over the country to attend. Other popular studies include Business Administration, Business, and Engineering.

Ouachita Baptist University

  • Flickr user Trevor Huxham

    Location: Arkadelphia, AR

  • Student Enrollment: 1,493
  • College Type: Private

With an 81% first-year retention rate and 13:1 student-to-faculty ratio, Biology is the most commonly chosen major at Ouachita Baptist University. However, Psychology is another popular major and the school has developed a strong program. Students who take part in this major have shown off their work at conferences and in scientific journals, on regional and international levels.


New College of Florida

  • Flickr user Larry Miller

    Location: Sarasota, FL

  • Student Enrollment: 875
  • College Type: Public

As its name would imply, the New College of Florida is a relatively young school, founded in 1960. New College is located on the Sarasota Bay. The college offers five total majors—Liberal Arts (general studies), Biological and Physical Sciences, Environmental Studies, Foreign Languages, and International Studies.

Ringling College of Art and Design

  • Flickr user Bendini

    Location: Sarasota, FL

  • Student Enrollment: 1,340
  • College Type: Private

Ringling College of Art and Design has an acceptance rate of 64%. Most popular majors at this school include Graphic Design, Illustration, Computer Animation, Business of Art & Design, Photography & Imaging, and Virtual Reality Development. It is located right next to Sarasota Bay.

Eckerd College

  • Wikimedia Commons user Elisa.rolle

    Location: St. Petersburg, FL

  • Student Enrollment: 2,046
  • College Type: Private

Located right on the Tampa Bay, Eckerd college has a conch shell on its logo. It should come as no surprise, then, that the two most popular majors are Environmental Studies and Marine Biology. Eckerd sports three official school colors–teal, navy, and black. Their sports teams are known as the Tritons.


Berry College

  • Location: Mt Berry, GA

  • Student Enrollment: 2,174
  • College Type: Private

Considered to have a stunningly beautiful campus, Berry College has a number of hiking, biking, and horse-riding trails. Animal Science is one of the most popular majors at the school. Berry has just over 100 graduate students studying there, while over 2,000 undergraduates make up the rest of the student body.

Agnes Scott College

  • Location: Decatur, GA

  • Student Enrollment: 927
  • College Type: Private

Agnes Scott College has an interesting tradition, where each class is assigned a color and then they vote on a mascot correlating with that color. The tradition creates class pride. Agnes Scott has a 66% acceptance rate and student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1. Public Health is the most popular major on campus, followed by Psychology.

Mercer University

  • Flickr user Mark Goebel

    Location: Macon, GA

  • Student Enrollment: 8,615
  • College Type: Private

Mercer’s school colors are orange and black and compete in sports as the Bears. Their acceptance rate is 73%. Over half of the students on campus study at the undergraduate level. On average, incoming students score between 24 and 30 on the ACT, and between 1200 and 1380 on the SAT.


Centre College

  • Flickr user AIKCU

    Location: Danville, KY

  • Student Enrollment: 1,430
  • College Type: Private

Centre College offers all students study abroad, internship, or researching opportunities.They have an 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio and a 4-year graduation rate of 83%. Nearly 50% of all students on campus hail from Kentucky, but others come from all over the country. Economics is the most popular major.

Transylvania University

  • Flickr user Jimmy Emerson, DVM

    Location: Lexington, KY

  • Student Enrollment: 963
  • College Type: Private

Students choose from 36 majors at Transylvania University, with the opportunity to design their own. The average class size is 15 and student-to-faculty ratio is 11:1. Crimson is the school color. Befitting its name, Transylvania’s mascot is a bat—specifically, a Rafinesque’s big-eared bat named Raf.

Berea College

  • Flickr user JR P

    Location: Berea, KY

  • Student Enrollment: 1,655
  • College Type: Private

Berea College is selective, only accepting about 35% of students who apply, though 70% of students who are accepted follow through to attend. Biology is the most popular major on campus. It is one of the only tuition-free colleges in the US, offering each student the equivalent of a full-tuition scholarship.


Centenary College of Louisiana

  • Wikimedia Commons user Billy Hawthorn

    Location: Shreveport, LA

  • Student Enrollment: 549
  • College Type: Private

Centenary is the oldest chartered liberal arts college west of the Mississippi River, founded in 1825. 89% of the students on campus study at the undergraduate level, while the remaining 11% are graduate students. Centenary’s sports teams are known as the Gentlemen and the Ladies, whose team colors are maroon and white.

Nicholls State University

  • Wikimedia Commons user Z28scrambler

    Location: Thibodaux, LA

  • Student Enrollment: 6,255
  • College Type: Public

Located in the heart of cajun country, Nicholls State University is noted for not only its excellent education program, but its marine research and environmental science departments. The school’s colors are red and white, and their mascot is a Colonel. This school is not selective, accepting approximately 94% of applicants who apply.

McNeese State University

  • Wikimedia Commons user KingFish27

    Location: Lake Charles, LA

  • Student Enrollment: 7,621
  • College Type: Public

McNeese State University’s motto is “Excellence with a Personal Touch” and they are very proud of the service work they do not only within their community, but the world at-large. McNeese is a fairly selective school with a 62% acceptance rate. The school colors are blue and gold.


Millsaps College

  • Flickr user RebelNation1947

    Location: Jackson, MS

  • Student Enrollment: 866
  • College Type: Private

“In pursuit of excellence” (Ad Excellentiam) is the motto of Millsaps. Purple and white are the school colors, and the sports teams are known as the Majors (or Lady Majors in the case of the female athletes). This college has a 9:1  student-to-faculty ratio. Business is the most popular major on campus.

Mississippi College

  • Wikipedia Commons user Robby Followell

    Location: Clinton, MS

  • Student Enrollment: 5,048
  • College Type: Private

Mississippi College is the oldest university in the state of Mississippi. Undergrad students choose from over 80 majors and grad students choose from over 50 areas of study. There are many solid traditions at this school, including Welcome Week, where students are welcomed back to campus. This is a highly selective school, with only 39% of applicants receiving acceptance letters.

William Carey University

  • Wikimedia Commons user woodlot

    Location: Hattiesburg, MS

  • Student Enrollment: 4,619
  • College Type: Private

William Carey University is a liberal arts college offering a wide range of undergrad, Master’s, specialist, and doctoral programs in areas as diverse as Criminal Justice, Health Administration, Mass Communication, Intercultural Studies, Speech Communication, and more. It is a highly selective school with a 49% acceptance rate.


University of North Carolina School of the Arts

  • Wikimedia Commons user William Davis

    Location: Winston-Salem, NC

  • Student Enrollment: 1,040
  • College Type: Public

This arts university consists of five schools: Dance, Design & Production, Drama, Filmmaking, and Music. 80% of the students on campus are undergraduates, but interestingly in addition to also having graduate students, UNCSA also teaches high school students. The university has an acceptance rate of 33%.

Salem College

  • Wikimedia Commons user Bejeortvedt

    Location: Winston-Salem, NC

  • Student Enrollment: 1,087
  • College Type: Private

A women’s liberal arts school, Salem College is the oldest women’s college as it was founded in 1772. However, some men are admitted to their graduate programs. Psychology is a popular major at the college, along with Education and Speech Communication. There is a 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio on campus.

University of North Carolina at Asheville

  • Flickr user Blue Bullfrog

    Location: Asheville, NC

  • Student Enrollment: 3,821
  • College Type: Public

The University of North Carolina at Asheville is the only dedicated liberal arts school within the University of North Carolina system. UNC Asheville offers more than 30 majors leading to Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Arts, and Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees. The school mascot is Rocky the Bulldog.


Wofford College

  • Flickr user Lorianne DiSabato

    Location: Spartanburg, SC

  • Student Enrollment: 1,683
  • College Type: Private

69% of students who apply to Wofford College are accepted into the school. They have a 77% four-year graduation rate that jumps up to 81% in six years. Wofford’s school colors are old gold and black, and they compete athletically as the Terriers in NCAA Division I sports, including football, soccer, tennis, basketball, and more.

Citadel Military College

  • Flickr user Mark Goebel

    Location: Charleston, SC

  • Student Enrollment: 3,602
  • College Type: Public

The Citadel holds a proud, strong military tradition with rigorous academics and the type of camaraderie only a military school can provide. Citadel Military College has many well-known alumni who are leaders in the military, businesses, and other chosen fields. Business is the most popular major, followed by Criminal Justice and Civil Engineering.

Presbyterian College

  • Flickr user PresbyPhotos

    Location: Clinton, SC

  • Student Enrollment: 1,352
  • College Type: Private

Known as PC or Presby, this is a fairly selective school with an acceptance rate of 65%. The school does not have any application fee. The school’s mascot is a stocking, known as the Blue Hose. The school’s colors are garnet and blue. They compete in NCAA Division I sports as part of the Big South conference.


Rhodes College

  • Flickr user David Siu

    Location: Memphis, TN

  • Student Enrollment: 2,029
  • College Type: Private

There is no application fee at Rhodes, and students score an average ACT score ranging from 27–32 or an SAT score ranging from 1280-1460. Students from 48 states and 44 countries study on this small, cozy campus with a student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1. The school’s motto is “Truth, Loyalty, Service.”

Sewanee the University of the South

  • Flickr user Courtney McGough

    Location: Sewanee, TN

  • Student Enrollment: 1,815
  • College Type: Private

Sewanee the University of the South is a selective school with a 47% acceptance rate. Sewanee remains purposefully small and committed to building a strong sense of community, with a student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1. Students choose from 36 majors, 43 minors, and 15 special programs. 26 Rhodes Scholars have graduated from Sewanee.

Union University

  • Flickr user Sweetmoose6

    Location: Jackson, TN

  • Student Enrollment: 3,466
  • College Type: Private

Union’s school colors are cardinal and cream, and their mascot is a bulldog. It is a fairly selective school with a 60% acceptance rate. On average, incoming students score between a 23 and 29 on the ACT, and between 1140 and 1360 on the SAT. They have a first-year retention rate of 85%.


Virginia Military Institute

  • Flickr user J. Stephen Conn

    Location: Lexington, VA

  • Student Enrollment: 1,713
  • College Type: Public

The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) is the oldest state-sponsored military institute in the United States. Located not far from Washington and Lee University, VMI sports the colors red, white, and yellow. They have a 53% acceptance rate and student-to-faculty ratio of 11:1. Nearly 59% of the students at VMI come from Virginia.

Hampden-Sydney College

  • Flickr user Mark Plummer

    Location: Hampden Sydney, VA

  • Student Enrollment: 1,027
  • College Type: Private

Hampden-Sydney is one of the few remaining all-male colleges in the United States. The school’s mission is to ‘form good men and good citizens in an atmosphere of sound learning’. Founded in 1775, it is the 10th oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Business is the most popular major.

Randolph-Macon College

  • Flickr user Sr. Heather, OPA

    Location: Ashland, VA

  • Student Enrollment: 1,446
  • College Type: Private

Randolph-Macon is a relatively small school, but it holds its students to rigorous academic standards. This liberal arts college offers 38 majors, 33 minors, and numerous pre-professional programs for students to explore. Small class sizes of 16 and a low student-to-faculty ratio of 12:1 ensure that all students get individualized attention. 62% of applicants receive acceptance letters at this fairly selective school.  

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!

College Raptor Staff

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