Hidden Gem Colleges in the Southeast US | 2021 Rankings

What do you think about when you hear “the Southeast?” Is it southern hospitality? Comfort food? Warm weather? Well, what about fantastic Southeast colleges? While there are certainly powerhouse colleges in the Southeast, there is also a multitude of great schools that fly a bit under the radar. That’s why we wanted to bring them to your attention.

The Southeast consists of the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

To qualify as a Hidden Gem school, the college must meet these criteria:

  • Receive fewer than 5,000 applications
  • Have fewer than 7,000 undergraduate students
  • Have an acceptance rate higher than 10%

Check out the best Hidden Gem Southeast colleges!

ALABAMA

Initially called Howard College, the university changed its name to Samford in 1965. Students wear blue and red while cheering on their Bulldogs at sporting events. Golf, tennis, football, and basketball are just a few of the athletics offered. Samford is the alma mater of many successful people, including professional athletes, actors, politicians, writers, and musicians.
Location Birmingham, AL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 5,619
Birmingham-Southern College, a private liberal arts college, was established in 1856. The school’s official colors are black and gold and their athletes are known as the Panthers. Around 97% of all students attending receive grant aid and 96% receive institutional aid. Business is the most popular major at the college, followed by Biology and Psychology.
Location Birmingham, AL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,268
The University of Mobile is fairly selective, sending acceptance letters to 46% of the 2,600 applicants they receive every year. Those who admitted typically had an ACT score between 20 to 27 and an SAT score between 1,030 to 1,290. The University of Mobile’s mascot is the Ram and its school colors are garnet, black, and gray.
Location Mobile, AL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,885

ARKANSAS

Hendrix College’s motto is “εἰς ἄνδρα τέλειον,” which translates to “Unto the whole person.” Over 1,600 students apply to this private liberal arts college every year. Students who were accepted have a typical ACT score between 26 to 32 and an SAT score between 1,240 to 1,450. The most popular major at the college is Psychology.
Location Conway, AR
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,208
Named after its founder, John E. Brown, John Brown University was established as a school for those who may not have been able to afford going to college. Today, 99% of all students receive some form of grant aid and 94% receive some form of institutional aid. Students come from all over the US to attend John Brown University, though over a third of them are from Arkansas.
Location Siloam Springs, AR
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,516
With over 5,100 students attending, Harding University is the largest private university in the state of Arkansa. The university has a 16 to 1 student-to-faculty ratio. Students from all over the country attend Harding University, though many are from Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. The university’s official colors are black and gold.
Location Searcy, AR
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 5,121

FLORIDA

The New College of Florida is a part of the State University System of Florida and is the official honors college of the state. The college doesn’t assign letter grades or GPAs. Students also take January to conduct independent projects and must complete a senior thesis. Most students major in Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies and Humanities, followed closely by Biological and Physical Sciences.
Location Sarasota, FL
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 837
Originally named Florida Presbyterian College, the school was renamed to Eckerd College in 1971. Incoming students have an average ACT score between 22 to 28 and an SAT score between 1,110 to 1,320. The student-to-faculty ratio is 12 to 1 and around 82% of all first-year students return to Eckerd College for their sophomore year.
Location St. Petersburg, FL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,006
Initially a remote campus for Southern College, Ringling College of Art and Design broke away and became an independent institution just two years after its founding. Many students major in subjects like Animation, Interactive Technology, Special Effects, Illustration, and Cinematography. Ringling has an acceptance rate of 64%.
Location Sarasota, FL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,561

GEORGIA

Berry College offers a wide variety of academic programs, with over 30 majors for students to choose from. Popular majors at Berry College include Zoology, Psychology, and Kinesiology. Outside of academics, Berry College is known for its beautiful campus, spanning 27,000 acres and providing outdoor recreation to both students and non-students.
Location Mount Berry, GA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,014
A public liberal arts university, Georgia College & State University is part of both the University System of Georgia and the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges. The university offers over 30 areas of studies to students -- Registered Nursing, Business, and Marketing are especially popular. The official school colors are blue and green.
Location Milledgeville, GA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 6,989
Agnes Scott College is a women’s-only liberal arts college and is one of the Seven Sisters of the South. Around 1,700 students apply to Agnes Scott College every year and the college extends acceptances to 65% of them. The most popular major at the college is Public Health, with Neuroscience and Business Administration and Management coming in second and third.
Location Decatur, GA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,030

KENTUCKY

Centre College was named because it was in the “centre” of the Commonwealth when it was first established. Incoming students have an average ACT score of 27 to 32 and an SAT score of 1,280 to 1,470. With the small student body, class sizes are also proportionately small -- the student-to-faculty ratio is 11 to 1.
Location Danville, KY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,434
Expect the Transylvania sports teams to be called the Counts or the Vampires? They’re actually known as the Pioneers. However, Transylvania’s mascot is a bat -- specifically a Rafinesque's big-eared bat. The bachelor’s degree is the highest level of education, so only undergraduates are on campus. The school does not require an application fee.
Location Lexington, KY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 987
Berea College was established in 1855 and was the first coeducational and desegregated college in the South. Students attending Berea College do not pay tuition and have a chance to receive a fellowship that provides a year’s worth of funds to study abroad. Berea College is highly selective, accepting only 30% of all applicants.
Location Berea, KY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,673

LOUISIANA

Centenary is both the oldest college in Louisiana and the oldest chartered liberal arts college west of the Mississippi River. Over 99% of all students receive both grant and institutional aid. Popular majors at the college include Biology, Psychology, and Business Administration and Management.
Location Shreveport, LA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 585
Around 2,800 students apply to the university every year. Popular majors at the university include Registered Nursing, Interdisciplinary Studies, and Business Administration and Management. The official school colors are red and gray. NSU’s school motto is “People Creating Possibilities.”
Location Thibodaux, LA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 6,453
McNeese State University was established in 1939 and is a part of the University of Louisiana System. The university’s motto is “Excellence with a Personal Touch” and the official school colors are royal blue and sunflower gold. The student-to-faculty ratio is 20 to 1 and most students attending the university are from Louisiana.
Location Lake Charles, LA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 7,647

MISSISSIPPI

Mississippi College is the oldest college in the state and the second-oldest Baptist college in the US. The school motto -- “Veritas et Virtus” -- means “Truth and Virtue.” Mississippi College has a 42% acceptance rate and 99% of students receive financial aid from the school to help pay for their attendance.
Location Cliton, MS
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 5,103
Also known as WCU or simply Carey, William Carey University was founded in 1892 and has been growing ever since. Over 5,000 students currently attend the university, 65% of whom are undergraduate students. The university has a 55% acceptance rate. WCU’s colors are red, black, and white and the athletic teams are known as the Crusaders.
Location Hattiesburg, MS
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 5,042
Originally a women’s-only college, Blue Mountain College became co-educational in 2005. Today, there’s a near equal split of men and women attending the school, many of whom are from Mississippi. Popular majors offered include Business, Elementary Education, and Psychology. The average student-to-faculty ratio is 14 to 1.
Location Blue Mountain, MS
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 640

NORTH CAROLINA

Since the University of North Carolina School of the Arts is a bit of a mouthful, most people shorten it down to UNCSA. The school is comprised of 5 major programs -- Cinematography & Film, Technical Theatre, Dance, Drama, and Music Performance. Jada Pinkett Smith, Anthony Mackie, and Mary-Louise Parker are just a few of the notable names associated with UNCSA.
Location Winston-Salem, NC
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,042
Meredith College is a women’s-only liberal arts college, though their graduate school is coeducational. Students attending Meredith will find that their typical class size is around 11 students to every 1 faculty member. The school has an acceptance rate of 65%. Maroon and white are the colors of the Meredith Avenging Angels.
Location Raleigh, NC
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,905
Founded as Queens College, the institute officially became a university in 2002 and changed its name to the Queens University of Charlotte. The university’s motto is “Non ministrari sed ministrare,” which translates to “Not to be served but to serve.” The most popular major at the university is Registered Nursing, followed by Business and Communication.
Location Charlotte, NC
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,536

SOUTH CAROLINA

Wofford College’s motto -- “Intaminatis Fulget Honoribus” -- means “Shines with unsullied honors.” Biology, Finance, Psychology, English, and Accounting are the top 5 most popular majors at Wofford. The school has an 88% first-year retention rate and a 4-year graduation rate of 82%. 55% of the incoming class comes from South Carolina.
Location Spartanburg, SC
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,666
Located between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, the Citadel Military College of South Carolina is commonly called simply the Citadel. In addition to typical college applications, prospective students must also pass a physical test. The school has a 75% acceptance rate and a student-to-faculty ratio of 12:1.
Location Charleston, SC
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 3,763
Bob Jones University was founded in 1927 in Greenville, South Carolina. Its motto is “Petimus Credimus,” which translates to “We seek, we trust.” Around 91% of students attending Bob Jones receive some form of grant aid and 90% receive some form of institutional aid. Popular majors at the university include Business, Health Services, and Accounting.
Location Greenville, SC
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,005

TENNESSEE

Of the nearly 3,550 applications sent into the University of the South every year, the school will accept about 2,380 of them, giving the school an acceptance rate of 67%. Anyone applying to this university will be happy to know that there is no application fee. On average, the incoming class scores between 24 -- 30 on the ACT and 1200 -- 1380 on the SAT.
Location Sewanee, TN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,785
This university receives over 2,800 applications annually and only sends acceptance letters to 53% of them. Students who are accepted have an average ACT score between 22 to 30 and an SAT score between 1,100 to 1,380. The student-to-faculty ratio is 10 to 1 and 88% of all first-year students return to the university for their second year.
Location Jackson, TN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,247
Lipscomb University was founded in 1891 and much of the campus is actually the former estate of David Lipscomb. Today, over 4,600 students attend and half of the freshman class is from Tennessee. Some of the most popular majors at Lipscomb University include Psychology, Biology, and Registered Nursing. The school’s official colors are purple and gold.
Location Nashville, TN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 4,620

VIRGINIA

The Virginia Military Institute is the oldest public Senior Military college and is the only one to enroll exclusively undergraduates. While all students are required to participate in the ROTC, students have the choice to not enroll in the US military after graduating. The most popular majors offered at the institute are International Relations, Civil Engineering, and Economics.
Location Lexington, VA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,685
Randolph-Macon College was established in 1830 as an all-men’s college before becoming coeducational in 1971. The college runs on a 4-1-4 schedule -- students can take their one-month term to study abroad, take an intensive class, or do an internship. Business is the most popular major at the college followed by Biology and Communication.
Location Ashland, VA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,488
This school has not one, but two official mottos. The Greek “Γνώσεσθε τὴν αλήθειαν” translates to mean “Ye Shall Know the Truth.” The Latin “Huc venite iuvenes ut exeatis viri” means “Come here as youths so you may leave as men.” Of the nearly 3,060 applications sent in every year, Hampden-Sydney will accept about 1,740 of them -- giving the school a 57% acceptance rate.
Location Hampden-Sydney, VA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,072

WEST VIRGINIA

Shepherd University was established in 1871 as a teacher’s school before becoming a college in 1930. Incoming students will find that the average student-to-faculty ratio is 16 to 1 and that the majority of their classmates are from West Virginia. The school’s official colors are blue and gold and their athletic team is known as the Rams.
Location Shepherdstown, WV
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 3,648
Founded in 1837, West Liberty University is the oldest university in West Virginia. Over 1,800 applications are sent in every year. Students attending West Liberty University will find that around half their classmates are from West Virginia and there’s a 13 to 1 student-to-faculty ratio. The school’s official colors are black and gold.
Location West Liberty, WV
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 2,526
Students attending West Virginia Wesleyan College have over 40 different majors to choose from -- popular ones include Kinesiology, Biology, and Physics. Students can also participate in the college’s 3-2 engineering program, where students can earn an engineering degree at one of three other West Virginia universities. The college’s official colors are orange and black.
Location Buckhannon, WV
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,294

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

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.

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