Hidden Gems Colleges in the Southeast | 2023 Rankings

Hidden Gems of the Southeast Badge.What do you think about when you hear “the Southeast?” Many think about southern hospitality, comfort food, warm weather, and history. You should add amazing colleges to that list. While there are powerhouse colleges in the Southeast, there are also a bunch of great schools that fly under the radar. That’s why we wanted to put them in the spotlight.

To qualify as a Hidden Gem, a school must meet the following requirements:

  • Receive fewer than 5,000 applications per year
  • Have fewer than 7,000 undergraduate students
  • Offer 5 or more unique majors
  • Have a 10% acceptance rate or higher

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

Hidden Gems in the Southeast

ALABAMA

Samford University accepts about 84% of students and has 170 majors, minors, and concentrations available. Many will go on to major in Pharmaceutical Sciences, Registered Nursing, and Journalism. Samford has a long history; it was founded in 1841, originally was called Howard College, and was converted to a military hospital during the Civil War.
Location Birmingham, AL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 5,729
Birmingham – Southern College is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. The college has a first-year retention rate of 80% and student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1. It’s also home to 192 wooded acres, 45 buildings and facilities, and over 50 majors. Business Administration and Management is the most popular among students.
Location Birmingham, AL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,129
Spring Hill College was founded in 1830, making it the oldest college or university in Alabama, and it still resides on the same land. A number of buildings, including the Sodality Chapel, are on the National Register of Historic Places. The school is also home to the Avenue of the Oaks, an 18-hole golf course, and over 60 student clubs and organizations.
Location Mobile, AL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,191

ARKANSAS

Hendrix College has over 60 student organizations, its own radio station, and more than 30 available majors. Psychology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Biology, and Economics being the most popular majors. The school’s motto is “εἰς ἄνδρα τέλειον” which is Ancient Greek for “Unto the whole person.”
Location Conway, AR
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,077
100% of students attending OBU receive institutional grants from the school ($18,386 on average per student). Located on the Ouachita River, the university opened in 1886 and has gradually expanded in the last 25 years. Ouachita Baptist University has a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio, an 81% first year retention rate, and a 74.1% acceptance rate.
Location Arkadelphia, AR
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,704
John Brown University’s campus sits on 200 acres which features the Cathedral of the Ozarks and the Windgate Visual Art Buildings. The university has a 14:1 student-to-faculty ratio, 86% first year retention rate, and 96% of students receive institutional grants. Psychology is the most commonly chosen major, followed up by Registered Nursing and Graphic Design.
Location Siloam Springs, AR
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,343

FLORIDA

The New College of Florida is a liberal arts school that’s part of the State University System of Florida. The school has a contract system – instead of grades, students are given written evaluations and semester-long contracts, agreeing to pass a certain number of classes each semester. The idea behind this is that it encourages academic experimentation and curiosity for other topics.
Location Sarasota, FL
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 726
Beacon College is dedicated to helping students with ADHD, dyslexia, and other learning disabilities. The curriculum and support services are built with them in mind. The college has 8 majors; the most popular are Business Administration and Management, Human Services, and Anthrozoology.
Location Leesburg, FL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 427
The main campus for Everglades University is located in Boca Raton, but other campuses can be found in Orlando, Sarasota, and Tampa. They also have an online division. The university accepts about 60% of students who apply, with nearly 50% of these deciding to attend the school the following fall. They offer 14 unique undergraduate majors with Alternative Medicine and Construction Management being the most popular.
Location Boca Raton, FL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,247

GEORGIA

One of the Seven Sisters, Agnes Scott College is a women’s undergraduate school, but offers co-educational graduate programs as well. The school underwent many name changes since it was founded in 1889, starting with the Decatur Female Seminary. The school has a number of interesting long standing traditions including Class Colors, Pestle Board, and Black Cat.
Location Decatur, GA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,080
Affiliated with The Presbyterian Church in America, Covenant College’s motto is “In All Things Christ Preeminent.” Nearly 90% of the faculty have terminal degrees in their field and the school has a 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Only about 38.6% of those attending the college are from Georgia, with many others coming from Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida.
Location Lookout Mountain, GA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 911
Originally a vocational college for women, Georgia College and State University became co-educational in 1967. One of the most notable alumni is famed writer Flannery O’Connor. The school offers 40 majors and 135 student organizations. Kinesiology and Exercise Science, Registered Nursing, and Business administration are the most sought after of the majors programs.
Location Milledgeville, GA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 6,873

KENTUCKY 

Centre College’s motto is “Doctrina Lux Mentis,” or “Learning is the Light of the Mind.” The college accepts over 75% of applicants and 80% will graduate within 4 years. Centre College does not charge an application fee and also offers every student institutional aid. In 2000 and 2012, the school hosted the vice presidential debates.
Location Danville, KY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,333
It may not surprise you that Transylvania University’s school color is crimson, or that its mascot is a bat. Additionally, Halloween is a big deal at this school ending in a tradition called Pumpkinmania. This liberal arts college has a Latin motto, “In Lumine Illo Tradimus Lumen” which means “In That Light, We Pass on the Light.”
Location Lexington, KY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 963
A selective school, Berea College has an acceptance rate of only 33%, 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and a first-year retention rate of 87%. Students are charged no application fee and there is no tuition to attend Berea, but the school does have a work-study program which requires at least 10 hours a week. The money earned can be used towards other expenses.
Location Berea, KY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,432

LOUISIANA 

The Centenary College of Louisiana is the oldest chartered liberal arts college west of the Mississippi River, having been founded in 1825 originally as the College of Louisiana. Students can benefit from a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio and experience the 65-acre campus which has over 300 species of plant life. Quite a few students will go on to major in Biology.
Location Shreveport, LA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 563
81% of students who attend University of Louisiana at Monroe receive grant aid from the college. The school was originally founded as the Ouachita Parish Junior College and would undergo a number of name changes until its current moniker was received in 1999. Nearly 93% of students attending ULM are from its home state. The most popular majors are Psychology and Registered Nursing.
Location Monroe, LA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 8,888
Located along the Bayou Lafourche, Nicholls State University was founded in 1948. A whopping 96% of incoming students are from Louisiana. Alumni of NSU have gone on to become notable professional athletes, politicians, entertainers, and academics. Red and gray are the official colors of the NSU Colonels sports teams. There are over 30 majors offered - Registered Nursing being the most popular followed by Multi-/Interdisciplinary Studies and Business Administration.
Location Thibodaux, LA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 6,769

MISSISSIPPI

This liberal arts university was founded in 1892 as a boarding school but became a coeducational school in 1954. Today it offers up to doctoral degrees. William Carey University, set on 170 acres, has a 14:1 student-to-faculty ratio, an 84% first year retention rate, and 55.3% acceptance rate. Registered Nursing, Biology, and General Studies are the most popular majors at WCU.
Location Hattiesburg, MS
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 5,472
A very small school, Millsaps College was founded in 1890. The college has produced several notable alumni including Johnny Carson, Vic Roby, and Gary Burghoff, among others. Students attending Millsaps will often visit “The Bowl” where Homecoming activities, concerts, and other events are held. Offering over 30 majors, Business Administration is the most popular.
Location Jackson, MS
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 712
“Veritas et Virtus” is the motto of Mississippi College, meaning “Truth and Virtue.” A selective school (just below 29%), Mississippi College is the second oldest Baptist-affiliated higher education school in the United States. It’s also the oldest college in the state, predating the Civil War. 60% of students study at the undergraduate level and often major in Registered Nursing, Kinesiology and Exercise Science, and Biomedical Sciences.
Location Clinton, MS
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 4,667

NORTH CAROLINA

A women’s college, Meredith offers nearly 40 different majors. Psychology, Biology, Business, Child Development, and Marketing are the most popular of them. The sports teams are known as the Avenging Angels. Maroon and white are the official school colors. 85% of the incoming class call North Carolina home.
Location Raleigh, NC
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,810
The University of North Carolina at Asheville, also known as Asheville, is the only liberal arts institution in the school system. Founded in 1927 as Buncombe County Junior College, it became part of UNC in 1969. The over 240 athletes are known as the Bulldogs, compete in the Big South Conference, and wear blue and white.
Location Asheville, NC
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 3,363
Queens University of Charlotte was originally an all-female school when founded in 1857. Today, a majority of students are women (66.6% of undergraduates). 99% of those who attend will receive institutional grants from the school ($17,674 on average per student). The university also offers scholarships, including athletic scholarships for the Royals.
Location Charlotte, NC
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,338

SOUTH CAROLINA

Founded in 1854, Wofford College is one of the few southeastern schools that was founded prior to the American Civil War that still exists today. The school has an 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio and an impressive 89% freshman retention rate. Wofford has a terrier for a mascot and students wear old gold and black in support of Wofford.
Location Spartanburg, SC
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,764
Often referred to as simply the Citadel, this school has a patriotic motto of “Honor, Duty, Respect.” Its campus is located on the Ashley River. Though a military college, the most popular majors include Business/Commerce, Mechanical Engineering, and Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement Administration. The school colors are Citadel blue, navy, and white.
Location Charleston, SC
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 3,740
“Petimus Credimus” is the Latin motto of Bob Jones University, which means “We Seek, We Trust.” The school offers up to the doctor’s degree, though 88% of the students study at the undergraduate level. Many undergraduates will study Business Administration and Management, Accounting, and Registered Nursing. 97% of students receive grant aid.
Location Greenville, SC
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,029

TENNESSEE

More commonly known as Sewanee, The University of the South sits on 13,000 acres. These grounds are more commonly known as “The Domain” or “The Mountain.” Many of the stunning buildings are done in a Gothic style including the many chapels. The university also founded the Sewanee Review in 1892, which is the oldest continuous literary magazine in the country.
Location Sewanee, TN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,800
Milligan University is a Christ-centered liberal arts university. All students attending receive financial assistance to help them afford tuition. On the 355-acre campus, the university has a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and an 82% first year retention rate. Of over 100 majors offered, the most popular include Business Administration and Management and Health and Physical Education.
Location Milligan, TN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,338
Cardinal and Cream aren’t just Union University’s colors; it’s the name of the campus paper too. The university accepts 57.5% of students, a majority of which are from Tennessee (62%). Union has a 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio and 87% first year retention rate. Almost all students attending the university receive institutional financial aid.
Location Jackson, TN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,071

VIRIGNIA

Abraham Lincoln once called VMI the “West Point of the South.” This military college is located on the Maury River in the Shenandoah Valley. Red, yellow, and white make up the official colors of the VMI Keydets sports teams. VMI has an acceptance rate of just under 60%, a first-year retention rate of 80%, and a six year graduation rate of 85%.
Location Lexington, VA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,698
Hampden-Sydney College, also known as H-SC, was founded in 1775 and is the oldest privately chartered college in the south. It’s currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places and currently sits on 1,300 acres. The school is an all-male college and focuses heavily on tradition. The most popular major studied by far is Business/Managerial Economics.
Location Hampden-Sydney, VA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 881
Randolph-Macon College is located right outside the capital city of Virginia, Richmond. The school accepts over 84% of students and all those who attend will receive institutional grants ($26,825 per student on average). Over 500 athletes are known as the Yellow Jackets (appropriately wearing black and lemon) and compete in the NCAA Division III with football.
Location Ashland, VA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,554

WEST VIRIGNIA 

Offering over 70 undergraduate programs, the most popular majors at West Liberty University include Business Administration and Management, General Studies, and Dental Hygiene. It is actually the oldest institution of higher education in West Virginia – founded in 1837. Black and gold are the colors of the WLU Hilltoppers. A majority of students come from its home state (56%), but many others are from surrounding states.
Location West Liberty, WV
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 2,481
“Luceat Lux Vestra” – Let Your Light Shine is the motto of this small Catholic school. All students who attend Wheeling University will receive institutional grants from the school. The school offers eight bachelors programs with Registered Nursing and Business Administration being the most popular. Students wear red, black, and gold and the school mascot is Iggy the Cardinal.
Location Wheeling, WV
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 857
Shepherd University is set on 323-acres by the Potomac River. Students can choose from over 80 majors or mix and match to customize their education. The school offers a variety of internship, job, study abroad opportunities. The most popular majors are General Studies, Registered Nursing, and Business Administration and Management, and many alumni have gone onto careers in politics and law.
Location Shepherdstown, WV
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 3,159

Interested in any of these schools? 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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