Hidden Gem Colleges in the Southeast | 2024 Rankings

If you love warm weather and good food, the Southeast United States may be the perfect location for you to continue your studies! Already home to some of the oldest and most impressive schools in the country, these states are also home to some of the best hidden gem colleges we could find. Keep reading to see these amazing schools that tend to fall under the radar and find out why they may just be the perfect college for you.

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.

Each of the hidden gem colleges below comes from one of the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Hidden Gem Colleges in the Southeast


Samford University accepts about 83% of students and 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 5,682
Birmingham – Southern College is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. The college has a first-year retention rate of 77% and a 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 975
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 1,046


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 15:1 student-to-faculty ratio, 84% first year retention rate, and 96% of students receive institutional grants. Psychology is the most commonly chosen major, followed up by Registered Nursing and Family and Community Services.”
Location Siloam Springs, AR
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,326
Hendrix College has over 70 student organizations, its own radio station, and more than 30 available majors. Psychology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Health Services/Allied Health/Health Sciences, 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 1,144
Elementary Education and Teaching, Registered Nursing, Accounting, and Audiology are the most popular undergraduate majors at Harding University. Only 45.4% of students who apply are accepted which makes Harding a highly selective school. 79% of students who are accepted will go on to attend the university, too.
Location Searcy, AR
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 4,805


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 689
The main campus for Everglades University is located in Boca Raton, but other campuses can be found in Orlando, Sarasota, Tampa, and online. The university accepts about 70% of students who apply and they offer several unique undergraduate majors with Alternative and Complementary Medicine and Medical Systems and Construction Management being the most popular.
Location Boca Raton, FL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,624
Less than 40% of students who attend Ave Maria University come from Florida! Many of its student body comes from all over the country. The university boasts a 14:1 student-to-faculty ratio as well as a 72% first year retention rate. All students who attend are offered institutional grant aid ($17,128 on average).
Location Ave Maria, FL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,310


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 1,114
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 35.6% 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 886
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 more than 40 majors; Kinesiology and Exercise Science, Registered Nursing, and Research and Experimental Psychology being the most sought after of the programs.
Location Milledgeville, GA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 6,315


Centre College’s motto is “Doctrina Lux Mentis,” or “Learning is the Light of the Mind.” The college accepts 63% of applicants and 85% will graduate within 4 years. The highest degree offered is the bachelor’s, so you’ll only find undergraduate students on campus. Centre College does not charge an application fee for any students interested in attending.
Location Danville, KY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,357
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 979
Berea College, a Division III school, is a selective college with a 25% acceptance rate. The most popular degree programs are Business Administration and Management and Computer and Information Sciences. Students enjoy a cozy 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio and an 82% first-year retention rate. 62% of students will graduate within six years.
Location Berea, KY
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,433


The Centenary College of Louisiana is the oldest chartered liberal arts college west of the Mississippi River, having been founded in 1885 originally as the College of Louisiana. Students can benefit from an 8:1 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 556
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 8,398
Just under 82% of the student body at the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University are women. Founded as Our Lady of the Lake School of Nursing in 1923, the school has held onto its roots – almost all majors are rooted in nursing, medical sciences, and health sciences. The most popular major by far is Registered Nursing.
Location Baton Rouge, LA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,228


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 661
Accepting just 40% of applicants, 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 Accounting.
Location Clinton, MS
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,946
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 13:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and 79% first year retention rate, and 54% acceptance rate. Registered Nursing, Psychology, and Elementary Education and Teaching are the most popular majors at WCU.
Location Hattiesburg, MS
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 5,662


A women’s college, Meredith offers nearly 40 different majors. Psychology, Biology, and Health and Physical Education/Fitness are the most popular of them. Just under 88% of the incoming class call North Carolina home, with other students coming from neighboring states. Meredith College also has a whole range of traditions, mentoring opportunities, and programs.
Location Raleigh, NC
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,587
Queens University of Charlotte was originally an all female school when founded in 1857. Today, a majority of students are women (64% of undergraduates). 100% of those who attend receive institutional grants from the school ($22,188 on average per student). The university also offers scholarships, including athletic scholarships for the Royals.
Location Charlotte, NC
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,873
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 2,919


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 11:1 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 1,823
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 3,721
“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 86% of the students study at the undergraduate level. Many undergraduates will study Business Administration and Management, Accounting, and Registered Nursing. 98% of students receive grant aid.
Location Greenville, SC
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,095


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 1,704
Freed-Hardeman University is a 150-year-old Christian based institution whose motto is “Truth, Beauty, and Wisdom”. The school has over a 91% acceptance rate and 98% of students receive grant aid. Registered Nursing is by far the most sought-after major followed by Bible/Biblical Studies and Health and Physical Education/Fitness
Location Henderson, TN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,330
Cardinal and Cream aren’t just Union University’s colors; it’s the name of the campus paper. The university accepts 53% of students, a majority of which are from Tennessee (62%). Union has an 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio and 84% first year retention rate. Almost all students attending the university receive institutional financial aid.
Location Jackson, TN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,731


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 71%, a first-year retention rate of 82%, and a six-year graduation rate of 77%.
Location Lexington, VA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,512
A liberal arts college, UMW offers students over 150 clubs and organizations. There are over 400 student athletes on campus who compete in baseball, lacrosse, track and field among other sports. The school has an 86% acceptance rate and about 19% of those accepted will attend UMW. Popular majors include Business Administration, Psychology, and Biology/Biology Sciences.
Location Fredericksburg, VA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 3,757
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 sits on 1,300 acres. The school is an all-male college and focuses heavily on tradition. The most popular major studied at the moment is Business/Managerial Economics.
Location Hampden-Sydney, VA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 846


“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. Registered Nursing and Business Administration are among the most popular majors. Students wear red, black, and gold and the school mascot is Iggy the Cardinal.
Location Wheeling, WV
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 749
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.
Location Shepherdstown, WV
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 3,235
Offering over 60 undergraduate programs, the most popular majors at West Liberty University include Business Administration and Management, General Studies, and Biology. 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 (56.25%), but many others are from surrounding states.
Location West Liberty, WV
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 2,315

Why is the Southeast a Great Place to Go to School?

From comfort food to warm weather to history, the Southeast has plenty to offer visitors – and students! Do you want to walk to classes in flip-flops year-round? This is the place for you. Students can study outside almost all year thanks to the pleasant weather and sunny skies.

Have some off time? Plan a trip during downtime to one of the area’s theme parks, or beautiful beaches. Or explore the many hiking trails (including the Appalachian Trail). Come winter, there is even an option of skiing in the Smoky Mountains.

For students interested in nature, marine archeology, and history, studying in the Southeast region is one of the best locations in the US – especially for marine biology studies.

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


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.