18 Best Colleges in the Southeast

The Southeast region of the country is known for its climate, hospitality, cuisine, and music. It’s also known to have some of the best institutions for higher education in the land, many of which are prominent.

Numerous prestigious colleges and universities are found in the Southeast. Some are Public Ivies, like Florida State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Others are Southern Ivies, like Emory University, Vanderbilt University, Wake Forest University, and William & Mary.

Some of the most respected degrees come from the most admired schools.

In the Southeast, there are so many institutions that would make for fantastic additions to your balanced college list. You will come across over 30 of the finest of the bunch below, so don’t stop reading now!

College of William & Mary

  • Location: Williamsburg, Virginia
  • Institution type: Public research university
  • Enrollment: 8,939
  • Acceptance rate: 38%
  • Retention rate: 95%
  • Graduation rate: 90%
  • In-state tuition: $17,434
  • Out-of-state tuition: $40,089
  • Student-to-faculty ratio: 12:1
  • Six-year average annual earnings: $45,600
  • US News ranking: #38 in National Universities
  • Niche ranking: #10 in Top Public Universities in America

Founded in 1693, the College of William & Mary is the second-oldest institution for higher education in the nation. Some of the best majors in this school, which is considered one of the Public Ivies and Southern Ivies, include Business, Management, Marketing, Psychology, Fitness and Kinesiology.

Three US presidents attended the College of William & Mary. They are Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and John Tyler. And when George Washington was 17 years old, he got his surveyor’s license from the school.

Elon University

  • Location: Elon, North Carolina
  • Institution type: Private university
  • Enrollment: 6,991
  • Acceptance rate: 78%
  • Retention rate: 90%
  • Graduation rate: 82%
  • Tuition: $36,082
  • Student-to-faculty ratio: 12:1
  • Six-year average annual earnings: $43,600
  • US News ranking: #83 in National Universities
  • Niche ranking: #4 in Top Private Universities in North Carolina

Elon University has extensive academic programs. For instance, its 656-acre suburban campus is home to a total of over 70 majors and nine graduate programs. Plenty of research opportunities are available, too.

There are more than 200 organizations Elon University students can participate in, ranging from student government, special interest organizations to wellness. It’s no wonder why the school is #16 in Colleges With the Best Student Life in North Carolina and #12 in Top Party Schools in North Carolina, both by Niche.

Florida State University

  • Location: Tallahassee, Florida
  • Institution type: Public research university
  • Enrollment: 43,569
  • Acceptance rate: 36%
  • Retention rate: 93%
  • Graduation rate: 79%
  • In-state tuition: $4,640
  • Out-of-state tuition: $19,806
  • Student-to-faculty ratio: 21:1
  • Six-year average annual earnings: $37,800
  • US News ranking: #55 in National Universities
  • Niche ranking: #2 in Top Party Schools in America

One of the most impressive things about Florida State University is that it offers 276 bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, specialist and professional degree programs. Some of its best majors include Criminal Justice, Accounting, Finance, Physical Therapy, Education, Communications and Information Technology.

There is no denying that the Tallahassee-based institution is a fun school. As a matter of fact, it’s #1 in 25 Top Party Schools in America for 2021 by Newsweek and #7 in 2021 Top Party Schools by Best Colleges.

University of Florida

  • Location: Gainesville, Florida
  • Institution type: Public land-grant research university
  • Enrollment: 53,372
  • Acceptance rate: 37%
  • Retention rate: 97%
  • Graduation rate: 87%
  • In-state tuition: $6,380
  • Out-of-state tuition: $28,658
  • Student-to-faculty ratio: 17:1
  • Six-year average annual earnings: $47,000
  • US News ranking: #28 in National Universities
  • Niche ranking: #1 in Best Colleges in Florida

Considered a Public Ivy, the University of Florida offers its students over 200 education, research and service centers. And because of this, it doesn’t come as a surprise why it’s #1 in various 2022 Niche rankings of Florida institutions, such as Best Colleges, Best Big Colleges and Top Public Universities.

The University of Florida has a massive 2,000-acre suburban campus with plenty of majestic trees and more than 900 buildings, many of which are out of red bricks.

University of Miami

  • Location: Coral Gables, Florida
  • Institution type: Private research university
  • Enrollment: 17,809
  • Acceptance rate: 27%
  • Retention rate: 92%
  • Graduation rate: 81%
  • Tuition: $53,112
  • Student-to-faculty ratio: 12:1
  • Six-year average annual earnings: $54,000
  • US News ranking: #55 in National Universities
  • Niche ranking: #1 in Top Private Universities in Florida

Besides being #1 in Top Private Universities in Florida by Niche, The University of Miami is also #21 in Best Colleges for Film and Photography in America, also by the same college ranker.

True enough, one of the most popular campus events at the school is the Canes Film Festival, which celebrates movies produced by its students.

Other popular majors at the University of Miami include Criminal Justice, Nursing, Accounting, Finance, Education, Architecture, Music, and Design.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  • Location: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
  • Institution type: Public research university
  • Enrollment: 30,098
  • Acceptance rate: 23%
  • Retention rate: 97%
  • Graduation rate: 90%
  • In-state tuition: $7,020
  • Out-of-state tuition: $34,804
  • Student-to-faculty ratio: 15:1
  • Six-year average annual earnings: $48,600
  • US News ranking: #28 in National Universities
  • Niche ranking: #1 in Top Public Universities in North Carolina

Because it’s so prestigious, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is considered one of the Public Ivies, New Ivies and Southern Ivies. But the good news is that it has an acceptance rate of 23%. It’s not the highest acceptance rate on the face of the planet, but it’s higher than the acceptance rates at the eight Ivy Leagues.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is the country’s very first public institution for higher education.

University of Virginia

  • Location: Charlottesville, Virginia
  • Institution type: Public research university
  • Enrollment: 25,629
  • Acceptance rate: 24%
  • Retention rate: 97%
  • Graduation rate: 94%
  • In-state tuition: $16,044
  • Out-of-state tuition: $49,154
  • Student-to-faculty ratio: 14:1
  • Six-year average annual earnings: $52,800
  • US News ranking: #25 in National Universities
  • Niche ranking: #3 in Top Public Universities in America

It may not have a very high acceptance rate, but the University of Virginia has the highest graduation rate among all public colleges and universities in the US. It is also one of the few institutions in the country that is also a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.

Up to 70% of its students are residents of the state of Virginia. Some of the best majors available include Kinesiology, Physical Therapy, Nursing and Architecture.

Davidson College

  • Location: Davidson, North Carolina
  • Institution type: Private liberal arts college
  • Enrollment: 1,983
  • Acceptance rate: 18%
  • Retention rate: 95%
  • Graduation rate: 93%
  • Tuition: $54,460
  • Student-to-faculty ratio: 9:1
  • Six-year average annual earnings: $48,500
  • US News ranking: #13 in National Liberal Arts Colleges
  • Niche ranking: #3 in Best Christian Colleges in America

Considered a Hidden Ivy, New Ivy and Southern Ivy, Davidson College is one of the leading Christian institutions in the land. Its name also tends to appear in various rankings of the best liberal arts schools in the US.

In 2007, Davidson College became the very first liberal arts institution to offer a financial aid package to college students that meets 100% of their demonstrated need minus the loan component. It’s through an initiative referred to as The Davidson Trust, whose aim was to allow its students to graduate from college debt-free.

Duke University

  • Location: Durham, North Carolina
  • Institution type: Private research university
  • Enrollment: 16,766
  • Acceptance rate: 8%
  • Retention rate: 98%
  • Graduation rate: 95%
  • Tuition: $55,880
  • Student-to-faculty ratio: 6:1
  • Six-year average annual earnings: $88,200
  • US News ranking: #9 in National Universities
  • Niche ranking: #1 in Best Christian Colleges in America

Because Duke University accepts less than 10% of applicants, it’s no wonder why it is considered one of the Ivy Plus schools, an unofficial list of elite schools with low acceptance rates, large endowments and elite alumni networks. It’s also the leading Christian institution for higher education in the US, says Niche.

Some of the top majors offered by Duke University include Nursing, Political Science, Religious Studies, Economics, Math, Biology, Anthropology and Sociology.

Emory University

  • Location: Atlanta, Georgia
  • Institution type: Private research university
  • Enrollment: 14,002
  • Acceptance rate: 16%
  • Retention rate: 95%
  • Graduation rate: 89%
  • Tuition: $54,660
  • Student-to-faculty ratio: 9:1
  • Six-year average annual earnings: $61,700
  • US News ranking: #21 in National Universities
  • Niche ranking: #2 in Best Christian Colleges in America

Established in 1836 as a small Methodist college, Emory University is currently one of the best private research and Christian institutions you can include on your college list.

Emory University is the second-oldest public university in the state of Georgia. Its 631-acre city campus is home to four undergraduate colleges as well as seven graduate and professional schools. There are a little more than 1,000 colleges and universities in the Southeast, and Emory University is one of the very few regarded as Southern Ivies.

Furman University

  • Location: Greenville, South Carolina
  • Institution type: Private liberal arts university
  • Enrollment: 2,567
  • Acceptance rate: 57%
  • Retention rate: 88%
  • Graduation rate: 84%
  • Tuition: $52,992
  • Student-to-faculty ratio: 9:1
  • Six-year average annual earnings: $38,500
  • US News ranking: #46 in National Liberal Arts Colleges
  • Niche ranking: #1 in Top Private Universities in South Carolina

More than half of applicants receive acceptance letters from Furman University’s admissions office.

Still, it’s a must for the academic and non-academic factors of your application to be strong. For instance, the average GPA of admitted students is 3.75, and the minimum SAT and ACT scores are 1320 and 58, respectively. A high class rank, impressive extracurriculars and unique qualities are all important admissions factors.

Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech)

  • Location: Atlanta, Georgia
  • Institution type: Public research university
  • Enrollment: 39,772
  • Acceptance rate: 21%
  • Retention rate: 97%
  • Graduation rate: 83%
  • In-state tuition: $10,258
  • Out-of-state tuition: $31,370
  • Student-to-faculty ratio: 18:1
  • Six-year average annual earnings: $62,100
  • US News ranking: #38 in National Universities
  • Niche ranking: #4 in Top Public Universities in America

Georgia Tech is considered the largest engineering and industrial research agency in the Southeast, offering more than 100 areas of discipline that are focused on technology, spanning six colleges and nearly 30 schools. This is why various companies scout its 400-acre campus for internships and full-time jobs in numerous fields.

It goes without saying that some of the top majors Georgia Tech offers include Engineering, Computer Science, Communications, Math and Physics.

University of Georgia

  • Location: Athens, Georgia
  • Institution type: Public land-grant research university
  • Enrollment: 39,147
  • Acceptance rate: 45%
  • Retention rate: 95%
  • Graduation rate: 85%
  • In-state tuition: $9,790
  • Out-of-state tuition: $28,830
  • Student-to-faculty ratio: 17:1
  • Six-year average annual earnings: $42,800
  • US News ranking: #48 in National Universities
  • Niche ranking: #6 in Top Party Schools in America

If you prefer a good balance of academic and social life, look no further than the University of Georgia. Besides being renowned for its Law School and College of Education, the public institution is also known for its bustling Greek life and athletics, as well as an assortment of campus clubs and organizations.

Back in 2010, the University of Georgia was named the number one party school by the Princeton Review. And, according to a 2022 Niche ranking, the institution is #1 in Top Party Schools in Georgia.

University of Richmond

  • Location: Richmond, Virginia
  • Institution type: Private liberal arts university
  • Enrollment: 4,057
  • Acceptance rate: 28%
  • Retention rate: 93%
  • Graduation rate: 86%
  • Tuition: $58,570
  • Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
  • Six-year average annual earnings: $48,400
  • US News ranking: #22 in National Liberal Arts Colleges
  • Niche ranking: #2 in Best Liberal Arts Colleges in Virginia

Besides offering a superb combination of liberal arts and sciences, Richmond University, which is considered a Hidden Ivy, also offers the very first undergraduate school of leadership studies (the Jepson School) in the US.

The school offers 42 majors consisting of more than 60 undergraduate degrees. Some areas of discipline the University of Richmond excels in include Information Technology, Business, Accounting, Finance, Economics, Political Science, Global Studies, International Relations and English.

Vanderbilt University

  • Location: Nashville, Tennessee
  • Institution type: Private research university
  • Enrollment: 13,537
  • Acceptance rate: 9%
  • Retention rate: 97%
  • Graduation rate: 92%
  • Tuition: $54,840
  • Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
  • Six-year average annual earnings: $61,500
  • US News ranking: #14 in National Universities
  • Niche ranking: #1 in Best Colleges in Tennessee

It may not be one of the eight Ivy Leagues alright, but Vanderbilt University is just as prestigious. As a matter of fact, it has an Ivy League-like acceptance rate of below 10%. It’s exactly because of this why the Tennessee-based institution is considered not only a Hidden Ivy but also a New Ivy and Southern Ivy.

Vanderbilt is also associated with one of the best medical schools in the US, the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which has numerous hospitals in Nashville.

Virginia Tech

  • Location: Blacksburg, Virginia
  • Institution type: Public land-grant research university
  • Enrollment: 37,024
  • Acceptance rate: 70%
  • Retention rate: 93%
  • Graduation rate: 83%
  • In-state tuition: $11,420
  • Out-of-state tuition: $29,960
  • Student-to-faculty ratio: 14:1
  • Six-year average annual earnings: $49,200
  • US News ranking: #75 in National Universities
  • Niche ranking: #13 in Top Public Universities in America

Virginia Tech has over 37,000 students completing around 280 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Some of the leading ones include Architecture, Engineering, Computer Science and Agricultural Sciences. It is also known to offer excellent Business, Accounting and Finance programs.

It has a spacious 2,600-acre campus that houses over 200 buildings. And it has an airport, too!

Wake Forest University

  • Location: Winston-Salem, North Carolina
  • Institution type: Private research university
  • Enrollment: 8,789
  • Acceptance rate: 27%
  • Retention rate: 96%
  • Graduation rate: 88%
  • Tuition: $58,708
  • Student-to-faculty ratio: 11:1
  • Six-year average annual earnings: $58,200
  • US News ranking: #28 in National Universities
  • Niche ranking: #2 in Best Colleges in North Carolina

Regarded as one of the Hidden Ivies and Southern Ivies, Wake Forest University is known for its pursuit of becoming more global. This is why it’s one of the leading US colleges and universities for Global Studies.

Before applying to this North Carolina-based institution, keep in mind that its students lovingly call it “Work Forest”. It’s due to the fact that the academics at Wake Forest University can be intense. But worry not as there are also more than 250 clubs and organizations its students can participate in.

Washington and Lee University

  • Location: Lexington, Virginia
  • Institution type: Private liberal arts university
  • Enrollment: 2,183
  • Acceptance rate: 19%
  • Retention rate: 96%
  • Graduation rate: 89%
  • Tuition: $58,260
  • Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
  • Six-year average annual earnings: $56,300
  • US News ranking: #11 in National Liberal Arts Colleges
  • Niche ranking: #3 in Best Liberal Arts Colleges in America

Washington and Lee University is one of the more than 60 US colleges and universities regarded as the Hidden Ivies. And being #3 in 2022 Best Liberal Arts Colleges in America by Niche, there is no hiding the fact that it’s a top-notch school. Additionally, it has the highest percentage of Greek life membership in the country.

The school is known for majors such as Business, Accounting, Finance, Economics, Communications, Political Science, Philosophy, History and Anthropology.

Other Prestigious Southeast Institutions

As you can see, there are plenty of prominent colleges and universities in the Southeast region you can apply to. If you need to add a handful of schools comparable to the Ivy Leagues to your college list, consider the ones above.

Refrain from assuming that there are no more great institutions to choose from in the area.

Believe it or not, many other prestigious institutions of higher education in the Southeast are also worthy of your attention. Each one of them offers an assortment of accredited degrees, all of which are respected by employers. It goes without saying that researching them is a great idea if you want to explore your options.

See which of the following top-notch schools are worthy of being added to your college list:

  • Auburn University
  • Clemson University
  • James Madison University
  • North Carolina State University
  • Tulane University
  • University of South Carolina
  • University of Tennessee
  • Louisiana State University – Baton Rouge
  • Rhodes College
  • Samford University
  • University of Central Florida
  • University of Mississippi
  • University of North Carolina – Wilmington
  • Spelman College
  • Wofford College

Just Before You Apply to a College in the Southeast

If you’re from the Southeast, you don’t have to be miles away from your family and friends just to have access to an outstanding program. That’s because there are many colleges and universities in the area comparable to the Ivy League schools the majority of college-bound high school students dream of attending.

More than 30 of the best institutions for higher education in the Southeast were mentioned above.

Trying to come up with a college list? Take your time when deciding which of these prestigious schools you should add. Make sure that you consider various factors that you deem important personally.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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