Here Are the 10 Best Colleges in the South

When you think of the American South, you probably picture beautiful mountain ranges and agrarian societies, places with deep cultural roots and rich histories.

But you should also think of the best schools in the nation.

The American South may not have the same famed Ivy League schools like the New England region, but it has its own long-standing history, with intuitions that stand up against those found anywhere in the world.

In states such as Virginia, North Carolina, and Texas, you’ll find elite private universities with a culture of excellence and state schools devoted to cutting-edge research. 

You’ll find religious schools devoted to the service of humanity and business schools that teach the latest in economic trends. 

These schools have trained everything from Presidents to business leaders, artistic innovators, and concert musicians.

In short, you’re sure to find the perfect college in the South, no matter what your interests may be. But with so many options in the vast region, potential students are sure to get overwhelmed.

This list lays out the qualities of 10 of the best colleges in the South, making your decision a lot easier. 

Soon, you’re sure to be sipping a mint julep, enjoying some barbeque, and pursuing your education with all the joys of Southern hospitality.

University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA)

University of Virginia
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Virginia’s top state school, the University of Virginia, was founded in 1819 by none other than Thomas Jefferson. 

Its first leaders included not only Jefferson but fellow American founders James Madison and James Monroe.

From that impressive history, UVa has gone on to become an impressive research institution. Today, the school enjoys a $14.5 billion endowment, which it uses to fund numerous centers and institutes.

From these research centers come breakthroughs such as advancements in hypersonic flight. Working alongside NASA and the National Science Foundation, UVa has developed new forms of propulsion. Academics at the school are also responsible for working on sustainable energy, particularly offshore wind turbines.

Other essential discoveries happened within the UVa School of Medicine, where researchers found new elements of the lymphatic system and the causes of Alzheimer’s disease.

Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA)

Georgia Tech
Davidhermanns, Kessler Campanile, Georgia Tech, CC BY-SA 4.0

Established in 1885 as a trade school designed to rebuild the Southern economy after the Civil War, the Georgia Institute of Technology has evolved to become one of the premier institutions in the region.

Georgia Tech’s campus includes several research institutes and centers. The oldest among them is the Georgia Tech Research Institute, dedicated to aiding innovations in electro-optics, engineering, and radars. 

Thanks to its contacts with global businesses and the U.S. government, the GTRI generates hundreds of millions of dollars in yearly revenue.

Georgia Tech’s influence extends into the public sphere, as the school provides space for startup companies in the area. 

Working through the Advanced Technology Development Center and the VantureLab, organizations receive resources and research support to incorporate their ideas. Thanks to these centers, Georgia Tech currently ranks among the top five universities in the world for startup support.

Duke University (Durham, NC)

Duke University Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, medicine and Applied Sciences
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Although it began as a Quaker and Methodist school started in 1836, North Carolina’s Duke University has become one of the most respected private schools in the world. 

Thanks to its commitment to academic excellence and its continuing religious training, Duke is constantly among the top schools in the region.

Duke continues to build its reputation through its top-level resources. In addition to being a first-rate teaching hospital, Duke Medical Center is home to cutting-edge research. 

Duke features a marine lab for those interested in environmental sciences, taking advantage of the school’s proximity to the Atlantic coastline.

In keeping with its religious roots, Duke University Chapel remains one of the main attractions on campus. 

The work of African American architects Horace Trumbauer and Julian Abele, the Chapel serves as a spiritual home for people of all faiths.

Washington and Lee University (Lexington, VA)

Washington and Lee University - President's House
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

One of America’s oldest universities, Lexington’s Washington & Lee University was established in 1749 as Augusta Academy. 

The school takes its name from two of its most important benefactors: its early supporter George Washington and one-time school president, Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Following its motto Non Incautus Futuri (“Not Unmindful of the Future”), WLU focuses more on tomorrow than on yesterday. 

A major innovator in fields such as politics, economics, and law, the university strives to find new ways of understanding national and global structures.

Central to those goals are institutions such as the Theodore DeLaney Center. The recently constructed DeLaney center assists academics in studying racial concerns of the past and the present.

Another newly-constructed institute supports future teachers. The Harte Center for Teaching and Learning offers state-of-the-art technology to meet the challenges of education in the digital age.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC)

University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Mx. Granger, Carolina Hall at UNC, CC0 1.0

While Duke may be the best private institution in the Tarheel State, the flagship University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one of the country’s few “public Ivies.” 

As the title suggests, public Ivies are state schools that offer education on par with that of Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Yale.

In accordance with such a vaunted reputation, UNC-Chapel Hill has been associated with some respected names. 

Former U.S. President James K. Polk and former Vice President William R. King graduated from the school. Faculty and alumni include nine Nobel laureates and 23 Pulitzer Prize winners.

Today, UNC-Chapel Hill adds to its achievements with plans such as the Innovate Carolina program. Innovate Carolina brings together academics across the school’s departments and partners them with global investors and researchers. 

Together, these figures address some of the greatest challenges of our time.

Rice University (Houston, TX)

Rice University
Public domain photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

Located on a 300-acre campus in Houston, Rice University is perhaps the finest STEM school in the south. In 2019, Rice devoted $156 million to research spending, making it one of the most innovative schools in the South.

To maintain that reputation, Rice houses several research institutes and centers.

Launched in 1999, the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship educates future entrepreneurs in technology commercialization. 

Focusing on nanotechnology and clean energy fields, the Alliance helps participants assess new advancements and garner financial support from investors.

Outside of the science fields, Rice also features the Baker Institute for Public Policy, an influential think tank. 

Bringing together scholars from a range of disciplines, the Baker Institute seeks to find new approaches to global and national policy problems.

University of Texas at Austin (Austin, TX)

UT Austin
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Serving more than 50,000 undergraduate students, the University of Texas at Austin is one of the largest schools on this list. UT Austin devotes approximately $680 million to research each year, money it uses to fund its various programs.

Thanks to its devotion to innovation, UT Austin has been associated with many winners of top-level awards, including 13 Nobel Prize laureates and four winners of the Pulitzer Prize. Its alumni include filmmaker Wes Anderson and noted astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

To train so many luminaries, UT Austin maintains a faculty consisting of leaders in their respective fields. 

Current teachers include chemist John Bannister Goodenough, who received the Nobel Prize in 2019 for his breakthroughs in energy technologies. Also teaching at the school is literary critic Jerome Loving, recipient of a 2002 Guggenheim Fellowship.

Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN)

Vanderbilt University
BugsMeanee, E. Bronson Ingram College, CC BY-SA 4.0

Nashville’s Vanderbilt University is one of the finest research institutions in the South. With an endowment of $10.9 billion, Vanderbilt supports innovations across every discipline.

Named after the famed author, the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities provides a space for advanced study in the humanities. The RPW Center prides itself on inviting those of various viewpoints, allowing for a wider scholarly conversation. 

Since its founding in 1988, the RPW Center has hosted a lecture series and provided funding for researchers.

The First Amendment Center addresses continuing free speech issues as part of the Freedom Forum. 

With programs devoted to education and research, the First Amendment Center invites scholars, policymakers, and legal experts worldwide. Conversations center on concerns raised by Supreme Court decisions, religious events, and other sensitive issues.

Wake Forest University (Winston-Salem, NC)

Wake Forest University
Public domain photo by JHMM14 via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most unique private schools in the South, Winston-Salem’s Wake Forest University offers a distinctive educational experience. 

A liberal arts school with a strong religious tradition, Wake Forest features a roster of excellent faculty members and award-winning researchers.

One of Wake’s most distinctive elements is the Reynolda House Museum of American Art. In the Museum, students can study influential works throughout American history. Artists on display include Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacob Lawrence, and Frederic Church.

As part of the school’s partnership with the Reynolda Estate, the Reynolda Gardens provide 129 acres of beautiful, peaceful landscape for study and cultural events. 

Experts in horticulture, environmental sciences, and similar disciplines have access to a range of unique plant life. Even better, the Gardens provide an area for community members to continue their studies.

University of Miami (Coral Gables, FL)

University of Miami
Darkflowerthree, Shalala Student Center, University of Miami, CC BY-SA 4.0

Housed on a state-of-the-art 239-acre campus in Coral Gables, Florida’s University of Miami offers the best in cultural programs and academic support. 

With facilities such as the beautiful Gifford Arboretum and the Ring Theater, U Miami is a great place to study and grow.

Working with an endowment of $1.05 billion, U Miami has resources to keep students engaged and happy. It’s no wonder that 91% of the school’s students complete their programs, with 72% finishing their degree in four years or fewer.

That money also goes to facilities such as the newly renovated Miller School of Medicine and the Ritcher Library

In addition to a collection of scholarly materials and historically-significant books, Richter regularly holds art exhibitions from both artists working on campus and influential figures around the world.

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