The 10 Best Colleges in the Southeast

Clear blue skies, warm temperatures for the majority of the year, and (arguably) the best food in the nation: southeastern U.S. colleges offer many of the same academic programs, experiential learning opportunities, and scholarships as some of the best schools in the northeast (land of the Ivy League). 

Speaking of which, there are many “Southern Ivies” or “Public Ivies” you’ll find in the southeast.

We are excited to present a list of the top ten colleges in the southeast representing six different states. 

Some of these schools are committed to enrolling a vast majority of in-state students, while others welcome an unlimited number of out-of-state students with open arms. 

The schools on this list also happen to be in some of the most beautiful and appealing locations in the United States. 

From the festive foodie central that is New Orleans to the majestic mountain retreat of Charlottesville, these cities are guaranteed to lure students out of their dormitories for a break from the books. 

Of course, academics come first. After all, many of the schools on our list are competitive, admitting as few as one out of every 12 candidates! 

For this list, we have ranked each school in the southeast based on their appearance in the US News best overall national universities list.

Here are the 10 best colleges in the southeast!

10. Tulane University (New Orleans, LA)

Tulane University
EEJCC, Richardson Memorial, Tulane University, CC BY-SA 4.0

As if the chance to spend four years in one of the most culturally diverse and exciting cities in the United States isn’t appealing in and of itself, New Orleans is also home to one of the best universities in the southeast.

With an acceptance rate of 8.4%, Tulane is one of the more competitive colleges on this list. What sets it apart from other schools? 

Undergraduates can enroll in classes within any of the university’s schools. They are additionally permitted to double- or triple-major, increasing their competitiveness in the job market. 

Community service is also a significant pillar of Tulane’s curriculum, and they are ranked #2 in service learning by the U.S. News & World Report. 

The Outreach Tulane program unifies the student body through various initiatives, including the university-sponsored day of service.

9. Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA)

Georgia Institute of Technology
JJonahJackalope, Center Street South, Georgia Tech, CC BY-SA 4.0

Georgia Tech’s reputation is built upon its commitment to innovative research – the school receives more than $1 billion in awards, and its Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) is the oldest tech incubation center in the United States. 

Forbes recently lauded the ATDC as one of the 12 world-changing incubators.

It is no surprise that students from all 50 states and 149 countries flock to Georgia Tech, as its engineering and computer science programs are among the best-ranked in the country. 

Graduates from the computer sciences program maintain the highest average salaries within a year of graduation – an impressive $73,936. That figure increases to nearly $95,000 after five years and almost $125,000 after ten years!

One would think that a school with such a long list of accolades would be extremely competitive to get into, and it’s true that many apply. 

The admissions committee reviewed over 50,000 applications and accepted 17% of candidates. 

Here’s the kicker: 35% of in-state applicants were accepted, while only 13% of out-of-state applicants were admitted. 

Clearly, Georgia Tech is an excellent option for Georgia residents interested in computer science or engineering.

8. William & Mary (Williamsburg, VA)

College of William and Mary Alumni House
Pbritti, Alumni House at the College of William and Mary, 2020, CC BY-SA 4.0

You’ll definitely recognize some of the names on the College of William & Mary’s list of notable alumni

Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and two presidents attended this prestigious school, chartered by King William III and Queen Mary II of England in 1693

The college is the second-oldest higher learning institution in the nation and the first to gain university status.

As one can imagine, William & Mary boasts a long list of “firsts,” including the first programs in modern languages, modern history, and political economy. 

Today, its U.S. colonial history graduate school is ranked among the best in the nation.

William & Mary has a slightly competitive admissions process with an acceptance rate of 33%. If you’re a history buff, you’re sure to find like-minded peers in your midst. 

The school enrolled 1,643 new first-time first-year students in the past year (most of them Virginia residents), which means that students will enjoy a close-knit community in the beautiful setting of Williamsburg.

7. Wake Forest University (Winston-Salem, NC)

Wake Forest University
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Let’s get down to business. It is the most popular major at Wake Forest, after all! The B.S. in business exposes undergraduates to the principles of financial consulting, enterprise management, accounting, and more.

Many students apply to Wake Forest based on the school’s study-abroad programs, recently ranked #3 by the Open Doors Report. 

Over 70% of undergraduates receive credit for studying abroad in stimulating cities such as Vienna, Austria; Santiago, Chile; and Hirakata, Japan.

Back on campus, a select number of undergraduates can apply and gain admission to the “Open Curriculum” option, where they have the freedom to design a completely flexible degree program unlimited by the typical core degree requirements. 

Here, they may get the chance to conduct meaningful research with faculty like Anthony Atala, known nationwide as an organ growth pioneer.

6. 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

It’s a great day to be a Tar Heel! Once a term used to imply that someone worked in a menial job, North Carolina workers took ownership of the term and used it to proclaim their state pride. That pride is still a defining characteristic of the UNC student body. 

There’s indeed much to be proud of at UNC. 

The school boasts an enduring commitment to educating North Carolina residents, and a 1986 policy stipulates that the out-of-state first-year undergraduate student population may not exceed 18% of the entire new cohort. 

UNC is proud of making quality education more accessible to all. 

The Carolina Covenant was the second policy instituted at a U.S. college (and the first among public universities) to ensure a debt-free college experience for qualifying students. 

Additionally, the Morehead-Cain Scholarship Program is the country’s longest-enduring merit scholarship, awarding four full years of tuition, room and board, books, and summer study fees to a select group of scholars. 

High-achieving North Carolina high school students would be wise to apply for this rare opportunity!

5. University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)

University of Florida
Reitz Union, Reitz Union, CC BY-SA 4.0

With an acceptance rate of 30%, UF attracts scholars with palpable school spirit, award-winning athletics programs, and even an online bachelor’s program ranked #1 in the country! 

You’re guaranteed to spot gators regularly (the school’s mascot), but don’t worry, they’ll stay away as long as you don’t bother them!

UF is perhaps best known for its programs in anthropology. Undergraduates can concentrate on one or more of four subtopics: linguistic, biological, cultural, or archaeological anthropology. The opportunities for scholars in this area are boundless. 

From conducting qualitative interviews with indigenous populations in Mexico, Southeast Asia, and West Africa to examining animal remains in historical sites across the world, anthropology majors at UF are guaranteed top-notch field experiences

Cutting-edge facilities like the C.A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory engages students in developing forensics skills to study skeletal trauma and pathology in deceased humans.

The chance to work in a laboratory of this caliber is excellent preparation for those intent on building a career as a forensic analyst, medical researcher, or historian. 

4. University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA)

University of Virginia
Smash the Iron Cage, Varsity Hall and Cobb Hall, University of Virginia, CC BY-SA 4.0

Founded by President Thomas Jefferson in 1819, UVA has since graduated 55 Rhodes Scholars and founders of renowned companies like Reddit. 

The school’s business program is ranked #8 in the nation, and those who pursue a commerce B.S. with a marketing concentration, for example, will gain skills in global marketing, product development, consumer behavior, and advertising.

UVA meets 100% of students’ demonstrated financial need, and over a third of students receive some sort of assistance to attend school. 

The Princeton Review recently awarded UVA the top spot among the best schools offering financial aid.

Attending college in Charlottesville is a dream in its own right. With the Blue Ridge Mountains, Monticello, and Charlottesville wine country all within reach, there are plenty of opportunities for culinary, recreational, and natural indulgence. 

Charlottesville is recognized as the #3 happiest city in the United States and the #10 top college town. “

3. Emory University (Atlanta, GA)

It’s an exciting time to be an Emory Student. The school’s 2036 campaign includes a blueprint of ambitious plans designed to improve all aspects of a student’s experience. 

For example, the Student Flourishing initiative is implementing multidisciplinary seminars, a customized BBA curriculum, and an influx of experiential learning opportunities. 

One seminar challenges students to use research and justice-oriented discussions to design a prototype of a just city.

The new Oxford Milestone Project (named after the school’s original location) will require students at the Oxford College campus to design a cumulative ePortfolio to showcase their collegiate journey. 

The portfolio can be a helpful resource in job interviews leading to or after graduation.

There are many opportunities at Emory that students won’t find at other colleges. The school offers a five-year dual degree engineering program, a dual MSW degree, and abundant research opportunities

Currently, one group of undergraduates is documenting the slave voyage journeys to learn more about how millions of Africans were treated during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. 

Another cohort is scanning the brains of grandmothers to understand their reaction to viewing their grandchildren, all with the effort to understand the power of familial bonds better. 

Your burning question or problem might be the next research project at Emory!

2. Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN)

Vanderbilt University
BugsMeanee, Warren College, CC BY-SA 4.0

Vanderbilt is located in Music City; understandably, its music school is one of the best in the country! 

The music integrated studies major, for example, allows students to grow their skills in the instrument of their choice while additionally refining their skills in another area, like pedagogy, composition, or music theory.

Groundbreaking research is occurring on campus at all times. Undergraduates remark that their research experiences have helped them learn valuable techniques, ranging from gel electrophoresis and insect dissection to culturing cells and performing DNA extractions. 

Students are prompted to join or create a research endeavor based on personal motivations or curiosities.

When we say Vandy scholars receive hands-on experience, we mean it. 

1. Duke University (Durham, NC)

Duke University
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Duke undergraduates pursue a liberal arts education at Trinity College or an engineering degree at the College of Engineering. 

That being said, all scholars can criss-cross between schools, depending on the classes they’re interested in. All first-year students must complete a writing class and a seminar focused on a current event or issue.

Computer science and public policy are two of the most popular majors at Duke. 

The Robert J. Margolis, MD Center for Health Policy is Duke’s newest center poised to facilitate the next wave of healthcare policy leaders in transitioning to their first careers outside of college. 

With only 6,789 undergraduates, Duke offers a community bursting with school spirit and camaraderie. 

No doubt, you’ve heard about the Cameron Crazies – Duke’s passionate athletics fans who spend the night outside the basketball stadium for days (and sometimes weeks!) to secure tickets to highly-coveted basketball games. 

In addition to an elite athletics program, the town of Durham offers a thriving cultural scene. 

Its inclusion in the Research Triangle Park (RTP) area grants desirable proximity to internship opportunities in the engineering and technology fields.

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