The Southeast’s 10 Best Hidden Gem Universities

Sometimes, the best things in life are hidden gems – outstanding, yet not everyone knows about them.

The same applies to colleges – many schools are equally excellent to universities that are widely known throughout the world, but for some reason do not always make the top ranking lists normally published by online journals and magazines.

Today, we look at a specific region of the country, the southeast, and talk about some amazing hidden gem colleges. 

Below is our list of 10 of the best hidden gem universities in the southeast. In an effort to include more schools on our website, all the schools on this list are unique from other “hidden gem” lists we have published in the last six months.

These schools deserve to be recognized for their strong academic programs, community engagement, and student body success.

Barry University (Miami Shores, FL)

Barry University
Jutland86, Barry University Library, public domain, details on Wikimedia Commons

Nestled in the heart of Miami Shores, Florida, Barry University is one of the largest Catholic universities in the Southeast. The school boasts over 50,000 alumni worldwide, with the likes of presidents, prime ministers, and superstar athletes proudly claiming Barry University as their alma mater.

Students at Barry often cite the sheer amount of ethnic diversity on campus as a strong catalyst to learning, as well as personal and professional development. 

They aren’t the only ones taking notice – Barry University has been consistently ranked as one of the top 20 schools in the country for Campus Ethnic Diversity by US News & World Report with nearly 75% of the student body identifying as an ethnic minority.

Furthermore, there are few universities in Florida that are better for prospective students looking for high paying jobs after graduation. Graduates from Barry University are the third-highest salary earners amongst all private nonprofit universities in the entire state of Florida.

Radford University (Radford, VA)

Radford University
Nyttend, Muse Hall, Radford University, public domain, details on Wikimedia Commons

Radford University, known in the area for its beautiful red-brick Georgian style buildings, is one of only 8 public institutions within the Commonwealth of Virginia granting doctorate degrees. With 7 colleges scattered across the 204-acre campus, students have tons of career choices to choose from.

Research is a major part of academic life for interested students. Due to its uniquely small size, undergraduate students are offered research opportunities usually only afforded to graduate students at larger universities.

This is a large reason why The Princeton Review named it one of its Best Colleges and Universities in the Southeast.

Radford students attribute the strong sense of community and study abroad programs as a few of the many reasons they chose to spend four years at this Division 1 university.

University of Alabama, Huntsville (Huntsville, AL)

University of Alabama Huntsville
AlabamaUSA, Optics Building UAH, CC BY-SA 3.0

The University of Alabama’s flagship campus in Tuscaloosa is known around the world for its dominance in SEC college football and epic tailgates with over 35,000 students in enrollment.

For those looking for more of a hometown feel, the Huntsville campus provides just that with all the perks of being under the umbrella of one of the largest university systems in the country.

The University of Alabama in Huntsville is regularly ranked as the single best university in the state based on the economic outcomes of its graduates.

This is clear as day when you account for alumni such as astronaut Jan Davis and Discovery Channel founder John Hendricks who graduated from UAH years ago and continue to give back to this day.

The university’s over 500-acre campus includes several high-tech research centers and labs is the anchor for the second-largest research park in the country with strong connections to federal agencies such as NASA, HudsonAlpha, and the Missile Defense Agency.

Coastal Carolina University (Conway, SC)

Coastal Carolina University
Sk5893, Spadoni Park Circle, CC BY-SA 4.0

Conway, South Carolina is a small coastal city just outside Myrtle Beach that stakes claim to one of the more underrated institutions in the Carolinas.

Their commitment to a high standard of online learning affords students at Coastal Carolina the opportunity to obtain a quality education from anywhere in the world.

Sports are also a huge part of the culture at CCU, with dozens of notable athletes across all domestic men’s and women’s professional sports leagues.

The volleyball program is one of the most storied and successful programs in the country, with CCU alumnus Leah Hardeman being the only player in Division 1 history to ever win four consecutive Player of the Year conference awards.

Students looking for the athletics of a large D1 school in a small, public liberal arts university will likely fall in love with the beach environment present at Coastal Carolina University.

University of West Florida (Pensacola, FL)

University of West Florida
Thomas Baxter, PIMG0125, CC BY 3.0

Imagine going to school on a natural preserve bordered by two rivers and the world-famous Escambia Bay. For students at the University of West Florida, this dream is an absolute reality.

Sitting on 1,600 acres, UWF’s beautiful campus attracts visitors from all over the southern United States and beyond.

The University of West Florida is a comprehensive research university that is a member institution of the State University System of Florida.

UWF is known for its dedication to providing affordable educational majors to Florida residents with its strong online programs, multiple campus locations, and world-class faculty.

Students of the university are also big proponents of NCAA athletics, with UWF celebrating both their 100th conference championship and winning its first-ever NCAA Division 2 Football championship title.

Stetson University (DeLand, FL)

Stetson University
Ebyabe, Stetson Univ – Flagler Hall1, CC BY-SA 3.0

Stetson University has many of the same beachy, tropical campus characteristics as the other Florida schools on this list. For a school of its size, Stetson boasts impressive accolades and awards that continue to entice students from nearly all 50 states.

Current and former military members are very welcome at Stetson. In fact, the Military Times cites the university as one of the best universities for those serving in the armed forces with their School of Business Administration also being recognized as a top college for veterans.

The law program at Stetson is absolutely stellar, with the Stetson University College of Law winning 5 world titles and over 70 national championships in various trial advocacy competitions.

Southern University and A&M College (Baton Rouge, LA)

Southern University and A&M College
Broadmoor, PB SU, CC BY-SA 4.0

If you’ve heard any popular song that’s been transformed into a marching band set during a football half time show, it’s likely that it was first played by the famous band of Southern University.

Southern is one of the largest historically black institutions in the country and the largest in Louisiana with over 6,000 students calling the university home.

Located in the heart of Baton Rouge, SU is also the only urban campus on this list, giving its scholars access to all a capital city of its size has to offer.

Along with its sleuth of other offered programs, Southern is an HBCU with a strong engineering program.

Murray State University (Murray, KY)

Murray State University
CB0628, HC Franklin Residence Hall at Murray State University, CC BY-SA 4.0

Murray State University is consistently perceived to be one of the top 3 public universities in all of Kentucky yet is largely unknown outside of the state. Its strong student community of just over 10,000 students.

There are also several different offices, regional campuses, and online programs to ensure all scholars are properly supported and receiving a quality education.

Students of Murray State also cite the small town of Murray, Kentucky and its residents as strong proponents of the University. The backing from the community is obvious during athletic games, campus events, and other university traditions like ‘Tent City.’

The community engagement with the university inspires students to better themselves, their school, and the town of Murray through community service and other philanthropic efforts.

James Madison University (Harrisonburg, VA)

James Madison University
James Madison University Creative Media, Harrison Hall, James Madison University, CC BY-SA 4.0

JMU is one of the more name recognizable schools on this list due to it being named after the 4th president of the United States.

Situated two hours from Washington DC, the university boasts a high retention rate at a whopping 91.4% with students from all 50 states and 89 countries around the world.

James Madison University is consistently ranked as one of the top 10 public regional universities in the South by US News & World Report.

The Princeton Review recognized the university as one of 81 schools “with a conscience”. James Madison scholars pride themselves on their philanthropy and volunteering with the second-highest number of Peace Corps volunteers among mid-sized universities.

The student body seems to love all things JMU, with Niche ranking their campus setting and college food as #5 and #10 in the country, respectively. It’s no wonder why they were ranked as the 20th happiest student body in America.

The original James Madison University campus only consisted of two buildings. Today the campus boasts over 148 major facilities on 721 acres and is one of the most photographed locations in the state of Virginia on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Western Carolina University (Cullowhee, NC)

Western Carolina University
Warren LeMay, Judaculla Hall, Western Carolina University, CC0 1.0

Western Carolina University is among the most selective colleges in the southeast, accepting less than 40% of applicants in some years.

Western Carolina University is the westernmost campus of the University of North Carolina system.

Located in Cullowhee, North Carolina, its location in the rural mountains offers students with a ton of outdoor extracurricular activities near the Great Smoky and Blue Ridge mountain ranges.

The university is an NC Promise school. Enacted in the Fall of 2018 by the State of North Carolina, the NC Promise program provides all undergraduate students with reduced student tuition costs.

Because of this unique initiative, in combination with Western Carolina University’s excellent programs, enrollment has increased over the last several years at this hidden gem university.

Considering quality of education with its revolutionary promise program, Western Carolina is perhaps the best value in higher education today.

Among the numerous accolades Western Carolina University has won include a Carnegie Foundation classification in the Community Engagement category.