The Southeast’s 10 Best Hidden Gem Universities

3. Murray State University (Murray, KY)

photo via Wikimedia Commons

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.


2. James Madison University (Harrisonburg, VA)

photo by James Madison University Creative Media via Wikimedia Commons

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.


1. Western Carolina University (Cullowhee, NC)

photo by Warren LeMay via Wikimedia Commons

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.


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