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To create this list, we first came up with a list of all the regionally accredited institutions in the region.
We gave each school points based on its performance in each category and then tallied those points to give each college and university a final score. Founded in 1872, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University stands out with an 82% graduation rate – high for a technical institution. The “State’s flagship university” has a full history of 200 years, including surviving through the Civil War and Reconstruction.
Auburn University is one of the largest universities in the South and holds on to academic tradition. Clemson University (CU) offers rigorous and challengine programs that make its degrees invaluable in a competitive 21st century marketplace. Virginia Commonwealth University does more than just teach; students volunteer and work internships as part of their education. George Mason University looks to the future and is a leader in innovation, setting the “gold standard” in public higher education. Mississippi State University is committed to providing each student with a customized, personal experience.
From engineering to liberal arts and from medicine to public affairs, the University of Texas at Austin offers students the widest range of degree programs in the state. The University of Florida is a leading public research university with a stunning 87% graduation rate.
The University of Mary Washington (UMW) is often considered the South’s most reputable public arts and sciences institution. The University of Central Florida is a large university that offers 212 degree programs within its 12 colleges.
Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819 with the goal of setting a standard for public service and leadership. In 1889 a class of 72 students began an education in the agricultural and mechanical sciences. The University of North Carolina Wilmington is all about Chancellor Gary Miller’s vision to pursue a commitment to “the journey of learning.” Small class sizes, high retention of first year students, and a graduation rate of 71% provide evidence of this commitment. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill “opens the door to a universe of knowledge.” Students are encouraged to take whatever classes that interest them, a move in keeping with the university’s love of curiosity and self-direction. The Georgia Institute of Technology has a reputation for being on the cutting edge of the tech research experience — a reputation it well deserves.
Originally created as a teacher training school in 1907, East Carolina University is now a recognized doctoral research institution offering over 150 fields of study and more than 400 campus organizations. William and Mary is a distinctive institution and is proud of its unique approach to education.
Preparing for the modern job market is at the forefront Texas A&M University’s mission to educate students. The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina picturesquely frame the Appalachian State University campus, and the breathtaking location and energetic campus life draw students from across the nation and elsewhere.
Howard University is a Historically Black College located in the nation’s capital, and is in fact one of the only Washington, D.C. Stetson University, founded in 1883, is a Floridian institution with campuses in DeLand and Gulfport with satellite locations in Tampa and Celebration.
Union University is a top-notch institution that integrates rigorous academics with Christian faith. The University of Richmond is a highly selective liberal arts institution located on a close-knit campus just six miles from downtown and about two hours from Washington, D.C. Make your home in “Music City” when you choose Vanderbilt University for your college education. Agnes Scott is a liberal arts college for women that focuses on a traditional education grounded in the arts and sciences.
Centenary College is a private liberal arts college associated with the United Methodist Church.
Mercer University may only be midsize when it comes to student enrollment, but it scores big points on measures of student engagement: with 130 fields of study and more than 100 campus organizations, Mercer offers you more choices in customizing your education than many private institutions. Asbury University is a small school of mostly undergraduate students, although it also serves graduate and adult completion degree students.
Washington and Lee’s motto, “Not unmindful of the future,” is indicative of its commitment to providing a liberal arts education that is relevant in the 21st century. Duke University, holding the #5 ranking on this list, is as prestigious a university as many of the other top-rated institutions we assessed, frequently commanding ACT scores above 30. The Life Science building on the Florida State University campus in Tallahassee Florida October 23, 2008.
Florida State University defender Kyler Hall intercepts a first quarter pass by University of Miami quarterback Kyle Wright during their NCAA season opener in Tallahassee, Florida September 5, 2005. State Attorney Willie Meggs said Friday he has not brought any charges against Cook at this time, but the matter is still being reviewed. We then had to decide how to rank them all, so we collected data in eight categories: 6-year graduation rate, freshmen retention rate, student-to-faculty ratio, percentage of classes entrusted to graduate assistants, average entrance ACT score, number of campus organizations, number of academic programs, and Forbes ranking. The 25 private schools and the 25 public schools with the highest overall scores made the list. The personal attention and small class sizes combine with a research orientation that enriches students’ learning experience. The school, nicknamed “Virginia Tech” as an abbreviation for the longer slightly unwieldy title, has gone through many renditions from a mechanical and agricultural school to a leader in many technical fields of study. Founded in 1856 as a men’s school, then as an agricultural and mechanical college, it has developed a curriculum with over 140 degree options at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional levels.
The school touts its value and return on investment and brings quality education to a diverse student body.
Instructors do cross discipline research that regularly impacts lives and human health worldwide, and the school’s public research medical center stands at the center of learning.
GMU has received numerous accolades, and Forbes ranks the university 40th overall in the South. Taking a spot as one of the nation’s “elite research universities,” it is also the oldest in the state and claims a rich history. The school strives to provide the academic, leadership, and social opportunities that build success and help prepare students for their future. The university’s statistics proves their success; 93% of freshmen continue into a second year, and ultimately 79% will graduate in six years or less.
Comprehensive and diverse degree programs have earned the university high rankings across the board, and the institution’s student support programs and values are proven by a 96% freshman retention rate. It is ideally located between the thriving metropolitan areas of Richmond and Washington, D.C. As it is a selective institution, incoming freshmen have GPAs averaging 3.9 and SAT scores averaging 1244. The university has an outstanding freshman retention rate and an overall graduation rate of 83%.
Today, 34,000 students are supported by more that 7,000 staff and faculty on the North Carolina State University campus. The coastal university embraces its proximity to the sea and offers a plethora of campus recreation activities for the school’s nature lovers.
Lauded as a university with one of the top ROI’s in the nation, GIT prepares students for success in a manner unlike any other and has produced many notable alumni, including powerful CEOs and Nobel laureates. ECU also works to instill in its students a strong commitment to public service through initiatives like “Campus Kitchen,” “Adopt a Grandparent,” and numerous alternative spring break opportunities. The second oldest college in the country, it boasts “ a world-class education without the sticker shock” and the “smartest students in the world.” Many have called it a “Public Ivy” that is more accessible than many of the elite universities up north. Strong on practical disciplines, students are asked to declare their major when applying for admission and can choose from over 170 options, like Agricultural Communications and Journalism, Environmental Design Architectural Studies, Applied Exercise Physiology, Geographic Information Science and Technology. Quality and affordability and challenging academics combine to create value for aspiring graduates.
The school claims many “firsts,” including the first collegiate newspaper, the oldest schools of music and business administration, and the first college of law.

Kiplinger has rated it one of the top 100 universities in the nation for both academic quality and affordability, so it’s no wonder Union made our list, too! With just over 1,000 enrolled students and classrooms that frequently have fewer than 10 students, you get plenty of access to professors.
Edward’s is a top Catholic, liberal arts institution that finds its home not just in Austin, but in partner universities in 11 countries. An internationally recognized university, “Vandy” offers undergraduate programs in nearly 70 majors covering subjects ranging from art to engineering, science to education. Professors also encourage students to develop critical thinking, leadership skills, and an appreciation of world cultures. Regularly recognized as one of the best institutions in the south by sources like Princeton Review and Forbes, Centenary is a dynamic college that regularly attracts serious “B” students.
The school emphasizes liberal learning, intellectual and religious freedom, and education through a Judeo-Christian world view.
With only 13 students to every one teacher and a freshmen retention rate of 84%, Asbury frequently attracts students who want to learn and worship together just outside of Lexington. A beautiful campus set amidst the rolling hills and wooded forests of Lexington, W&L is a historic institution steeped in tradition, from the student-run honor system and the “speaking tradition” that invites community members to say hello to one another, to the Mock Convention that encourages political activism in election years. It is also one of the best schools for student satisfaction and produces freshmen retention and 6-year graduate rates of 97% and 94%, respectively.
Located in the Virginia Highlands, the campus is teeming with architectural beauty and is even listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Register of Historic Landmarks. Police say FSU running back Dalvin Cook is under investigation for the June 23 incident, according to Safid Deen and Karl Etters of the Tallahassee Democrat. The woman said she identified Cook as the man who struck her in a photo lineup with two TPD investigators on July 1. The woman said the argument became heated, and then Cook punched her in the face several times.
It’s a region home to some of the best schools in the country – schools that often fall near the top of U.S.
They are listed in descending order according to their net price, but we also included their quality ranking so you can see for yourself just how much value each institution offers.
Although Newport is a smaller university, it offers the full range of student amenities and services, and the academic offerings top 80 areas of study.
Forbes rates Virginia Tech 59th for research universities nationally and 19th overall among Southern universities. The academic programs start with a strong focus on general education and a practical real world orientation, and are available at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional level. The school retains an average of 90% of freshmen from year to year – well above average – thanks in part to a low instructor to student ratio, which demonstrates a dedication to new students.
Additionally, the School of the Arts and Center for Clinical and Translational Research provides unique learning opportunities.
Part of the National Capital region, students have access to the most sought-after internships in the nation, as well as to all the cultural, artistic, historical, and entertainment resouces of Washington, D.C.
Moderate class sizes, high freshmen retention, and a 77% graduation rate make it a leader in the region, and in fact it ranks #98 on Forbes’ list of the best research universities. Students are part of the team with faculty and have a common goal — to experience the best of a lifetime opportunity. Forbes ranks the university 66th in the nation and 10th in the South, no doubt in part because of the central role that public service and tradition take. But it’s not all about academics; students find plenty of time to relax amongst 600 acres of woods and lakes that comprise part of the 1,415-acre main campus.
Undergraduates are not confined to the classroom and have plenty of opportunities to engage in cutting-edge research. The university stands out with small class sizes, an impressive 98% freshman retention rate, and an equally impressive 6-year graduation rate of 93%.
UGA’s nearly 650 student organizations, including Greek life and Campus Ministries, offer exemplary peer support. Since its inception, NC State has played an active and vital role in improving the lives of North Carolinians. UNC Wilmington also offers plenty of opportunities for service, leadership, and multicultural exploration, and also promotes a respect for LGBTQIA culture.
As a result, 97% of freshmen return for their sophomore year and 90% of students graduate in six years. Although the institute has dozens of academic majors and over 500 student organizations, the fun doesn’t end there; nearby Atlanta offers such attractions as the botanical gardens, the Atlanta History Center, the symphony orchestra, Centennial Olympic Park, CNN Center, and the Georgia Aquarium. With one of the lowest faculty to student ratios in the country (at just 12:1), and a 90% 6-year graduation rate, William and Mary lives up to its claims.
The school has top-rated programs in its Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Architecture, Business, Engineering, and Education and Human Development. A comfortable student-to-faculty ratio of just 16:1 encourages the 5,500 students residing in 20 residence halls to develop a familiar and close educational relationship with faculty. It’s a fairly small school, with Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees spread out between the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business, and Communications. Although 54% of the student population is Catholic, it is open to students of all faiths and persuasions who are interested in quality instruction and discovering truth. As a top tier institution, it competes with such academic heavy hitters as the University of Virginia, William and Mary, and Boston College for the nation’s top students, and the average ACT score is nearly 30. As the most selective school on this list, Vanderbilt demands ACT scores above 30, but the students who make the cut are rewarded with small class sizes and over 700 student organizations.
Located just on the brim of the bustling Atlanta metropolis, Agnes Scott is affiliated with multiple nearby educational and religious institutions, including Emory University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the Presbyterian Church. Whether you’re tapping into your competitive side by playing an intramural sport or benefitting from the social community afforded by Greek life, you’ll fit right in at Centenary.
You can major in one of nearly 50 areas encompassing the traditional arts and sciences or enroll in the one of the schools of Business, Communication Arts, Education, or Professional Studies. A selective institution that attracts students with ACT scores above 30, the school cultivates a tight-knit community with a student-to-faculty ratio of only 8:1. Duke offers numerous academic programs in all the traditional areas, but also offers unique majors in the Nicholas School of the Environment, Sanford School of Public Policy, and Pratt School of Engineering. You can hike the nearby Appalachian and Iron Mountain Trails, explore the Jefferson and George Washington National Forests, and paddle up the multiple nearby rivers. Her friend ran to a nearby Tallahassee police car, which wasn’t occupied, so the woman called 911. News) because it assesses institutions based on measures of student “output” and satisfaction (read more here). Set in historic Virginia, with beaches within driving distance, Newport News offers a plethora of off-campus social activities.
Although originally the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets prepared students for military service as officers, since 1964 the student body has included both “civilian” and cadet students.
There are almost 300 student organizations representing various disciplines and interests, but students often travel off campus too; located at the heart of Auburn, the school provides easy acess to social venues and entertainment events. Serious students love Clemson, and the university boasts a 91% freshman retention rate and an 83% 6-year graduation rate. Female engineers often flock to VCU, and the university’s engineering master’s programs graduate the highest percentage of women in the nation. On campus student organizations, as well as full student services, contributes to the school’s 86% freshman retention rate. The low student-to-faculty ratio of 17:1 encourages lots of professor and student interaction, and the 85% freshmen retention rate demonstrates students’ satisfaction with campus life. Florida State is comprised of 16 colleges offering over 270 degree programs, including law and medicine. Founded in 1878, the university has a strong agricultural program, including veterinary science, and offers a wide range of academic degrees.
Students can play on over 500+ intramural teams, join more than 1,100 campus organizations, and enjoy a jam-packed calendar of on-campus events. On the beautiful, sunny 2,000-acre campus there are 900 buildings, including a historic district, residence halls, and family villages accommodating 8,500 students.

Staff and faculty strive to work closely with students, and the 83% freshman retention resoundingly proves that fact. Among student services available are a large recreation and fitness center and a full-service health clinic, while the updated Student Union has complete computer labs and study areas and the entire campus has wireless internet. Forbes ranks the university 168th in the nation and 32nd in the South, due in part to the school’s strong tradition of mentoring students and truly investing in providing a top-notch education. Outside of the classroom UVA offers plenty of opportunities for you to continue learning, such as through study abroad, language programs, community service organizations, international research, and public service.
Campus life also mixes well with the cultural and entertainment options of student-friendly Athens. The research university focuses on application-driven discovery in undergraduate and graduate programs, which include topics ranging from the Agricultural and Environmental Sciences to Veterinary Medicine. Critical thinking and inquiry play a major role in the graduate, master’s and doctoral programs, which include such less traditional topics as Creative Writing, Geology, and Criminology. The school also prides itself on promoting sustainability through collaborative student faculty research, student internships, community service, and widespread volunteerism. You can also participate in as many of the 725 student organizations that you can possibly fit into your schedule! And for fun, you can join one of more than 80 intramural teams and nearly 100 student organizations that promote activities like a student-run radio station and outdoor recreation such as paddling, hiking, biking, and climbing. If you are accepted to Stetson you’ll enjoy over 70 academic programs, 120 campus organizations, and one faculty member for every 12 students.
Due to its downtown location, many professors also take their classes off campus to study; you could examine native plants or explore a historic Lexington neighborhood. Edward’s is growing in stature and has been rated an “up-and-coming” university, a best college for veterans, a “best bang for the buck,” a “champion of access and success,” and a “college with a conscience.” It’s also a top producer of Fulbright award winners and scored highly on the NSSE (National Survey of Student Engagement). UR also boasts a 93% freshmen retention rate and an 85% 6-year graduation rate, a well as a very low 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio that provides a personalized, intimate learning environment.
Start your journey at Vandy by settling into one of the 10 residential houses of the Ingram Commons and then venture out to a musical performance, a dance class, a student government meeting, a community service event, or even dinner with a faculty member.
The school has been recognized for providing a superior quality of life for students, complete with numerous urban cultural attractions, a multitude of experiential learning opportunities, and a vibrant music scene.
You can also join the “Global Brigades,” exercise with the Centenary Quidditch League, or help run the student newspaper (“The Conglomerate”) or KSCL radio station. You can work to change campus through student government, investigate top stories as a staff writer on “The Cluster,” or just hang out with your friends in one of the nearly 20 Greek organizations – Mercer has something for you! To strengthen its message of spiritual vitality, Asbury has recently launched its Cornerstone Project, a movement based on the four cornerstones of scripture, holiness, stewardship, and mission, to improve learning outcomes and residential life.
The home of many ambitious students, 83% of those enrolled at Duke go on the basic requirements to earn at least one other major, minor, or certificate.
And when you’re not immersing yourself in the great outdoors, buckle down as you study one of nearly 60 academic majors, such as Health and Human Performance, Environmental Studies, and Public Policy and Community Service. We also made a point to avoid ranking schools based on some indicators that other sources use, like faculty salary and average alumni donation, that aren’t necessarily indicative of a quality college experience. On campus CNU has athletic clubs and teams, Greek fraternities, and over 250 student organizations, all of which contribute to a freshman retention rate of 85%. Academic offerings include over 200 undergraduate and graduate programs, and the 2,600-acre campus offers a full-range of student activities and services. A low student to faculty ratio and a strong freshman retention rate creates a student body that is known for its engagement, open-mindedness, and ambition. Rigorous and challenging curricula encourage student to work hard to succeed, and the school maintains a 67% graduation rate.
Also of note, the university supports the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. From graduate to doctoral degrees, students are continually challenged as they explore a “world of knowledge.” The school works hard to keep students on track, and 61% of entering students graduate with a well respected degree.
And thanks to its location in eclectic Austin, students can take advantage of numerous museums, galleries, and cultural venues in a city known for its local music scene. Since its humble beginnings as a seminary in 1853, the university has continued with modern capital improvements and an expanding curriculum that help maintain its position as one of the premier public universities in the nation.
Serious students respond well to the rigourous academics, and 74% of entering students graduate within six years. Over a quarter of students are from out of state and the student body includes young people from nearly 90 countries.
Graduate, master’s, and doctoral degree programs cover a wide range in the arts, humanities, agriculture, and the sciences.
The school’s 92% freshman retention rate is due, in part, to its commitment to engaging new students in their major as early as the first year.
Howard also has 16 athletic teams and 150 student organizations – from Yearbook to Engineers without Borders – to round out your college education. You’ll also learn all about Stetson’s rich history and traditions, like how Elizabeth Hall is haunted and what it means to hear the Victory Bells ringing.
For students with the travel bug, there are plenty of study abroad opportunities, and in fact 70% of undergrads do. Thomas has been ranked not just a top Catholic institution, but also one of the best colleges for graduate degrees (including a world-renowned Philosophy program) and a highly regarded institution for study abroad programs. The school offers more than 60 academic majors that all follow a systematic formula combining core curriculum with an internship, research, service, and a capstone project – all with the goal of developing a global world view and commitment to social justice. You can also join a “Living Learning Community,” group of students and faculty members dedicated to identifying and solving important problems. Many programs also encourage students to complete a senior project and capstone seminar in the topic of their choice. To do so, we only included schools on this list that have a net price (total cost of attendance minus the average financial aid package) below $22,000 – roughly the typical price tag of a year of college. Thomas Green Clemson saw the founding of the agricultural and science school as a remedy for post Civil War devastation. Despite a large undergraduate population, two hundred graduate, master’s, and doctoral degrees are also available.
On campus student organizations and more than 40 sororities and fraternities provide ample peer-to-peer support, while off campus, student-friendly Knoxville provides excellent entertainment and social opportunities. When you’re not studying, a vibrant campus life, complete with all the amenities and services, is complemented by off-campus entertainment and socializing opportunities at the state capital.
The faculty comes from around the nation and maintains a national presence through scholarly research and publishing.
Named after George Washington’s mother and founded in 1908, the university continues to carry on a tradition of civility and academic excellence, made possible by more than 40 majors and programs in the sciences and liberal arts. Research is a priority and attracts over $100 million grant dollars a year, which allows plenty of undergrads to apply for paid positions in labs.
As students settle into life at “Transy,” they often learn the joys of hanging out at the 1780 Cafe, tossing a Frisbee on the lawn, or shopping in downtown. As a student here, you’ll be more than entertained by dinners at the nearby Black Lab, the scenic Museum District oozing with history, and the tree-lined boulevards leading to the Houston Zoo and Hermann Park. Current communities cover topics like sustainability, health, technology in social change, and French culture. Building throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, today’s university claims a strong role in the South Carolina economy.
An aquatic and fitness center, concert halls, state-of-the-art athletic “Patriot Center,” and more add to a quality campus life. The university also holds students to high standards of honor with an elected peer council. And when it comes to studying, choose from nearly 40 majors, 36 minors, and a variety of pre-professional tracks.

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