The south is a region that includes states as far north as Washington D.C. and as far south as Texas. It’s a region home to some of the best schools in the country – schools that often fall near the top of U.S. News, Princeton Review, and Forbes rankings. Well we’ve concocted our own ranking system, but with one added factor: affordability. 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.
To create this list, we first came up with a list of all the regionally accredited institutions in the region. 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. We gave credit to how Forbes ranks schools over other sources (such as U.S. News) because it assesses institutions based on measures of student “output” and satisfaction (read more here). 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.
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. The 25 private schools and the 25 public schools with the highest overall scores made the list. 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.
25. Christopher Newport University
Newport News, Virginia
Christopher Newport University (CNU) is “charting a course toward a greater future” with “dedication to the ideals of scholarship.” The faculty strives to know and mentor students – an easy feat, thanks to a 17:1 ratio of students to faculty. The personal attention and small class sizes combine with a research orientation that enriches students’ learning experience. 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. Set in historic Virginia, with beaches within driving distance, Newport News offers a plethora of off-campus social activities. 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%.
Net Price: $20,328
For More Information: Christopher Newport University
24. Virginia Tech
Founded in 1872, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University stands out with an 82% graduation rate – high for a technical institution. 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. Forbes rates Virginia Tech 59th for research universities nationally and 19th overall among Southern universities. 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. Academic offerings include over 200 undergraduate and graduate programs, and the 2,600-acre campus offers a full-range of student activities and services.
Net Price: $19,096
For More Information: Virginia Tech
23. University of South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina
The “State’s flagship university” has a full history of 200 years, including surviving through the Civil War and Reconstruction. Also, through the World Wars the university developed into a major research institution delivering on “Carolina’s Promise” to “advance discovery and improve lives in South Carolina.” Low student to instructor ratios, a freshman retention rate at 87%, and a graduation rate of 73% combine the best of a major university and small campus life. 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.
Net Price: $17,220
22. Auburn University
Auburn University is one of the largest universities in the South and holds on to academic tradition. 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 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. 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. The “Auburn Spirit” permeates the university with its “intangible quality” of campus life.
Net Price: $17,014
For More Information: Auburn University
21. Clemson University
Clemson, South Carolina
Clemson University (CU) offers rigorous and challengine programs that make its degrees invaluable in a competitive 21st century marketplace. The school touts its value and return on investment and brings quality education to a diverse student body. As evidence of this, Forbes ranks Clemson 78th across the nation as a research university. Serious students love Clemson, and the university boasts a 91% freshman retention rate and an 83% 6-year graduation rate. Overall, 91% of graduates report being satisfied with their experience at the school. Thomas Green Clemson saw the founding of the agricultural and science school as a remedy for post Civil War devastation. Building throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, today’s university claims a strong role in the South Carolina economy.
Net Price: $16,817
For More Information: Clemson University
20. Virginia Commonwealth University
Virginia Commonwealth University does more than just teach; students volunteer and work internships as part of their education. 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. Additionally, the School of the Arts and Center for Clinical and Translational Research provides unique learning opportunities. Female engineers often flock to VCU, and the university’s engineering master’s programs graduate the highest percentage of women in the nation. 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.
Net Price: $16,764
For More Information: Virginia Commonwealth University
19. George Mason University
George Mason University looks to the future and is a leader in innovation, setting the “gold standard” in public higher education. GMU has received numerous accolades, and Forbes ranks the university 40th overall in the South. 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. On campus student organizations, as well as full student services, contributes to the school’s 86% freshman retention rate. Rigorous and challenging curricula encourage student to work hard to succeed, and the school maintains a 67% graduation rate. Despite a large undergraduate population, two hundred graduate, master’s, and doctoral degrees are also available. An aquatic and fitness center, concert halls, state-of-the-art athletic “Patriot Center,” and more add to a quality campus life.
Net Price: $16,155
For More Information: George Mason University
18. University of Tennessee
The University of Tennessee is one of the oldest public universities in the country. Founded in 1794, it has a deep and long institutional memory and tradition. The 20th century saw major expansions bringing it national respect. 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. Also of note, the university supports the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. 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.
Net Price: $16,062
17. Florida State University
Florida State University touts that it has received the Carnegie Foundation’s highest designation: Doctoral/Research University-Extensive. 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. 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. Florida State is comprised of 16 colleges offering over 270 degree programs, including law and medicine. The demanding and intellectually stimulating programs engage students and faculty alike. 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.
Net Price: $15,511
For More Information: Florida State University
16. Mississippi State University
Mississippi State, Mississippi
Mississippi State University is committed to providing each student with a customized, personal experience. The school strives to provide the academic, leadership, and social opportunities that build success and help prepare students for their future. Students are part of the team with faculty and have a common goal — to experience the best of a lifetime opportunity. Founded in 1878, the university has a strong agricultural program, including veterinary science, and offers a wide range of academic degrees. 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. The faculty comes from around the nation and maintains a national presence through scholarly research and publishing.
Net Price: $15,422
15. University of Texas – Austin
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’s statistics proves their success; 93% of freshmen continue into a second year, and ultimately 79% will graduate in six years or less. 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. 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. 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.
Net Price: $15,336
14. University of Florida
The University of Florida is a leading public research university with a stunning 87% graduation rate. 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. Forbes ranks the University of Florida 74th overall in the nation and 11th in the South. 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. 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.
Net Price: $15,157
13. University of Mary Washington
The University of Mary Washington (UMW) is often considered the South’s most reputable public arts and sciences institution. It is ideally located between the thriving metropolitan areas of Richmond and Washington, D.C. and boasts a “real world” orientation that best prepares students for life after graduation. Staff and faculty strive to work closely with students, and the 83% freshman retention resoundingly proves that fact. Serious students respond well to the rigourous academics, and 74% of entering students graduate within six years. 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. The university also holds students to high standards of honor with an elected peer council.
Net Price: $15,074
12. University of Central Florida
The University of Central Florida is a large university that offers 212 degree programs within its 12 colleges. As it is a selective institution, incoming freshmen have GPAs averaging 3.9 and SAT scores averaging 1244. 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. 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. The diverse student body includes members from over 140 countries and the 50 states. 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.
Net Price: $15,033
11. James Madison University
James Madison University is a large public institution that proudly proclaims to be “changing the world, one person at a time.” The student-to-faculty ratio averages a mere 16:1, creating the strong learning relationships needed for a bright future. Proof of the school’s success lies in its 81% 6-year graduation rate. Undergraduates are not confined to the classroom and have plenty of opportunities to engage in cutting-edge research. 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. Over a quarter of students are from out of state and the student body includes young people from nearly 90 countries.
Net Price: $14,521
10. University of Virginia
Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819 with the goal of setting a standard for public service and leadership. UVA is highly selective when accepting new students: they need to show the “exceptional promise Jefferson envisioned.” Along with the College at Wise in Virginia’s southwest, the university offers graduate degrees in 53 disciplines, including medicine and law. The university stands out with small class sizes, an impressive 98% freshman retention rate, and an equally impressive 6-year graduation rate of 93%. 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.
Net Price: $13,463
9. University of Georgia
The University of Georgia takes on the motto, “To teach, to serve, and to inquire into the nature of things.” Recognized as a public institution committed to serious inquiry, the school has been listed near the top of national and regional rankings by sources like Forbes. The university has an outstanding freshman retention rate and an overall graduation rate of 83%. UGA’s nearly 650 student organizations, including Greek life and Campus Ministries, offer exemplary peer support. Campus life also mixes well with the cultural and entertainment options of student-friendly Athens. Graduate, master’s, and doctoral degree programs cover a wide range in the arts, humanities, agriculture, and the sciences.
Net Price: $12,862
8. North Carolina State University
Raleigh, North Carolina
In 1889 a class of 72 students began an education in the agricultural and mechanical sciences. Today, 34,000 students are supported by more that 7,000 staff and faculty on the North Carolina State University campus. Since its inception, NC State has played an active and vital role in improving the lives of North Carolinians. 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. 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.
Net Price: $12,129
7. University of North Carolina Wilmington
Wilmington, North Carolina
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 coastal university embraces its proximity to the sea and offers a plethora of campus recreation activities for the school’s nature lovers. UNC Wilmington also offers plenty of opportunities for service, leadership, and multicultural exploration, and also promotes a respect for LGBTQIA culture. 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.
Net Price: $12,089
6. University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
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. Whether it be research or pure study, learning abroad or online, you’ll receive a high-quality education that will truly prepare you for the “real world.” Despite having the campus resources of a large university, UNC Chapel Hill maintains a small student-to-instructor ratio of only 13:1. As a result, 97% of freshmen return for their sophomore year and 90% of students graduate in six years. Chapel Hill ranks 38th in the nation and 7th in the South with Forbes.
Net Price: $11,994
5. Georgia Institute of Technology
The Georgia Institute of Technology has a reputation for being on the cutting edge of the tech research experience — a reputation it well deserves. 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. 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.
Net Price: $11,864
4. East Carolina University
Greenville, North Carolina
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. 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 school also boasts an active Greek life and campus groups “Fit for Life” and “Operation Smile.” Other major events on campus include the annual Pirate Palooza, complete with live music and free food, and the festive “Halloweek.” Students are so busy having fun, it’s no wonder the freshmen retention rate is a well above average 78%.
Net Price: $11,782
3. College of William and Mary
William and Mary is a distinctive institution and is proud of its unique approach to education. 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. 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 also prides itself on promoting sustainability through collaborative student faculty research, student internships, community service, and widespread volunteerism.
Net Price: $11,534
2. Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas
Preparing for the modern job market is at the forefront Texas A&M University’s mission to educate students. 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. The school has top-rated programs in its Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Architecture, Business, Engineering, and Education and Human Development. You can also participate in as many of the 725 student organizations that you can possibly fit into your schedule!
Net Price: $11,323
1. Appalachian State University
Boone, North Carolina
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. Quality and affordability and challenging academics combine to create value for aspiring graduates. 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. 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.
Net Price: $10,203
25. Howard University
Howard University is a Historically Black College located in the nation’s capital, and is in fact one of the only Washington, D.C. universities that is affordable. 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. Howard also has Colleges of Dentistry; Divinity; Education; Law; Social Work; Medicine; Pharmacy; Nursing; and Engineering, Architecture, and Computer Science. Howard also has 16 athletic teams and 150 student organizations – from Yearbook to Engineers without Borders – to round out your college education.
Net Price: $21,981
For More Information: Howard University
24. Stetson University
Stetson University, founded in 1883, is a Floridian institution with campuses in DeLand and Gulfport with satellite locations in Tampa and Celebration. The school claims many “firsts,” including the first collegiate newspaper, the oldest schools of music and business administration, and the first college of law. It was also the first postsecondary institution to integrate. If you are accepted to Stetson you’ll enjoy over 70 academic programs, 120 campus organizations, and one faculty member for every 12 students. 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.
Net Price: $21,975
For More Information: Stetson University
23. Union University
Union University is a top-notch institution that integrates rigorous academics with Christian faith. 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! Students at Union enjoy famous speakers at the annual Scholarship Banquet; have the opportunity to study with the authors who wrote the books in their curricula; and take advantage of high-speed technology that includes filtered internet, cable services, and wireless network access. Union’s freshmen retention rate is an impressive 92%, and multiple publications have picked up on the school’s quality, offering accolades such as “an A+ option for serious B students” and “a college of distinction” for “engaged students, great teaching, vibrant communities, and successful outcomes.”
Net Price: $21,944
For More Information: Union University
22. Transylvania University
At Transylvania University, it’s hard to get lost in the crowd. With just over 1,000 enrolled students and classrooms that frequently have fewer than 10 students, you get plenty of access to professors. Most classrooms are arranged to promote inquisitive discussion and collaboration. 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. For students with the travel bug, there are plenty of study abroad opportunities, and in fact 70% of undergrads do. As students settle into life at “Transy,” they often learn the joys of hanging out at the 1780 Café, tossing a Frisbee on the lawn, or shopping in downtown. And when it comes to studying, choose from nearly 40 majors, 36 minors, and a variety of pre-professional tracks.
Net Price: $21,902
For More Information: Transylvania University
21. University of St. Thomas
Houston’s first and only Catholic university, St. Thomas is a small school of barely 3,500. 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. St. 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. 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.
Net Price: $21,900
20. St. Edward’s University
St. Edward’s is a top Catholic, liberal arts institution that finds its home not just in Austin, but in partner universities in 11 countries. Although relatively small in size, St. 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). 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.
Net Price: $21,895
19. University of Richmond
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. UR has been recognized by numerous sources as a stellar option for community engagement. 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. 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.
Net Price: $21,067
For More Information: University of Richmond
18. Vanderbilt University
Make your home in “Music City” when you choose Vanderbilt University for your college education. An internationally recognized university, “Vandy” offers undergraduate programs in nearly 70 majors covering subjects ranging from art to engineering, science to education. 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. 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. Students love what the university offers and return for a second year 96% of the time.
Net Price: $20,551
For More Information: Vanderbilt University
17. Agnes Scott College
Agnes Scott is a liberal arts college for women that focuses on a traditional education grounded in the arts and sciences. Professors also encourage students to develop critical thinking, leadership skills, and an appreciation of world cultures. 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. 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.
Net Price: $19,902
16. Centenary College of Louisiana
Centenary College is a private liberal arts college associated with the United Methodist Church. 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. 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 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 also join a “Living Learning Community,” group of students and faculty members dedicated to identifying and solving important problems. Current communities cover topics like sustainability, health, technology in social change, and French culture.
Net Price: $19,845
For More Information: Centenary College
15. Mercer University
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. The school emphasizes liberal learning, intellectual and religious freedom, and education through a Judeo-Christian world view. You can join the Honor Council, become a ballroom dancer, or practice martial arts. 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!
Net Price: $19,733
14. Asbury University
Asbury University is a small school of mostly undergraduate students, although it also serves graduate and adult completion degree students. 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. 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. 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.
Net Price: $19,418
For More Information: Asbury University
13. Washington and Lee University
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. 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. 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. It’s no wonder W&L frequently retains and graduates students at levels above 90%!
Net Price: $19,147
For More Information: Washington and Lee University
12. Duke University
Durham, North Carolina
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. 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. 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. 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.
Net Price: $19,116
For More Information: Duke University
11. Emory and Henry College
Enjoy the great outdoors in the southwest setting of Emory and Henry College. 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. 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. 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. Many programs also encourage students to complete a senior project and capstone seminar in the topic of their choice.
Net Price: $18,885
10. Converse College
Spartanburg, South Carolina
Converse College is a women’s school that emphasizes learning through internships, student research, leadership development, community service, and travel. The women of Converse frequently venture abroad to study volcanoes in Ecuador and immerse themselves in Parisian culture. In addition to dozens of liberal arts majors, Converse also offers career and pre-professional courses in areas related to medicine, dentistry, law, pharmacy, and veterinary science. Can’t find a major you like? Choose the individualized major and build your own degree. Not feeling challenged enough? Join the Nisbet Honors Program and reach your full potential. When you’re not busy studying, you can fill your time with numerous events and traditions, like “Montgomery by Moonlight” and “Wild Wednesdays.”
Net Price: $18,663
9. Rice University
Rice, a Houston-based university, is consistently ranked in the 20 schools in the nation and even breaks the top 100 for the best schools in the world. More specifically, its Materials Science, Bioengineering, Physics, Computer Science, and Computer Engineering programs are top-rated, and the school is frequently lauded as having the “happiest students” and providing the “best quality of life.” It is a highly selective institution that typically accepts students with an average ACT score of 32. Admitted students benefit from a student-to-faculty ratio of only 6:1 and nearly 250 campus organizations spanning interests from board games to solar powered vehicles. As a result, Rice maintains a freshmen retention rate of 96% and a 6-year graduation rate of 91%.
Net Price: $18,427
8. John Brown University
Siloam Springs, Arkansas
John Brown University is a Christian school founded in the early 1900s. It is widely recognized for both academic excellence and a holistic religious education. Its “Head, Heart, Hand” motto emphasizes the need for intellectual, spiritual, and occupational effectiveness. Majors cover areas related to Art and Design, Business, Communication, Engineering, Education, the Humanities, Music and Theatre, the Natural Sciences, and of course Biblical Studies. To complement your academic degree you can complete an international art study, join the speech and debate team, become a broadcaster on JBU TV, dive into the Music Theater Workshop , go on tour with the Red Steps Worship Band, help stream athletic games through Golden Eagle Productions, and much more.
Net Price: $17,552
7. Presbyterian College
Clinton, South Carolina
Presbyterian College is a small school of just over 1,000 students. Its intimate size contributes to a student-to-faculty ratio of 13:1 and an average class size of only about 14 students. Not only will you get to know your professors, but you’ll discover just how qualified they are; PC is home to six South Carolina Professors of the Year – twice as many as any other school in the state. Students overwhelmingly report that PC has prepared them for the next leg of their journey, and 90% of students are working or engaged in graduate study within six months of graduation. Once you step on campus you’ll immediately feel at home, soon joining fun intramurals teams (even billiards and Frisbee golf!) and discovering the meaning behind the nickname “Blue Hose.”
Net Price: $17,186
6. Harding University
Harding is a Christian university, and as such offers students a multitude of events related to religious worship, from Bible Lectureship to summer mission trips. It’s not all about religion, though; you can choose from nearly 100 majors, most of which are secular. Examples include exciting choices like Biochemistry, Fashion Merchandising, Global Economic Development, Nutrition and Dietetics, and Three-Dimensional Design. When you’re not studying, you can hone your academic skills and feed your competitive nature on the Academic Quiz Team. Or you can rock out with the Belles and Beaux student pop group. Or relax and burn excess energy with the Harding Disc Golf Team. The sky is the limit!
Net Price: $16,578
5. Ouachita Baptist University
A leading liberal arts university, Ouachita is frequently ranked among other top institutions by publications like U.S. News and Forbes. This is no doubt thanks to a student-to-faculty ratio of an enticing 13:1; dozens of top-notch academic programs; and a long list of student organizations, social groups, intramurals, and campus ministries from which you can choose. The Campus Activities Board also sponsors a host of events all year long that encompass activities like Movie Night, “Back 2 School” Concerts, Coffeehouse events. If you’re politically minded, you can join the motivated group of students known as the “Student Senate” working to enact positive change on campus.
Net Price: $16,370
4. Wesleyan College
Yet another women’s institution to make the list, Wesleyan College has a long history of promoting the female gender and boasts such accomplishments as producing the first female doctor of medicine and the first woman to argue before the Supreme Court. A small, selective institution that attracts women in the top of their high school classes, Wesleyan offers 31 majors, nearly as many minors, a handful of pre-professional programs, and an interdisciplinary program for students who want to chart their own course. Future engineers are often attracted to the school’s dual engineering program that works in partnership with nearby universities like Auburn, Mercer, and the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Net Price: $16,353
3. Mississippi College
Founded in 1826, Mississippi College is the oldest post-secondary institution in Mississippi and the second oldest Baptist university in the nation. MC offers 80 academic fields of study, multiple graduate degrees, and a few accelerated and online degree programs geared toward working adults in the Jackson area. In addition to the more than 75 student organizations you can join, MC also offers the unique opportunity to join a club or “tribe.” Clubs and tribes are service-oriented groups of men and women, respectively, that form bonds with one another in a manner similar to the fraternities and sororities one might find at another college.
Net Price: $15,712
2. Lee University
Located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Lee University is an emerging leader in higher education in the Southeast. We’re not the first to have named Lee to our list of best schools; U.S. News and Princeton Review have also recognized the institution as one of the best in the region. Similar to many private, southern schools, Lee is Christ-centered and promotes spiritual growth as much as academic excellence. When it comes to student organizations, you can participate in a club as serious as “College Democrats” or “College Republicans,” or something as lighthearted as the “Knit Wits” Fiber Arts Club. There are also plenty of opportunities to get active, with 17 men’s and women’s sports teams and nearby hiking and camping opportunities.
Net Price: $11,773
1. Berea College
Berea College is distinctive not just for its high-quality programs, which have lead it to being ranked #14 for quality, but also for its rock bottom price tag that beats out its closest competitor (see above) by nearly $10,000. In fact, Berea doesn’t actually charge tuition and instead admits only academically promising students, primarily from Appalachia, who have limited financial resources. An inclusive Christian college, Berea offers nearly 50 academic programs, more than 80 student organizations, and a multitude of service learning opportunities. Other unique opportunities for learning include “Entrepreneurship for the Public Good,” which helps students implement leadership programs in rural communities nearby; GEAR UP, which helps improve educational outcomes in K12 schools throughout Appalachia; and the Labor Program, which encourages students to take an enthusiastic, sustainable, and value-centered approach to work.
Net Price: $2,323
Related Rankings and Articles
- Virginia Polytechnic Institute
- University of South Carolina
- Auburn University
- Clemson University
- 100 Most Affordable Small Colleges East of the Mississippi
- 100 Most Affordable Small Colleges West of the Mississippi
- 50 Best Colleges for Adult Education
- 30 Great Progressive Colleges in the Midwest
- 30 Best Colleges Online
- 20 Great Colleges for Atheists and Agnostics
- 20 Great Politically Liberal Colleges in the South
- 50 Great Affordable Colleges in the Midwest
- 50 Great Affordable Colleges in the Northeast
- 50 Great Affordable Colleges in the West
- 50 Most Affordable Colleges that Meet Significant Financial Need
- 50 Most Affordable Colleges with High Acceptance Rates 2020
- 50 Most Affordable Competitive Colleges and Universities
- Cheap Online Colleges Ranking | Top 15 Best Affordable Accredited Online Colleges and Universities
- 100 Affordable Public Schools With High 40-Year ROIs
- 35 Great College Marching Bands
- Top 50 Colleges for Students With Disabilities
- 50 Top Colleges With the Best Recycling Programs
- 100 Most Affordable U.S. Colleges Online
- 50 Affordable Historically Black Colleges and Universities