Many companies featured on Money advertise with us. Opinions are our own, but compensation and
in-depth research may determine where and how companies appear. Learn more about how we make money.

Published: Jun 22, 2023 6 min read
A group of students taking a selfie at the Duke University Campus
Courtesy of Duke University

The top colleges in the South include prestigious private universities, state schools long known as good bangs for your buck and a work college with a unique tuition-free model.

Money’s latest Best Colleges evaluates schools through the lens of value.We identify colleges that demonstrate a strong return on your investment through analyzing 26 data points, including graduation rates, tuition and fees, financial aid, typical borrowing and average earnings after college. (You can read more on how we scored the Best Colleges here.)

In addition to our overall ratings, we publish region-specific lists, too. We do that because roughly three-quarters of freshmen at four-year colleges attend a school within 500 miles of where they live, according to a study from UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute. In other words: chances are high you’ll attend a college that's fairly near to home.

If you live in the South, these colleges are all excellent options. They represent all of the 5-star colleges in the region, listed in alphabetical order. See the full Best Colleges in the South here.

Ads by Money. We may be compensated if you click this ad.AdAds by Money disclaimer
Cover your college expenses with a Student Loan, so you can focus solely on your grades and education.
With a Student Loan, you can worry less about tuition and devote your energy to mapping out your future. Click on your state and take the first step today.
HawaiiAlaskaFloridaSouth CarolinaGeorgiaAlabamaNorth CarolinaTennesseeRIRhode IslandCTConnecticutMAMassachusettsMaineNHNew HampshireVTVermontNew YorkNJNew JerseyDEDelawareMDMarylandWest VirginiaOhioMichiganArizonaNevadaUtahColoradoNew MexicoSouth DakotaIowaIndianaIllinoisMinnesotaWisconsinMissouriLouisianaVirginiaDCWashington DCIdahoCaliforniaNorth DakotaWashingtonOregonMontanaWyomingNebraskaKansasOklahomaPennsylvaniaKentuckyMississippiArkansasTexas
View Rates

Berea College

Courtesy of Berea College
  • Location: Berea, Kentucky
  • Estimated price with average grant: $3,600
  • Graduation rate: 70%
  • Early career earnings: $40,700

This small liberal arts college is a standout for affordability, capturing the top spot for this measure in Money's ratings two years in a row. With its focus on offering a path to a college degree for students from lower-income backgrounds, Berea doesn't charge tuition and some students receive additional scholarships to cover room and board expenses. All students work on campus to help earn cash for living expenses while in school. Full profile.

Duke University

Courtesy of Duke University
  • Location: Durham, North Carolina
  • Estimated price with average grant: $29,300
  • Graduation rate: 94%
  • Early career earnings: $97,400

Although it's a major research institution, Duke offers its nearly 7,000 undergrads an extraordinary amount of direct interaction with professors. The student-faculty ratio — 6:1 — is one of the lowest in Money's ratings, and more than half of students work on research projects with faculty members. Full profile.

Georgetown University

Courtesy of Georgetown University
  • Location: Washington, D.C.
  • Estimated price with average grant: $24,700
  • Graduation rate: 95%
  • Early career earnings: $101,800

For students interested in politics and international relations, Georgetown's campus in the nation's capital is hard to beat. The university regularly welcomes Washington's elite to lecture or teach, and students can take advantage of the location through year-round internships and old-fashioned networking. Full profile.

Georgia Institute of Technology

Courtesy of Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Location: Atlanta, Georgia
  • Estimated price with average grant: $18,600
  • Graduation rate: 89%
  • Early career earnings: $96,400

Popular academic programs at Georgia Tech include computer science, mechanical engineering and industrial engineering. It's little surprise, then, that the university scores high in Money's outcomes measures: Early career earnings are well above average, even after controlling for the university's student body, and Georgia Tech lands in the top 3% of four-year colleges on a return on investment analysis from the Bipartisan Policy Center. Full profile.

Rice University

Courtesy of Rice University
  • Location: Houston, Texas
  • Estimated price with average grant: $19,900
  • Graduation rate: 92%
  • Early career earnings: $87,300

While Rice has a high sticker price, nearly two-thirds of undergraduates at the private research university get grants to reduce the cost of attendance. Plus, Rice is part of small group of colleges that are "no loan", meaning they don't include student loans in their need-based financial aid packages. As a result, about 75% of students here graduate debt-free. Full profile.

University of Florida

Eric Zamora / University of Florida
  • Location: Gainesville, Florida
  • Estimated price with average grant: $10,500
  • Graduation rate: 87%
  • Early career earnings: $69,500

The University of Florida shines in many areas, including affordability — tuition comes out to about $6,400 a year for Floridians — and athletics — the Gators are one of the strongest college sports franchises in the country, with a variety of teams claiming national championship trophies. Full profile.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Johnny Andrews/ The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Location: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
  • Estimated price with average grant: $12,300
  • Graduation rate: 90%
  • Early career earnings: $67,800

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation's first public university, has long been known as one of the best bargains in higher education. Of more than 700 schools on Money’s Best Colleges list, UNC scores in the top three for affordability. Among the strongest departments at UNC are biology and other sciences, traditional liberal arts such as religious studies and journalism. Full profile.

University of Virginia

University of Virginia / Dan Addison
  • Location: Charlottesville, Virginia
  • Estimated price with average grant: $21,900
  • Graduation rate: 94%
  • Early career earnings: $80,600

Known as a "public Ivy," the University of Virginia has the highest graduation rate of any public college in the country, with 94% of students earning a degree within six years. Plus, students get to attend classes and live in dorms on a picturesque campus that's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Full profile.

Notes: Prices for public universities reflect in-state tuition charges. Graduation rates measures degree completion within six years for both transfer students and first-time students. Early career earnings are the median earnings for both graduates and non-completers, 10 years after they first enrolled. Sources: U.S. Department of Education, Peterson’s, Money/Witlytic calculations.

Ads by Money. We may be compensated if you click this ad.AdAds by Money disclaimer
Need some financial aid to cover tuition? A Student Loan can help.
When you need a hand to cover the many costs that come with higher education, a Student Loan is a good option. Click below for more information.
View Rates

More from Money:

The Best Colleges in America, Ranked by Value

How to Pay for College

Parent PLUS Loans: A Guide to Helping Your Student Pay for College