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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.