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Published: May 16, 2022 7 min read
Students walking at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus
Courtesy of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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The South is where you’ll find some of the nation’s oldest, most storied institutions, including the Thomas Jefferson-designed University of Virginia and Georgetown University, with its proximity to the seat of power in Washington, D.C. Topping the list is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first public university.

Money’s 2022 Best College rankings examine tuition fees, average financial aid, student and parent borrowing, and loan repayment rates. We also consider graduation rates and average earnings after college to build a list of schools that will be sure bets financially. (You can read the full breakdown of how we ranked the 2022 Best Colleges here.)

According to a study from UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute, about 56% of freshmen at four-year colleges attend a school within 100 miles of their home, and another 28% attend a college within 101 to 500 miles of where they live. In other words: chances are good you’ll attend a college based on where you live, and if you live in the South, these colleges are all excellent options.

Here’s a breakdown of the top 10. See the full Best Colleges in the South here.

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1. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Courtesy of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Location: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
  • Estimated price with average grant: $10,600
  • Graduation rate: 89%
  • Early career earnings: $61,920

The country’s oldest public university, simply referred to as “Chapel Hill,” is competitive, but also a comparative bargain. The school supplements strong departments like biology and journalism with championship-winning sports teams, countless on-campus clubs and bold-faced names, including Nobel Prize-winning professors.

2. University of Virginia

Courtesy of The University of Virginia
  • Location: Charlottesville, Virginia
  • Estimated price with average grant: $20,100
  • Graduation rate: 94%
  • Early career earnings: $77,050

UVA’s stunning campus, designed by Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site students can actually live in. Referred to as a “public Ivy,” it has an impressively high graduation rate, and is big on sports and Greek life. Undergraduate programs range from astronomy and environmental thought and practice, to medieval studies, Slavic languages and literature, and architecture.

3. Duke University

Courtesy of Duke University
  • Location: Durham, North Carolina
  • Estimated price with average grant: $28,400
  • Graduation rate: 96%
  • Early career earnings: $93,120

One of the South’s most selective colleges, with an acceptance rate of less than 5% in 2022, Duke University offers undergraduates an extraordinary amount of direct interaction with professors. The student-faculty ratio — 6:1 — is one of the lowest in Money's rankings, and about half of students work on research projects with faculty members. A nearly 9,000-acre campus nicknamed "Gothic Wonderland” is also a standout feature.

4. Georgetown University

Courtesy of Georgetown University
  • Location: Washington, D.C.
  • Estimated price with average grant: $32,400
  • Graduation rate: 94%
  • Early career earnings: $96,380

The oldest Jesuit university in the country, Georgetown’s biggest draw is its proximity to the seat of power in Washington, D.C. Many students come here to study politics or international relations, and Georgetown frequently welcomes Washington's elite to lecture or teach, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Attorney General Eric Holder, and former President and alumnus Bill Clinton.

5. Virginia Military Institute

Courtesy of The Virginia Military Institute
  • Location: Lexington, Virginia
  • Estimated price with average grant: $ 20,000
  • Graduation rate: 78%
  • Early career earnings: $71,910

Deemed the West Point of the South, the Virginia Military Institute is the country’s oldest state-supported military college, offering bachelor's degrees in subjects like civil engineering, physics and modern languages. Cadets live in modestly furnished barracks, wear uniforms, keep shoes polished and march in formation, but the school does not require students to serve in the military after graduation.

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6. Georgia Institute of Technology

Allison Carter / Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Location: Atlanta
  • Estimated price with average grant: $ 18,400
  • Graduation rate: 87%
  • Early career earnings: $88,200

Georgia Tech only accepts about a quarter of applicants, and its courses are rigorous. Students have ample opportunities to assist in faculty research, as well as pursue engaging minors like Korean, science fiction studies and naval science. There's also plenty to do on campus, including a truly epic Homecoming week, the highlight of which is an intense, long-running football rivalry against the University of Georgia Bulldogs.

7. University of Florida

Courtesy of The University of Florida
  • Location: Gainesville, Florida
  • Estimated price with average grant: $10,600
  • Graduation rate: 88%
  • Early career earnings: $64,460

The University of Florida is one of the best bargains in higher education. Despite the low net cost, students get access to some of the world's top professors in over 100 undergraduate degrees. Sports and Greek life are the biggest players on campus, and the Gators have emerged as one of the strongest college sports franchises in the country, with widespread athletic success.

8. Rice University

Courtesy of Rice University
  • Location: Houston
  • Estimated price with average grant: $20,300
  • Graduation rate: 94%
  • Early career earnings: $77,680

Classes are small at this private research university, with a tiny 6:1 student-faculty ratio, and undergraduates have opportunities to work with some of the world's top researchers. Popular majors include social sciences, engineering and natural sciences, though Rice offers more than 80 undergrad programs in all. Rice also attracts prestigious speakers and events, and its stadium has hosted a Super Bowl.

9. Washington and Lee University

Courtesy of Washington and Lee University
  • Location: Lexington, Virginia
  • Estimated price with average grant: $28,700
  • Graduation rate: 95%
  • Early career earnings: $86,020

One of the oldest colleges in the U.S., Washington and Lee is named after George Washington, who endowed the school with a gift in 1796, and Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who served as the university's president after the Civil War. One of the social highlights of each year is the annual Fancy Dress Ball, a themed black-tie event that dates back more than a century.

10. Berea College

Courtesy of Berea College
  • Location: Berea, Kentucky
  • Estimated price with average grant: $5,200
  • Graduation rate: 63%
  • Early career earnings: $37,150

Founded as a Christian school with a mission of providing an education to all, Berea was one of the first colleges in the South to welcome people of color and women. Today, nearly all first-year undergraduates are eligible for federal Pell Grants. Berea doesn't charge tuition, and offers ample scholarships for students who can't afford to pay for room and board and other fees.

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