Top South Central Colleges and Universities

The South Central region of the United States contains a wealth of public and private colleges and universities. My top picks range from small liberal arts colleges to giant public universities. The list includes religious and secular schools in rural and urban locations. The list contains some familiar names such as Rice and Texas A&M, but some of the selections may be less familiar to readers. The colleges and universities below were chosen based on factors such as retention rates, graduation rates, student engagement, selectivity, financial aid. and value. I have listed the schools alphabetically to avoid the often arbitrary distinctions that separate #1 from #2, and because of the futility of comparing a large research university to a small liberal arts college.

The South Central Region

South Central Region
South Central Region.

The colleges and universities in the list below were selected from Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas.

More Regions: New England | Middle Atlantic | Southeast | MidwestMountain | West Coast

Auburn University
Auburn University. booleansplit / Flickr
  • Location: Auburn, Alabama
  • Enrollment: 28,290 (22,658 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: public university
  • Distinctions: Over 140 degree programs; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; over 300 student clubs and organizations; strong Division I athletic programs within the Southeastern Conference
  • For more information and admissions data, see the Auburn University profile
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Austin College
Austin College. austrini / Flickr
  • Location: Sherman, Texas
  • Enrollment: 1,278 (1,262 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church
  • Distinctions: High number of graduates go on to graduate school; emphasis on community service and study abroad; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; most students receive significant grant aid
  • For more information and admissions data, see the Austin College profile
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Baylor University
Baylor University. genvessel / Flickr
  • Location: Waco, Texas
  • Enrollment: 16,959 (14,348 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private university affiliated with the Baptist Church
  • Distinctions: 145 areas of study and 300 student organizations; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; Baylor Bears compete in the NCAA Division I Big 12 Conference
  • For more information and admissions data, see the Baylor University profile
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Bellarmine University
Bellarmine University Library. Braindrain0000 / Wikimedia Commons
  • Location: Louisville, Kentucky
  • Enrollment: 3,973 (2,647 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private Catholic university
  • Distinctions: 12 to 1 student/faculty ratio; average class size of 19; strong internship program; study abroad opportunities in over 50 countries; NCAA Division II athletics
  • For more information and admissions data, see the Bellarmine University profile
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Belmont University
Belmont University. EVula / Wikimedia Commons
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Berea College
Berea College. Parkerdr / Wikimedia Commons
  • Location: Berea, Kentucky
  • Enrollment: 1,665 (all undergraduate)
  • Type of Institution: private liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: Students come from 50 states and 60 countries; students pay no tuition; all students work 10 to 15 hours a week as part of the Labor Program; first coeducational and interracial college in the South
  • For more information and admissions data, see the Berea College profile
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Birmingham Southern College
Birmingham Southern College. goforchris / Flickr
  • Location: Birmingham, Alabama
  • Enrollment: 1,293 (all undergraduate)
  • Type of Institution: private Methodist liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: Good financial aid; strong student-faculty interaction; featured in Loren Pope's Colleges That Change Lives; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences; good financial aid
  • For more information and admissions data, see the Birmingham-Southern College profile
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Centre College Norton Center for the Arts
Centre College Norton Center for the Arts. Arwcheek / Wikimedia Commons
  • Location: Danville, Kentucky
  • Enrollment: 1,430 (all undergraduate)
  • Type of Institution: private liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: 11 to 1 student/faculty ratio; chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences; good grant aid; "Centre Commitment" guarantees graduation in four years
  • For more information and admissions data, see the Centre College profile
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Hendrix College
Hendrix College. WisperToMe / Wikimedia Commons
  • Location: Conway, Arkansas
  • Enrollment: 1,328 (1,321 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: Chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences; featured in Loren Pope's Colleges That Change Lives; excellent value; curricular emphasis on active learning and international engagement
  • For more information and admissions data, see the Hendrix College profile
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Loyola University New Orleans
Loyola University New Orleans. louisianatravel / Flickr
  • Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Enrollment: 3,679 (2,482 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private Catholic university
  • Distinctions: 12 to 1 student/faculty ratio; over 40 study abroad programs; more than 120 student clubs and organizations; good grant aid; students come from 49 states and 33 countries
  • For more information and admissions data, see the Loyola University New Orleans profile
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Millsaps College
Millsaps College. lordsutch / Flickr
  • Location: Jackson, Mississippi
  • Enrollment: 866 (802 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: Featured in Loren Pope's Colleges That Change Lives; strong business program; chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences; strong writing across the curriculum program
  • For more information and admissions data, see the Millsaps College profile
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Rhodes College Avenue of Oaks
Rhodes College Avenue of Oaks. Photo Courtesy of Rhodes College
  • Location: Memphis, Tennessee
  • Enrollment: 2,029 (1,999 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church
  • Distinctions: Attractive 100-acre park-like campus; 10 to 1 student/faculty ratio; average class size of 13; students from 46 states and 15 countries; chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences
  • Explore Campus: Rhodes College photo tour
  • For more information and admissions data, see the Rhodes College profile
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Rice University
Rice University. Rice MBA / Flickr
  • Location: Houston, Texas
  • Enrollment: 6,855 (3,893 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private university
  • Distinctions: Most selective university in Texas; amazing 5 to 1 student/faculty ratio; excellent retention and graduation rates; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; member of the Association of American Universities for strong research programs; Rice Owls compete in the NCAA Division I Conference USA (C-USA)
  • For more information and admissions data, see the Rice University profile
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Samford University
Samford University. Sweetmoose6 / Wikimedia Commons
  • Location: Birmingham, Alabama
  • Enrollment: 5,471 (3,341 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private Christian university
  • Distinctions: Largest private university in Alabama; 138 undergraduate majors; 12 to 1 student/faculty ratio; no classes are taught by graduate students; good value; member of the NCAA Division I Southern Conference
  • For more information and admissions data, see the Samford University profile
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Sewanee, University of the South
Sewanee, University of the South. wharman / Flickr
  • Location: Sewanee, Tennessee
  • Enrollment: 1,815 (1,731 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private liberal arts college affiliated with the Episcopal Church
  • Distinctions: 11 to 1 student/faculty ratio; average class size of 18 the first year, 13 in later years; 13,000-acre campus on the Cumberland Plateau; strong English program and home of The Sewanee Review
  • For more information and admissions data, see the Sewanee profile
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Southern Methodist University
Southern Methodist University. ruthieonart / Flickr
  • Location: Dallas, Texas
  • Enrollment: 11,739 (6,521 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private university affiliated with the Methodist Church
  • Distinctions: Strong Cox School of Business and Meadows School of the Arts; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; SMU Mustangs compete in the NCAA Division I American Athletic Conference
  • For more information and admissions data, see the Southern Methodist University profile
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Southwestern University Chapel
Southwestern University Chapel. Dustin Coates / Flickr
  • Location: Georgetown, Texas
  • Enrollment: 1,489 (all undergraduate)
  • Type of Institution: private liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: Founded in 1840 and the oldest university in Texas; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; highly rated liberal arts college; good grant aid
  • For more information and admissions data, see the Southwestern University profile
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Texas A&M
Texas A&M. eschipul / Flickr
  • Location: College Station, Texas
  • Enrollment: 65,632 (50,735 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: public university
  • Distinctions: Senior Military College; strong engineering and agriculture programs; member of the Association of American Universities for strong research programs; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; Texas A&M Aggies compete in the Division I Big 12 Conference
  • For more information and admissions data, see the Texas A&M profile
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Texas Christian University
Texas Christian University. adamr.stone / Flickr
  • Location: Fort Worth, Texas
  • Enrollment: 10,394 (8,891 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private university affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
  • Distinctions: Recent massive investment in new facilities and upgrades; 14 to 1 student/faculty ratio; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; Texas Christian Horned Frogs compete in the NCAA Division I Mountain West Conference
  • For more information and admissions data, see the Texas Christian University profile
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Transylvania University
Transylvania University. inu-photo / Flickr
  • Location: Lexington, Kentucky
  • Enrollment: 963 (all undergraduate)
  • Type of Institution: private liberal arts college
  • Distinctions: 12 to 1 student/faculty ratio; average class size of 17; active sorority and fraternity system; 16th oldest college in the country; good value and grant aid; NCAA Division III athletics
  • For more information and admissions data, see the Transylvania University profile
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Trinity University Tower
Trinity University Tower. N1NJ4 / Flickr
  • Location: San Antonio, Texas
  • Enrollment: 2,466 (2,298 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private university
  • Distinctions: 10 to 1 student/faculty ratio; historic ties to the Presbyterian church; students come from 45 states and 64 countries; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences
  • For more information and admissions data, see the Trinity University profile
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Tulane University
AuthenticEccentric / Flickr
  • Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Enrollment: 12,581 (7,924 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private university
  • Distinctions: Member of the Association of American Universities for strong research programs; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences; member of the NCAA Division I American Athletic Conference
  • For more information and admissions data, see the Tulane University profile
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Union University Miller Tower
Union University Miller Tower. ask / Wikimedia Commons
  • Location: Jackson, Tennessee
  • Enrollment: 3,466 (2,286 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private university affiliated with the Southern Baptist Church
  • Distinctions: 12 to 1 student/faculty ratio; Christ-centered identity; students from 45 states and 30 countries; mostly new residence halls built in 2008 after tornado damage
  • For more information and admissions data, see the Union University profile
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University of Alabama
University of Alabama. maggiejp / Flickr
  • Location: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
  • Enrollment: 37,663 (32,563 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: public university
  • Distinctions: Alabama's flagship institution of higher learning; highly ranked public university; good value; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences; strong athletic programs in the NCAA Division I Southeastern Conference
  • For more information and admissions data, see the University of Alabama profile
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University of Dallas
University of Dallas. Wissembourg / Wikimedia Commons
  • Location: Dallas, Texas
  • Enrollment: 2,357 (1,407 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private Catholic university
  • Distinctions: One of the top Catholic colleges in the U.S.; 13 to 1 student/faculty ratio; nearly 80% of undergraduates study for a semester on the Rome campus; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; strong grant aid
  • For more information and admissions data, see the University of Dallas profile
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University of Oklahoma Stadium
University of Oklahoma Stadium. Majdan / Flickr
  • Location: Norman, Oklahoma
  • Enrollment: 27,918 (21,609 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: public university
  • Distinctions: Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; good value; 17 to 1 student/faculty ratio; strong programs in business, journalism, engineering, and meteorology; member of the NCAA Division I Big 12 Conference
  • For more information and admissions data, see the University of Oklahoma profile
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University of Tennessee Football
University of Tennessee Football. Triple Tri / Flickr
  • Location: Knoxville, Tennessee
  • Enrollment: 28,052 (22,139 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: public university
  • Distinctions: Flagship campus of Tennessee's state university system; strong business programs; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strong programs in the liberal arts and sciences; member of the NCAA Division I Southeastern Conference
  • For more information and admissions data, see the University of Tennessee profile
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University of Texas, Austin, Tower
University of Texas, Austin, Tower. Silly Jilly / Flickr
  • Location: Austin, Texas
  • Enrollment: 51,331 (40,168 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: public university
  • Distinctions: One of the largest public universities in the country; one of the top public universities in the U.S.; one of the top business schools in the U.S.; member of the Association of American Universities for strong research programs; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; Longhorns compete in the NCAA Division I Big 12 Conference
  • For more information and admissions data, see the University of Texas profile
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University of Tulsa
University of Tulsa. imarcc / Flickr
  • Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • Enrollment: 4,563 (3,406 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private university
  • Distinctions: Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; strong and popular program in petroleum engineering; 11 to 1 student/faculty ratio; member of the NCAA Division I American Athletic Conference
  • For more information and admissions data, see the University of Tulsa profile
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Vanderbilt University Benson Science Hall
Vanderbilt University Benson Science Hall. Zeamays / Wikimedia Commons
  • Location: Nashville, Tennessee
  • Enrollment: 12,587 (6,871 undergraduates)
  • Type of Institution: private research university
  • Distinctions: Most selective and prestigious university in Tennessee; 8 to 1 student/faculty ratio; many high-ranking programs including education, law, medicine and business; chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strengths in the liberal arts and sciences; member of the Association of American Universities for strong research programs; member of the NCAA Division I Southeastern Conference
  • Explore the Campus: Vanderbilt University Photo Tour
  • For more information and admissions data, see the Vanderbilt University profile
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