20 Southern Colleges with a Small-Town Feel

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The South is home to the most diverse cultures, art, cuisine, and architecture. It is the fastest-growing region in the United States and home to more than half of the country’s African-American population. A significant number of Southerners live and thrive in tight-knit rural communities, and colleges with a small-town feel make up an important part of the “Southern Living” appeal!

Considering the stresses of modern society, it is important to give thought to going to a more relaxed, welcoming college. The sweet and warm hospitality of the locals will provide a warm embrace for when you cannot cope with the pressure of college life.

Southern Colleges Small-Town Feel - fact

These 20 colleges exhibit the allure of country living and project the warm hospitality of the South!

Sewanee: The University of the South

Sewanee, Tennessee

Founded in 1857, The University of the South, also known as “Sewanee,” is the epitome of the Southern charm. The beautiful 13,000-acre campus is tucked in the countryside, sitting atop the Cumberland Plateau. No one can miss the charming Collegiate Gothic architecture that adds to Sewanee’s distinct identity.

Going into the campus will feel like a retreat, especially with the remarkable All Saint’s Chapel greeting everyone of all faiths that comes by. Sewanee also has surrounding forests and incredible views of the Tennessee Valley.

Spring also brings the most exceptional experience when the Abbo Valley is lined with daffodils. This scene is not hard to miss since the natural spring and creek runs near the center of the Sewanee campus.

The University of the South relies not only on its beautiful campus to attract students. The Sewanee pledges to provide their students the opportunity to complete a summer internship or research fellowships and even a semester-long study abroad at no additional tuition cost.

With the campus culture of having small groups in classrooms, engaging student life, and active extra-curricular activities, students actively doing their part should be no surprise. At Sewanee: The University of the South, everyone can come together for group discussions, laboratory work, jam sessions, or a rock climbing adventure!

University of Virginia

University of Virginia

Charlottesville, Virginia

One of the country’s founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, founded the University of Virginia in 1819. It stands, until today, as the very essence of what “collegiate” means and ought to mean.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site has been considered the university’s idyllic architecture as a design masterpiece. Thomas Jefferson not only authored the American Declaration of Independence and became the third president of the United States; he was also a very talented architect.

Jefferson especially had an eye for neoclassical buildings, which is evident in the design of the Monticello. The Monticello was not only his plantation home, but it was also his representation of an ideal “academic village.” Monticello remains the heart and an academic haven to every student at the University of Virginia until this very day.

The Academical Village, modeled after the Pantheon in Rome, includes the Rotunda, the Lawn, and the Range and creates a haven for students. Across grounds and throughout the world, what Thomas Jefferson started lives on in every UVA student, faculty, staff, and especially in its alumni. They continue to challenge conventions and break barriers as a community driven by the same passion they learned from the university.

Berry College

Mount Berry, Georgia

At the heart of Georgia sits the world’s largest contiguous college campus. Founded in 1902, Berry College carries a British vibe and grandeur in its campus architecture and greenery. Berry College’s Ford Complex is inspired by the Christ Church in England, a centerpiece of Oxford University.

The massive 27,000-acre campus features 80 miles of trails where students and visitors can cycle, hike, and go horseback riding. With this land area, one can also expect a view of the woodlands, green meadows, freshwater streams, mountains, and lakes.

Tucked in Berry College’s pastureland is the English Gothic-style architecture that adds to its idyllic country charm. A trip around the Mountain Campus will give you a view of an old mill and waterwheel.

Going to Berry College is a dreamy country escape where every corner can make for an excellent spot for a photo op. The best part is Berry College’s students who maintain the surrounding area. Students study there, but they also work to keep the campus beautiful.

Most Berry students work on campus in some capacity during their college days. It only proves that Berry College is home to excellent students and graduates and fosters a culture of community where everyone grows.

Duke University

Durham, North Carolina

Duke University was born out of paternal love and respect, producing thousands of graduates. While Duke is known for having one of the best basketball teams in the league, it also boasts its reputable Ivy League-caliber academics. However, if these will not convince a first-year student to go to Duke, maybe its regal Gothic-inspired architecture will.

Synonymous with southern-style university architecture, Duke University’s West Campus features Gothic stone structures that scream Gothic grandeur. At the same time, its East Campus is a picturesque view of Georgian architecture. Most notable is Duke Chapel, which sits at the center of the campus.

It is a 210-foot structure with spires that almost reach heaven and exquisite ornate stonework beyond compare. After all, Duke Chapel is among the most recognizable buildings in the country. It is not a surprise that Duke alumni book the Chapel up to a year before their weddings.

Bringing in the country feel is the 55-acre Sarah P. Duke Gardens with a 5-mile path. Anyone can breathe in North Carolina’s natural beauty in the 7,000-acre Duke Forest, earning its moniker “University in the Forest.”

Vanderbilt University

Nashville, Tennessee

Vanderbilt University is beautiful and intimate at the heart of Nashville, the next “it” city as named by The New York Times. The campus sits at the center of innovation, Nashville being a hub for several booming industries that drive the 21st century. Amid the city’s hustle and bustle, Nashville remains to be America’s friendliest city, ” perfectly combining history and hospitality with the city’s rich culture.

The 300-acre Vanderbilt University campus is home to approximately 190 species of trees and shrubs. In 1988, the Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta designated the campus as the national arboretum.

Did you know that the Bicentennial Oak Tree is the oldest living thing located within the campus? It is not hard to miss because it thrives between Rand Hall and Garland Hall, drawing in many prospective students.

Different animal species such as birds, hawks, owls, and cardinals flock to the arboretum, creating small wildlife inside the peaceful campus. With its natural beauty, there is no wonder many students choose to study at Vanderbilt University and stay in Nashville even after they graduate.

Baylor University

Waco, Texas

Drawing inspiration from the architecture of Oxford and Cambridge universities, Baylor University humbly sits in Waco, Texas, and is home to more than 20,000 students. Baylor University provides a safe space for its diverse student population, creating a vibrant campus community. It emphasizes interdisciplinary research and its commitment to providing internationally recognized educational excellence.

What gives the university its small-town feel despite its grandeur is the Burleson Quad. The Burleson Quad is the centerpiece of the Baylor University campus, and it is where Baylor’s first four buildings stand.

Students come together and live to “Love thy neighbor” as a way of life within and outside the campus. Students live a service-oriented life leading them to integrate with the Waco community through engaging with locals and impacting people’s lives.

Oklahoma State University

Oklahoma State University

Stillwater, Oklahoma

Oklahoma State University (OSU) had its humble beginning in 1890. It taught farmers and aspiring farmers about farming and agricultural best practices. OSU has come a long way from there as it now features a comprehensive brochure of degree offerings, including, among others, aviation, animal science, medicine, and education.

Oklahoma State University is also known for its beauty with its Neo-Georgian architecture, and it gives the campus the perfect collegiate look. America’s Brightest Orange blends well with the university’s redbrick buildings, courtyards, brick-lined walkways, and even its open spaces. This design element creates a relaxing outdoor feeling.

OSU’s calming Theta Pond also serves as a getaway for students who want a quick escape from the stresses of academics. The campus sits at the center of America’s Friendliest College Towns, Stillwater, adding to its small-town feel.

Wake Forest University

wake forest engineering ranking

Winston-Salem, North Carolina

For Humanity is what Wake Forest University lives by, evident in its vibrant and diverse academic community. Founded in 1834, it continues its service for humanity in its 340 acres of campus ground that provides a second home to more than 8,000 students.

Wake Forest University students admire their campus, and anyone would say that the campus’s beauty is beyond compare. This should come as no surprise since Architect Jens Fredrick Larson,  a luminary in collegiate architecture and planning, designed the campus. He knew the nuisances that would attract potential students.

Wake Forest is best known for its Hearn Plaza. The plaza draws most students to the university and welcomes them to the forest. It is massive greenery surrounded by the magnificent 213-foot bronze spired-topped Wait Chapel, with a view of the Reynolda Hall. Students often sit on the Chapel steps looking towards Reynolda Hall, admiring the scenery on a crisp fall day. Wake Forest University’s beauty blossoms during the southern autumn.

The Reynolda Gardens also gives life to the campus with thousands of maple trees, magnolias, oaks, cedars, and other trees that line the gardens with reds and yellows. The natural beauty around and surrounding the campus makes Wake Forest University one of the most beautiful college campuses in the South.

Tulane University

New Orleans, Louisiana

Tulane University is the quintessential Southern college in the Southern United States. Students need to take a 5-mile streetcar from downtown New Orleans to get to the historic St. Charles Avenue campus. Students will be greeted with towering oaks from the streetcar ride that line the green spaces of the 100-acre Uptown campus. Tulane moved to its current location in 1894 and welcomed its students to the Gibson Hall designed by local firm Harrod and Andry.

Gibson Hall is Tulane University’s centerpiece and the campus’ anchor. Its facade brings its decades-long history, being the inaugural building of the new campus. The Richardsonian Romanesque architecture and limestone exterior design bring elegance to the entire collegiate feel of the academic quad. In fact, for more than 35 years, it has been listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places.

Also nearby is Audubon Park, a 350-acre Uptown gem that gives Tulane University students a place to escape. After all, being surrounded by beauty helps calm the mind.

University of Georgia

University of Georgia

Athens, Georgia

The University of Georgia (UGA) is the oldest, most comprehensive, and most diversified university in Georgia with 234 years of academic and professional excellence. UGA’s long-standing history is symbolized by the 160-year-old black iron arch that stood the test of time. The university prides itself as the “birthplace of public higher education.”

To maintain a small community and make the big campus feel smaller, the University of Georgia has a rural scholars program. The scholarship program provides financial and emotional support to every student who needs the university’s support. It is specially created for rural communities to ensure that everyone has a quality education.

The University of Georgia sits in the gorgeous 767-acre land area covered in greenery. The North Campus Lawn and the Georgia quad are lined with magnolia, elm, and maple trees that provide shade to students who are desperate for rest. The canopy of shades surrounds the campus and creates a perfect accent to the Georgian-style buildings.

U.S. Naval Academy

Annapolis, Maryland

The U.S. Naval Academy is the premier institution that educates and prepares the country’s naval service. The university prepares young men and women to join the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps with competence, integrity, character, and compassion. Students who enter the university are midshipmen on active duty in the U.S. Navy. After graduation, they serve at least five years in the Navy or Marine Corps.

A campus size of 338 acres makes for a perfect site for a picturesque Beaux Arts-style campus. Future Men and Women in uniform get to breathe in the view of the Severn River in historic Annapolis. It makes for a fitting backdrop for what students at the U.S. Naval Academy are set to do.

Tourists can have a glimpse of student life on campus when they watch the midshipmen’s noon mealtime formation. The mealtime formation can be viewed in the Tecumseh Court that sits in front of the academy’s landmark dormitory, the Bancroft Hall. Students are ushered by a band or drum to the dining hall in precise formation every day. The imposing Mahal Hall stands tall and proud across the courtyard from the Bancroft Hall. Equally well-known is the US Naval Academy Museum in Preble Hall.

While the academy exudes military tradition and demands patriotism, it is nestled between the river and the center of downtown Annapolis making for a cozy location.

Spring Hill College

Mobile, Alabama

Spring Hill College, the first Catholic school in the Southeast, is Alabama’s oldest institution in higher education, founded in 1830 by Michael Portier. He was Mobile’s first Catholic bishop who institutionalized Jesuit learning and teaching in Spring Hill College.

Prospective students would look at the Avenue of the Oaks and immediately fall in love with the campus. It is the first and the last memories students take when they choose to go to Spring Hill College. The towering trees provide refuge to students as they take a breather from schoolwork and hectic extra-curricular activities.

During spring, the area is lined with pink azaleas, which adds to the small-town feel of the otherwise massive campus. This is what graduates see when they receive their diplomas in front of the Stewartfield. The Stewartfield is a white Greek Revival home that hosts several important events every year.

Students at Spring Hill College find refuge in St. Joseph Chapel and hang out at the Rydex Commons, a green open space where everyone is welcome. Spring Hill College brings the natural splendor of a South Alabama landscape all over the school grounds.

Samford University

Birmingham, Alabama

Samford University has made a name for itself from its meager beginnings in Marion, Alabama, to where it stands today in Birmingham. Founded in 1841 as Howard College, it has evolved to become Samford University, a leading Christian university. Samford is Alabama’s #1.

The campus is 247 acres of beautiful university grounds in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. Of the 247 acres of land, 200 pristine acres hold 50 Georgian colonial buildings that make a jaw-dropping view for everyone to see. Magnificent trees and gardens line the campus and give the buildings a natural backdrop.

Student housing stands near the manicured quad, always filled with students coming together. Every building at Samford is architecturally divine, but the Hodges Chapel especially stands out. The Chapel’s interior dome was painted by the hand of the fresco master, Petru Botezatu. No wonder Sanford students enjoy being on campus. They have created a community inside the university grounds that makes college life an intimate, small-town feel and experience.

Furman University

Greenville, South Carolina

Furman University remains recognized as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the country. The American Society of Landscape Architects has even considered the campus one of the Most Beautiful Places in the United States. With 750 acres of campus, the grounds are every student’s classroom.

The university is a 750-wooded area of lush landscape and natural beauty. Built around the greenery are lecture halls, laboratories, and auditoriums that bring students from all around the country together in unity. Georgian-style architecture defines Furman University.

The entire collegiate feel is punctuated by the university’s landmark Florentine-style Bell Tower. There is no denying that the beauty of the campus draws students together. The Trone Student Center also provides a safe space for students to engage and becoming a part of the Furman family is easy and organic.

Furman University students live in residence halls that overlook the lake. They also get a backdrop of the Asian-inspired gardens with towering bamboo, irises, and a view of a former Buddhist temple that has since been converted into a Place of Peace.

The Asia Garden is a perfect place for students to stroll to relieve stress. Nature trails lead to the waterside for the more adventurous. The campus also features an 18-hole golf course, if that is not enough. All these make Furman University campus life an exciting experience.

University of Mississippi

Oxford, Mississippi

The University of Mississippi carries a storied history in its southern traditions, landmarks, campus grounds, and the flag it carries. Lovingly referred to as Ole Miss, the university was founded in 1848 with only one building and with as few as 80 students.

The first building to stand on Ole Miss’s campus grounds, the Lyceum, still stands today. It still awes students and visitors with its classical brick design, clean lines, and white plaster accents. Today, the Lyceum symbolizes strength and years of excellence and has become the university’s official crest.

The nearby Ole Miss School of Medicine is another imposing building that features Greek revival architecture. What sets it apart is its history. The building was a hospital for both Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.

Despite its size and history, Ole Miss’ community of students, staff, and professors maintain a close relationship. The university’s The Grove is a shady green, open area lined with oak, elm, and magnolia trees. It is the place that transcends people to a different experience. The Grove is where many described Football Saturdays as a religious experience when the silver candelabras are lit. For a small-town feel and experience, students may take on the Bailey’s Woods Trail for a scenic wooded stroll.

Elon University

Elon, North Carolina

Elon University is an idyllic small-town university in the South. It is a mid-sized private university recognized as a national model for “engaged and experiential learning. Students are encouraged to engage with dedicated professors and faculty to help them reach their full potential. At Elon, students are exposed to a traditional liberal arts and sciences curriculum that prepares them for success.

Aside from academic excellence, Elon University is also known for being one of the prettiest college campuses by Princeton Review and the New York Times. This is no surprise since the entire campus has been designated a botanical garden. Elon University Botanical Garden has been granted a Level II Accreditation by The ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program and the Morton Arboretum.

The university is the heart of North Carolina, with 525 acres of gardens that serve both aesthetic and educational purposes. A day on the campus grounds would feel like a day in a well-kept park. At the center of the expanse of gardens is the beautiful Fonville Fountain which makes the entire experience full of life.

History also lives here with Elon’s Historic District and Johnston Hall listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The red brick and the white-columned Colonial Revival architecture exude small-town Southern charm perfect for college campus life.

Flagler College

St. Augustine, Florida

Located in America’s oldest City, St. Augustine, Flagler College is an ampersand to history, industry, and business. The Flagler College is a historical landmark that holds thousands of years of history. Its grounds served as the venue for the 450th anniversary of St. Augustine, which the king and queen of Spain attended in 2015. Flagler College is a fitting host since it once used to be the lavish 1888 Ponce de Leon Hotel. The royal luncheon was held at the college’s solarium. 

At Flagler College, students have an academic experience like no other. The entire campus grounds are steeped in history and are surrounded by beautiful Florida coasts. Distinguished professors make up the faculty who challenge and mentor students to explore every facet of education.

Students will also feel like royalty when they are on campus with a dining hall adorned with stained glass high gilded ceilings. Some have even called it “Hogwarts” with its resemblance to the magical dining hall in the Harry Potter books and movies.

One can quickly feel at home and fall in love with the beauty of the campus. If the Spanish Renaissance-style architecture will not convince a prospective student from a small town to enroll at Flagler, maybe the fact that the campus is only five minutes away from the beach certainly will.

College of William & Mary

Williamsburg, Virginia

College of William & Mary is an homage to its English royal founders and has stood on the historic Williamsburg since its founding in 1693. Williamsburg, Virginia, was once a colonial settlement of Middle Plantation that has evolved into a premier public research university. It is where the brightest minds come together for a better world.

The College of William & Mary is a reputable higher education institution recognized for its outstanding academic reputation, beautiful campus, and vibrant student life and community. Being the second oldest college in the United States, the college is home to the Wren Building, built in the 1700s and designed by Sir Christopher Wren of St. Paul’s Cathedral fame. It is an imposing building that demands attention.

A Sunken Garden on the 1200-acre campus makes for a perfect place for students to gather. It is a grassy area near the college’s quad that stretches from the Wren Building to Crim Dell Pond. The Sunken Garden is usually sprawling with students. A quick trip will lead you to the historical town of Colonial Williamsburg, where everyone is welcome.

Hendrix College

Conway, Arkansas

Founded in 1876, Hendrix College stands as a leading institution of liberal arts education, engaging students to have a unique view of the world. The college sits on a 175-acre campus grounds rich in history and success stories. School buildings that surround the campus are embellished with red brick that chronicles the storied past of Hendrix College.

Hendrix College is tucked away in the center of the small town of Conway, Arkansas. Students coming from various places in the country could easily find their footing in this intimate suburban town and liberal arts college.

Aside from the red brick buildings, Hendrix College may offer its courtyards as its gym. The courtyards are lined with imported pecan shells, creating a tree court. Bringing in the past is the sight of the gazebo built in the 1980s. It was part of the set of a theater production from that year and has turned itself into a landmark. The gazebo gives a certain allure to the already scenic campus.

Hendrix puts importance on learning and community. It has developed the Village at Hendrix, which aims to provide the community with a space for collaboration. It will bring the concept of a walkable neighborhood in suburban Arkansas where there are open green spaces and mixed-use buildings.

Rhodes College

Memphis, Tennessee

Rhodes College was founded in 1848 and was originally known as the Masonic University of Tennessee. It was then renamed Stewart College in 1850 as an homage to its president, William M. Stewart. Finally, in 1984, it was again given a new name, a name it carries until today, Rhodes College. Rhodes grew from a regionally recognized higher education institution to a nationally ranked liberal arts and sciences college. Aside from prioritizing students’ intellectual engagement, it also prides itself on one of the most beautiful campuses in the heart of Memphis.

Walking around the college campus confuses anyone. It would feel as if they had left Memphis, Tennessee, and had been transported to a different place, a different time. Rhode’s Collegiate Gothic campus is in a 123-acre, wooded area at the center of historic Midtown Memphis. The Gothic-inspired architecture is a prelude to what students can expect when choosing Rhodes College. It is a venue for community-driven and dedicated students providing a beautiful, supportive environment.

Rhodes College’s walkways, quadrangles, common areas, classrooms, and residence halls were designed to encourage intimate relationships among students and peers. This is believed to foster a small-town feel in the somewhat intimidating campus. On this front, Rhodes has been successful. Student life on campus is as vibrant as the history that Rhodes College treasures.


Did you know that the South is also the birthplace of significant accountability reforms in education over the past decades? These reforms, which have taken hold in the South, pushed both public and private schools to pivot to more inclusive and progressive education reforms.

Southern states implement effective practices that involve relevant, rigorous, and hands-on learning methodologies to ensure students are connected and prepared to take on the challenges of the 21st century.

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Malcolm Peralty
Chief Editor