To identify the Best Colleges in Alabama for 2017-2018 we averaged the latest results from the most respected college ranking systems with thousands of real student review scores from around the web to produce a unique College Consensus rating for each school. You won’t find a more comprehensive ranking of the top colleges and universities in Alabama anywhere. Read more about our rankings methodology and sources at our about page.
Colleges & Universities in Alabama
The best colleges and universities in Alabama date back to the first days of Alabama’s statehood, when the University of Alabama was established in 1820. While it took another decade before Alabama had enough college-aged, college-prepared residents to actually begin courses at the university, ‘Bama grew over the course of the 19th century to become the heart of research and learning in the state, from law and business to medicine and nursing. Other major research universities include Auburn University 65 , Tuskegee University 63 , and Alabama A & M University 59 , founded as Alabama’s land-grant institutions (for white and black students, respectively) before building on that foundation to become national leaders in STEM fields like engineering, biology, and computing.
Alabama has also has a solid bedrock for liberal arts education, preparing the state’s most promising students for graduate education and leadership with a grounding in the classical humanities and sciences. Top private and public liberal arts institutions include Samford University 70 and the University of Montevallo 62 , as well as high-ranked Christian institutions like Huntingdon College 64 , the University of Mobile 62 , and Spring Hill College 58 . From the state’s public, regional universities to its intimate, close-knit liberal arts colleges, Alabama’s higher education system is working to bring Alabama’s high school graduates, working adults, and every other prospective student the education and training they need to take on the modern workforce.
Here are the top colleges and universities of the Yellowhammer State.
Founded in 1841, Samford University is one of the oldest colleges in Alabama. Samford began as Howard College, in Marion, AL, but was moved to the Birmingham suburb of Marion in 1887. At that time Birmingham was just growing into a major metropolitan city, having been founded just after the Civil War, and that growth allowed Samford (or Howard, as it still was named) to develop significant new programs, including the Deep South’s first pharmacy school, and an acclaimed law school. Howard was renamed Samford for an illustrious trustee when it reached university status in 1965, and today Samford stands as U.S. News & World Report’s #3 regional university for the South, as well as a best value according to the Princeton Review and USA Today.
With a student body of just over 5000, Samford continues the tradition of the liberal arts college, with well over 160 undergraduate majors, a student-faculty ratio of just 13:1, and the small classes that allow students to develop strong bonds with one another and their instructors. In addition to excellent undergraduate education, Samford is also a top-tier professional educator, with the McWhorter School of Pharmacy, the Moffett School of Nursing, and the Brock School of Business representing some of the finest in the region – particularly the Brock School’s entrepreneurship program. In short, Samford University is the model of excellence for Alabama’s best colleges and universities.
Alabama’s premier public research and STEM university, Auburn University began as none of those things; founded in 1856, Auburn was originally a private men’s college affiliated with the Methodist Church. In 1872, Auburn was reestablished under the Morrill Land Grant Act, which set up the college as an agricultural and mechanical school. When the college became the Alabama Polytechnic Institute in 1899, it set the stage for Auburn’s dominance as a research institution. Today – renamed to reflect the name it had been called conversationally for most of its existence, from its home in Auburn, AL – Auburn is Alabama’s land, sea, and space-grant institution, ranked in the top 50 public universities by U.S. News & World Report and recognized nationwide for academic and athletic excellence.
Auburn has a large student body of over 28,000, and is acclaimed as a STEM leader for the South, often named alongside the Southern Ivies like Duke and Vanderbilt. Due to its heritage as a polytechnic institute, Auburn is known for its research emphasis, including significant contributions to the space program, as well as health science and biotech. Auburn is recognized as one of the top undergraduate engineering educators (in the Ginn College of Engineering), and programs in architecture, pharmacy, and business are often ranked among the top nationally. Auburn also has a major impact on the life and economy of the region, with initiatives like an entrepreneurial business incubator and outreach to private industry. Auburn is by all measures the top research university in Alabama.
Founded as a public women’s college in 1854, Huntingdon College as it stands today begins with the post-Civil War years, when Alabama’s devastated economy caused financial difficulties for the college. It was saved by the United Methodist Church, which moved it to the capital, Montgomery, AL. In Montgomery, Huntingdon flourished, building deep connections with the people, government, and business of the city. Today, Huntingdon is one of the fastest-growing colleges in Alabama, having doubled its student body in the 21st century and earned consistent recognition from U.S. News & World Report as one of the top regional colleges in the South.
Huntingdon is known for its dedication to the traditional liberal arts format, to its Methodist faith, and to outreach to the working adults of Montgomery and across Alabama. The classical humanities and sciences are sustained through a low, 13:1 student:faculty ratio, which ensures students will be able to develop close relationships with their fellow students, and gain guidance from their professors. Huntingdon is not only for traditional undergraduates; 11 state-wide evening degree programs are available for working adults. Huntingdon combines their academic rigor and Christian faith with preparation for work in the 21st century, securing their place among Alabama’s best colleges.
Tuskegee University is one of the most prestigious, decorated historically black institutions in the nation. Founded in 1881 by Booker T. Washington – then just a young teacher in his 20s, destined to be one of the greatest influences in education and civil rights – Tuskegee began as a small institute to train teachers for Alabama’s segregated black schools. First in an abandoned church, then on a former plantation, Washington grew Tuskegee through outreach to wealthy philanthropists, recruitment of leading scholars (like George Washington Carver), and tireless campaigning for African-American education. Today, Tuskegee is legendary, and ranks not only among the top HBCUs in the US, but among the top regional universities in the South, according to the Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report.
Tuskegee remains small, with just over 3000 students, giving students excellent access to the professors for research and mentorship. Washington Monthly has placed Tuskegee in the top 2 undergraduate educators in the nation, but Tuskegee is also one of the most important institutions for educating black professionals in STEM, particularly women (according to Forbes). Tuskegee’s engineering department is a leader among HBCUs, and the only historically black college to offer Aerospace Engineering. Tuskegee’s School of Nursing was the first in Alabama, and remains one of the nation’s best, while the Brimmer College of Business & Information Science is a destination for young minority entrepreneurs. Tuskegee defines success and excellence, and leads Alabama as a top university.
University of Montevallo
Alabama’s designated public liberal arts college, the University of Montevallo was founded in 1896 as an industrial school, teaching high school and trade courses for young women. As the college matured, so did the name, from Alabama Girls’ Industrial School, to Alabama Girls’ Technical Institute, to Alabama College, State College for Women. As the school grew from trade classes to a more comprehensive and traditional academic institution, including humanities and sciences (as well as going coeducational in 1956) it became the University of Montevallo. Today, Montevallo is one of the top 20 public colleges in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report, and the highest-ranked public university in Alabama.
By design, Montevallo attracts the highest-performing high school graduates in Alabama, keeping its student body and classes small to build community, cooperation, and collaboration. Montevallo’s faculty is one of the most accomplished in the state, and 95% have the highest degree in their field. WIth just under 2700 students, Montevallo emphasizes the traditional liberal arts, building a strong foundation in the humanities and sciences and offering more than 60 degree majors. Montevallo is also important to the region around the college, including community service and educational outreach. Montevallo is a unique institution, providing Alabama’s top students access to Alabama’s top public liberal arts education.
The University of Alabama
Alabama’s oldest and most prominent university, the University of Alabama is a major public research institution founded in 1820. The township of Tuscaloosa was set aside to host a public college in the Alabama Territory, then part of the frontier, and when Alabama became a state in 1819, the land was ready. However, the population was not, and it was not until 1831 that the university was able to open; as a pioneer territory, there simply was not enough of a population with the educational preparation for college. The university therefore became the center of culture and learning for the new state, developing the programs necessary to turn a wilderness into a developed state. Today, ‘Bama is the state’s flagship institution and ranked in the top 50 public universities by U.S. News & World Report.
The University of Alabama has long been the most significant force in professional and academic education for the state. It is home to Alabama’s only public law school, as well as the Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration, the state’s leading business school and one of the most prestigious b-schools in the nation. ‘Bama’s Capstone College of Nursing, College of Community Health Sciences (home to a campus of the UA School of Medicine) and the School of Social Work are central to Alabama’s health and social well-being. As a comprehensive university, UA offers many unique doctoral degrees not available anywhere else in the state. It’s not just one of Alabama’s best universities – ‘Bama is essential.
University of Mobile
Founded in 1961, the University of Mobile is a fairly young institution, as colleges go, but it came about because of a strong motivation and a dedicated population. It took just a year for the people of Mobile to raise more than $2 million to build the university, a collaboration between the Mobile Baptist Association and the Alabama Baptist State Convention for the express purpose of opening a Christian liberal arts university in the city. Originally a small commuter college, the University of Mobile today is recognized as one of the 10 best liberal arts colleges in the South by U.S. News & World Report, and has earned accolades to rival any institution in Alabama.
As a Christian college, the University of Mobile is driven by an evangelistic desire to change the world through bible-based, Christ-centered higher education. While Mobile’s foundations are still in the traditional liberal arts, the university has become known as a leading professional educator for the state, including acclaimed nursing, education, and business schools. As an undergraduate educator, Mobile maintains a 13:1 student:faculty ratio to maximize faculty involvement in undergraduate research and learning, and Mobile’s student-centered atmosphere is seen in their unusual schedule – classes held only Monday-Thursday, with Fridays set aside for extracurriculars and advisement. It’s no wonder the University of Mobile is one the rise as one of Alabama’s top universities.
Alabama A & M University
Alabama A&M University was originally founded in 1875 as a state normal school – the 19th century’s most advanced means of training teachers, using real classrooms to provide experiential education. With Alabama’s segregated school system, the State Normal School was for black teachers who would teach in black schools; however, a federal land grant in 1891 expanded the normal school’s mission to include agricultural and mechanical education, providing the foundations for highly-ranked STEM and professional programs in the future. Today, Alabama A&M University is one of U.S. News & World Report’s top regional universities for the South, and a leading historically black college.
With its heritage as a land-grant, agriculture and mechanics school, Alabama A&M has played a significant role in the state and the nation, particularly as a national leader in producing African-American and other minority STEM graduates. With one of the largest graduate schools among HBCUs, Alabama A&M also make a major impact on minority students earning graduate degrees. A low, 14:1 student:faculty ratio gives A&M students an experience more like the support and community of a small liberal arts college, but the resources of a public research university, making Alabama A&M the best of both worlds and one of the top colleges in Alabama.
Spring Hill College
Founded in 1830, Spring Hill College was the first Roman Catholic college in the South, supported by a solid population of Catholics descended from the French who first settled the region. The first Bishop of Mobile, who was French, brought the first faculty, also from France, to educate future clergy for the church. Spring Hill’s administration changed from the diocese, to the Fathers of Mercy, then to the Society of Jesus and Mary, and finally to the Society of Jesus, and today Spring Hill remains a member of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. Spring Hill is highly respected and ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the South by publications like Forbes and U.S. News & World Report.
Spring Hill is a classical liberal arts college, with more than 1200 undergraduates and just under 200 graduate students. A deeply-grounded, well-rounded foundation in the humanities and sciences gives students the traditional liberal arts experience, as does a low 13:1 student:faculty ratio and small classes. More than a third of Spring Hill’s students go on to graduate programs, while the college itself offers master’s programs in a few areas, including business, nursing, education, and religious subjects. Rooted in the Jesuit tradition of academic rigor, educational excellence, and union of faith and learning, Spring Hill College gives Alabama students access to a premier educational experience.
Birmingham Southern College
Birmingham-Southern College is highly-respected, United Methodist-affiliated institution founded from the merger of two colleges. The oldest of the two, Southern University, was founded in 1856, while the younger, Birmingham College, dates back to 1898. Combined, Birmingham-Southern established a reputation for excellence in Alabama’s biggest city, retaining a commitment to the traditional liberal arts while growing as a leader in education. Named a College That Changes Lives, and nationally ranked by publications like the Princeton Review, Birmingham-Southern is building a national name and providing Alabama with its future leaders.
In the liberal arts tradition, Birmingham-Southern stays small and concentrates on undergraduate education; there are no master’s degrees. Instead, students get the absolute best possible preparation for their careers, professional studies, and graduate schools, with a 13:1 student:faculty ratio and a host of programs for motivated students, including the Harrison Honors Program and the Vail College Fellows Program. Birmingham-Southern also innovates with a 4-1-4 schedule, having students take four courses each fall and spring, and a special research or specialized course during a brief, intensive January term. Forward-thinking like that is why Birmingham-Southern is becoming known as one of Alabama’s best colleges.