To identify the Best Colleges in Florida 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 Florida anywhere. Read more about our rankings methodology and sources at our about page.
Colleges & Universities in Florida
The best colleges and universities in Florida are essential parts of the state’s character, reflecting and expanding the qualities that make Florida both all-American and uniquely its own. Since stories of the Fountain of Youth were drummed up to encourage Spanish exploration and settlement in the region, Florida, out of all the American states, was built on dreams, and to this day, Florida’s economy and personality are dominated by dreamers. Tourism is the major economic force in the state, drawing millions of visitors every year to the state’s amusement parks, beaches, and other attractions. It’s no surprise, then, that from the major public research universities, like the University of Florida 66 and Florida State University 66 , to small liberal arts colleges like Rollins College 74 and Stetson University 72 , Florida’s business and law schools are among the nation’s best.
Florida is also a top destination for retirees, drawn to the warm weather, low cost of living, and ample recreation for active seniors. With a large population of aging women and men, Florida has developed a healthcare system that spans the state and is founded on the very best research. Research impacting medicine and health takes place across Florida’s colleges and universities, from public powerhouses like Florida International University 61 to private leaders like the University of Miami 64 , and together Florida’s schools educate some of the world’s finest doctors and nurses. From Disney-bound families to Nana and Pops, the dream of the Sunshine State belongs to everyone, and Florida’s higher education system helps turn that dream into reality.
Here are the top colleges and universities of the Sunshine State.
Winter Park, FL
Rollins College was founded in 1885 by the Congregationalist Church, a loosely-organized New England denomination dedicated to education (they founded Yale, Dartmouth, and numerous other prestigious liberal arts colleges). The oldest college in Florida, Rollins was intended to bring to Florida the kind of elite liberal arts education New England has specialized in for generations. At the time the region around Winter Park (part of the Orlando metropolitan area) was growing quickly as a resort area, and the need for higher education was becoming apparent. Rollins became an important force in bringing civilization and refinement to Florida, and today is ranked the #2 regional university in the South by U.S. News & World Report, as well as long being named one of the most beautiful colleges in the nation by the Princeton Review.
In the tradition of the Congregationalist Church, Rollins is an independent, nondenominational institution dedicated to the traditional liberal arts. With its roots in the classical humanities and sciences, Rollins is a top undergraduate educator, with more than 30 majors, and is one of the top Fulbright Scholars producers in the US. Rollins’ Crumner Graduate School of Business is also highly ranked, with the Rollins MBA ranked the best in Florida by Forbes and Bloomberg Businessweek. With a highly diverse student body of just over 3000, Rollins gives students everything that liberal arts colleges can offer, from excellent student support to top-quality undergraduate education, making Rollins College one of Florida’s best colleges.
Named for one of the college’s biggest benefactors, hatmaking king John B. Stetson, Stetson University was founded in 1883, originally as an academy (not a college). Stetson first began as a Southern Baptist college affiliated with the Florida Baptist Convention, but the convention lost the college from 1907 to 1919. Stetson broke ties once again in 1995 and is now an independent, non-religious liberal arts university with four campuses. Today, Stetson is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the #5 best regional university in the South, as well as one of the best values, and has been ranked highly by Washington Monthly for its impact on social mobility.
With a student body of just over 4000, Stetson University is large enough to provide the resources of a research university, as well as the options (with more than 60 undergraduate majors and many master’s degrees), but to also keep the small class sizes, and low 12:1 student faculty ratio, of a small liberal arts college. That means strong support and mentorship, all the more important as each bachelor’s student much complete a capstone research project to graduate. Stetson’s School of Business Administration, College of Law, and School of Music are all ranked among the best in the South. With some of the strongest undergraduate and graduate opportunities in the state, Stetson is easily among Florida’s best universities.
New College of Florida
Founded in 1960, the New College of Florida’s original mission is reflected in its name – to establish an experimental, forward-thinking institution for Florida’s most promising, self-motivated students. While the United Church of Christ provided some funding, the school was not religious, and its student body was dedicated to independent, progressive learning and rigorous academic investigation. However, the school risked bankruptcy in 1975, and entered an agreement first with the University of South Florida, then with the State University System of Florida, to retain its independence and serve as Florida’s public honors college. Today, New College is ranked one of the top 100 national liberal arts colleges by U.S. News & World Report, as well as one of the five best values in the South.
The curriculum at New College is rooted in the traditional liberal arts, but built on a modern, highly student-centered approach to education that emphasizes student responsibility, rigor, and exploration. Students develop their course sequence from their interests, engaging in demanding, in-depth research, and progress is measured by competency. Rather than grades, New College uses a narrative evaluation, and rather than conventional classes, students develop a contract with their advisor detailing what they intend to learn. Designed for the most independent, intellectually engaged and mature students, New College of Florida is an example of what higher education can be, and defines Florida’s top colleges.
University of Florida
Founded in 1853, when the state of Florida opened the East Florida Seminary – the first public college in the state – the University of Florida is one of the state’s two “preeminent” (essentially the equivalent of flagship) universities. Several colleges were consolidated in 1905 to form the University of Florida (including the East Florida Seminary, the oldest of the merged schools), bringing together an agricultural college, a normal school, and a military academy as well. This combined university would grow into the state’s leading public institution, and the University of Florida stands today as a major land, sea, and space-grant public research university ranked the #14 public university in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.
With nearly 50,000 students, UF is one of the 10 largest universities in the nation, and students have a virtually limitless array of undergraduate and graduate options. As a major research university, UF has more than 150 dedicated research centers, more than 120 master’s degrees, and more than 60 doctoral degrees, from business and law to medicine and engineering. UF is, quite simply, central to learning and professional preparation for the state of Florida, educating a large proportion of the state’s government, business, education, and culture leaders. UF is also noted nationally as one of the best values in higher education – #2 among public, and #3 among all national universities, according to Forbes. Quality, opportunity, and value make the University of Florida the model of a top public research university.
Florida State University
Florida State University, founded in 1851 as the West Florida Seminary, was intended as the counterpart to the University of Florida (the East Florida Seminary), fulfilling a plan set in motion when the US Congress voted to establish a nationwide system of higher education in 1823. Though it was originally male-only, the seminary absorbed a women’s school in 1858, while it converted to a military academy in the Civil War. Florida State actually beat its rival seminary to university status, becoming the state’s first public university; Florida State was actually, officially “The University of Florida” on paper for a number of years. Along with the University of Florida, Florida State is one of the two designated “preeminent” universities in the state, and is ranked in the top 100 national universities, top 40 public universities, and top 10 best values according to U.S. News & World Report and the Princeton Review.
Florida State has a highly diverse student body (90% of whom come from Florida) of well over 41,000, including a high proportion of minority students. In fact, FSU has been commended as one of the best for Hispanic and Latino students by the journal Hispanic Business; the College of Medicine and the College of Law were singled out for recognition. As a major public research university, Florida State is a sea and space-grant institution, known for interdisciplinary STEM research in areas like magnetic fields, energy, and material engineering. FSU is also recognized as an online education leader, providing opportunity to Florida’s working professionals and other nontraditional students in a number of undergraduate and graduate degree programs. All in all, Florida State earns its preeminent name as one of the top universities in Florida.
University of Miami
Coral Gables, FL
Founded in 1925, the University of Miami is a testament to Florida’s optimism. As the region around Miami was growing, the citizens decided a university would be a key component to establishing Miami as a real city, chartering the University of Miami from donations of land and capital. However, a sudden economic downturn and devastating hurricane almost wiped out the college in the first year, and UM was maintained at great effort until the end of WWII brought new prosperity to the region. Today, the University of Miami is ranked by U.S. News & World Report in the top 50 national universities, while the School of Law and Miller School of Medicine are both ranked among the best in the nation.
The University of Miami has a student body of just over 16,000, making it the state’s largest private research university; in particular, UM has been recognized by the Princeton Review for its diversity, with a quarter of students coming from a Hispanic background. UM has a crucial role to play in the life and economy of Miami, particularly the Miller School of Medicine and the UM-owned Jackson Memorial Medical Center, home to three of Miami’s best hospitals. The School of Law is also notable, especially in Florida-centered areas like maritime, real estate, and international law, while the Rosensteil School of Marine & Atmospheric Science is a critical source of learning about the ocean and weather. One of the South’s most prestigious universities, the University of Miami is Florida’s top private research institution.
Flagler College-St Augustine
Saint Augustine, FL
Named for Henry Morrison Flagler – the railroad magnate whose enthusiasm for the uninhabitable swamps of old Florida kicked off the state’s development into a tourist destination – Flagler College was founded in 1968 in Flagler’s famous Ponce de Leon Hotel. The college had been the vision of Lawrence Lewis, a relative of Flagler, who opened Flagler College and remained on its board for decades, shaping the college into a preeminent small liberal arts college in St. Augustine – the oldest city in the US. Today, Flagler is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the #2 regional institution in the South, acclaimed for its educational rigor and service to northeastern Florida.
As a traditional liberal arts college, Flagler College is best known for its undergraduate education; Flagler’s First Year Experience is a model of collaborative humanities and science core education. The student:faculty ratio and student body are kept small to ensure students build community, engage in high-quality research, and benefit from mentorship, while practicing the values of the liberal arts. Flagler has also earned a national reputation in sports management and hospitality management, two areas that are prime for Florida. From St. Augustine and beyond, Flagler College is one of Florida’s best colleges.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Daytona Beach
Daytona Beach, FL
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University was founded in 1926 as a pilot training program at Cincinnati, Ohio’s Lunken Airport, but in just a decade the program needed more space to meet the demand. A partnership with the University of Miami (#6) brought Embry-Riddle to Florida, first to Miami, then to Daytona Beach, where the growing school settled in to become the world’s foremost aviation and aeronautical institution. Today, Embry-Riddle is one of the most decorated and highly-ranked STEM research universities in the South (#12 regionally, according to U.S. News & World Report), with many individual programs recognized as the best in the world.
Embry-Riddle’s traditional strengths, of course, are in engineering, especially aeronautic and aerospace-related fields, but ERAU is internationally renowned for a host of professional fields. With flight comes business, and the Embry-Riddle College of Business is recognized as one of the best; so too, Embry-Riddle’s relationships with aviation and NASA have made it an international destination for computer science and security. In the 21st century, Embry-Riddle has invested heavily in online education, earning a reputation as one of the strongest online degree providers anywhere. Embry-Riddle’s engaging combination of research productivity, educational excellence, and online outreach have made it one of Florida’s most modern, and promising, universities.
Florida International University
Founded in 1965, Florida International University has needed just five decades to reach an extraordinary status. While the state began 20 years earlier looking into the need for a public complement to the private University of Miami – the population in Dade County was booming, and development with it, creating demand for well-trained, educated professionals – the delay in opening FIU made it the largest student body ever for any university’s first class. Growth at Florida International has not backed down, and today FIU is not only the 4th-largest college in the US – it’s also at the highest level of research productivity according to the Carnegie Classification, higher than Florida’s two preeminent universities.
While Florida International University is, by any count, a huge institution, it is recognized nationally for its student-centered, highly supportive atmosphere. FIU has often been cited for its outreach to minority students, and is one of the top universities in the nation for Hispanic students, while its value is also reflected in one of the lowest student debt rates in higher education. FIU’s impact on the healthcare system, industry, and government in Miami and south Florida is massive, as is its footprint in the economy, not only through its graduates entering the workforce, but its investments, public service, and jobs created. Florida International University is not just one of the best universities in the Florida – it is quickly becoming crucial to life in the state.
Florida Memorial University
Miami Gardens, FL
Florida Memorial University is one of the most prestigious and respected historically black universities in the nation, noted as the place where the music to “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” was composed by J. Rosamond Johnson (from a poem by his brother, James Weldon Johnson), a young faculty member soon to become one of the voices of the Harlem Renaissance. While racist violence forced the college (originally Florida Baptist Institute) to move several times, by 1965 the college settled north of Miami in Miami Gardens. Ranked in the top 25 regional universities in the South, by U.S. News & World Report, Florida Memorial is recognized as one of the top HBCUs in the nation.
The FMU School of Business and School of Education are both considered among the best schools of their kind, not only among HBCUs or in Florida, but across the South, and FMU’s Honors Program is a model of educational challenge and motivation. FMU has also earned a considerable reputation for its outreach and service to the community of Miami Gardens, Florida’s largest majority-black city, particularly through the Pre-College Experience Institute, which brings at-risk young people to learn about their potential for attending college. Florida Memorial is the heart of learning and service for the larger Miami-Dade community, and one of the best universities Florida has to offer.