To identify the Best Colleges in South Carolina 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 South Carolina anywhere. Read more about our rankings methodology and sources at our about page.
Colleges & Universities in South Carolina
The best colleges and universities in South Carolina are leading the state’s charge into the 21st century with research that build on a long heritage of agriculture and innovation; technical training that makes a strong, informed workforce; and professional programs that prepare the next generation of leaders in industry, government, medicine, and education. Major research institutions like Clemson University 68 carry on South Carolina’s history, but link it to the latest discoveries in technology, engineering, and science, all helping to make the Palmetto State a contender in the modern marketplace. Other historic institutions like The Citadel 66 , Furman University 72 , and the College of Charleston 65 remind South Carolina of a three-century old tradition of excellence, and point the way to an accomplished future.
With a deep, rich history of religious faith, South Carolina’s higher education system is also shaped by top-ranked Christian colleges and universities; institutions like Columbia International University maintain a tradition of Christian faith and belief fused with the liberal arts and professional studies. South Carolina is home to influential liberal arts colleges like Wofford College 73 and Winthrop University 65 , while historical women’s colleges like Columbia College 63 and Converse College 60 carry on a world-changing mission from the era when women were not welcome in higher education, dedicated to demonstrating what women can accomplish. All told, South Carolina’s best colleges and universities are South Carolina’s best self.
Here are the top colleges and universities of the Palmetto State.
Founded in 1854, Wofford College is a small liberal arts college in Spartanburg, SC. Wofford’s founder, Benjamin Wofford, was a Methodist minister who left $100,000 in his estate to found a college in his hometown of Spartanburg. Wofford was one of the few colleges in the South to survive the Civil War in its original location, and its campus is on the National Register of Historic Places. As a Methodist circuit-rider (a traveling missionary), Wofford’s Wesleyan values had formed around egalitarian, traditionally liberal lines; Wofford’s intention was a non-sectarian, non-elitist institution dedicated to classical studies for everyone. Today, Wofford is recognized as one of South Carolina’s top colleges, and ranked in the 100 best national liberal arts colleges by U.S. News & World Report, with a steadily rising reputation.
Wofford College’s curriculum is rooted in the traditional liberal arts, focusing on a strong foundation in the humanities and sciences for the purpose of preparing students for their majors, careers, and graduate education. With a history of rigor and excellence, Wofford was the first liberal arts college in South Carolina with a Phi Beta Kappa chapter. Students attend on a 4-1-4 schedule, with two conventional 4-month semesters and a 1-month winter semester for specialized courses. Majors range across the humanities, sciences, and social sciences, and pre-professional programs include teacher education, pre-law, pre-med, and more. An 11:1 student:faculty ratio gives students a high level of mentorship and interaction with their professors, helping Wofford College fulfill their mission to be one of South Carolina’s best colleges.
South Carolina’s oldest private university, Furman University dates its founding to 1826, when the South Carolina Baptist Convention opened the Furman Academy and Theological Institute, a school intended to prepare younger students for college, and to train ministers for the Baptist church. Financial struggles drove the school to move twice, until the Baptist Convention raised enough money to move the college to the growing city of Greenville. There, the theology school broke off into the Southern Baptist Seminary, and the academy began growing into a full liberal arts college. When Furman was included in The Duke Endowment (a massive trust fund established by tobacco magnate James B. Duke for hospitals and colleges), it began a period of development that would make Furman what it is today: South Carolina’s highest-ranked liberal arts college, according to U.S. News & World Report, the Princeton Review, and Forbes.
Furman’s curriculum is rooted in the traditional liberal arts, but dedicated to fostering values and skills that can adapt to any modern professional field. Teaching at Furman prioritizes experiential learning, problem-solving, collaboration, and project-based research, solidifying classical humanities and science skills like analysis, reasoning, and holistic knowledge. In addition to recognition as one of the most rigorous colleges in America, and one of the most successful for sending graduates on to further education (Furman has more graduates who go on to earn PhDs than any other college in South Carolina), Furman has a strong reputation for sustainability, environmental responsibility, and community engagement. Furman’s campus has also won numerous awards for its beauty, from architecture to landscaping. Among South Carolina’s best universities, Furman University has the whole package.
Citadel Military College of South Carolina
The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina (its full formal name) was founded in 1842 and is one of the six prestigious senior military colleges in the US. The Citadel was an outgrowth of South Carolina’s arsenals, built in the 1820s to protect the military’s arms and ammunition, and originally consisted of two campuses – the Citadel, and the Arsenal, which was permanently destroyed by Sherman’s army in the Civil War. The Citadel was closed at the end of the Civil War, and reopened as a state-owned military college in 1882. Over the 20th century, The Citadel grew in size and reputation, expanding beyond its traditional cadet student body to include adult education programs as well. Today, The Citadel is ranked the top public regional university in the South by U.S. News & World Report, as well as earning notice as a best value from publications like Money magazine and The Economist.
The mission of the senior military colleges is to establish a corps of cadets for future service in the military, often as officers; a third of graduate go directly into the military, while many others go on to graduate schooling, and Citadel alumni serve in all five branches of the military. The Citadel has two main divisions within the student body: the military corps of cadets, undergraduate students who live in a military environment; and the civilian program, primarily an evening graduate program for adult students (though part time undergraduate and online degrees are also offered). As a military college, Citadel students are subject to military discipline, and the university is known for its demanding academic rigor. The Citadel’s School of Engineering – the fifth oldest in the nation – is particularly renowned, as is the Baker School of Business, and the Zucker School of Education. Nationally recognized, The Citadel defines academic excellence for South Carolina’s colleges and universities.
Columbia International University
Founded in 1923, Columbia International University began as the Columbia Bible School, a small school offering 2-year degrees in biblical studies to locals. Through the 1920s, Columbia grew into a college, developing their first bachelor’s degree in the Bible, and began the process of growing into a full 4-year institution by adding traditional liberal arts and pre-professional programs. By 1994, Columbia had seen its mission grow well beyond its origins, and the name was changed to Columbia International University to reflect the institution’s commitment to academic education and global outreach. Today, Columbia International is a multi-denominational Christian university ranked as a top Southern regional institution by U.S. News & World Report, and a best value.
Columbia International is a highly religious institution, with a strong emphasis on the humanities and ministry; there are, in fact, no undergraduate degree programs in the sciences. CIU’s undergraduate curriculum is rooted in the traditional liberal arts, and all students must take foundational courses in the bible and theology; graduate programs are centered around teacher education, and ministry-related fields like Chaplaincy and Counseling. In addition, all students must commit to certain doctrinal beliefs, including biblical inerrancy, the Trinity, and Jesus’ resurrection. Holistic learning is key to CIU, and students report on their Spiritual Growth annually. For faithful Christian students, Columbia International University offers one of the best opportunities in South Carolina.
Winthrop University began in 1886 as Winthrop Training School, a women’s school in Columbia, SC, though in less than a decade it moved to Rock Hill, SC. Then known as Winthrop Normal and Industrial College, the school was already evolving, with programs focused on preparing teachers for the public schools in what was called the “normal” method – a 2-year program of training in a real classroom – and on training women for careers in technical fields. As Winthrop continued to grow throughout the 20th century, it also began to add programs and open up its admissions, first to African-American women in 1964, then to men in 1974. Today, Winthrop is a respected, comprehensive public university, ranked in the top 25 Southern regional colleges by U.S. News & World Report.
With a 14:1 student:faculty ratio, Winthrop is well known for their strong student support and mentorship. As a traditional liberal arts university, Winthrop offers top-tier undergraduate education, as well as more than two dozen graduate degree programs. Winthrop is also acclaimed for their outreach to the community, earning Carnegie Foundation classification for Community Engagement, and recognition on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. A Gates Foundation report called “Beating the Odds” recognized Winthrop for its success with minority and at-risk students; around a third of Winthrop’s student body is African-American. With its commitment to community service and its academic excellence, Winthrop is a model of educational quality in South Carolina.
College of Charleston
One of the oldest colleges in the nation, the College of Charleston was originally founded in 1770, intended to provide an institution the sons of South Carolina’s wealthy planters to be educated, without having to go to across the Atlantic or north to New England. However, the advent of the American Revolution prevented the college from opening until 1785. Over the next half century, the school faced financial struggles, closing for a few years, and coming close to collapse again before the city of Charleston took it over in 1837; the College of Charleston therefore became the first municipal college in the nation. The college was saved once again after the Civil War by a large gift of over $160,000. Today, the College of Charleston is ranked #12 in the Southern region, according to U.S. News & World Report.
While the college remained very small for most of the 20th century, and attended primarily by Charleston residents, toward the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st the college grew by more than 20 times, earning a reputation worldwide and attracting international students. The College of Charleston now has over 11,000 students, with a core curriculum for undergraduates built around the traditional liberal arts, including languages, humanities, science, and arts; with the college’s international focus, languages are particularly important, and Charleston offers the most comprehensive foreign language program in the South. The college also offers nearly 20 master’s degrees and an adult learning program geared toward the needs of working adults and professionals. With nearly two and a half centuries of history, the College of Charleston is having its best years now.
Clemson University was founded in 1889 by a gift from philanthropist Thomas Green Clemson, who stated in his will that he wished to establish a college for agricultural science, modeled on Mississippi State University. Moving South Carolina’s Morrill land grant from South Carolina College (later the University of South Carolina), Clemson was established as an agricultural and mechanical college, as well as an all-male military school in the mold of The Citadel. Over time, Clemson added industrial programs, such as the nation’s first textiles department, as well as liberal arts and professional programs. By 1955 the university changed over from a military to a civilian school and began admitting women, and the next year Clemson reached full university status. Today, a comprehensive public research university, Clemson is nationally ranked in the top 25 public universities by U.S. News & World Report.
Clemson has made rising in the rankings one of its top priorities in the 21st century, expanding graduate programs (including adding new Ph.D. degrees), attracting world-class faculty, and building stronger connections to industry (such as its Automotive Engineering program, which partners with BMW, Michelin, and other major corporations). As South Carolina’s land-grant research university, Clemson is best known for their agriculture, engineering, and technology programs, and has earned the highest Carnegie Classification for research. In recent years Clemson has emphasized entrepreneurship and innovation, encouraging many startups from student and faculty research; Clemson’s economic footprint is huge, as is its community engagement. From outreach to working adults, to attracting South Carolina’s top high school graduates, Clemson University is securely at the top of South Carolina’s universities.
Columbia College (SC)
Columbia College, in South Carolina’s capital city of Columbia, is one of the oldest designated women’s colleges in the US, founded in 1854 as the Columbia Female College. The college was forced to close during and after the Civil War, though the campus itself was saved by a single professor who stayed behind to face down Sherman’s army; however, the college was not able to reopen until 1873. Columbia College grew steadily through the 20th century, especially after a fire in 1964 renewed school spirit and inspired a new period of development and building. Today, Columbia College is one of South Carolina’s most beloved institutions, and ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the 60 best regional colleges in the South.
Affiliated with the United Methodist Church, Columbia College is known for the academic rigor and intellectual excellence of the Methodist higher education tradition. The small student body of 1200 benefit from the small classes and low student:faculty ratio that defines the liberal arts college, and all courses are taught by full faculty members rather than assistants or adjuncts. Columbia offers 35 undergraduate majors and puts a priority on experiential, interdisciplinary education in the liberal arts tradition. While Columbia’s undergraduate programs remain for women only, its graduate and online programs, along with the evening adult education program, is open to men as well. Excellent student support and national recognition make Columbia College one of South Carolina’s top colleges.
University of South Carolina-Aiken
Founded in 1961 as a 2-year junior college for the University of South Carolina, USC Aiken was the result of a community campaign to bring an institution of higher education to the Central Savannah River Area of South Carolina, which lacked a university. USC opened the Aiken branch in a historic mansion, the Banksia, and began offering two-year associate’s degrees that could be completed at the flagship Columbia campus. In just over a decade, demand was so great that the college was moved to its own campus, and when the student body reached over 1000 USC Aiken became an independent 4-year college. Today, USC Aiken offers undergraduate and graduate degrees, and is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the South’s top public regional college.
USC Aiken has made its reputation on its commitment to the community around Aiken, particularly through meeting the educational needs of region’s working adults. Aiken has a large proportion of non-traditional aged students (over 25 years old) and a third of the student body comes from a minority background. With a relatively small student body (around 3500), USC Aiken is able to keep class sizes small and student:faculty ratio low, creating opportunity for undergraduate research and student support. In recent years, Aiken has begun offering master’s degrees, including a fully online MBA through Palmetto College, the University of South Carolina System’s online college. Top-tier opportunity has made USC Aiken one of South Carolina’s finest colleges.
Converse College was founded in 1889 by a group of prominent citizens in Spartanburg, SC; most notable was a wealthy textile mill owner and pioneer in the cotton industry, Dexter E. Converse, whose daughter was nearing adulthood. Converse led the board of directors and steered the new college (originally a private company) into a women’s school. With Converse’s financial support and leadership, the new school was named in his honor. 1896 saw Converse converted to a non-profit, and through the 20th century the colleges grew in stature and offerings. In the 1960s, Converse started graduate programs open to both women and men, and in the 1980s, an adult education program set the stage for further community outreach and engagement. Today, Converse is ranked in the top 30 regional institutions for the South by U.S. News & World Report, as well as earning recognition as a great value.
As a private liberal arts college, Converse is well known for its students support; the student:faculty ratio is just 12:1, and nearly all of Converse’s classes are taught by full-time faculty who hold the highest degree in their field. Of Converse’s student body, just over 800 women in the undergraduate college, and more than 500 women and men in the graduate school, nearly a quarter come from a minority background. Converse prioritizes experiential learning, with students taking part in undergraduate research, community service, and study abroad in large numbers. In addition to traditional on-campus courses, Converse has begun developing online and low-residency master’s degree programs. With its long history of excellence, Converse College is part of South Carolina’s leading edge.