The South’s Most Beautiful Colleges
These Southern Schools have Beauty and Brains
Spring Hill College
Founded in 1830; shc.edu
The Avenue of the Oaks is one of the first things to draw prospective students here, and it’s also one of the last memories they’ll take with them when they go. Each year, graduates sit among these towering trees, laced with rows of pink azaleas, as they face a commencement stage in front of Stewartfield, a white Greek Revival home used for special events. “You take your last walk down the avenue when degrees are conferred,” explains college spokesperson Ashley Rains. During students’ tenures at this liberal arts school—the Southeast’s oldest Catholic college—they hang out at Rydex Commons, a circular green space facing the library and the exquisite St. Joseph Chapel. You can experience the natural splendor of a South Alabama landscape all over campus. “It’s full of camellias, gardenias, palm trees, and oaks,” Rains says.
The University of Alabama
Founded in 1831, ua.edu
Known for its academic and football prowess, this college also boasts one of the South’s most gorgeous campuses, with a mix of Beaux Arts and Greek Revival buildings. “I’ve seen pretty campuses across the country, but Alabama’s literally took my breath away,” says Linda Bonnin, vice president of strategic communications. From her office window, she can see graduates taking photos in front of the iconic columned President’s Mansion. Then they head to Denny Chimes, rising above the Quad, and (of course) they take a few in front of the cathedral of a football stadium.
Founded in 1876; hendrix.edu
Along with historic redbrick buildings and a pecan tree court, a gazebo left over from the set of a 1980s campus theater production has become a landmark at this scenic 175-acre college. A private liberal arts school, Hendrix College draws a student body of about 1,300. President William M. Tsutsui compares the small, personalized classrooms to the physical campus itself. “The intimate scale and openness of our campus encourage interaction and engagement,” he says. “Azalea borders and old oaks and pines celebrate our heritage in Arkansas, the Natural State.” Tsutsui says campus landmarks, along with the architecture of academic buildings and residence halls, show that Hendrix values learning and community. To that end, in 2009, the college developed The Village at Hendrix next door. It’s a master-planned community with walkable neighborhoods, green spaces, and mixed-use buildings.
University of Delaware
Founded in 1743; udel.edu
Many institutions of higher learning are the centerpieces of quaint “college towns,” but the University of Delaware is smack-dab in the middle of Newark. “Our campus bisects Main Street,” explains Peter Krawchyk, vice president of facilities, real estate, and auxiliary services. Students can stroll a classic downtown scene as easily as they can amble past the Jeffersonian architecture of the historic buildings on campus. They’re reminiscent of the University of Virginia, with their regal red brick and white trim. Students congregate on The Green, backed by historic Memorial Hall and the Hugh M. Morris Library, a space that originally helped unite the all-male Delaware College and the Women’s College of Delaware in 1917 to create one campus. The architects tapped Marian Coffin, one of the nation’s first female landscape architects, to design a plan for the space, and Krawchyk says Coffin’s influence still permeates this area. Other landmarks, like the President’s House (which dates back to 1921) and Old College Hall (the first building on campus), add even more historic gravitas.
Founded in 1789; georgetown.edu
The oldest Catholic and Jesuit institution of higher learning in the country, Georgetown was founded the same year the United States Constitution was ratified. Its stately centerpiece, Healy Hall, dates back to the late 19th century and anchors the campus. A gray stone exterior, a mix of architectural styles from Gothic to Romanesque, row upon row of windows, and towers give it an imposing air. Today, it’s home to the administrative offices, some classrooms, and Riggs Library, one of the country’s few libraries constructed of cast iron. It still holds plenty of books but now also serves as an event venue. Andrew Debraggio, a Georgetown University communications specialist who used to give campus tours as an undergrad, points to his favorite spot, the porch on the building known as Old North. Fourteen U.S. Presidents—including George Washington and Abraham Lincoln—have stood here to deliver addresses. With glimpses of the Potomac River from the upper levels of some university buildings and cherry trees dotting the landscape, Georgetown has beauty and historic character befitting its D.C. setting.
Florida Southern College
Founded in 1883; flsouthern.edu
With its stunning collection of buildings conceived by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright—as well as its scenic locale along Lake Hollingsworth—Florida Southern breaks the traditional collegiate design mold. School president Anne Kerr says Wright was challenged to create buildings that were uniquely American, rather than drawing on typical European or old-world architecture. The angular Annie Pfeiffer Chapel and other Wright originals inspire innovation, and our students really embrace that, Kerr says. She points to Wright’s campus fountain, called the Water Dome, which is meant to represent the ever-flowing body of knowledge. She also loves the Wright-designed campus planetarium; she believes it encourages students to explore the heavens and the natural world.
St. Augustine, Florida
Founded in 1968; flagler.edu
When the king and queen of Spain came to town in 2015 to celebrate the 450th anniversary of St. Augustine, not just any restaurant or private home would do for hosting lunch. Instead, the city entertained at historic Flagler College—the opulent 1888 Ponce de Leon hotel turned school—and used its solarium for the royal luncheon. Students might feel like royalty every day in Ponce de Leon Hall, with its gilded ceilings and dining hall ringed with stained glass. It was even deemed “one of the greatest rooms in the United States” by New York architect George E. Kidder Smith. “The students call it ‘Hogwarts,’ ” says Leslee Keys, director of historic preservation, noting the room’s resemblance to the grand magical dining hall from the Harry Potter books. “They really appreciate the beauty of the campus,” she explains, adding that preserving the Spanish Renaissance-style architectural treasures has been part of the Flagler College mission from the start. As if all of the school’s historic character and architectural gems were not enough, Keys says this college has an ace in the hole when it comes to attracting prospective students: “We’re all of five minutes away from the beach.”
University of Georgia
A 160-year-old black iron arch stands as a testament to this state college’s long tenure. It was established over 200 years ago and prides itself on being the “birthplace of public higher education.” Gwynne Darden, an architect and associate vice president for facilities planning, and Tom Breedlove, a landscape architect, work in the Office of University Architects to grow and maintain the centuries-old institution. “We try to keep the focus on Georgia-native plants,” Darden says. Breedlove goes through a list of magnolia, elm, and maple trees that shade the campus and accent Georgian-style buildings clustered around green spaces such as the North Campus Lawn and Georgia Quad. (Breedlove lets the athletic department handle clipping the famed hedges that border the football field inside Sanford Stadium.)
Mount Berry, Georgia
Founded in 1902; berry.edu
The Ford Complex, inspired by Oxford University’s Christ Church in England, gives Berry College a touch of British grandeur in the midst of its rural Georgia setting, and its Neo-Gothic architecture inspires serious study. On this 27,000-acre property, the formal Ford Complex gives way to pastureland, hills, lakes, log cabins, and the Mountain Campus, where an old mill and waterwheel make a great spot for a photo op. Miles of split-rail fences are maintained by the students, who not only study here but also work to keep it beautiful. In fact, 90% of Berry students work on campus in some capacity during their academic tenures. “We believe that beauty nurtures the heart just as academic studies mold the mind, and work experience trains the hands,” explains Berry College president Stephen Briggs. “[Founder] Martha Berry believed that beauty is an integral part of education.” She created an institution where both can flourish.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Founded in 1834; tulane.edu
A 5-mile streetcar ride from downtown New Orleans takes students to this school on historic St. Charles Avenue. Towering oaks shade the Uptown campus, where the college was moved in 1894. Gibson Hall, the first building here, presides over the academic quad with stately Romanesque Revival architecture and a limestone exterior. The rattle of the streetcar line and the neighborhood roads neatly lined with classic New Orleans homes remind students they are studying in the Big Easy. Nearby Audubon Park, a 350-acre Uptown gem, gives students a place (other than Bourbon Street!) to escape the stresses of their studies. “Being surrounded by beauty helps inspire the mind,” says university spokesperson Mike Strecker, who notes that the redbrick buildings of Newcomb College added to Tulane’s beauty when, after Hurricane Katrina, the longtime affiliate and former women’s college merged with Tulane to form Newcomb-Tulane College for full-time undergraduates.
U.S. Naval Academy
Founded in 1845; usna.edu
The waterside setting on the banks of the Severn River in historic Annapolis and the picturesque Beaux Arts-style campus compose a fitting backdrop for the school’s important mission. Tourists can watch the midshipmen’s noon mealtime formation in Tecumseh Court in front of landmark dormitory Bancroft Hall. Either a band or drum will typically usher students along as they enter the dining hall in precise formation. In addition to structures like the imposing Mahan Hall across the courtyard from Bancroft, other buildings worth a tour include the domed chapel, with stained glass windows depicting water-related scenes, and the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in Preble Hall. Nestled between the river and the heart of downtown Annapolis, the campus exudes a level of military tradition and patriotism that’s palpable.
University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland
Founded in 1856; umd.edu
Established on historic U.S. 1, this campus boasts one of the country’s largest academic malls. The 9-acre McKeldin Mall stretches from the Main Administration Building to McKeldin Library, with its stalwart redbrick exterior, distinctive front stairway, and crisp white-columned facade. Students bustle amid uniform buildings, following pathways that crisscross the green. On one side of the mall, a 250- by 16-foot rectangular fountain, which honors members of the Omicron Delta Kappa academic society, resembles the reflecting pool on the National Mall in D.C. Other green spaces in the historic core of the campus include the Memorial Chapel Lawn and Morrill Quad. Visitors who come during the spring and fall can see seasonal flowers forming a cheery letter “M” on Campus Drive.
University of Mississippi (Ole Miss)
Founded in 1848; olemiss.edu
The Phi Mu Fountain. Magnolia Drive. The Lyceum, built in the 1840s, with its graceful Ionic columns. These are just a few of the school’s storied landmarks. Historic buildings along the Quad, as well as Bryant Hall, built in 1911 and accented by an impressive rotunda, have plenty of collegiate character. But the Lyceum has seen it all—from wounded soldiers housed here during the Civil War to James Meredith’s enrollment as the school’s first black student in 1962. On football game days, Southern tailgating rises to a whole new level when the silver candelabras come out at the Grove.
Washington University in St. Louis
St. Louis, Missouri
Founded in 1853; Danforth Campus, 1905; wustl.edu
The Danforth Campus of Washington University is one of those places that high school students fall in love with during tours. “They think, ‘That’s what I thought college would look like,’ ” says chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. He describes commencement ceremonies conducted in the Brookings Quadrangle, flanked by Brookings Hall, with its dual rounded towers with flags fluttering above them. “Children think it looks like a castle,” he says. The grand building and several others were built on the site of the 1904 World’s Fair and leased by the fair administration for office and expo space. Today, Wrighton says new buildings and the expansion on the East End of campus will be sympathetic to historic structures. “Attracting talented faculty and students depends on having a great environment,” he says.
Durham, North Carolina
Founded in 1924; duke.edu
Known for basketball as well as Ivy League-caliber academics, Duke features regal Gothic stone structures on its West Campus and Georgian architecture on its East Campus. Scholars of the highest order walk among those stones and bricks, and alums book Duke Chapel up to a year in advance to marry in Gothic grandeur. “When I walked on campus for the first time 38 years ago, it took me about a second to decide I wanted to come here,” says Michael Schoenfeld, an alum who now works there as vice president for public affairs and government relations. He notes that the West Campus looks very similar, if not identical, to the way it appeared when it was built in the 1920s. He calls it a “Gothic wonderland transported into the North Carolina forest.” Other highlights to visit include the Sarah P. Duke Gardens and William R. Perkins Library.
Wake Forest University
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Founded in 1834; relocated in 1956; wfu.edu
Architect Jens Fredrick Larson, who wrote a definitive text on collegiate architecture and campus planning, designed this campus and clearly understood what attracts potential students. “When I first visited Wake, it felt kind of surreal how beautiful it was,” says senior Ellie King. “Everything seemed so perfect—exactly how I had always pictured a college. I loved how every building shared the same style and brick and how the layout of the campus was neat and orderly.” She responded to Larson’s Georgian Revival buildings clad in Old Virginia Brick, their limestone details and decorative wrought iron. Martha Allman, dean of admissions, says prospective students who are initially attracted to Wake Forest by the image of a forest are pleased to see the canopy of hardwoods and flowering trees when they visit. A network of trails helps them enjoy the beautiful setting. “Our campus offers a special connection with nature and the outdoors that is important to their well-being,” she says. Hearn Plaza draws students to a green surrounded by spire-topped Wait Chapel, Reynolda Hall, and a cupola-crowned library, with Pilot Mountain in the distance. “The view never gets old, no matter how many times you spend the afternoon there hanging out with your friends,” King says.
Oklahoma State University
Founded in 1890; go.okstate.edu
A Big 12 campus noted for its beauty, Oklahoma State University (OSU) features calming Theta Pond along with charming Neo-Georgian architecture that gives this campus a cohesive, collegiate look. The university’s redbrick buildings work with brick-lined walkways, courtyards, and open spaces to create symmetry and relaxing outdoor rooms. Landmark structures include Old Central and the Edmon Low Library.
Greenville, South Carolina
Founded in 1826; furman.edu
Georgian-style architecture defines this campus, set along a lake punctuated by the landmark Florentine-style Bell Tower. But the grounds have other charms too. “For me, it all started with the gorgeous gated entrance that showcases the trees and one of the many fountains,” says alum Brent Latta of Birmingham. “From right there, I was hooked as a prospective student.” Jeff Redderson, assistant vice president for facilities and campus services, agrees that Furman University’s first impressions are, well, impressive. “You come off the interstate, and it’s a really picturesque moment,” he says. Once on campus, visitors get a sense of the landscape design, which has a Williamsburg-influenced style. “We have great bones to work from because the master plan was so well done,” Redderson says. Residence halls overlook the lake, the extensive Asia Garden provides a place to stroll, and nature trails lure students to the waterside.
The University of the South
Founded in 1857; sewanee.edu
Collegiate Gothic architecture defines The University of the South, aka “Sewanee,” which is tucked into a rural, forested perch atop the Cumberland Plateau. Just a mile away from downtown Sewanee, the campus feels like a retreat. Laurie Saxton, an alum who now works at the university, points to some of its most striking features: Abbo’s Alley, a natural spring and creek, runs near the center of campus and is lined with daffodils in spring. Dorm-side lakes offer spots for recreational fishing. The woods inspire professors to take students out for “labs” that usually involve hiking and listening to lectures under the trees. In the heart of campus, the iconic All Saints’ Chapel rises on the central Quad. “We think of it as the living room on the Quad,” says Saxton, “and it’s open to people of all faiths or no faith.”
Founded in 1885; baylor.edu
This private, Baptist-affiliated college showcases buildings designed in the style of Oxford and Cambridge universities. The Burleson Quad is a great photo op; it’s the centerpiece of campus and home to the school’s first four buildings. The Armstrong Browning Library honors poets Robert Browning and his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, with stained glass windows depicting lines from their poems. A newer addition to campus is the football stadium, where students cheer on the Baylor Bears.
University of Virginia
Founded in 1819; virginia.edu
Established by one of our country’s founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia is the very embodiment of “collegiate.” In fact, this United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site is considered a design masterpiece. Walk the Lawn and marvel at Jefferson’s vision for an academic haven. The Academical Village includes the Rotunda, which is modeled on the Pantheon in Rome, the Lawn, and the Range, along with hotels, gardens, and pavilions—all part of Jefferson’s original plan for the school, according to university spokesperson Matt Charles. “Back then, students and their teachers would live together, attend classes on the ground floor of professors’ homes, and interact daily,” Charles says. “Nearly 200 years after Jefferson first articulated it, his ideal is still operating.” What’s more, it has become a model for colleges across the country.