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Love UNC? More Great Universities in the Southeast U.S.!

students walking at unc chapel hill campus
Tova Tolman

Written by Tova Javetzon January 22nd, 2024

I began my career as both a tour guide and senior interviewer at my alma mater, Barnard, where I later joined the admissions team and read and reviewed applications from students applying from the northeastern, midwestern, and western regions of the United States, as well as Canada. A few years later, while pursuing my master’s degree, I briefly left admissions to be the director of student life at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Realizing I missed working closely with students on the high school side of college counseling, I joined the admissions team at Fordham University where I recruited and reviewed applicants applying to Fordham’s liberal arts and business colleges. My most recent experience at Montclair State helped me understand what the application process looks like outside of highly selective colleges and how to help students who may not be fully prepared for college-level work. One of my favorite past experiences was managing the athletic recruitment process at Fordham as well as a number of sports at Barnard. Understanding the inner workings of both the Ivy and Patriot athletic leagues meant I was able to guide students to find the best athletic matches as part of their college search.
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by Tova Javetz, former admissions officer at Barnard College What happens when you fall in love with a school that you're statistically unlikely to get into? When a student excitedly tells me, "I found my dream school!" and that school has an acceptance rate under 50%, I say, “Awesome, now tell me why it's your dream school.” I ask them to list at least three specific things they like about the school so I can help them find a few similar campuses with more accessible admission practices. Remember, the goal isn't to find one "perfect" school, but to find a number of schools that would all be a great match. For this post, we’ll focus our game of, "If you like___, might I interest you in___," on my home region, the southeast. As a transplant from the northeast, I especially love the warm weather and southern hospitality, factors that also draw in many college applicants. If you like the University of Georgia, maybe you’re drawn to a large school (UGA has around 28,000 undergraduates), vibrant school spirit, football culture (go Dawgs!), Greek life, and a commitment to community engagement. But with a 40% acceptance rate—and 93% of admitted students having a GPA of 4.0—it may be out of reach. If you like UGA, might I interest you in:
  • Auburn University: Increasingly popular, Auburn is slightly less selective than UGA, with 63% of admitted students having a GPA of 4.0. It earns top spots in various "Best Student Life" rankings for its 23,000 undergraduate students, who can also find a huge array of unique majors like Poultry Science, Turfgrass Sciences, Health Optimization, and the increasingly popular Supply Chain Management. Warrrrrrr Eagle!
  • University of South Carolina: With a southern culture similar to UGA amongst its 26,000 undergrads, USC also emphasizes community engagement and hosts an on-campus center for leadership and service. In addition to countless weekly opportunities, every March, students, faculty, and staff head into the surrounding Columbia community and volunteer for a day of service called “The Big Event.” With a 64% acceptance rate, USC is much more accessible than UGA. Go Gamecocks!
  • University of Alabama: Perhaps the most contentious suggestion from a Bulldogs fan as the loss to 'Bama in this year's SEC championship is still raw. Alabama's student life offers a similar vibe, with almost 29,000 undergraduates, a dominating football program, and a rich history. With the most generous admission rate in this category at almost 80%, it might be time to consider saying Roll Tide. (My family might have just disowned me.)
If you like the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, maybe you enjoy the idea of a large university like UGA, but with an even stronger academic focus. But with its single-digit acceptance rate for out-of-state students, Chapel Hill is out of reach for many. If you like UNC, might I interest you in…
  • North Carolina State: Just down the road in Raleigh, NC State is another large research university, touting excellence in science, engineering, and technology. With 25,000 undergraduates, it is still selective with a 47% acceptance rate, but with a much more accessible academic profile of an average admitted student.
  • University of Tennessee: UT Knoxville offers its 27,000 students extensive research opportunities, making significant contributions across the sciences, engineering, business, and the humanities. We're pretty excited about their 68% acceptance rate.
  • University of Oklahoma: Another public institution in the southeast (ok, we might be stretching the geographic boundaries with this one, but it's too good not to include) with an emphasis on academic advising and orientation, a nationally recognized Honors College, and funded research opportunities, UO is a great option. With much more generous admission practices at a 73% acceptance rate, it's worth checking out.
If you like the University of Miami, maybe you want warm weather, a medium-sized (and beautiful) campus, plus top notch academics and a socially active student body. If you like The U but are deterred by its 19% admission rate, might I interest you in…
  • University of Tampa: With only 29% of admitted students having a GPA greater than 3.75, Tampa is much more accessible than Miami but similarly sized (9,600 students) and just as Floridian. The waterfront campus is not only gorgeous, but is active with student life and, to quote their website, "the beating heart of a vibrant urban oasis."
  • Elon University: North Carolina might not be as warm as Florida, but with a 74% acceptance rate, Elon deserves a spot on your research list if you like the idea of an emphasis on experiential learning and a global focus, with nearly 88% of their 6,300 students participating in some form of study abroad! 
  • Rollins College: This is the smallest school on this list and has more of a 'small liberal arts college' feel than a large research institution. While the suburbs of Orlando are not the beach, Rollins sits on the banks of a beautiful lake and still offers that glorious Florida weather to its 2,300 students.
Have fun with the research. Make sure to consider how each school might align with your priorities and deal breakers, and you'll end up with a great, balanced college list!

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