South Carolina’s Best Public Colleges & Universities of 2021

Public colleges and universities account for almost 75 percent of all undergraduate students in the U.S. The best public colleges in South Carolina provide broad access to reputable degree programs, affordable tuition, and sprawling educational communities.

South Carolina’s  Best Public Colleges & Universities of 2021

Colleges and Universities in South Carolina

The 31 public schools range in tuition from $5,000 to $17,000. The largest institution, the University of South Carolina (U of SC), is right in the middle, totaling $11,000 for fees. Located in Columbia, U of SC has over 30,000 students in attendance and offers over 300 degree options. Aside from the technical and community colleges in the state, there are four universities under $10,000. At $17,000, the Medical University of South Carolina is the most expensive public school in the state.

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In addition, over 25 private schools, 17 with religious affiliations, offer academic settings with small student populations, none exceeding 3,500. Though it is the most expensive at $50,000, Furman University boasts an 84% graduation rate. With Methodist connections, Wofford College charges a tuition of $44,000, and it bears noting that the campus is situated on a national arboretum. The University of South Carolina School of Law is one of the nation’s oldest law schools and the state’s only nonprofit law school. Graduates of the school have the opportunity to receive financial assistance from the Public Interest Law Loan Forgiveness Fund if they are employed in the field of public interest law.

Along the 60-mile stretch of beaches in South Carolina is iconic Myrtle Beach, home to one of the world’s tallest Ferris wheels. Cypress swamps, military museums, and tea gardens add to the southern charm of this state. And with over 50 higher education institutions, students have plenty of options for where to earn their associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree.

Check out the top programs available, and earn your degree in The Palmetto State.


What are South Carolina’s Colleges & Universities?

South Carolina’s Best Overall

What is a public college? And what is the difference between a private and public college?

Public and private colleges and universities operate under different business models — one is a private company with private funding; the other is owned by the state and receives both state and federal funding to operate. If you’re weighing the pros and cons of private vs. public college, consider that many public colleges provide diverse course offerings, influential professors, and an excellent return on your investment.

Public colleges are schools that receive most of their funding from tax revenues. As a result, the cost of a four-year degree at a public university is often lower than the equivalent cost at a private college — especially for students attending a public school in their home state. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the average annual cost (tuition, fees, room and board for full-time students) at a four-year public university was slightly over $20,000. In contrast, private universities cost, on average, nearly $43,000 annually.

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How do we determine South Carolina's best public colleges and universities?

The people affiliated with a school are ultimately what make it great. This is why, at the undergraduate level, we rank the best colleges and universities based on what we call “Concentrated Influence”. Concentrated Influence takes the combined influence score of a college or university’s top academic influencers (including faculty and alums) and divides it by the school’s total number of undergraduates.

Using concentrated influence gives small and mid-sized schools an opportunity to shine by taking away the size advantage of larger universities. A small school with proportionately more influential faculty than a large school, whose influence in absolute terms may be bigger, will nonetheless score higher in a concentrated influence ranking. Our approach highlights undergraduate schools that truly rank for excellence, regardless of size.

If you are serious about finding the best colleges and universities for a bachelor’s degree, you should be asking where the most influential professors are teaching and whether their graduates are themselves advancing the school’s reputation for academic excellence.

Most ranking sites rely on an opaque combination of reputation surveys and arbitrary performance metrics. Concentrated Influence provides a ranking that is free from bias, insulated from manipulation, and reflective of real-world educational outcomes.

Find out more about our ranking methodology here.


This list is composed entirely of public colleges and universities that offer four-year undergraduate degrees. We’ve identified 12 public universities in South Carolina, 10 satisfy our criteria. The list below of the best public universities in the state satisfies the following four conditions:

  1. It must receive direct funding from the state.
  2. It must be fully accredited.
  3. It offers a broad range of bachelor’s degree programs.
  4. Its graduation rate must be above 40%.

Best Public Colleges & Universities in South Carolina

  1. #1

    University of South Carolina

    #282 institution's historical influence
    #1388 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Acceptance

    68%

    Graduation

    78%

    Student body

    32K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1275/28

    Columbia, SC

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    What is University of South Carolina known for?

    University of South Carolina’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Medical
    • Law
    • Business
    • Education
    • History
    • Biology
    • Literature
    • Political Science
    • Engineering
    • Chemistry

    Most Influential Alumni

  2. #2

    Clemson University

    #436 institution's historical influence
    #513 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $16K

    Acceptance

    62%

    Graduation

    85%

    Student body

    25K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1315/29

    Clemson, SC

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    What is Clemson University known for?

    Clemson University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • Business
    • Biology
    • Education
    • History
    • Mathematics
    • Literature
    • Computer Science
    • Medical
    • Chemistry

    Most Influential Alumni

  3. #3

    The Citadel

    #1316 institution's historical influence
    #1218 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Acceptance

    80%

    Graduation

    71%

    Student body

    4K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1140/22

    Charleston, SC

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    What is The Citadel known for?

    The Citadel’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Literature
    • Engineering
    • Business
    • Education
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Mathematics
    • Criminal Justice
    • Medical
    • Chemistry

    Most Influential Alumni

  4. #4

    College of Charleston

    #755 institution's historical influence
    #435 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Acceptance

    74%

    Graduation

    66%

    Student body

    10K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1170/25

    Charleston, SC

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    What is College of Charleston known for?

    College of Charleston’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Education
    • History
    • Engineering
    • Computer Science
    • Political Science
    • Medical
    • Philosophy
    • Literature
    • Biology
  5. #5

    Coastal Carolina University

    #1814 institution's historical influence
    #613 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    70%

    Graduation

    46%

    Student body

    10K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1090/21

    Conway, SC

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    What is Coastal Carolina University known for?

    Coastal Carolina University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • Business
    • Literature
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Economics
    • Mathematics
    • Biology
    • Philosophy
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  6. #6

    Winthrop University

    #2380 institution's historical influence
    #1174 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $16K

    Acceptance

    64%

    Graduation

    61%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1055/21

    Rock Hill, SC

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    What is Winthrop University known for?

    Winthrop University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • Computer Science
    • Business
    • History
    • Medical
    • Political Science
    • Literature
    • Communications
    • Biology
    • Philosophy
  7. #7

    University of South Carolina Upstate

    #5866 institution's historical influence
    #1231 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    60%

    Graduation

    47%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1015/19

    Spartanburg, SC

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    What is University of South Carolina Upstate known for?

    University of South Carolina Upstate’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Education
    • History
    • Communications
    • Medical
    • Engineering
    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Psychology
    • Literature
  8. #8

    Francis Marion University

    #3463 institution's historical influence
    #1269 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $11K

    Acceptance

    75%

    Graduation

    44%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1005/18

    Florence, SC

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    What is Francis Marion University known for?

    Francis Marion University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • Psychology
    • Business
    • Nursing
    • Medical
    • History
    • Literature
    • Political Science
    • Chemistry
    • Physics

    Most Influential Alumni

  9. #9

    Lander University

    #3555 institution's historical influence
    #913 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    57%

    Graduation

    49%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1035/20

    Greenwood, SC

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    What is Lander University known for?

    Lander University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • Nursing
    • Criminal Justice
    • History
    • Sociology
    • Mathematics
    • Communications
    • Political Science
    • Biology
    • Medical

    Most Influential Alumni

  10. #10

    University of South Carolina Aiken

    #5649 institution's historical influence
    #1008 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $11K

    Acceptance

    56%

    Graduation

    41%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1050/20

    Aiken, SC

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    What is University of South Carolina Aiken known for?

    University of South Carolina Aiken’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • Psychology
    • History
    • Nursing
    • Biology
    • Medical
    • Chemistry
    • Political Science
    • Engineering
    • Mathematics

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