The region known as Appalachia extends from the southernmost part of New York to the northernmost halves of Alabama and Mississippi. Thus, the Appalachian area covers large swathes spanning13 different states. The geography is characterized by mountain landscapes, stunning colors, and of course, the iconic Appalachian Trail. The Appalachians make for a beautiful place to live. For those interested in going to college in or near the Appalachians, such a decision could mean four years of stunning sights and lots of hiking, kayaking, mountain climbing, and even caving. For these students, we’ve put together our list of the 30 most affordable colleges in Appalachia with the most beautiful college campuses.
We began by using reference websites like College Navigator and College Data to compile a list of all Appalachian colleges. Ranking each college by its per-year tuition yielded the 30 most affordable colleges in the Appalachians.
1. Western Carolina University
Cullowhee, North Carolina
Western Carolina University (WCU) is a public college and part of the larger UNC system. It was founded in 1889 to educate those living in the Appalachians of western North Carolina. WCU has retained much of its culture of outdoor adventure and is among the top beautiful college campuses in our ranking. For example, the university is home to the popular Base Camp Cullowhee, an organization that acts as a liaison between students and the local community. This outdoor program organizes adventures such as the Rock & Rumble Fest/Bouldering Competition, Tuck River Cleanup, and the Catamount Adventure Camp for Kids.
Tuition: $4,367 (in-state) or $8,367 (out-of-state)
2. Appalachian State University
Boone, North Carolina
Founded as a teacher’s college in 1899, Appalachian State University (ASU / App State) became a part of the UNC system in 1971. The university is home to about 17,000 undergraduate students. Many of them chose it due to its pretty Blue Ridge Mountains setting, long list of undergraduate majors, and of course, its affordable tuition. It’s located near Beech Mountain, Roan Mountain State Park, and the town of Stone Mountain. Appalachian State University was recently voted by Blue Ridge Outdoors readers to be the best college in the Blue Ridge Mountains for adventurers and lovers of the outdoors. Climbing is an extremely popular activity among ASU students. Many students take part in the outdoor excursions organized by the on-campus outdoor program called the Wilderness Orientation Program.
Tuition: $7,410 (in-state) or $23,017 (out-of-state)
3. University of North Carolina, Asheville
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville is the UNC system’s only college with an official liberal arts designation. Potential students can be assured that this is a place that attracts those who love the arts and outdoor recreation while also preparing students academically. Ranked by The Princeton Review as the #1 school in America for “Making an Impact,” UNC Asheville takes full advantage of its natural surroundings. The local community is known for its outdoor adventure, night life, music scene, and artistic landscape. Students who love the outdoors can rent bicycles, kayaks, or other equipment from the on-campus Oudoor Programs. Or they can sign up for a cycling trip, kayaking clinic, or Outdoor Leadership Training event.
Tuition: $7,319 (in-state) or $24,667 (out-of-state)
4. University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is part of the greater University of Tennessee system. It’s an ideal money-saving alternative to the more expensive University of Tennessee in Knoxville. The university offers nearly 150 undergraduate majors, and is especially well known for its academic programs in:
UTC takes full advantage of its beautiful Appalachian location by organizing monthly wilderness trips that emphasize leadership skills in various outdoor settings. Mountain biking is a popular activity for students and local residents.
Tuition: $8,664 (in-state) or $24,782 (out-of-state)
5. West Virginia University
Morgantown, West Virginia
West Virginia University is a research-intensive university located in Morgantown, West Virginia. Home to just under 30,000 students, the university offers nearly 200 academic programs in 15 different colleges. It has achieved the status of both a land- and space-grant institution. The prestigious university has produced 22 Truman Scholars, 24 Rhodes Scholars, and 36 Goldwater Scholars. Students interested in West Virginia University because of its Appalachian location may also be pleased to know that the student population tends to be very active outdoors. After all, they are collectively known as the Mountaineers. Whitewater rafting and climbing are two especially popular pastimes for outdoor recreation.
Tuition: $8,976 (in-state) or $25,320 (out-of-state)
6. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
As the flagship of the University of North Carolina system, UNC Chapel Hill is a highly competitive school known for excellence in just about every aspect. It was founded in 1795 as the first public institution of higher education in North Carolina. UNC has since grown into a campus of nearly 30,000 students pursuing more than 70 different degrees. Over the course of its history, the university has produced:
- nine Nobel Prize laureates
- 49 Rhodes Scholars
- 23 Pulitzer Prize winners
- 39 Henry Luce Scholars
- a U.S. President
- a U.S Vice President
- nine Cabinet members
- 98 members of Congress
- 38 state governors
- three astronauts
Tuition: $9,028 (in-state) or $36,891 (out-of-state)
7. University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland
Situated on the outskirts of the Appalachians, University of Maryland is the largest university in both the Old Line State and the greater D.C. area. The student body is composed of nearly 40,000 students. Nearly 400,000 graduates make up its worldwide alumni network. Students may choose from about 130 undergraduate degrees. Some of the most popular include:
In addition to excursions taken to the nearby Appalachian region, University of Maryland organizes adventure leadership courses in countries such as Costa Rica, Panama, Fiji, and Norway.
Tuition: $10,955 (in-state) or $38,636 (out-of-state)
8. University of Alabama
Situated at the southernmost section of the Appalachians, University of Alabama is the largest public school in the state. While most people associate Alabama with its excellent football program, the university is also quite strong academically. Students may choose between approximately 120 areas of study, including the state’s only doctoral programs in:
- Romance languages
- social work
- communication and information sciences
Alabama alumni include:
- 15 Rhodes Scholars
- 32 Hollings Scholars
- 51 Goldwater Scholars
- 16 Truman Scholars
- 11 Boren Scholars
Tuition: $11,620 (in-state) or $31,090 (out-of-state)
9. Radford University
Radford University, located in Radford, Virginia, is a small public school of approximately 9,400 students. Students have more than 100 undergraduate degrees to choose from, plus various graduate programs. In recent years, Radford has become especially strong in its health-related doctoral programs. Students at Radford are given many opportunities to enjoy the beautiful Appalachian setting that surrounds the university. For example, the Radford University Outdoors Club organizes any excursions throughout the school year, including:
- canopy cruising tours
- skydiving trips
- horseback riding adventures
Tuition: $11,542 (in-state) or $23,624 (out-of-state)
10. James Madison University
James Madison University is located in Harrisonburg, Virginia, a small town nestled into the Shenandoah Valley of western Virginia. The university offers 115 different degrees at all major levels:
- educational specialist
James Madison University is well known for being a beautiful campus with a great outdoor program. Although it’s surrounded by mountains, active and adventurous students are sure to love that the campus also houses its own indoor climbing gym.
Tuition: $12,638 (in-state) or $29,564 (out-of-state)
11. Georgia Institute of Technology
Georgia Institute of Technology, better known as Georgia Tech, has been a top research institution since its founding during the Reconstruction. Today, Georgia Tech is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the 8th best public school in the country. Times Higher Education also ranked it 35th in its list of the best universities in the world. The Institute is especially well regarded for its programs in engineering and business. Despite its Atlanta location, Georgia Tech is an outdoorsy campus that fully embraces its proximity to the Appalachians. Students have myriad recreational spots to enjoy. These include:
- Chattahoochee River
- Kennesaw Mountain
- Steward Springs
- Howards’ Waterfall
Kayaking and caving are both popular pastimes for students.
Tuition: $12,852 (in-state) or $33,964 (out-of-state)
12. University of Georgia
Though it’s unclear whether or not its claim is accurate, the University of Georgia is said to be the oldest public college in America (two other universities claim the same). Either way, the university was founded in 1785 and has grown to become one of the most respected public research institutions. Indeed, U.S. News & World Report listed it as the 13th best public university in its most recent rankings. Other publications have declared it a “Public Ivy.” Though situated on the edge of the Appalachian region, University of Georgia takes full advantage of its beautiful natural scenery. It’s one of the only schools that offers a kayaking course for Physical Education credit.
Tuition: $12,068 (in-state) or $31,108 (out-of-state)
13. University of South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina
Students at University of South Carolina in Columbia can choose between 350 programs of study to obtain a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree. The university of 50,000 students is especially well known for its programs in:
- law, pharmacy
- social work
Interestingly, USC boasts the country’s largest collections of works by Ernest Hemingway and the Scottish poet Robert Burns.
Tuition: $12,688 (in-state) or $33,928 (out-of-state)
14. University of Tennessee
University of Tennessee is the flagship campus of the University of Tennessee system. Located in Knoxville, UT is situated within easy access of some of the Appalachian’s prettiest spots, including:
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Cherokee National Forest
- Clingmans Dome
- Roan Mountain State Park
The university was recently ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the 115th best college in the country, and the 52nd best public school in the country (2019). The University has produced seven Rhodes Scholars and a Nobel Prize laureate.
Tuition: $13,244 (in-state) or $31,644 (out-of-state)
15. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
With a student body composed of about 31,000 undergraduate and graduate students, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University is Virginia’s third-largest school. Students may choose between 225 different academic programs, including nationally ranked programs in:
- various engineering disciplines
- information technology,
- business administration
Washington Monthly named Virginia Tech as the 30th best school in the nation. Forbes and U.S. News & World Report have also included it on their lists of the best colleges in the country. Prospective students hoping to enjoy Virginia Tech’s Appalachian location will be happy to know that the Institute is home to a popular Venture Out program. This program features outdoor recreational opportunities and organizes excursions such as hiking, night skiing, and snowboarding.
Tuition: $14,174 (in-state) or $33,857 (out-of-state)
16. Clemson University
Clemson, South Carolina
Clemson University boasts a beautiful campus situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains next to Lake Hartwell. Many of Clemson’s approximately 20,000 undergraduate students are avid adventurers. They take full advantage of Clemson’s close proximity to hiking trails, cycling paths, and kayaking spots. The university itself is well respected for its various degree offerings. U.S. News & World Report recently ranked Clemson as the 21st best public university in America, and the 67th best school in the country overall.
Tuition: $15,558 (in-state) or $38,550 (out-of-state)
17. University of Virginia
Historic University of Virginia was founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson, a U.S. President and author of the Declaration of Independence. The university is as prestigious as one might expect, and has been declared by the Carnegie Foundation as a “research University with Very High Research.” Virginia’s alumni include:
- eight NASA astronauts
- eight Pulitzer Prize winners
- 53 Rhodes Scholars (the most of any Southern state university)
- an NBA All-Star
- a NATO Secretary General
- one U.S. President
- 14 Virginia state governors
- 14 governors of other U.S. states
- three U.S. Supreme Court justices
Tuition: $19,244 (in-state) or $53,626 (out-of-state)
18. Pennsylvania State University
State College, Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania State University is a popular research university founded in 1855. The University is consistently included on “Best Of” rankings. For example, the Academic Ranking of World Universities lists Pennsylvania State University as the 37th best university in the country, and the 74th best in the world for 2018. Meanwhile, U.S. News & World Report 2017 declared it the 14th best public school in the U.S. and 50th overall. Times Higher Education ranks is the 49th best university on the planet. In terms of outdoor recreation, the school is known for its fly fishing.
Fun fact: Students at Pennsylvania State University are able to participate in a unique on-campus scuba diving training and certification program.
Tuition: $18,898 (in-state) or $36,476 (out-of-state)
19. Sweet Briar College
Sweet Briar, Virginia
Beautiful Sweet Briar College is situated on 3,200 acres in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Founded in 1901, the women’s college offers 50 different undergraduate degrees, two graduate degrees, and preprofessional programs in:
Sweet Briar is no stranger to “Best Of” rankings, and is consistently included on lists of the most beautiful campuses, best professors, and even best college dorms.
20. Liberty University
With approximately 15,000 students on-campus — plus nearly 100,000 more online — Liberty University is one of the largest Christian universities in the world. Undergraduate students have an incredible 297 degree options to choose from, while graduate and doctoral students can choose from an additional 319 and 32 areas of study, respectively. Liberty requires all of its students to agree to the “Liberty Way”, a code of conduct that prohibits premarital sex and private interactions between members of the opposite sex. Fortunately for Liberty students, there are plenty of other ways to stay active in the surrounding Appalachian region. For example, running is an extremely popular campus pastime. It’s so popular, in fact, that the Student Activities Board organizes various races throughout the school year, including the Deep Hollow Half Marathon & 5K and the Arctic 5K.
21. Lees-McRae College
Banner Elk, North Carolina
College students hoping to surround themselves with the nature of the Appalachians will have a lot to love about Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina. The small private college sits at the highest elevation of any school located east of the Mississippi. Its student body tends to be extremely outdoorsy, and even takes part in competition rock climbing. Perhaps not surprising is the fact Lees-McRae often attracts those interested in such academic majors as creative and fine arts, wildlife rehabilitation, and wildlife biology, to name but a few. It also has one of the most beautiful campuses on our list.
22. Brevard College
Brevard, North Carolina
For students who love the outdoors and seek an affordable college in the Appalachians, Brevard College is a great potential school. Located in the town of Brevard, the college is situated within easy access of:
- Pisgah National Forest
- Looking Glass Rock
- French Broad River
- Tuckaseegee River
- Chattooga River
- Nantahala National Forest
All of these are great places to enjoy the popular local pastimes of paddling, climbing, and biking. Brevard College is a private, small liberal arts college of about 705 students. It’s associated with the United Methodist church.
23. Montreat College
Montreat, North Carolina
Montreat College is a small Christian college located in the heart of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. Students may choose from 19 majors and 48 minors and concentrations. Especially popular academic programs include:
- business administration
- environmental studies
- outdoor education
- music business
- Bible and religion.
Montreat’s campus is consistently included on lists of the most beautiful colleges. After all, Montreat was so named as an amalgam of “mountain” and “retreat.” It’s frequently referred to as “the little mountain paradise.”
24. Maryville College
Maryville College is a small college located in Maryville, in the midst of the Appalachians and not too far from Knoxville and University of Tennessee. It’s the 12th oldest college in the South, and among the 50 oldest colleges in America. A liberal arts college, Maryville is home to approximately 1,100 students pursuing 30 different degrees. Maryville is close to places like:
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Tellico Lake
- Ocoee River
- Chilhowie River
Students are able to participate in a number of outdoorsy pastimes, including flat water paddling and trail sports.
25. Emory & Henry College
Nestled in the Appalachian highlands of southwestern Virginia, Emory & Henry College is a private liberal arts school known for its pretty campus, outdoor recreation, and rigorous academics. Students have more than 50 bachelor degrees to choose from, including popular programs in public policy and international studies. While the college organizes a full calendar of on-campus events, the Emory student body also enjoys spending time in the stunning natural surroundings. A slew of state parks, national recreation areas, and national forests are within easy proximity to campus. Hiking and kayaking are some of the students’ most popular pastimes.
26. Elon University
Elon, North Carolina
Elon University is a private liberal arts school founded in 1889. It is especially well known for its strong academic programs in:
- health sciences
Elon enjoys a good reputation among the top college-ranking organizations. U.S. News declared it the best school in the South, while Forbes ranked it the 120th best university in the country.
27. Covenant College
Lookout Mountain, Georgia
Covenant College is a Christian liberal arts college located at the top of beautiful Lookout Mountain in Georgia. The college offers students various degrees to choose from, including Bachelor of Music and Master of Education degrees. Some of Covenant’s most notable alumni include recording artist Wes King, philosopher Paul Moser, and poet Aaron Belz.
28. Warren Wilson College
Asheville, North Carolina
Warren Wilson College is a private liberal arts college located in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina. The college is known for its unique “Triad” system that combines academics, work, and service. Students are required to complete a set core curriculum, log a certain number of community service hours, and work an on-campus job. But even the “Triad” allows students plenty of time to enjoy the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains that surround campus. The college lies within close proximity to various recreational areas. The campus itself is home to a working farm, 625 acres of managed forest, and 25 miles of hiking trails ideal for outdoor recreation.
29. Berry College
Mount Berry, Georgia
Not only does Berry College have the largest campus of any other college in the world, it is also consistently ranked amongst the most beautiful. And yes, the college’s location in the Appalachians has plenty to do with such a reputation. Berry offers a variety of degree options, including:
- a Bachelor of Music
- Master of Business Administration
- an Education Specialist degree
30. Sewanee: The University of the South
Sewanee: The University of the South is one of the best colleges for liberal arts in Tennessee. Sewanee’s campus is largely considered to be one of the most beautiful in the nation. Nicknamed “The Mountain” and “The Domain,” Sewanee’s campus consists of 13,000 acres of mountains, meadows It has 50 miles of trails that students can use for hiking, cycling, or horseback riding. Students can even go overnight camping without technically leaving campus. In 2017 Sewanee was ranked by U.S. News as the 41st best liberal arts college in the country. Forbes declared it among the 95 best colleges in the United States.
This concludes our ranking of the best colleges in Appalachia.
By CVO Staff