Updated December 1, 2022

Find the best value colleges and universities in South Carolina on our list of the top 20 best value schools in SC.

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By Iris Stone

In this ranking, we highlight the 20 best values in South Carolina colleges and universities.

South Carolina can sometimes be overshadowed by its northern neighbor, especially when schools like the University of North Carolina and Duke attract regular attention on ESPN. But if there were a TV channel devoted to value in higher education, this state would deserve its own segment. From Clemson University - a school nationally known for its school spirit and friendly community - to the University of South Carolina, there are more than enough options to satisfy even the most frugal college students. There are also plenty of great independent schools in the state, but you won't find a single one with an annual net price over $20,000!

Each of the 20 schools that we have included below qualifies as affordable, but that's not all. Each also boasts attractive features for students who demand the best, whether you're looking for a powerful athletic program, challenging academics, small class sizes, or a campus that never sleeps. Our targeted methodology has ranked them according to some of the most important factors in higher education, including selectivity, cost, student engagement, and alumni success. You may also be interested in checking out our ranking of the best affordable online degree programs in South Carolina.

Our Ranking Methodology:

Graduation Rate: This indicator refers to the percentage of students who complete their degree within 150% of normal time (six years for a typical four-year degree program). Schools that perform well in this area have a track record of keeping students engaged and successful for their entire time on campus. We weighted this category 30% of the total and retrieved the information from College Navigator.

Net Price: In order to make sure that cost was still a factor in the ranking, we also considered overall net price as an indicator. Taken from data on College Navigator, "net price" is an approximate value that refers to the average amount of money a student could expect to pay each year after taking into account tuition, room and board, living expenses, scholarship awards, and financial aid packages. We weighted this category 25% of the total.

Acceptance Rate: Academically challenging, popular universities tend to be more selective and thus have a lower acceptance rate. In order to pinpoint those colleges that boast rigorous academics and also receive a large number of applications, we considered acceptance rate - the percentage of students out of the total number of applicants who receive an acceptance letter. We retrieved this information from College Navigator and weighted it 30% of the total.

20-Year Net Return on Investment: Taken from information on the website PayScale, this statistic provides a picture of how much students can expect to make after they graduate from a particular college. More specifically, the figure is calculated by taking the average income an alumnus will make over his or her first 20 years after graduation and subtracting the amount paid in tuition. Schools with a high ROI tend to be better at preparing their students for the job market. We weighted this category only 15% because data was not available for all colleges considered.

After adding all the points, we gave each university a final score out of 200. The schools below have scores ranging from 81 to 157, and each has something different to offer in terms of its cost, quality, and reputation. No one college is perfect (which is why the scores vary so much) but this ranking offers you a premier selection of universities to help get you started on your search for an education in South Carolina.

Ranking the Best Values in South Carolina Colleges and Universities

#1 Clemson University Clemson, SC
#2 University of South Carolina Upstate Spartanburg, SC
#3 Columbia International University Columbia, SC
#4 Coker College Hartsville, SC
#5 University of South Carolina Columbia Columbia, SC
#6 Citadel Military College of South Carolina Charleston, SC
#7 Lander University Greenwood, SC
#8 Francis Marion University Florence, SC
#9 Presbyterian College Clinton, SC
#10 Southern Wesleyan University Central, SC

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  1. Clemson University

    Clemson, SC



    Gaining admission to Clemson University may be difficult, but those who make the cut say that it's worth it. With a selective 52% acceptance rate and an impressive 82% graduation rate, Clemson pays off for those who do manage to secure a spot. If you're not convinced, just ask the 92% of graduating seniors say that they'd pick Clemson again if they were just starting school. In addition to its renowned academics and beautiful campus, this top South Carolina university gives students plenty of opportunities to make their voices heard through campus media. For example, The Tiger, one of its two student-run newspapers, is the oldest and one of the most distinguished in the state. Students also operate an international affairs magazine, a literary magazine, a television station, and a radio station.

  2. University of South Carolina Upstate

    Spartanburg, SC



    A metropolitan university designed to meet the needs of its surrounding community, the South Carolina university was originally founded to educate health care professionals after a local hospital closed its nurse training program. The school has expanded continuously since then, taking the name USC Upstate in 2004 to reflect its burgeoning impact on the entire region. In fact, it's the fastest growing university in the entire state. This top South Carolina college now enrolls more than 5,000 undergraduates in a diverse range of majors while maintaining a selective 47% acceptance rate.

  3. Columbia International University

    Columbia, SC



    This South Carolina university combines traditional academics with Biblical instruction, preparing students to follow a path into ministry or enter a number of secular careers while focusing on their faith. In addition, the school has been called one of the best universities in South Carolina for military veterans and one of the nation's best Christian universities - both top selling points for the most patriotic and religious of applicants. Students at Columbia International must agree to abide by a lifestyle code that includes acceptance of Biblical values and restricts activities such as public displays of affection. But the students who attend don't seem to mind; of the 33% of applicants who receive an acceptance letter, Columbia International graduates a commendable 68%.

  4. Coker College

    Hartsville, SC



    This affordable South Carolina college promises a solid liberal arts foundation to students in 50 academic programs. And no matter which of these academic degrees a student chooses to pursue, he or she will benefit from hands-on training and a faculty to student ratio of just 12 to 1 - that's one of the lowest in the country! If none of those programs are the right fit, Coker offers options to design an individualized major or complete an honors research project. That's all available at one of the best cheap colleges in South Carolina, since Coker maintains a generous scholarship program based on merit. That being said, both scholarships and admission are competitive, as Coker maintains a respectable 51% acceptance rate.

  5. University of South Carolina Columbia

    Columbia, SC



    With a history reaching back to 1801, the University of South Carolina Columbia is nationally recognized for its excellence in research and athletics. The Carnegie Foundation has named USC the top college in South Carolina for research, and its business programs and Honors College have been rated the best in the nation. As the flagship school of the USC system, USC Columbia enrolls nearly 25,000 undergraduate students and maintains a high 73% graduation rate. The student athletes are among the most academically successful in the country - despite the time they spend maintaining the school's reputation as one of the most competitive names in college sports.

  6. Citadel Military College of South Carolina

    Charleston, SC



    In addition to being among the best cheap colleges in South Carolina, The Citadel has the distinction of offering an education in a demanding military environment. Its undergraduate Corps of Cadets program enrolls 2,250 students who combine their academic studies with rigorous physical fitness training and military instruction. The Citadel places a premium on leadership and discipline, and students regularly volunteer to community organizations. At its annual Leadership Day event alone, students provide local organizations with an estimated $185,000 worth of volunteer service. It's no surprise that the Carnegie Foundation has named The Citadel one of the most civic-minded colleges in the country.

  7. Lander University

    Greenwood, SC



    Originally serving as a private women's college, this affordable South Carolina university joined the state university system in 1973. In recent years the number of residential students at Lander has grown rapidly, leading the school to lease a number of nearby apartment complexes to supplement its residence halls, which collectively house around 1,600 students. Major improvements have been underway in the last few decades, bringing Lander a new residence hall, dining hall, athletic facilities, and upgrades to many existing buildings. Its academic offerings have also expanded dramatically, and Lander now has more than 60 undergraduate programs available.

  8. Francis Marion University

    Florence, SC



    Unlike many of the top universities in South Carolina, which trace their origins back to the 1800s, Francis Marion University (founded in 1957) is a relative newcomer on the block. But rather than focus on history, FMU continues to look ahead to find new ways to innovate. Most buildings on campus were either built or have been renovated since 1970, and one-quarter of the 400-acre campus is dominated by forests crisscrossed with walking trails. The campus also houses an arboretum to hold many of the area's native tree species, a daycare center for staff and students' families, and a top-notch writing center to help students with assignments throughout the year.

  9. Presbyterian College

    Clinton, SC



    Always devoted to its principles, Presbyterian College keeps its traditional Honor System at the heart of student life. The Honor System was developed in 1915 to remind individuals of their duty to the whole student body and prohibits any behavior that would harm fellow students. Violations can be brought before a group of students and faculty with authority to suspend or even dismiss guilty students. Though it may sound restrictive, the Honor System has helped this top South Carolina college create a close community of students who trust and respect one another. Together with a selective 54% acceptance rate, the Honor System imbues Presbyterian College with a challenging but rewarding atmosphere.

  10. Southern Wesleyan University

    Central, SC



    Southern Wesleyan University's scenic campus in Central, South Carolina, houses more than 700 students who form an engaged community. For students who already have jobs or families and need to work around busy schedules, the school also operates flexible evening classes that meet only once per week. Whatever path students at this affordable South Carolina college take, they'll find themselves surrounded by friendly, supportive faces. Affiliated with the Wesleyan Church, the school prides itself on being open to students of all Christian denominations, providing an education for anyone who wants to focus on both scholarship and faith.

This concludes our best value ranking of South Carolina colleges and universities.

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About the Author:
Iris Stone began her writing career as a freelance writer and researcher. She now owns and operates a writing and editing firm that works with clients all across the country. Her work has included articles related to education policy, colleges and universities, academic programs, and careers./

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