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14 Unique Reasons to Attend SEC Schools Besides Sports

Quarterback representing bigtime sports at SEC SchoolsIf big-time college sports are an important consideration for your college list, you’ll need to take a look at the Southeast Conference (SEC) schools. If I have to tell you why you should consider SEC schools for big-time sports, then we are definitely working with different definitions or you have been living under a rock since sometime in the last century. SEC schools claim 43 national football championships, 21  basketball championships, 13 College World Series, and 20 gymnastics championships among many others. Yet, the 14 universities that make up the SEC Conference, actually have a lot to offer other than sports.

Let’s start with the basics. The conference currently consists of 13 public universities and one private institution. In terms of size, the smallest is Vanderbilt with just 6,817 full-time undergraduates to Texas A&M with 47,874 full-time undergraduates. All have Carnegie classifications of doctorial institutions with the highest levels of research.

Name  Size (all students)   Full-time Under-grads   % Admitted  Total price for in-state students 2019-20 Total price for out-of-state students 2019-2020 % Freshman Receiving Institutional Grants (18-19) Avg Net Price 2018-2019
Auburn University 30,460     22,626 81 $32,196 $51,828 61 $23,562
Louisiana State University and A&M 31,756     22,727 75 $32,962 $49,639 75 $18,143
Mississippi State University 22,226     17,101 54 $25,904 $40,944 86 $16,471
Texas A & M University 68,726     47,874 58 $30,083 $56,532 55 $19,237
The University of Alabama 38,100     29,188 83 $30,016 $49,486 56 $20,623
The University of Tennessee 29,460     22,126 79 $32,010 $50,410 54 $21,024
University of Arkansas 27,559     20,492 77 $26,144 $42,632 39 $16,263
University of Florida 52,407     32,219 37 $21,211 $43,489 37 $10,457
University of Georgia 38,920     28,057 45 $27,450 $46,490 32 $15,961
University of Kentucky 29,402     20,679 96 $30,928 $49,248 77 $18,958
University of Mississippi 21,617     15,950 88 $25,762 $42,034 63 $14,672
University of Missouri 30,014     20,782 81 $27,197 $45,068 77 $15,850
University of South Carolina 35,364     26,402 69 $28,829 $50,069 68 $21,787
Vanderbilt University 13,131       6,817 9 $73,148 $73,148 62 $25,855

SEC Academics

Vanderbilt stands out as the only private university. It is significantly smaller than the other universities and enjoys a national reputation for academics. It ranks 14th in the US News College Rankings and accepts only nine percent of applicants. Its 25th percentile test scores are higher than any of the other SEC members 75th percentile scores. But this doesn’t mean it’s the only opportunity for an excellent education in the SEC.

All of the SEC schools are Phi Beta Kappa members, something only 294 schools in the country can claim. The honors college at the University of South Carolina is ranked in the highest categories by Public Honors Colleges. The Georgia Honors Program and the Sally McConnell Barksdale Honors College at Ole Miss are also highly rated. The University of Mississippi ties Vanderbilt in the number of Rhodes Scholars with 27 each and the University of Georgia is close behind with 24.

The thing to remember about the SEC schools is that they all offer amazing opportunities for undergraduate education for those willing to take the initiative. This is true of virtually all large universities.  They will all have a wide variety of majors and activities to choose from. Students can expect major employers to actively recruit on campus for interns and graduates. The alumni networks will be large and more geographically extensive than most people expect. And the school spirit will generally follow the alumni after graduation making it easy to network.

Name 4 yr Grad Rate SAT (1600) 25th Percentile SAT (1600) 75th Percentile ACT 25th Percentile ACT 75th Percentile % in Top 10% of Class % in Top 25% of Class
Auburn University 51 1150 1270 25 31 33 63
Louisiana State University and A&M 41 1080 1245 23 29 24 48
Mississippi State University 35 1070 1220 22 30 30 57
Texas A & M University 55 1160 1325 26 31 70 93
The University of Alabama 50 1080 1265 23 31 40 61
The University of Tennessee 52 1150 1280 24 30 35 63
University of Arkansas 49 1120 1250 23 30 25 52
University of Florida 67 1310 1425 28 33 81 98
University of Georgia 65 1240 1365 27 32 60 92
University of Kentucky 45 1070 1250 22 29 33 59
University of Mississippi 46 1020 1190 21 29 25 49
University of Missouri 48 1120 1280 23 29 30 61
University of South Carolina 64 1180 1315 25 31 28 59
Vanderbilt University 88 1460 1535 33 35 90 7

Diversity Considerations

Since all but one of the universities are state institutions, there are some diversity issues prospective students should consider. Obviously, you would expect more students attending from within the state than out-of-state. After all, it’s in-state students that will automatically qualify for the lower in-state tuition. However, at six of the public SEC schools, in-state residents account for 60% or less of freshman. At five of the schools, less than a quarter of freshman are out-of-state students. Texas A&M has the highest percentage of in-state freshman at 94%. University of Georgia follows with 84% and University of Florida comes in third with 80%.

Another diversity consideration is the racial/ethnicity diversity. At eight of the schools, non-white students make up less than a quarter of all full-time freshman. The average percentage of white full-time freshman at public institutions is 53%. Only the University of Florida was under that number and Texas A&M came close.

Just because the schools are all public with the exception of Vanderbilt, doesn’t mean students should expect them to have students from a wider range of economic backgrounds. Six of the schools, including Vanderbilt, had less than 20% of freshman receiving Pell Grants. Auburn actually had a lower percentage than Vanderbilt. The average for all public universities is 45%. Only Mississippi State made it into the 30s with 32% of freshman receiving Pell Grants.

Given the size of the schools, students are likely to find peers with similar backgrounds. It just may be easier at some SEC school than others.

Name % Freshman In-State % Foreign Under-grads % Asian/ Pacific Islander % African American % Hispanic % White % Sorority  % Fraternity % Freshman Receiving Pell Grants (18-19)
Auburn University 58 7 2.3 3.4 3.4 86.4 43 21 13
Louisiana State University and A&M 77 2 4.9 15.3 7.2 67.1 27 16 29
Mississippi State University 58 1 1.9 19.5 3.1 71.5 18 14 32
Texas A & M University 94 1 10.4 2.5 26.1 56.2 15 6 23
The University of Alabama 34 2 1.3 8.1 5.7 78.3 40 26 17
The University of Tennessee 77 2 4.1 5.8 4.9 78.4 28 17 24
University of Arkansas 50 3 2.6 3.7 8.5 77.8 37 23 19
University of Florida 80 3 10.1 6.9 21 50.9 22 17 24
University of Georgia 84 2 11.2 6.9 6.2 69.1 31 20 17
University of Kentucky 63 3 3.1 7.3 4.8 75.9 32 19 25
University of Mississippi 43 2 2.4 10.2 4.1 78.9 43 32 22
University of Missouri 68 3 2.6 8.5 5.7 77 31 24 26
University of South Carolina 51 3 3.5 6.1 4.6 80 27 27 18
Vanderbilt University 9 9 15.4 11.9 10.1 39.9 51 37 15

Academic Common Market

All of the universities with the exception of the University of Missouri are located in states that participate in the Academic Common Market. The Academic Common Market allows students to enroll at public institutions in other states if their home state doesn’t offer their preferred major. Participation varies from state to state and by institution. However, all SEC members (with the exception of Vanderbilt, of course) in the Academic Common Market region, participate to a certain extent.

SEC Academic Consortium

SEC Academic Consortium (SECAC) was formed in 2005 to essentially support and promote the non-athletic accomplishments of the SEC. This includes both faculty and students. In fact, you may have heard of the SEC outside of a sports broadcast because of the program’s SEC College Tour. The tour occurs twice each year and travels the country promoting the SEC’s academic and merit opportunities. The SECAC also has an agreement that allows SEC engineering students to study abroad in Torino, Italy.  A cooperative program allows all SEC students access to study abroad program offered at other SEC institutions. Students can also compete in an SEC Student Pitch Competition for young entrepreneurs.

Profiling the SEC Schools

There is really no way to create a meaningful profile of a school in just a paragraph or two. Even the guidebooks that devote a couple of pages to each school are painting with a pretty broad stroke if not just reinforcing reputations. Don’t get me wrong, there is going to be a lot of truth in these broad overviews. But we are talking about schools with 20,000 to 30,000 or more undergraduates. And as they like to point out, they offer 100’s of academic programs. This means that a student interested in engineering will look at a prospective college differently than someone considering journalism. These schools share many of the same characteristics but they can also be very different from one another in important ways. How important those differences are will depend on individual students.

Now that I’ve just told you why you can’t create a meaningful profile of the schools in a paragraph or two, I’m going to provide a short profile for each one. However, the first paragraph is just meant to provide you with a sense of where the college is located in terms of size and place. It also hits the highlights as far as merit aid goes. The list of bullet points are designed to show a couple of the college characteristics that distinguishes it from the others. The idea is to show you that the 14 schools all have something to offer, therefore the 14 unique reasons to consider a SEC school.

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Auburn University

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SEC School Auburn University campusAuburn University is located on approximately 2,000 acres just an hour east on I-85 from Montgomery. The Auburn-Opelika area population is approximately 30,000.  The university consists of 30,460 students with 22,626 undergraduates.  58% of freshman are from Alabama and 7% of all undergraduates are international students. In 2020, Auburn sponsored 55 National Merit Scholarships that awarded $1,000 a year for four years. Students must complete their applications by December 1 to be considered for merit scholarships. Students in the Honors colleges have priority registration and access to an Honors Study Abroad Program.

  • The most popular majors are Business, Engineering, Biology.
  • Not only has Auburn graduated six astronauts, but it also owns the Auburn airports and provides flight instruction.
  • It has a variety of accelerated Bachelor to Master degree programs although they are not actual five year programs.
  • The university is a dry campus except on game day.
  • Auburn sponsors a collegiate equestrian team.

Louisiana State University and A&M (LSU)

SEC School LSU quadLSU is considered the flagship university for Louisiana.  It sits on 650 acres on the banks of the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, the state capital with a population over 220,000. There are 31,756 students on campus with 22,727 undergraduates.  A total of 77% of freshman are from Louisiana and international students make up only 2% of all undergraduates. LSU sponsored 25 National Merit Scholarships in 2020. Students must apply by December 15th for scholarships which includes the full-ride Stamps Scholarship and President’s Alumni Scholars Award, both come with funding for study abroad. The Ogden Honors College has its own campus that includes two different residence halls options, classrooms, and a student lounge.

  • Freshman in the College of the Coast & Environment take an orientation course designed to alleviate the fear of research.
  • Business, Engineering, and Education are the most popular majors.
  • LSU competes in beach volleyball at the collegiate level.
  • Engineering students can live in the Engineering Residential College which hosts some classes as well as offers supplemental instruction.
  • The school operates the State University Lab School for grades K-12.

Mississippi State University

SEC School Mississippi State University campusMississippi State University is adjacent to the town of Starkville, population 25,000, and is a little more than 2 hours from Jackson and 2 1/2 from Birmingham. It is the largest Doctoral Granting university in the state with a total of 22,226 students of which 17,101 were undergraduates. Only 58% of freshman are from Mississippi and just 1% of undergraduates are international students. Students can use the website’s scholarship calculator to find out what scholarships they’ll qualify for. The University awards scholarships to both National Merit Finalists and Semi-finalists. Students admitted to the Shackouls Honors College have priority registration, access to honors housing, and special study abroad opportunities.

  • Mississippi State leads the SEC in the percentage of freshman receiving Pell Grants and the percentage receiving institutional aid.
  • The College of Engineering sponsors study abroad opportunities as well as a congressional internship program for engineering students.
  • Engineering and Business are the two most popular majors.
  • Rising sophomores are eligible for summer research opportunities in Computational Biology.
  • Thrive in Five offers students the opportunities to graduate with a Bachelors and Masters degree in five years in a variety of programs.

Texas A&M University

SEC School Texas A&M Marching BandThe 5,000 plus acre Texas A&M campus is located in College Station, about an hour and a half northwest of Houston. The College Station/Bryan metro area population is over 250,000. The university is a Doctoral University with the highest level of research and is the largest in Texas with 68,726 students with 47,874 being undergraduates. 94% of freshman are from Texas and only 1% of undergraduates are international students. Last year, the Texas A&M system sponsored 110 National Merit Scholarships and out-of-state finalists also receive a tuition waiver. The Corp of Cadets offers a variety of merit and need-based scholarships that do not require active-duty commitments.

  • Engineering and Business are the two most popular undergraduate majors.
  • Over a third of students study abroad.
  • Students in the Trading, Risk & Investments Certificate Program complete three paid energy market internships.
  • Sponsors a collegiate level equestrian team.
  • The Glasscock Center for Humanities Research hires students as paid apprentices.

The University of Alabama

The 2,000-acre campus of The University of Alabama is in Tuscaloosa. Tuscaloosa with a population of approximately 100,000 is less than an hour southwest of Birmingham. The flagship Doctoral Research university is also the largest in the state with 29,188 undergraduates among a total of 38,100 students. The majority of the students are from out-of-state with only 34% of freshman from Alabama. International students represent only 2% of all undergraduates.  The University of Alabama sponsored 115 National Merit Finalists last year with a generous full-ride program for up to five years and funded study abroad. Both in-state and out-of-state students are eligible for freshman merit scholarship programs.

  • Sponsors collegiate rowing for women.
  • Most popular majors are Business, Engineering, and Communication/Journalism.
  • The Honors College includes a five-year program for artistic related majors to graduate with a MBA.
  • Students in New College design their own degrees which may include community-based learning or self-directed study.
  • Engineering students can study abroad through the University College Dublin Exchange Program

The University of Tennessee-Knoxville

The University of Tennessee’s 600 plus acre campus is located in the Knoxville metro area with a population over a million. The flagship university is a doctoral research university and is the largest in the state with a total 29,460 students on campus with 22,126 undergraduates. Students from Tennessee make up the majority of freshman, 77%, while international students are only 2% of all undergraduates. In-state and out-of-state students are eligible for institutional merit scholarships as well as international students. Test optional students will be considered for the newly created Beacon scholarship.  The Tennessee Pledge Scholarship is for Tennessee freshman with a family income of $40,000 or less and covers all direct tuition expenses and an amount for room and board.

  • Haslam scholars receive full-ride scholarships as well as a paid internship and education abroad experience.
  • Business, Engineering, and the Social Sciences are the most popular degrees.
  • Sponsors collegiate rowing for women.
  • Students in STEM fields can apply for internships at the nearby Oakridge Laboratories.
  • Student start-ups can win $30,000 in the Boyd Venture Challenge.

University of Arkansas

The University of Arkansas is located in Fayetteville which is part of a metro area of a quarter million people in northwestern Arkansas. The Doctoral research institution is the state’s flagship university. With 27,559 total students and 20,492 of them undergraduates, the school is the largest in the state. Half of all freshman are from Arkansas and International students make up 3% of undergraduates. The university sponsored 30 National Merit Scholarships last year which is a $10,000 annual award. Both in-state and out-of-state are automatically considered for institutional merit scholarships. Students from Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas who meet minimum academic standards automatically qualify for non-resident tuition scholarships.

  • The most popular undergraduate degrees are in Business, Engineering, and Health Professions
  • The Honors Colleges houses 6 programs and students are eligible for Fellowship scholarships worth $72,000.
  • Leadership Walton program provides a combination of academic, leadership and career development opportunities to Business majors.
  • The King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies provides undergraduate scholarships and funding for study abroad programs.
  • Engineering students can apply for the Student Integrated Intern Research Experience which is an integrated program of scholarships, coops, and research experience to take students through a master’s in engineering.

University of Florida

Florida’s flagship university, the University Florida, is located on 2,000 acres in Gainesville. The city is about an hour and a half southwest of Jacksonville and has a population of 133,000. There are 52,407 students on campus with 21,705 of them undergraduates. 80% of freshman come from Florida with International students making up only 3% of all undergraduates. Beyond the Bright Futures Scholarship program, the university offers limited opportunities for merit scholarships for either in-state or out-of-state students. It provides the second lowest amount of institutional aid among SEC schools. It doesn’t have to offer merit aid since it already has plenty of students to choose from with the second lowest acceptance rate in the conference.

  • Engineering, Business, and Social Sciences are the most popular undergraduate majors.
  • Sponsors women’s lacrosse at the collegiate level.
  • Ranks 30th in US News National University Rankings.
  • Students in The Innovation News Center produce reports in both English and Spanish in a variety of media formats.
  • The Innovation fellows program groups students from Business and Engineering to learn how to work together on developing technology.

University of Georgia

The University of Georgia’s 700-acre campus is located an hour and half east of Atlanta in Athens, population 130,000. Georgia’s flagship university is the largest institution in the state with 38,920 students with 28,057 classified as undergraduates. The school is second only to Texas A&M among SEC schools in percentage of freshman students from in-state, 84%. International students comprise 2% of the undergraduate student population. The University of Georgia has little need to offer merit scholarships since the state provides residents with access to Hope Scholarships. The university provides the lowest percentage of institutional aid in the SEC.

  • Sponsors collegiate women’s equestrian team.
  • The most popular undergraduate degrees are Business, Communications/Journalism, and Social Sciences.
  • As a member institution of the Atlanta Regional Council on Higher Education, students can cross-register for classes at other member institutions.
  • Double Dawgs program allows students to earn a combined Bachelor and Master in five years in over 100 programs.
  • Undergraduates can apply for research opportunities at the Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases.

University of Kentucky

The University of Kentucky, the state’s flagship university, is located in Lexington on a 900-acre campus. The Lexington-Fayette metro area population is 323,000. With 29,402 students, 20,679 undergraduates, the University of Kentucky is the state’s largest institution. A total of 63% of freshman are from Kentucky and 3% of undergraduates are international students. Last year, the university sponsored 75 National Merit Finalist Scholarships worth full tuition for both in-state and out-of-state students. Students must apply by December 1st to qualify for academic scholarships available to both residents and non-residents. The University of Kentucky ranks among the highest in the SEC providing institutional aid.

  • Chellgren Center Student Fellows work with senior faculty as part of a program of research projects and preparation for national/international awards.
  • Business, Health Professions, and Engineering are the most popular undergraduate majors.
  • The Lewis Honors College offers a social entrepreneurship option with the College of Business and Economics.
  • There are 14 different Learning Communities with residential colleges.
  • First Year Engineering students complete a working design project by the end of the first year.

University of Mississippi

The University of Mississippi, known as Ole Miss, is Mississippi’s flagship university. It’s located on over 1,000 acres in the town of Oxford that has a population around 25,000 and is located approximately 1 1/2 hours south of Memphis. There are a total of 21,617 students on campus with 15,950 being undergraduates. Less than half of freshman (43%) are from Mississippi and international students make up only two percent of all undergraduates. In-state and out-of-state students can use a table to estimate their potential scholarships from the university. Students can also apply to the Chinese and Arabic State Flagship scholarships. The Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College is among the highest rated public honors colleges in the nation.

  • The Department of Biology and Biochemistry encourages multi-year projects and students can start their research as early as their Freshman year.
  • Business and the Health Professions are the most popular majors
  • Ole Miss sponsors a women’s collegiate rifle team
  • Students can prepare to be Intelligence Analysts through the Center for Intelligence and Security Studies
  • Fellows in the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program receive funding for study abroad or off-campus projects.

University of Missouri

The University of Missouri’s 1,200-acre campus is in the city of Columbia, midway between St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo. Columbia with a population of 123,000 is about a two-hour drive from either city. The flagship university is the largest in the state with 30,014 students, 20,782 classified as undergraduates. International students make up 4% of all undergraduates and 68% of freshman are from Missouri. The University of Missouri is tied with Kentucky for second in the SEC in percentage of institutional aid awarded to freshman. Both in-state and out-of-state students qualify for automatic merit aid awards. You can see the estimated awards based on tables of GPA and test scores. There are also Border State Awards that can be combined with other awards. The priority deadline is November 15th.

  • Walter Williams Scholars are automatically admitted into one-year BJ/MA program and receive $1,000 scholarships for off-campus programs.
  • Sponsors collegiate men’s wrestling.
  • The most popular undergraduate degrees are Business, Health Professions, and Communications/Journalism.
  • IDEAquest disburses $10,000 to the most promising student startups.
  • College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources students run a floral shop, ice cream shop, and meat market.

University of South Carolina

The University of South Carolina with its 300-acre campus in Columbia, is the largest four-year institution in the state. The population of Columbia, the state capital, is 133,000 and is located approximately an hour and a half northeast of Augusta, GA and two hours northwest of Charleston, SC. The state flagship has a total of 35,364 students on campus with undergraduates accounting for 26,402 of them. Barely half of all freshman, 51%, are from South Carolina and International students represent 3% of all undergraduates.  The Gamecock Guarantee is a $4,500 award to first-generation South Carolina students whose family income is below 150% of the poverty line.

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  • Any student can get free advice on how to get their business started at the USC Instigator.
  • Sponsors collegiate beach volleyball and equestrian teams.
  • Business, Biology, and Health Professions are the most popular undergraduate degrees.
  • Honors College has highest ratings from Public Honors Colleges.
  • Every College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management student graduates with at least two career-related work experiences.

Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University, the SEC’s only private institution, is located on 300 plus acres in Nashville, Tn. The population of Nashville is almost 700,000 and the greater metro area is approaching two million in population. The school is the largest private university in Tennessee with 13,131 students including 6,817 undergraduates. It leads the SEC schools in the highest percentage of graduate students, 48%, International undergraduate students, 9%, and lowest percentage of in-state students, at 9% of freshman. It also ranked second only to Auburn for lowest percentage of freshman receiving Pell Grants. Unlike many colleges that meet 100% of need for those admitted, Vanderbilt does offer some merit scholarships. According to the common data set, approximately 19% of freshman without need receive merit scholarships.

  • Students can select to live in four residential style colleges where a faculty member also lives with his or her family.
  • Sponsors collegiate lacrosse team.
  • Most popular degrees are Social Sciences, Engineering, and Multi-disciplinary.
  • Undergraduates at Vanderbilt are required to complete an Immersion experience before graduating.
  • Sophomores and Juniors can apply for the Data Science Institute Summer Research Program.
14 Unique Reasons to Attend SEC Schools Besides Sports

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