South Carolina Online Colleges & Universities – Top Schools for ’15

Students looking to pursue a college education in South Carolina have a nice range of choices considering the relatively smaller size of the state. In 2013, South Carolina was home to 111 post-secondary institutions serving nearly 340,000 students. Among all states, South Carolina ranks 25th in total number of post-secondary schools and 29th in number of students. One in every 87 students seeking a higher education in the United States did so at a South Carolina college, university or trade school that year. The following chart depicts some of the advanced educational options available in South Carolina:

College Type Number in South Carolina
Public 33
Private not-for-profit (religious affiliation) 19
Private for-profit 14
Private not-for-profit (no religious affiliation) 6

South Carolina's Top College Cities

One or more college campuses in South Carolina can be found within a reasonable driving distance for most state residents, with a majority located in or around major metropolitan areas. The following lists break down the most bustling education communities in the state:

Most Popular Centers for College Students in South Carolina (Total)

  • Charleston (45,200)
  • Columbia (38,500)
  • Greenville (33,000)
  • Conway (20,900)
  • Spartanburg (19,200)

Top Cities by Total Number of Colleges

  • Columbia (20)
  • Charleston (11)
  • Greenville (10)
  • Spartanburg (9)
  • Rock Hill (5)

Spotlight: Charleston Colleges and Universities

Located centrally on the eastern seaboard of South Carolina, Charleston is home to a number of renowned public and private colleges and universities. Ranked fourth on U.S. News & World Report’s list of Top Public Schools in the South, the College of Charleston’s incoming freshman class averages a 3.9 grade point average in high school. Students at the College of Charleston are encouraged to study abroad and take advantage of independent research to round out their education. Also located in Charleston, The Citadel is consistently recognized as the top public college in the South for master’s degrees. With only 20 students or less per class in 40 percent of the classes and an average student retention rate of 82 percent, The Citadel places on many “top” lists by U.S. News. Medical University of South Carolina has a mission to “preserve and optimize human life,” evident in its growth into one of the country’s top academic health science centers. Its academic hospital was the only hospital in the state to earn an “A” by Leapfrog, an organization that scores hospitals’ health safety based on survey and safety ratings.

Online Courses and Degree Programs

Distance learning opportunities allow students the flexibility to take courses from across the globe. The Citadel offers a combination of online courses and synchronous distance learning, where students attend classes in real time from a location outside the traditional classroom. Some graduate programs, such as a master’s in leadership, are available completely online, while other programs have evening and weekend options. At Trident Technical College, distance learning programs continue to grow as online education gains popularity. From continuing education to associate degrees and accredited programs in accounting, business and technology, students have a variety of options when choosing online programs at TTC.

South Carolina Distance Learning

In the early stages of the online education business, postsecondary programs were mainly offered by private online for-profit providers. Much has changed in the last several years, however, with a growing number of traditional colleges and universities establishing a strong online presence. In 2013, 13 four-year colleges in South Carolina featured some level of online educational services. The University of South Carolina offers a number of bachelor's degree completion programs online as well as online graduate degrees in education, engineering, health information technology, and public health. A wide range of online courses are also offered throughout the academic year.

Tuition and Other College Expenses

Whether in South Carolina or any other state, pursuing a college or university degree is an expensive proposition, payment for which requires a great deal of planning. The first cost that any student must consider is tuition. Tuitions vary greatly from school to school, particularly when it comes to private colleges. South Carolina ranked 26th among all states in terms of average college tuition rates in 2012, with resident students averaging $11,762 per year for in-state tuition costs.

Another major expense for college students is also known as room and board. Again, these costs vary substantially by school and location. Recent cost of living (COL) numbers place South Carolina at approximately one percent below national averages. COL figures for specific South Carolina cities, compared to the national average (100), are indicated below:

Urban Area Composite Index Housing Groceries Utilities Transportation Health Care Misc.
Greenville -9.7% -27.1% 2.7% -9.9% -2.9% -1.8% -2.3%
Anderson -8.2% -23.0% 3.4% 1.6% -7.7% -0.3% -4.1%
Myrtle Beach -4.8% -21.6% 5.7% 4.5% -5.3% 0.4% 2.4%
Sumter -3.7% -9.8% 3.4% 8.4% -2.2% -8.7% -4.7%
Camden -2.6% -12.2% 3.4% 7.5% -14.0% -6.9% 4.3%
Charleston-N Charleston -1.7% -7.4% 5.7% -3.4% -6.1% 4.4% 1.5%
Columbia 0.4% -17.7% 5.2% 9.0% 2.0% 6.2% 10.6%
Beaufort 5.2% 3.5% 6.9% 14.3% -0.4% -4.3% 6.0%
Hilton Head Island 14.1% 19.8% 11.4% 0.4% 1.6% 10.7% 18.5%

In addition to tuition, room and board, students should also vet the value of a college’s degree. Specifically, once a student graduates, will that degree lead to solid career and salary potential? This return on investment (ROI) analysis, while overlooked and underrated, could be one of the most important metrics to consider when choosing a college. The following South Carolina colleges had the state’s best ROIs in 2013:

  • Clemson University
  • Presbyterian College
  • Furman University
  • University of South Carolina – Main Campus
  • College of Charleston

Loans, Grants and Scholarships

The majority of students in the United States, including those in South Carolina, require some amount of financial aid in order to attend college. The three basic forms of financial aid are loans, grants and scholarships. In 2012, approximately 78 percent of South Carolina undergraduate students tapped into federal sources of funding, resulting in a state ranking of 2nd in terms of total federal financial aid received.

Scholarships are another primary source of college funding, sponsored nationwide by private businesses and individuals, professional and industry associations, and nonprofits or other organizations. These programs are available on local, state and national levels. The following list provides examples of the types of institutions offering scholarship opportunities to South Carolina college students:

  • Abney Foundation
  • Central Carolina Community Foundation
  • Charleston Women in International Trade
  • Coastal Community Foundation
  • Jimmy Rayne Foundation
  • Kid's Chance of South Carolina
  • Kittie M. Fairey Educational Fund
  • MetLife Foundation (Future Farmers of America)
  • Myrtle Beach Sun News
  • Palmetto Fellows
  • South Carolina Chapter - Soil and Water Conservation Society
  • South Carolina Farm Bureau Foundation
  • South Carolina Wildlife Federation
  • Watson-Brown Foundation

Accreditation of South Carolina Schools

Accreditation is a crucial factor when it comes to choosing a college or university degree program. Proper accreditation of an institution is also an absolute prerequisite for students who plan on paying for their education with the help of federal loans or grants. U.S. Department of Education-recognized regional institutional accreditation for South Carolina colleges is administered by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools - Commission on Colleges. Individual programs, colleges, or departments within a larger institution in South Carolina may also hold specialized or programmatic accreditation. The University of South Carolina Bachelor's of Nursing program, for instance, is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).


South Carolina students have a lot to ponder when it comes to choosing a postsecondary education program. The above information is provided to help begin the decision-making process. To learn more about the full range of college options available in South Carolina, particularly in regard to online degree programs and course offerings, check out the individual school profiles below.

South Carolina features some of the country's top online colleges, as well as some of the most affordable, but we wanted to take a closer look at what makes them great. We spoke with a representative from the online branch of Southern Wesleyan University to get some inside information.

Online Departments in South Carolina
  • Southern Wesleyan University -

    How would you describe your institution's approach to online learning?

    At Southern Wesleyan, we understand the needs and commitments of working adults. We have been providing working adults with Christ-centered educational opportunities for more than 25 years. At SWU we offer fully online options for select degree programs. Online students will earn the same degree as they would in the on-site classroom. Courses are taught in a flexible virtual classroom experience, designed to be both engaging and challenging. Students have access to an incredible array of learning resources and can complete their online degrees on their own schedule. As a Christ-centered university, our programs offer a faith-based education that combines theory with practical, real-world applications.

    What makes your online programs so valuable to students?

    • Transfer friendly policies
    • Devoted professors and student services coordinators
    • Flexibility via no set login times
    • Student friendly interface provides 24/7 access to course work
    • Established brick-and mortar campus for over 100 years
    • Non-profit institution that is regionally accredited

    Where do you see your online programs in the next five years? Beyond?

    Dedicating tremendous time and resources to increase program offerings (content specific concentrations) and improve systems and processes.

South Carolina is one of the best places for distance learners to pursue an online degree. An array of four-year, fully online schools in South Carolina boast unsurpassed education through their accredited programs. These programs frequently grant degrees and certifications that are indistinguishable from degrees earned by on-site students. The comparisons continue with similar curriculum, admissions requirements, and tuition assistance between online and on-campus programs. To get a better idea of all the opportunities available via online programs in South Carolina, we’ve listed all your options, beginning with the lowest tuition programs. The very best South Carolina online colleges can be found here.

Click here to see our methodology.
South Carolina State University
Tuition and fees: $9,258 Enrollment: 4,308 Accredited: YES Website: South Carolina State University

If you are looking for online colleges in South Carolina that specialize in theology, the Theological Seminary of Saint Charles Borromeo is a perfect choice. Allowing students to work comfortably from anywhere with an internet connection, an accredited degree in theology is easy to obtain through SCS

Lander University
Tuition and fees: $9,792 Enrollment: 3,380 Accredited: YES Website: Lander University

Lander University offers both classroom and online degree programs for current and prospective students at an affordable price. Lander University has been providing both educational and cultural opportunities since being founded in 1872. Lander is now a public, co-ed, state-assisted, four-year university with liberal arts and science programs, and professional programs in business, education and nursing.

University of South Carolina-Columbia
Tuition and fees: $10,488 Enrollment: 24,691 Accredited: YES Website: University of South Carolina-Columbia

The University of South Carolina at Columbia offers a collection of online degree programs at the bachelor's level, including programs in business, criminal justice, education, human services, organizational leadership, and RN-to-BSN. All distance learning programs are available to students with at least 60 credit hours and who possess the minimum required grade point average. The college's breadth of programs make it one of the top online colleges in South Carolina.

Clemson University
Tuition and fees: $12,674 Enrollment: 17,155 Accredited: YES Website: Clemson University

Clemson University's commitment to distance learning takes place at the graduate level. As one of the most notable traditional and online colleges in South Carolina, the university offers students online master's degrees in agriculture, the arts, engineering, and more. Clemson's BIOSC Online program, for example, is a master's program helps prepare graduates for K-12 science instruction.

North Greenville University
Tuition and fees: $13,936 Enrollment: 2,375 Accredited: YES Website: North Greenville University

When it comes to finding online colleges in South Carolina that offer students graduate degrees, North Greenville University is a great option to look at. With both MBA and MCM programs, students can further their careers in business or ministry, working over the internet with excellent teachers to move forward in their careers.

Columbia International University
Tuition and fees: $18,745 Enrollment: 633 Accredited: YES Website: Columbia International University

Columbia International University has a variety of degree programs that are all online-only, allowing students from all over the world to get an accredited college education from one of the great online colleges in South Carolina. With award winning online courses and a faculty full of great teachers, CIU is a fantastic option to consider when looking at schools.

Limestone College
Tuition and fees: $21,000 Enrollment: 3,801 Accredited: YES Website: Limestone College

Limestone College offers many different degree programs to students enrolling in their extended campus, with five options at the associate level and nineteen at the bachelor’s level. This is one of the bigger offerings out of all the online colleges in South Carolina, so Limestone is a great school to look into.

Charleston Southern University
Tuition and fees: $21,440 Enrollment: 3,897 Accredited: YES Website: Charleston Southern University

Out of the many online colleges in South Carolina, Charleston Southern University does not have the biggest list of degree programs available, but it does have a varied one. Students are able to choose from anything from nursing to organizational management or graphic design. All of these degrees are accredited and can help students seeking employment in the professional world.

Southern Wesleyan University
Tuition and fees: $21,450 Enrollment: 1,778 Accredited: YES Website: Southern Wesleyan University

If a student is looking for an online degree from a school that is focused on Christ as well as academics, one of the best online colleges in South Carolina that meets that criterion is Southern Wesleyan University. With a strong focus on their online school, SWU has produced a number of alumni who have worked primarily online.

Anderson University
Tuition and fees: $21,730 Enrollment: 2,662 Accredited: YES Website: Anderson University

Anderson University offers current and prospective students the option to learn in classroom as well as via their online degree programs at an affordable price. Located in Anderson, South Carolina, Anderson University is a highly selective, well rounded university offering bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees on campus and online. Students have the option of choosing from over 35 majors across over 60 concentrations and minors, and is ranked as one of the best regional colleges in the South by both Princeton Review and U. S. News and World Report.

Newberry College
Tuition and fees: $23,575 Enrollment: 1,162 Accredited: YES Website: Newberry College

Newberry College is a private institution that features small class sizes to focus on one-on-one interactions with students. The school is accredited and offers a decent number of degree programs through their online school, making Newberry an excellent option when looking at online colleges in South Carolina.

Coker College
Tuition and fees: $23,640 Enrollment: 1,248 Accredited: YES Website: Coker College

With affordable tuition and a good variety of courses offered, Coker College should not be ignored when looking at online colleges in South Carolina. Coker has been rated “one of America’s best colleges,” and their online program is no different. Every course is fully-accredited and can help students achieve an undergraduate degree.

Converse College
Tuition and fees: $28,276 Enrollment: 745 Accredited: YES Website: Converse College

The South Carolina school at Converse College offers four online degree programs which can all be completed without setting a foot on campus. There are many busy students out there who don’t have time to drive to and from school every day, so it’s great for them to take advantage of one of the fully online colleges in South Carolina.