Higher Education in Columbia, South Carolina

Columbia, the capital and second-largest city in South Carolina, is home to several renowned institutes of higher education. With a population of over 130,000 people, Columbia attracts students from across the state and country who come to pursue undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees across diverse fields of study.

The city’s colleges and universities play a vital role in shaping Columbia’s identity as an emerging hub for research and innovation in the Southeast. They also contribute significantly to the local economy and provide employment opportunities for city residents.

This article will provide an in-depth look at the major colleges and universities that call Columbia home.

University of South Carolina

The University of South Carolina (USC or Carolina) is the flagship university of the state and the largest university in Columbia. Founded in 1801, USC Columbia is the flagship campus of a state-supported, multi-campus public university system serving over 50,000 students across 8 campuses.


  • Student body size: Over 34,000 students
  • Academics: USC Columbia offers over 350 degree programs across 13 colleges and schools. These include the Darla Moore School of Business, the Arnold School of Public Health, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and Computing, the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management, the College of Information and Communications, the College of Nursing, the College of Pharmacy, the College of Social Work, the Palmetto College (serving non-traditional students), the School of Law and the South Carolina College of Pharmacy.
  • Athletics: The South Carolina Gamecocks compete in Division 1 of the NCAA, primarily in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Football and baseball are especially popular here.
  • Notable alumni: James Clyburn, Aziz Ansari, Bethany Frankel, Darius Rucker

Campus Life

The main USC campus in downtown Columbia spans over 359 acres along the Congaree River. It combines historic buildings with state-of-the-art new facilities for learning and research. Key attractions include:

  • The Horseshoe: The historic heart of campus surrounding a horseshoe-shaped green space with majestic oak trees. It features historic buildings like the South Caroliniana Library, DeSaussure College, Rutledge College, and the McKissick Museum.
  • Thomas Cooper Library: The main library has gorgeous terraced fountains and houses over 43,000 prints in the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.
  • Darla Moore School of Business: This state-of-the-art facility contains interactive classrooms, team project spaces, a stock trading room and a 356-seat auditorium.
  • The Strom Thurmond Wellness & Fitness Center: Offers health and wellness services plus a pool, racquetball courts and running track.

Housing is guaranteed for first-year students and about 7,100 students live on campus each year. There are options like traditional dorms, suites and apartments. Over 300 student organizations cater to a variety of interests – academic, cultural, recreational and more. The campus also hosts sporting events, concerts, theater performances and guest lectures.

Benedict College

Founded in 1870, Benedict College is a private, co-educational, liberal arts Historically Black College located in downtown Columbia.


  • Student body size: Over 2,000 students
  • Academics: Benedict offers bachelors degrees in over 40 majors across fields like business administration, mass communication, computer science, studio art, religious studies, political science and more. It also has an Honors Program for gifted students.
  • Athletics: 17 Division II sports teams compete in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) of the NCAA. These include football, basketball, track & field, tennis and volleyball teams.
  • Notable alumni: Emmy-award winning television host Charlie Applewhite

Campus Life

Benedict’s beautiful campus spans over 65 acres with stately red-brick buildings and verdant lawns. It provides the intimacy of a small college with the facilities of a larger university. Highlights include:

  • The Harden House: A historic site from Reconstruction era that serves as the welcome center.
  • The Starks Center: Home to a modern 500-seat auditorium, broadcasting studios, multimedia classrooms and an art gallery.
  • The Charles W. Johnson Stadium: With seating for 11,000 spectators, this hosts Benedict Tigers football.
  • Mather Gymnasium: The arena for indoor sports like Benedict Tigers basketball.

On-campus housing includes options like single or double rooms, suites with shared bathrooms and kitchen access. Over 80 percent of students live on campus. Student life is vibrant here with choirs, bands, fraternities, honor societies and varsity athletics. The college emphasizes values and ethics within a close-knit campus community.

Allen University

Allen University is a private, coeducational Historically Black College founded in 1870 and affiliated with African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.


  • Student body size: Around 500 students
  • Academics: Allen University offers undergraduate liberal arts degrees in subjects like business administration, English, biology and computer science. It also has an Honors program.
  • Athletics: The Allen University Yellow Jackets participate in six varsity sports in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). These sports include basketball, cross country, volleyball, track & field, football and golf.
  • Notable alumni: Educator and activist Septima Clark

Campus Life

The scenic 55-acre campus of Allen University has historic buildings shaded by oak trees. Key features are:

  • Chappelle Administration Building: The oldest building on campus (1902) with Richardsonian Romanesque architecture.
  • John I. Miller Hall: Home to administrative offices, classrooms and the computing center.
  • J.S. Flipper Library: With over 66,000 volumes plus musical recordings, microforms and online databases.
  • LeVert Arena: Hosts Yellow Jackets basketball and volleyball games.

On-campus housing includes dorm-style Residence Halls for men and women. The compact campus size fosters community spirit through campus traditions and events. These help develop strong bonds between students, faculty and staff.

Columbia College

Founded in 1854, Columbia College is a private liberal arts women’s college related to the United Methodist Church. It also offers coeducational evening/online programs.


  • Student body size: Around 1,400 students between the Women’s College and coeducational programs.
  • Academics: Undergraduate degrees offered in more than 30 majors including business administration, computer science, dance, English, music and psychology. There is also an Honors program option.
  • Athletics: Columbia College participates in NAIA sports like basketball, cross country, soccer, softball, track & golf. Their team name is the Koalas.
  • Notable alumnae: First lady of South Carolina Peggy Wilson, astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger

Campus Life

Columbia College’s tree-lined 49-acre campus provides a serene setting conducive for learning. Notable buildings and facilities include:

  • Cottingham Theatre: Used for stage productions, lectures, performances and recitals. Seats 296 visitors.
  • McNair Science Building: State-of-the-art classrooms and labs for subjects like chemistry and biology.
  • Phillips Recreational Center: Houses a gym with basketball/volleyball courts, an indoor walking track, a cardio room, circuit training room, a dance studio and locker rooms.
  • Alexandriana’s Coffee Shop. Grab a snack, meal or coffee here between classes.

On-campus housing includes seven residence halls with options like suites or apartments. Over 60 student clubs and organizations foster leadership development and Columba College prides itself on building a sisterhood that lasts beyond the college years.

Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary

The Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, founded in 1830, is a private graduate school located on Monticello Road that trains ministers for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).


  • Students: Enrolls 100 full-time students in its professional programs
  • Academics: Offers a Master of Divinity (80 students) for ministry training and a Master of Arts (20 students) for theological studies.
  • History: Part of the South Carolina Synod of the Lutheran Church. Has trained over 1,500 ministers since 1830.
  • Classes: Practical courses like pastoral care, preaching, worship, Bible study plus field education components like internships.

Campus Life

This quiet 30-acre campus provides a peaceful environment for equipping students with spiritual guidance and ministry skills. Notable facilities are:

  • Gilbert House: Historic 1930s manor that hosts special events
  • Klug Hall: Houses classrooms, library and faculty offices
  • Augusta Road Building: Added in 2001 with modern amenities
  • Kramer Chapel: Stunning chapel that hosts daily community worship

Midlands Technical College

Midlands Technical College (MTC) is a large two-year public college offering associate degrees, diplomas and certificates. It was founded in 1973 and has multiple campuses across the midlands region.


  • Student body size: Over 10,000 students
  • Academics: 100+ academic programs including associate degrees in arts, science, engineering, business, health sciences, public service and more. Also diplomas and certificates.
  • Campuses: The Columbia campus is near Harbison Blvd. Other area campuses are in Batesburg-Leesville, Beltline, Fairfield and Fort Jackson. There is also an online campus.
  • Special features: Transfer opportunities, online classes, financial aid, career counseling services.

Columbia Campus Life

The convenient, 204-acre Columbia campus has plenty of greenery along with modern buildings and parking. Key facilities include:

  • Airport Campus Conference Center: Offers 33,000 sq ft event space with classrooms.
  • Learning Resource Center: Library, Writing Center, math labs and testing center.
  • Building M500: Has a Starbucks Cafe along with science labs.
  • Lex Walters Campus-College Center: Home to admissions, advising, career services, gym, wellness center and more.

While MTC does not offer student housing, joining one of 130+ student organizations is a great way to get involved. There are also dedicated Veteran Student Centers to help those students.

South University

South University is a private university focused on professional degree programs and continuing adult education. The Columbia campus opened in 2009.


  • Student body size: Around 800 students
  • Academics: Offers 9 bachelor’s degrees in fields like business administration, criminal justice, IT and nursing. Also 8 master’s degrees including physician assistant, public administration and education.
  • Campus location: In the Vista neighborhood near downtown.

Campus Life

The Columbia campus occupies part of one floor in the Palmetto Building. Facilities used by students here include:

  • Modern classrooms equipped with projectors
  • Computer labs
  • Simulation labs for Nursing students
  • Student lounge area
  • On-site library services managed by University of South Carolina

While South University does not offer student housing, academic advisors and support services assist working adult, veteran, international or online students in reaching their goals. The location allows students access urban amenities.

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  • Begin by heading west on Park Street for 0.6 miles. Turn left onto Elm Boulevard and go straight for 1.1 miles. Turn right onto Highway 77 South and continue for about 8 miles. Use the left 2 lanes to take exit 42 for Slash Pine Road. Keep left at the fork and turn left onto Slash Pine Road. In 2.5 miles, turn right onto Slash Pine Lane. 1012 Slash Pine Ln is on the right side of the street.
  • Start out on Creek View Drive heading south. Drive for 0.9 miles and turn right onto Oak Avenue. Take Oak Avenue across the bridge over the creek and continue west for 1.7 miles. Turn left onto Highway 77 South and stay on it for approximately 7 miles. Take exit 42 for Slash Pine Road. At the stop sign, turn left onto Slash Pine Road heading west. After 2.8 miles, make a right onto Slash Pine Lane. 1012 Slash Pine Ln will be a gray house on your right side.