The 5 Best Private Colleges in Kentucky

Are you looking for the best private college experience in Kentucky? If so, you have a number of fantastic options. Which one is the best for you depends on what you’re looking for: big or small, urban or rural, rigorous or laid back.

This article compares and contrasts what we believe are the five best private colleges in Kentucky. We took into account graduation rates, national rankings, student reviews, career outcomes of recent graduates, incoming students’ academic profiles, and more to determine which schools offer the best education and college experience. 

Read on to learn more about why these five schools are considered the top private colleges in Kentucky.

Road sign welcoming travellers to Kentucky.
Road sign welcoming travellers to Kentucky.

The 5 Best Private Colleges in Kentucky

If you’re looking for a private college in Kentucky and want to go to the best one you can, start by checking out these five schools:

Centre College

⦁    Location: Danville, KY
⦁    Undergraduate enrollment: 1,320
⦁    Acceptance rate: 69%
⦁    Graduation rate: 84%
⦁    SAT midrange: 1,235-1,465
⦁    ACT midrange: 27-33
⦁    U.S. News ranking: #55 in National Liberal Arts Colleges

Centre College in Danville is, in our opinion, the best private college or university in Kentucky. It has, by a wide margin, the highest graduation rate and highest incoming student test scores. It ranks just outside the top 50 liberal arts colleges in U.S. News. And it gets fantastic reviews from students and recent graduates — many of whom go on to attend elite law, medical, and graduate schools.

With just over 1,300 students, Centre is a small college. To some, this can feel isolating, but many students thrive in the close-knit community that it offers. At Centre, your professors will know you by name. You won’t just be a number in a large lecture hall.

Centre is a true liberal arts college. Regardless of whether you major in the humanities or in one of Centre’s growing number of STEM offerings, you’ll graduate with well-honed critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The coursework is challenging, and there are few easy A’s. You’ll also be encouraged to engage in hands-on learning experiences, like internships and research projects.

Studying abroad is huge at Centre, with the vast majority of students spending at least one semester overseas. Best of all, the cost of a study abroad experience is included in your regular tuition, so money won’t be a barrier to getting to participate.

The social scene at Centre is robust for such a small school. Greek life plays a big role, with between 40 and 50% of students pledging a frat or sorority in an average year. But it’s a laid-back scene, nothing like an SEC or Big 10 school. And if you choose not to pledge, there are tons of clubs and activities to get involved in outside the Greek scene, from academic groups to sports teams to service organizations.

Transylvania University

⦁    Location: Lexington, KY
⦁    Undergraduate enrollment: 971
⦁    Acceptance rate: 92%
⦁    Graduation rate: 73%
⦁    SAT midrange: 1,050-1,360
⦁    ACT midrange: 23-30
⦁    U.S. News ranking: #102 in National Liberal Arts Colleges

An aerial shot of Transy's Lexington campus.
An aerial shot of Transy’s Lexington campus.

Transylvania University is located in the heart of Lexington, adjacent to the campus of the University of Kentucky. Founded in 1780, it’s the 16th oldest university in the country. It has an abundance of neat traditions and a history of academic excellence. A number of fraternities were founded at Transy.

Transy is the smallest school on our list and the only one with an enrollment of under 1,000, though that number vacillates from year to year. This creates an amazingly close-knit environment, but students also have the city of Lexington at their back door, along with the University of Kentucky and its nearly 30,000 students. So, feeling confined and like you’re in a “bubble” is less of an issue at Transy.

As an academic school, Transy fights above its weight, sending a high percentage of graduates to top postgraduate programs. The school also has a dedicated career services office to help recent graduates and soon-to-be graduates start their careers off on the right foot.

The Greek system runs a large percentage of the social scene at Transy, and well over half the students pledge. That said, the frat and sorority houses are not residential; Greek students live in the dorms (or off campus, which is available to seniors only) alongside everyone else, resulting in less of a divide between students who are and aren’t Greek.

Berea College

⦁    Location: Berea, KY
⦁    Undergraduate enrollment: 1,468
⦁    Acceptance rate: 33%
⦁    Graduation rate: 66%
⦁    SAT midrange: 1,118-1,268
⦁    ACT midrange: 23-28
⦁    U.S. News ranking: #26 in National Liberal Arts Colleges

Berea College is by far the most unique college on our list. The most distinctive feature of the school is its “Work Program.” Every student at Berea works on campus 10-15 hours a week, and that work helps offset the cost of tuition. In order to even gain admittance to Berea, you have to demonstrate financial need. This helps explain why the acceptance rate is so low.

According to U.S. News, Berea is by far the highest-ranked private college in Kentucky. In fact, it outranks every school in the state, public and private. So why do we only have it as third on our list? 

Because we believe that while Berea is a fantastic school for the right student, its U.S. News ranking is a little misleading.

Berea’s graduation rate lags well behind that of Centre and Transy. It also has lower incoming student stats, especially when compared to Centre. But the school has a massive, gargantuan per-student endowment, thanks to a series of smart financial decisions made by its early leadership. Since this is a major ranking factor in U.S. News, the school gets a massive boost for being so wealthy.

Berea has plenty to get involved in on campus when you’re not studying, working, or in class. And the campus itself needs to be seen to be believed. It’s green, wooded, and sprawling, anchored by an adorable, kitschy little town and surrounded by rolling hills and horse farms.

If you’re into outdoor recreation, like hiking, fishing, and camping, you can do it all in the Berea area. And if you need a big city fix, Lexington and Louisville are both just a short drive away — that said, Berea is known to be strict about letting students bring cars to campus, as the school believes car ownership demonstrates the lack of a true financial need.

Bellarmine University

⦁    Location: Louisville, KY
⦁    Undergraduate enrollment: 2,407
⦁    Acceptance rate: 86%
⦁    Graduation rate: 66%
⦁    SAT midrange: 1,110-1,280
⦁    ACT midrange: 21-27
⦁    U.S. News ranking: #234 in National Universities

Bellarmine's campus features a mixture of new and historic architecture.
Bellarmine’s campus features a mixture of new and historic architecture.

With just under 2,500 students, Bellarmine University, a private Catholic college in Louisville, is the largest school on our list. It’s classified as a National University by U.S. News because it offers advanced degrees, not just bachelor’s. But it still feels like a small liberal arts college and offers the same type of rigorous academic experience.

At Bellarmine, you can focus on the liberal arts or opt for a pre-professional program, like business or nursing. Either way, you’ll still receive a broad education in the humanities. Bellarmine also prioritizes, hands-on, experiential learning, so graduates are ready for what’s next, whether that be graduate school or a new career.

Bellarmine has a strong but not all-encompassing Greek system. It also has a host of academic and non-academic clubs for students to pursue hobbies and make friends. Considering its urban location inside Louisville’s I-264 loop, Bellarmine’s campus is pretty incredible, with a mix of modern facilities and historic buildings, all set in a green, park-like setting.

And just off campus is Kentucky’s largest and most bustling city. Louisville is a hub of culture, art, and history, and it’s home to quite an array of food, drink, and entertainment.

Georgetown College

⦁    Location: Georgetown, KY
⦁    Undergraduate enrollment: 1,259
⦁    Acceptance rate: 75%
⦁    Graduation rate: 54%
⦁    SAT midrange: 860-1,100
⦁    ACT midrange: 19-25
⦁    U.S. News ranking: #156-201 in National Liberal Arts Colleges

Located in the charming town of Georgetown, just 15 minutes north of Lexington, Georgetown College is a high-quality liberal arts college that often gets overlooked and overshadowed by Centre and Transy.

First, let’s address some of the concerns one might have about the school. Yes, the graduation rate, just north of 50%, is low, especially for a small, private school. But that has less to do with the quality of incoming students and the level of satisfaction with the school, and more to do with the fact that compared to Centre and Transy, Georgetown College admits more economically disadvantaged students. Many of the students who fail to graduate within six years leave, unfortunately, because they simply cannot afford to stay in school.

Georgetown College also has lower incoming student test scores than several of its in-state peers. Yes, the school takes a chance on students that might not make the cut at Centre, but it in no way “dumbs down” its curriculum. As many students will attest, it’s “easy to get in, much harder to stay in.”

Georgetown’s location is ideal for students who want to be away from the hustle and bustle of a large city but close enough to be able to access it when they want or need to. Lexington and all it has to offer are just a few miles down I-75.

Perhaps the only other downside of Georgetown is its ambiguous name. Be prepared to tell people you go to (or graduated from) Georgetown, but not THAT one.

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