If you're an Arizona student looking for the right place to earn your degree, it can be difficult to know which of the state's colleges and universities might be best suited to help you reach your academic goals.
The Arizona Board of Regents administers the state's public university system, which consists of Arizona's three largest campus-based universities and their satellite campuses. These are Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and University of Arizona, and the entire system enrolls more than 150,000 students annually.
Outside of the state system, Arizona is home to several prominent private schools. These include the University of Phoenix and Grand Canyon University which have both made names for themselves as online colleges serving students across the globe. Or for those seeking a more intimate learning environment, Arizona also has a few very small, specialized colleges.
If you plan to start your education at a two-year school, many of the best colleges in Arizona participate in AZTransfer agreements. These allow students of state community colleges to make a low-stress shift from their two-year program into university institutions.
So where should you start your search for a four-year school? Check out our research-based list.
Best 4-Year Colleges in Arizona
Sorting out the best colleges and universities in Arizona requires a hard look at statistics on affordability, academic success, student support services, financial aid availability and more. We analyzed universities for these factors to find the best schools in Arizona, and the following colleges made the cut. When you're done here, you can check out our rankings for the best community colleges in Arizona.
This Tucson school is home to some of the highest-rated degree programs among Arizona colleges. The University of Arizona's geosciences department, for instance, has highly ranked programs in the fields of geology, Earth sciences and geochemistry.
The university has earned accolades on the global scale as well — the Center for World University rankings placed UA among the top 100 of universities in the world. UA is also a member of the Association of American Universities, a prestigious group of 65 research institutions that includes Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Duke and other top-tier schools.
Arizona also makes it easy for community college students to transfer into one of their more than 240 bachelor's programs. The Arizona Bridge program provides an admissions guarantee, pre-transfer admissions counseling, scholarships for eligible students and more.
The flagship location of Arizona State University is the largest campus by enrollment among the top schools in Arizona. More than 53,000 students attend classes on the Tempe campus, making it not only the most populous university in the state but earning it a spot among the largest in the country.
The selection of degree programs available here is about as robust and diverse as you'd expect from a school of its size — more than 430 undergraduate programs are available on campus and as online courses, and graduate students have more than 500 options at the master's and doctoral levels.
ASU makes a case for itself as one of the top colleges and universities in Arizona for online students, as well, thanks to its total of more than 180 undergraduate and graduate online programs. These include degrees in popular majors such as business, biological sciences and psychology.
Northern Arizona University was founded in 1899, when Arizona was still a U.S. territory. This accredited institution in the mountain town of Flagstaff offers approximately 200 degree programs in total, including study plans in valuable but traditionally uncommon subjects like forestry, civic engagement and applied indigenous studies.
A vast variety of online degrees can be earned by NAU students who want to use the virtual classroom for online courses. A few of the nearly 90 bachelor's, master's and certificate programs have special admissions criteria, so be sure to meet with an advisor before jumping in.
NAU also maintains numerous satellite campuses around the state. The list of 20+ campus locations features outposts in the Phoenix metro area, the Navajo Nation in northeastern Arizona and small towns such as Thatcher and Show Low.
The downtown campus of Arizona State University lets students learn in the middle of a fast-paced metro area that brings together diverse opportunities for professional and personal growth. The campus opened its doors in 2006 and now offers close to 170 degree and certificate programs through seven colleges and schools.
One of the most prestigious departments at ASU — the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication — was the first new building built at the Downtown site. It also recently became the home base for the university's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law.
What's more, students at ASU Downtown are less than two miles away from major cultural centers. Take in classic and contemporary art at the Phoenix Art Museum, Native American and Hispanic art and culture at the Heard Museum and interactive fun at the Arizona Science Center.
This northwest Phoenix campus of Arizona State University is one of the smaller institutions among the best colleges in Arizona, reporting enrollment of nearly 4,500 students. Having a smaller student body isn't necessarily a bad thing, though — the student-faculty ratio at ASU-West is 12:1, offering the chance for more personalized instruction.
Transfer students are important to the mission at the West campus of ASU's New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. Students may take their first two years of courses at a community college and switch to this or another ASU campus to complete their degree.
The West Campus Transfer Center exists to help provide support for community college students looking to transfer in. What's more, students in the Maricopa County Community College District can make use of the Maricopa to ASU Pathways Program (MAPP) to start their transfer journey on the right track. This program includes degrees in fields such as applied computing, biology and psychology.
Grand Canyon University is a faith-based college located in Phoenix. Founded in 1949 by the Southern Baptist Church, GCU transitioned out of nonprofit status in 2004 and began operating as one of the few accredited for-profit colleges to arise out of a religious tradition.
GCU was one of the best schools in Arizona for distance education, offering dozens of specific online degree programs at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels. Busy students can also attend evening courses on campus and mix course types to create hybrid degree plans.
As a private Christian university, GCU does offer ecclesiastical degree programs both on campus and online, but conventional, secular subjects are also widely available. Degrees in business, education, health care, information technology and the arts and humanities can all be earned in the traditional classroom or entirely online.
This ASU campus in Mesa is another close-knit school. Arizona State University-Polytechnic enrolls just more than 5,000 students and has a student-to-faculty ratio of 18:1.
Degree programs at the Polytechnic campus focus on interdisciplinary sciences, technology, engineering, management and education. Industry partnerships make it possible for ASU Polytechnic to offer degrees in uncommon subjects such as aeronautical management, history of science, human systems engineering and graphic information technology.
Advanced technology and project-based approaches to learning combine to produce a unique educational experience that make this one of the best universities in Arizona. Campus facilities include a flight simulator, semiconductor fabrication equipment, on-demand digital manufacturing machinery and a major regional airport, all within a few dozen miles of breathtaking mountainscapes and majestic desert lakes.
If you're looking for a tiny, private liberal arts institution in Arizona, look no further than Prescott College. Total enrollment here tops out at fewer than 850 students. Despite its small size, the college has a robust catalog of online degree programs and offers the type of innovative programs — such as degrees in adventure education and sustainable community development — that you'd expected to find at top colleges in Arizona.
Prescott College is located in a wildly diverse natural area featuring six different biomes within ten miles of the center of the city. As such, sustainability is a significant part of the mission here — more than 100 percent of the campus's electricity needs are sourced from solar and other renewable energy sources.
Also exemplifying that commitment to sustainability is a recently built student residence hall called the Village. Its rainwater catchment system, high-efficiency design and other features earned it a Platinum-level certification by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
The Phoenix campus of this nationally distributed for-profit school offers just one campus-based degree program: a three-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) plan that consists of 122 credit hours of coursework. A liberal arts core encompasses 56 of the required credits, with dedicated nursing courses making up the balance.
Some of the latest pieces of nurse training technology are available at Chamberlain, including a patient simulator that produces realistic vital signs and somatic reactions. Lifelike simulated patients are controlled by instructors and can voice their discomfort, blink, sweat, bleed and more.
Multiple degree plans are available online through the Chamberlain system as well. Working registered nurses (RNs) comfortable with virtual instruction can enroll in an online RN-to-BSN program, while bachelor's degree holders can pursue master's degrees in nursing and public health.
The University of Advancing Technology is one of the best colleges in Arizona for technophiles. The private school prides itself on being at the forefront of technology trends and creating degree programs that can prepare students for the careers of tomorrow.
Enrolling fewer than 800 people, UAT has average class sizes of just 15 students and is one of the few 100 percent STEM-based universities in the country. Its degree programs include innovative fields such as digital maker and fabrication and robotics and embedded systems. UAT is also an online college with nearly 20 program options for distance learners.
Students who choose to study on-campus may be able to participate in a variety of activities and events such as Geek Week, Academic Palooza and more than 30 clubs and organizations.
Most Popular Degree Programs in Arizona
Students hoping to have a large peer group in their chosen major can achieve that goal more easily if they know which ones are the most common degree programs in the state. Check out this list of degree programs that were most popular in Arizona schools during the past statistical year — many of which may be available at the top Arizona schools and as online degrees.
Costs, Financial Aid and Scholarships in Arizona
For in-state students, attending a two-year college before heading off to one of the top Arizona schools may be the most economical option. However, if you'd rather start at a four-year school, you'll find tuition and fees are similar for many public and private institutions. The following are the average published 2017-18 tuition rates in Arizona, as compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics.
- Public 2-Year Schools (in-state): $2,152
- Public 2-Year Schools (out-of-state): $8,067
- Public 4-Year Schools (in-state): $10,557
- Public 4-Year Schools (out-of-state): $26,067
- Private 4-Year Schools: $13,487
Arizona students have access to a few financial aid programs specific to residents of the state:
- The Arizona Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership (AzLEAP) provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduates.
- The Arizona Teacher Student Loan Program may relieve students of up to $7,000 per year in college debt if they pledge to teach in Arizona public schools for a length of time after graduation.
Plus, many of the top universities in Arizona have their own financial assistance programs. To apply for state and institutional aid, students need complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the FAFSA.
Professional organizations, industry groups and alumni clubs may offer private scholarships and grant programs as well. These programs set their own application process and selection criteria. Check out our guide on How to Pay for College for more ideas on how to reduce out-of-pocket costs for higher education.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
Recipient must maintain a minimum 3.5 cumulative GPA and full-time enrollment are required to retain scholarship.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
Renewable if recipient maintains a minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA (and semester 2.5 GPA) and continues to attend their school as a full time student for both fall and spring semesters. Renewable for a maximum term of four consecutive years.
Careers in Arizona
If you're looking to turn your degree into a stable career track, educating yourself in a way that may potentially fill a gap in the labor market can go a long way toward helping you succeed. You can start by taking a career quiz to hone in on your interests. Then consider some of the trends pushing employment in certain sectors.
- Arizona is a popular retirement destination for older Americans and that is helping spur demand for healthcare workers. The 2019 Arizona State Health Assessment notes the state needs an additional 605 primary care physicians alone.
- The assessment also found that 5.2% of inpatient and 6.6% of outpatient services programs for substance use treatment disorders had waitlists, indicating a need for more mental health professionals.
- With specialized education programs available through schools such as the University of Arizona Health Sciences, the state has become a hot spot for aspiring genetic counselors.
Below is a rundown of additional in-demand careers in Arizona where a bachelor's degree from one of the top Arizona schools can help you get started.
|Career Title||Projected Job Growth||Total Employment||Annual Salary|
|Home Health and Personal Care Aides||72.3%||66,890||$26,050|
|Physical Therapist Aides||51%||850||$30,050|
|Physical Therapist Assistants||50.8%||2,900||$43,500|
|Ambulance Drivers and Attendants, Except Emergency Medical Technicians||48.5%||150||$32,500|
|Diagnostic Medical Sonographers||47.5%||1,640||$86,710|
|Operations Research Analysts||46.9%||2,220||$87,610|
|Occupational Therapy Aides||45.2%||60||$43,070|
|Occupational Therapy Assistants||43.8%||940||$63,150|
|Healthcare Social Workers||43.3%||2,970||$59,600|
|Marriage and Family Therapists||42.7%||1,000||$49,100|
|Helpers--Pipelayers, Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters||41.7%||730||$33,760|
|Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers||41.6%||9,600||$47,580|
|Elevator and Escalator Installers and Repairers||41.5%||350||$80,430|
|Medical Secretaries and Administrative Assistants||40.9%||14,720||$37,050|
|Mechanical Door Repairers||40.7%||460||$45,300|
|Helpers--Brickmasons, Blockmasons, Stonemasons, and Tile and Marble Setters||40.5%||460||$34,480|
|Medical and Health Services Managers||40.4%||8,050||$120,280|
|Software Developers and Software Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers||40.3%||29,660||$100,730|
|Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers||39.7%||2,890||$40,450|
|Structural Iron and Steel Workers||38.5%||1,810||$48,390|
- Arizona Board of Regents
- Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education
- Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education
- Arizona Student Financial Aid Programs
- College Goal Arizona
To get our list of the best colleges, we ranked four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. In order to be included in the ranking, schools had to report data for each of the following data points, and each school was then scored on a 100-point scale:
- The in-state tuition and fees for full-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018-19
- The average amount of aid awarded to full-time, first-time undergraduate students, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Percent of full-time first-time undergraduates awarded any financial aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Median debt of graduates, College Scorecard, 2017-18
- 3-year student loan repayment rate of graduates, College Scorecard, 2016-17
- No. of degree and certificate programs offered on campus, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- No. of degree and certificate programs offered via distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Percent of students enrolled in any distance education classes, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2018
- Full-time student retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2018
- Graduation rate within six years, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2014-15
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018-19
- Dual credit
- Credit for life experience
- Advanced Placement credit
- Programs of study that can be completed entirely on weekends or in the evening
- Remedial services
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
- Guaranteed tuition plan
- Tuition payment plan
- Any other alternative tuition plan
Note: Tuition prices are based on data for the 2018-19 academic year reported to the National Center for Education Statistics. The actual cost of tuition may vary.
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- 2019 Arizona State Health Assessment, Arizona Department of Health Services, Accessed May 2020, https://www.azdhs.gov/documents/operations/managing-excellence/2019-state-health-assessment.pdf
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- Average undergraduate tuition and fees and room and board rates charged for full-time students in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by control and level of institution and state or jurisdiction: 2016-17 and 2017-18, National Center for Education Statistics, Accessed May 2020, https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d18/tables/dt18_330.20.asp?current=yes
- AZTransfer, accessed August 2020: About, https://www.aztransfer.com/about/; University of Arizona, https://www.aztransfer.com/ua/; Arizona State University, https://www.aztransfer.com/asu/; Northern Arizona University, http://www.aztransfer.com/nau/
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