As home to the nation's capital, the District of Columbia is a mere 68 square miles in size. However, there are numerous higher education options packed into its small space. These include traditional schools with long histories as well as newer colleges catering to those wanting to earn an online bachelor's degree in the District of Columbia.
While there is only one public university in the district -- University of the District of Columbia -- a number of distinguished private schools operate within its borders. Plus, the DC Higher Education Licensure Commission has approved several online schools. These institutions may be based in other states but offer online degree programs for those living in D.C.
Unlike other states which have extensive community college systems, D.C. has only one public two-year institution. The University of the District of Columbia Community College offers associate degree programs and career training within the larger university. Students attending community colleges in other states may find their credits are transferrable to UDC or other four-year schools in the area.
Best 4-Year Colleges in District of Columbia
Here's a look at how the nine major universities in the District of Columbia compare. The schools are ranked based on a methodology that considered costs, degree options and student success metrics.
The district's one public university is also the top school in D.C. according to these rankings. Its low tuition and generous financial aid helped propel it to the first-place position. The University of the District of Columbia ranks first in the area for it tuition and fees. It is also first for the amount of institutional grant aid it awards as a percentage of its tuition and fees.
UDC has the distinction of not only being the lone public university in the District of Columbia but also the only land-grant university in the country. It can trace its roots back to 1851 when the institution was formed as a school for African-American girls. The institution evolved and in 1977, it became the University of the District of Columbia.
UDC enrolled nearly 5,000 students in its seven colleges and schools in 2015.
Georgetown University is arguably the most prominent D.C. school. Established in 1789, the university is the oldest Jesuit and Catholic higher education institution in the country. While offering numerous fields of study, its international relations program is particularly popular. Georgetown University awarded more undergraduate degrees in that field than any other in 2015.
Georgetown University does an exceptional job of keeping out-of-pocket costs reasonable. Thanks to its commitment to meeting the financial needs of undergraduates, Georgetown has the lowest average net price for low-income students in the District of Columbia. Its graduates also have the lowest median debt in the district and the best three-year debt repayment rate.
Beyond that, Georgetown University is notable for its number one rankings for both its retention and graduation rates.
Providing specialized education for the deaf and hard of hearing, Gallaudet University ranks third overall among D.C. colleges and universities. The school was founded in 1856 and today offers 40 undergraduate majors. Although hearing students can attend Gallaudet University, they must know American Sign Language.
Among other D.C. schools, Gallaudet University gets high marks for affordability. The institution ranks first in D.C. for its average net price for all students and second for its average net price for low-income students. Students at Gallaudet University also appear to avoid substantial student loans, and the school ranks second for the low median debt carried by graduates.
Gallaudet University is one of the best online colleges for District of Columbia, ranking second for the number of programs available via distance education. Its courses are offered through the Online Consortium of Independent Colleges & Universities and are available in an accelerated format.
The George Washington University is the largest school in the District of Columbia and enrolled more than 26,000 undergraduate and graduate students in 2015. Although now a private institution, it was chartered by an act of Congress in 1851. The school's alumni include former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and former Secretary of State Colin Powell among other prominent individuals.
For students who want a wide range of academic options, The George Washington University doesn't fail to deliver. It ranks first in D.C. for the overall number of degree programs available as well as for its number of online courses of study in the . It also has the second best graduation rate and the fourth best retention rate among surveyed schools in the District of Columbia.
GW has its campus in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood and has several traditions that help instill residential students with a spirit of community and service.
As a historic women's college, Trinity Washington University is now an attractive choice for men and women who want a flexible education at an affordable price. The university ranks second for its average net price. It also provides a number of options, such as night classes and credit for life experiences, which make it appealing for non-traditional students.
Trinity was founded in 1897 by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur on the idea that women should have the same access to higher education as men. The university continues in that commitment and weekday classes are available only to women. However, men are welcome to enroll in the school's night and weekend programs.
More than 2,000 students were enrolled at Trinity Washington University in 2015. It offers a liberal arts education through its College of Arts & Sciences as well as more specialized classes through its schools of education, nursing and professional studies.
American University is another school that was originally chartered by Congress but is now a private institution. First authorized in 1893, AU says it embodies the dream George Washington had for a national university in the U.S. capital. Today, the university has nine colleges and schools and enrolled more than 13,000 students in 2015.
American University ranks first for the affordable cost of its books and supplies. The school is also notable for retaining students and helping them graduate on time. It has the second best retention rate in D.C. and has the third best graduation rate.
AU has more than 150 bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs. Students can also earn a Juris Doctor through the university's Washington College of Law. International relations was the most popular undergraduate major among those earning a degree in 2015.
Among historically black colleges and universities, Howard University may be the most prominent. The school has a reputation for academic excellence and has produced leaders and innovators in diverse fields including medicine, law and science.
The school was federally chartered in 1867 but is a private institution today. Howard University contains 13 colleges and schools. These include schools of divinity, law, medicine and dentistry. At the undergraduate level, Howard conferred more degrees in journalism than in any other major in 2015.
Howard University earned solid scores in many of the metrics considered in these rankings, but it is particularly notable for the amount of financial aid it provides to students. The university ranks second for the amount of institutional grant aid it awards as a percentage of its tuition and fees.
As its name suggests, The Catholic University of America is the national university of the Catholic Church in the United States. It was founded in 1887 by U.S. Catholic bishops. While the university accepts students of all religious backgrounds, it describes itself as "faithfully Catholic."
Students attending The Catholic University of America have access to a wide range of academic programs offered through its 12 schools. Overall, the university ranks second in the district for the number of programs available. It ranks third for the number of programs available via distance education. Those seeking online District of Columbia degrees will find several fully online options at graduate level.
The Catholic University of America ranks high for bringing students back year after year. The school lands in the number three spot for its retention rate and takes fourth place for its graduation rate.
Students hoping to earn an online bachelor's degree in District of Columbia may find the program they want at the University of Phoenix. The school is among the best online colleges for District of Columbia and ranks first for the number of students enrolled in distance education programs.
The University of Phoenix-Washington DC is also an affordable higher education option. It ranks second in the district for the relatively low price of its tuition and fees. In addition to bachelor's degrees, the university awards associate, master's and doctoral degrees.
Although the University of Phoenix is known primarily as an online college, the school also offers several programs at its Washington, D.C. campus. Among 2015 graduates, criminal justice was the most popular major for those earning a bachelor's degree.
Most Popular Degree Programs in District of Columbia
As the nation's capital, the District of Columbia attracts students with diverse interests. Here's a look at some of the most popular majors in D.C.
Financial Aid and Scholarships in District of Columbia
The District of Columbia offers several services to help area students pursue a higher education. Financial aid programs include the DC Tuition Assistance Grant, Mayor's Scholars and OSSE Scholars. What's more, the Last Dollar Award provides up to $2,000 a year for five years to eligible D.C. public and public charter school graduates.
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- District of Columbia College Access Program
- Office of the State Superintendent of Education
- Higher Education Licensure Commission
To get our list of the best colleges, we ranked 1,649 4-year colleges and universities in the U.S. Each school was scored on a 100-point scale, using the most recent data available from government sources. Our data points include:
- The in-state tuition and fees for full-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- The estimated cost of books and supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- The average net price for students receiving Title IV grant and scholarship aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014-15
- The average net price for low-income students receiving Title IV grant and scholarship aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014-15
- The average amount of institutional grant aid awarded to full-time, first-time undergraduate students as a percentage of in-state tuition and fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014-15
- Median debt of graduates, College Scorecard, 2014-15
- 3-year student loan repayment rate of graduates, College Scorecard, 2014-15
- No. of degree and certificate programs offered, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- No. of degree and certificate programs offered via distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of students enrolled in any distance education classes, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Average retention rate for full-time and part-time students, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2015-16
- Graduation rate within six years, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- 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
- Frequently Asked Questions for Students, Office of the State Superintendent of Education, Accessed June 2017, https://osse.dc.gov/page/frequently-asked-questions-students#approved
- Welcome to UDC, University of the District of Columbia, Accessed June 2017, https://www.udc.edu/about/history-mission/
- Aid & Admissions, Georgetown University, Accessed June 2017, https://www.georgetown.edu/
- OCICU - Online Consortium of Independent Colleges & Universities, Gallaudet University, Accessed June 2017, https://www.gallaudet.edu/registrar/consortium-programs/ocicu
- About, The George Washington University, Accessed June 2017, https://www.gwu.edu/about
- Welcome to Trinity Washington University, Trinity Washington University, Accessed June 2017, http://www.trinitydc.edu/admissions/
- About AU, American University, Accessed June 2017, http://www.american.edu/about/history.cfm
- History, Howard University, Accessed June 2017, https://www2.howard.edu/about/history
- At a Glance, The Catholic University of America, Accessed June 2017, https://www.cua.edu/about-us/at-a-glance/index.html
- Washington DC Campus, University of Phoenix, Accessed June 2017, http://www.phoenix.edu/campus-locations/dc/washington-dc-campus/washington-dc-campus.html
- Higher Education Financial Services, Office of the State Superintendent of Education, Accessed June 2017, https://osse.dc.gov/service/higher-education-financial-services
- Last Dollar Award, District of Columbia College Access Program, Accessed June 2017, http://www.dccap.org/college-students/last-dollar-award