The Bluegrass State is home to more than a few colleges and universities, and it's no easy task to sort out which ones stand above the rest - and which ones have programs that might line up with your targeted career goals.
In addition to the 16 different community colleges with more than 70 locations in Kentucky, there are eight public universities, several of which have multiple campuses. There are also more than two dozen private colleges and universities. To help you make the best-informed choice possible when it comes to your bachelor's degree program, we did extensive research to determine the ten best traditional and online colleges in Kentucky.
If you're planning to switch to a university program after you finish your two-year degree at a community college, many schools in Kentucky offer articulation agreements to make the transfer process easy. .
Best 4-Year Colleges in Kentucky
We put together comprehensive data profiles on dozens of Kentucky schools, paying special attention to affordability, schedule flexibility, student success rates, financial aid and access to online education. Tap the methodology button to see how we calculated the rankings, and read on for our list of the best colleges and universities in Kentucky. When you're through, check out the best community colleges in Kentucky, too.
With a population of around 30,000 students, the University of Kentucky is the largest institution of higher learning in the state. Since its establishment as an agricultural and mechanical college in 1865, UK has grown into a full-service university comprising 16 colleges and professional schools.
The UK athletic teams, known as the Wildcats, are a big part of campus culture at UK. Men's and women's teams exist in basketball, golf, swimming, tennis, rifle shooting and more, and celebrated athletes like John Wall of the NBA's Washington Wizards count themselves among Wildcat alumni.
UK is located in the city of Lexington, home to Kentucky's second-largest urban area and a wide range of things to do when you're not studying. The city features art galleries, historic architecture, fine regional and global cuisine and more than a dozen local breweries.
The University of Louisville is a large university in northern Kentucky, near the border with Indiana on the banks of Ohio River. Its catalog of more than 200 graduate and undergraduate study plans reflects the sort of variety that's usually expected from campuses that serve 20,000+ students.
U of L has three campus locations in the Louisville area. The Belknap campus south of downtown serves as the school's main hub, while the Health Sciences Center covers health care and medical fields and the ShelbyHurst campus focuses on business and tech.
Louisville is the largest city in Kentucky, so give this one extra consideration if you're looking for Kentucky universities with a metropolitan feel. It's also one of the top schools in Kentucky for online degrees, featuring more than 30 bachelor's, master's and certificate programs for those who prefer online courses.
Founded in 1922, Murray State University is a medium-sized school with big opportunities for students hoping to secure some financial assistance to help them through school. More than 90 percent of full-time, first-year students received some form of financial aid in the fall semester of 2016.
Students at MSU tend to follow their own path, according to enrollment figures. It was similar to other Kentucky colleges in terms of high enrollment in popular degree plans like education, business administration and psychology, but less common majors like animal health technology, occupational safety and agriculture also ranked among the top 10 programs here.
Online programs at MSU are diverse as well. Degrees in integrated studies, library media, telecommunications systems management and human development and leadership share catalog space with nursing and business degree programs.
Northern Kentucky University may be one of the younger four-year schools in the state, founded in 1968 and awarded university status in 1976, but it's established itself as a formidable institution among Kentucky universities. The suburban campus, located seven miles southeast of Cincinnati, Ohio, serves around 14,500 students and features more than 90 undergraduate degree programs.
The Highland Heights institution may be one of the top colleges and universities in Kentucky for students who are passionate about sustainability. Not only does NKU hold a week of sustainability events between Earth Day and Arbor Day, but the campus features a community garden and a bike share program.
Along with its institutional accreditation, NKU features numerous programs accredited by discipline-specific organizations. For example, more than 10 of its education degrees are accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).
First established as a teacher training academy in 1906, Western Kentucky University now offers more than 300 degree and certificate programs from its six academic colleges. It's also one of the larger Kentucky universities, with a student body over 20,000.
The size of its distance education catalog alone places this Bowling Green institution among the best schools in Kentucky for online degree programs. Degrees in subjects such as sociology, health care administration and interdisciplinary studies can be earned online from the first course to the last, while a range of 2+2 programs require an associate degree from a Kentucky community or technical college.
The city of Bowling Green itself is a draw for potential students. The area consistently ranks among the most livable small cities in the country, thanks in part to its low crime and high affordability.
Online courses and degrees are important to the mission at Eastern Kentucky University, where more than 20 percent of enrolled students are using the virtual classroom to work toward their degrees. Numerous fully online degrees and certificates are available here, including a catalog of criminal justice programs that includes police studies, juvenile justice, homeland security and policy and leadership.
Unlike some other top online colleges in Kentucky, EKU offers distance education programs at all academic levels. Associate degrees for paramedics, paralegals and police officers are available alongside doctorates in nursing and occupational therapy.
EKU also earned a rare distinction that makes evident its commitment to military veterans pursuing their degrees at Kentucky colleges. Military Times ranks EKU among the top 20 four-year schools on its nationwide list of "Best for Vets" institutions.
Named for 16th-century cleric and teacher Saint Robert Bellarmine, this small, private school in Louisville identifies strongly with its Roman Catholic heritage. Since its founding in 1950, Bellarmine University has endeavored to offer a liberal arts and professional studies curriculum from an open-minded perspective.
Total enrollment at Bellarmine came in under 4,000 in 2017, which typically makes for a close-knit academic environment. The student-faculty ratio here is 12:1, which is around 25 percent better than the national average and tends to provide professors with time to help students individually if they need it.
Its long affiliation with renowned Catholic poet, writer and philosopher Thomas Merton helped shape the academic culture at Bellarmine. Advocacy for peace, social justice, sustainability and awareness of the interconnectedness of all life -- issues long championed by Merton -- lies at the core of the mission here.
Asbury University is one of the smallest Kentucky colleges, recording a total undergraduate enrollment of fewer than 1,300 students in the 2017-18 academic year. The institution takes its name from Bishop Francis Asbury, the founder of American Methodism and organizer of one of the earliest religious schools in Kentucky.
Degree programs at Asbury are delivered from a Christian-centered perspective, including Biblical studies, theology and chapel attendance requirements in the core curriculum. The degree catalog shows nearly 140 study tracks and includes secular as well as religious subjects of study.
Students who prefer a small-town atmosphere are likely to find what they're looking for in Wilmore, the town where Asbury University is located. Wilmore is home to around 6,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census, and several regional festivals take place throughout the year.
More than 120 undergraduate study plans, 60 graduate degrees and 14 pre-professional programs are available at Morehead State University. The history here goes back a century and more, beginning with its founding as Morehead Normal School in 1887 and moving through half a dozen name changes before becoming the comprehensive university it is today.
Nearly 11,000 students are enrolled at MSU, but students aren't likely to feel like an anonymous face in a crowded classroom. The average class size at the Morehead institution is just 18 students, which can be a big plus if you like a more intimate academic environment.
The city of Morehead is another example of a cozy municipality that houses one of the best colleges and universities in Kentucky. The U.S. Census estimates that fewer than 7,800 permanent residents live within the city limits.
Berea College stands out from the crowd in more ways than one. It doesn't charge tuition to its students, for starters -- every admitted student at Berea receives the institution's Tuition Promise Scholarship, which combines with any of your other state, federal or private student aid awards to cover 100 percent of tuition costs.
The degree catalog at Berea contains just 32 majors that lead to Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degrees, but that doesn't mean your options are especially limited here. Students may also design their own academic path by electing an independent major and working with advisors to get on track to graduation.
Berea boasts other rare distinctions as well. It was the first racially integrated and co-educational institution in the South, and it's one of just nine federally recognized Work Colleges in the U.S.
Most Popular Degree Programs in Kentucky
Are you looking for extra information before deciding on your own degree path? Are you just curious about what your fellow students are likely to be majoring in? Here's a list of the most popular bachelor's programs in Kentucky.
In-Demand Careers in Kentucky
Recent employment projections can help college students better understand what the job market might look like once they graduate and start looking for full-time work in their field. Take a look at a few projected high-demand careers for Kentucky graduates.
|Career Title||Projected Job Growth||Total Employment||Annual Salary|
|Home Health and Personal Care Aides||42.4%||22,660||$26,410|
|Software Developers and Software Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers||33.4%||8,410||$87,650|
|Occupational Therapy Assistants||28.6%||490||$60,510|
|Operations Research Analysts||28.2%||1,140||$70,100|
|Marriage and Family Therapists||28%||450||$42,810|
|Orthotists and Prosthetists||28%||110||$63,240|
|Physical Therapist Assistants||25.8%||1,570||$53,080|
|Physical Therapist Aides||23.4%||950||$26,210|
|Health Specialties Teachers, Postsecondary||23.4%||1,890||$64,120|
|Nursing Instructors and Teachers, Postsecondary||21.9%||800||$72,240|
|Hearing Aid Specialists||21.8%||-||$62,490|
|Property Appraisers and Assessors||21.5%||300||$60,290|
|Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists||21.4%||5,350||$57,950|
|Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians||21.3%||420||$29,650|
|Veterinary Technologists and Technicians||20.6%||1,250||$31,630|
|Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers||20.5%||1,900||$27,110|
|Museum Technicians and Conservators||20%||70||$40,150|
Financial Aid and Scholarships in Kentucky
Kentucky residents may be able to take advantage of state-specific financial aid programs like the Kentucky Tuition Grant provides need-based aid to Kentucky residents attending private colleges in the state. Additionally, The Go Higher Grant is a need-based award of up to $1,000 for students over the age of 24 taking less than half of a full-time course load at participating schools.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
Renewable if recipient maintains a minimum 3.0 GPA.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
Renewable if recipient has a minimum 2.5 GPA.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
February 1 (priority)
Renewable if recipient maintains a minimum 3.0 GPA and full-time enrollment.
- Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority
- Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education
- Kentucky Community and Technical College System
- Kentucky Schools' Net Price Calculators
- Kentucky Public University Transfer Agreements
- Transfer Tips
To get our list of the best colleges, we ranked 1,383 4-year colleges and universities in the U.S. Each school was scored on a 100-point scale, using the following data points and the weights specified. In order to be included in the ranking, schools had to report data for each of the following data points:
- The in-state tuition and fees for full-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- 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, 2015-16
- Percent of full-time first-time undergraduates awarded any financial aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Median debt of graduates, College Scorecard, 2015-16
- 3-year student loan repayment rate of graduates, College Scorecard, 2015-16
- No. of degree and certificate programs offered on campus, 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, Fall 2016
- Full-time student retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2016
- Graduation rate within six years, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2013-14
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- 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 2016-17 academic year reported to the National Center for Education Statistics. The actual cost of tuition may vary.
All of the National Center for Education Statistics data came from IPEDS:
Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2015-16, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- School pages, accessed April 17-18, 2018: A Brief History of the University of Kentucky, University of Kentucky, http://www.uky.edu/CampusGuide/uk-history.html; Quick Facts, University of Kentucky, http://www.uky.edu/iraa/quick-facts; UK Athletics Hall of Fame, University of Kentucky, https://ukathletics.com/sports/2015/8/1/_131461810113368630.aspx; Profile, University of Louisville, https://louisville.edu/about/profile; Majors and Programs, University of Louisville, http://louisville.edu/academics/majors-and-programs; Admission for Online Programs, University of Louisville, http://louisville.edu/online/admissions; Campuses, University of Louisville, https://louisville.edu/about/campuses.html; Mission & Quick Facts, Murray State University, http://www.murraystate.edu/Info/quickfacts.aspx; Programs, Murray State University, http://www.murraystate.edu/academics/regionalAcademicOutreach/distance-learning/programs.aspx; University History, Northern Kentucky University, https://www.nku.edu/about/history.html; At A Glance, Northern Kentucky University, https://www.nku.edu/about/at-a-glance.html; Sustainability, Northern Kentucky University, https://inside.nku.edu/sustainability.html; Accredited Programs, Northern Kentucky University, https://inside.nku.edu/viceprovost/sacs-accreditation/accredited-programs.html; About WKU, Western Kentucky University, https://www.wku.edu/about/; History & Traditions, Western Kentucky University, https://www.wku.edu/wkuhistory/; WKU Online Degrees & Certificates, Western Kentucky University, https://www.wku.edu/online/degrees/; BS in Management, Business Administration, Western Kentucky University, https://www.wku.edu/online/bach-programs/bs-mgmt-admin/index.php; Bowling Green named one of the 'Best College Towns in America', Bowling Green State University, https://www.bgsu.edu/news/2014/12/bowling-green-named-one-of-the-best-college-towns-in-america.html; Online Degree Programs, Eastern Kentucky University, http://ekuonline.eku.edu/our-online-degree-programs; Factbook 2016-2017, Eastern Kentucky University, http://ir.eku.edu/factbook-2016-2017; EKU No. 1 Nationally in Military Times "Best for Vets" Survey, Eastern Kentucky University, http://www.eku.edu/news/eku-no-1-nationally-military-times-best-vets-survey; About Bellarmine, Bellarmine University, https://www.bellarmine.edu/about/; Our Catholic Identity, Bellarmine University, https://www.bellarmine.edu/docs/default-source/about-docs/Our_Catholic_Identity.pdf?sfvrsn=2; Facts, Bellarmine University, https://www.bellarmine.edu/news/facts/; Majors and Programs, Bellarmine University, https://www.bellarmine.edu/programs/; Quick Facts, Asbury University, https://www.asbury.edu/about-us/quick-facts; Foundations Requirements, Asbury University, https://www.asbury.edu/offices/registrar/foundational-requirements; The History of Asbury University, Asbury University, https://www.asbury.edu/about-us/history; Majors, Minors and Emphases, Asbury University, https://www.asbury.edu/academics/majors-minors-emphases; MSU at-a-Glance, Morehead State University, http://www.moreheadstate.edu/About/At-a-Glance; History of MSU, Morehead State University, http://www.moreheadstate.edu/About/History; Quick Facts, Berea College, https://www.berea.edu/about/quick-facts/; Majors & Minors, Berea College, https://www.berea.edu/academics/majors-minors/; Quick Facts, Berea College, http://www.berea.edu/about/quick-facts/;
- QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, accessed April 17, 2018: Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/lexingtonfayettekentucky/PST045216; Louisville/Jefferson County (balance), Kentucky, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/louisvillejeffersoncountybalancekentucky/PST045217; Morehead, Kentucky, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/moreheadcitykentucky/PST045216;
- Lexington Visitors Center, accessed April 17, 2018: Top Ten Things to Do, https://www.visitlex.com/things-to-do/top-ten/; The Brewgrass Trail, https://www.visitlex.com/brewgrass-trail/;
- 21 Liberal Arts Colleges With the Lowest Student-Faculty Ratios, U.S. News and World Report, Jordan Friedman, April 19, 2016, accessed April 10, 2018, https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/the-short-list-college/articles/2016-04-19/21-liberal-arts-colleges-with-the-lowest-student-faculty-ratios
- Best for Vets: Colleges 2017, Military Times, accessed April 17, 2018, https://bestforvets.militarytimes.com/2017-11-01/colleges/4-year/;
- St. Robert Bellarmine, Saints & Angels, Catholic Online, accessed April 17, 2018, https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=101
- Welcome to Wilmore, The City of Wilmore, accessed April 18, 2018, http://www.wilmore.org/welcome-from-the-mayor/
- Berea College, Work Colleges Consortium, accessed April 18, 2018, http://www.workcolleges.org/about/meet-work-colleges/berea-college
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2016-17, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- KHEAA-Administered Programs, Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, accessed May 17, 2017, https://www.kheaa.com/website/kheaa/kheaaprograms?main=1
- Kentucky's Transfer Policies, Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, accessed May 17, 2017, http://www.knowhow2goky.org/kh2t/transfer_policies