- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2015-16, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed March 2, 2016, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2014-15, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, accessed March 2, 2016, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed March 28, 2017, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=VA&ic=1
- School pages, accessed March 28, 2017: About W&M, College of William and Mary, http://www.wm.edu/about/index.php; JMU is top producer of Fulbright scholars, James Madison University, https://www.jmu.edu/news/2017/02/21-jmu-fulbright-top-producer.shtml; About Our National Ranked Public Liberal Arts College, University of Virginia's College at Wise, https://www.uvawise.edu/uva-wise/; General Campus Information, University of Virginia's College at Wise, https://www.uvawise.edu/uva-wise/facts/; About, Virginia Military Institute, http://www.vmi.edu/about/; About Us, Longwood University, http://www.longwood.edu/about/;
- VCCS Transfer, Virginia's Community Colleges, accessed March 28, 2017, http://www.vccs.edu/students/transfers/
- Top Producers of Fulbright Scholars and Students, 2016-17, The Chronicle of Higher Education, accessed March 28, 2017, http://www.chronicle.com/article/Top-Producers-of-Fulbright/239220
- U.S. News and World Report, accessed March 28, 2017: Overall Rankings, Virginia Tech, https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/virginia-tech-3754/overall-rankings; Overall Rankings, Virginia Military Institute, https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/vmi-3753/overall-rankings;
- QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, accessed March 28, 2017, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045216/5127440,5157000,00
- Financial Aid Programs, State Council for Higher Education of Virginia, http://www.schev.edu/index/tuition-aid/financialaid/state-student-aid/undergraduate-financial-aid-programs
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there are nearly 100 colleges and universities awarding four-year degrees in Virginia. With all those schools to choose from, students might find it difficult to figure out which one can best help them reach their educational goals.
Whether you're hoping to study at a main campus, at a regional satellite location or from home via distance education, it can help to have some idea of which institutions are the best traditional and online colleges in Virginia. We put together a huge portfolio of data on four-year universities in the state and analyzed them with an in-house methodology that covers 13 conventional measures of affordability, flexibility and student success.
When the dust settled, the 10 best colleges for a campus-based or online bachelor's degree in Virginia became pretty clear. Nearly all the schools on our list — nine out of ten, to be precise — have guaranteed admission agreements in place for students transferring from two-year schools in the Virginia Community College System (VCCS). Read on to find out who made the cut, and to learn why each school ranked the way it did.
Best 4-Year Colleges in Virginia
Here are the schools, some big and some small, that our data showed were the 10 best traditional and online colleges in Virginia.
Our No. 1 school landed in the statewide top five across a large percentage of our metrics. It had the No. 1 graduation rate in the state in 2015-16, as well as the largest proportion of institutional grant aid per student. The selection of on-campus programs at the University of Virginia ranked No. 3 among our best schools, and students looking to earn an online bachelor's degree in Virginia had more distance education options here than at all other schools on our list but one.
What's more, several agreements are in place to help transfer students from Virginia's community colleges move on to a four-year degree at UVA. Along with the general agreement that applies to most major subjects, students of engineering, nursing, interdisciplinary studies and health sciences management can take advantage of subject-specific transfer policies.
Chartered in 1693, the College of William and Mary is the second-oldest college in the country, and its more than 300 years of higher education experience have likely given it some rare insights about the best ways to engage with its students. The Williamsburg school had the No. 1 retention rate and No. 2 graduation rate in the state in 2015-16.
Despite the prestige suggested by its long tenure, William and Mary was one of the more affordable schools in the state for low-income students. The school's average net price, an affordability measure that subtracts the average amount of grant and scholarship aid from the total estimated cost of tuition, fees, supplies, housing and other expenses, was No. 1 in the state for low-income students and ranked among the top 25 schools nationally. The median student debt load for graduates was also lowest of any school on our list.
As the largest public university in Virginia, it may come as no surprise that George Mason University took the No. 1 spot for its massive variety of available academic programs. It was also one of the best online colleges in Virginia, placing third among schools on our list for its selection of distance education programs.
Affordability was another bright spot for prospective GMU students. The Fairfax school ranked in the top five among schools on our list for its relatively low cost of tuition and fees, and it took the No. 5 spot statewide for the manageable student debt load of its graduates. Only 11 other schools statewide charged students a lower average net price than GMU, and it placed in the statewide top 10 in the graduation rate category.
This Harrisonburg school posted the lowest overall cost of books and supplies of any institution on our list. Tuition and fees were also on the low side, coming in at No. 6 statewide for affordability. Perhaps as a result of these manageable costs, College Scorecard reports that James Madison University had the second-highest percentage of graduates who paid off their student loan balances within three years after graduation.
Students with high academic aspirations may have an additional reason to consider JMU in their application process. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently recognized JMU as a top producer of Fulbright scholars, thanks to a total of three of the esteemed scholarships being awarded there in 2016-17.
Affordability of tuition and fees was a bright spot at Radford University, which came in at No. 5 statewide in that category. It took the No. 2 spot among schools on our list in terms of its average net price for middle-income students, and low-income students paid a lower average net price at Radford than at all but six other colleges in the state.
Even though its catalog offers a smaller total number of available degree programs than some of the other schools on our list, Radford students have access to no fewer than eight of the 10 most popular degree programs in Virginia. Radford was also the only school among our top 10 to list criminal justice as its top major, which may suggest enhanced networking opportunities for aspiring members of law enforcement and criminal justice professions.
Better known as Virginia Tech, our No. 6 school scored some top-five rankings in a few important categories. It placed No. 2 in the state for its vast variety of available degree programs, and its retention and graduation rates ranked No. 3 and No. 4 statewide respectively. More than 87 percent of Virginia Tech graduates repaid their student loan balances within three years, according to the NCES.
A few of the bachelor's degree programs available at the Blacksburg school have earned accolades from academic ranking agencies. The bachelor's degree in industrial and manufacturing engineering ranked No. 5 in the country for 2017, according to U.S. News and World Report, with the civil engineering program coming in at No. 9 and the degree for agricultural engineers taking the national No. 6 spot.
Coming in at No. 7 among the best traditional and online colleges in Virginia is this extension campus of our No. 1 school, where the most affordable education of any school on our list can be found. Its raw cost of tuition and fees ranked No. 3 statewide for affordability, and its average net price figure for 2015-16 was lower than all other schools in the state.
UVa-Wise has one of the smallest student bodies on our list, with little more than 2,000 students enrolled in 2015, but its degree catalog has made some cutting-edge additions. As of 2017, the southwestern Virginia school was home to the only undergraduate degree in software engineering available in the state. It was also one of the best online colleges in Virginia by enrollment, reporting that nearly 50 percent of its students were taking at least some of their courses via distance education.
Virginia Military Institute offered the second-best average net price in the state for low-income students in 2015-16, and we're not the only ones to notice the affordable cost of education at this Lexington institution. U.S. News and World Report listed VMI at No. 3 on its ranking of the best value liberal arts colleges in the country for 2017.
What's more, graduates of VMI repay their student loans at an enviable clip. Nearly 94 percent of graduates paid off their loan balance within three years of graduating, according to NCES data. Class sizes are also some of the smallest among schools on our list. VMI's website reports that the student-faculty ratio is just 12:1, suggesting that students who can benefit from more personalized instruction may have access to the resources they need.
Our No. 9 school takes its name from Virginia's state nickname and educates its students in one of the state's most metropolitan settings. Old Dominion University students can earn their campus-based or online bachelor's degree in Virginia's second-largest city, combining the amenities of an urban environment with an average raw cost of tuition and fees that ranks No. 2 among schools on our list.
ODU is also one of the best online colleges in Virginia. Only one other school in the state offered more total degree programs via distance education than the 39 available at Old Dominion, and only one institution on our list reported a higher percentage of online course enrollment among its students.
We go from one of Virginia's most urban college environments to one of its most rural for our No. 10 school. The town of Farmville in central Virginia has an estimated population of around 8,200 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and sits about an hour away from its nearest metropolitan area of Richmond.
The average cost of tuition and fees paid by students at Longwood University was one of the 10 most affordable in the state in 2015-16. Its graduation rate came in at No. 6 among schools on our list. The student debt load carried by graduates placed in the top 20 statewide, and 88.5 percent of former students report having paid down their student loan balance within three years of graduation.
Most popular degree programs in Virginia
Whether you're hoping to pick a major that gives you plenty of study partners or avoid common study plans in your quest to stand out, it can help to be aware of the most popular campus-based and online bachelor's degree programs in Virginia. Here's a list of the top degrees by enrollment in the state.
In-Demand Careers in Virginia
Focusing your education on a high-demand industry can help you increase the chances that you'll successfully more into the career of your choice after finishing your degree. Take a look at the hottest job fields in Virginia this year and see if one might be right for you.
|Career Title||Projected Job Growth||Total Employment||Annual Salary|
|Occupational Therapy Assistants||53.1%||1,040||$62,890|
|Physical Therapist Aides||48.1%||1,260||$24,950|
|Home Health Aides||46%||11,340||$22,640|
|Personal Financial Advisors||44.1%||4,560||$124,360|
|Ambulance Drivers and Attendants, Except Emergency Medical Technicians||43.5%||290||$23,940|
|Physical Therapist Assistants||42.9%||2,550||$54,990|
|Hearing Aid Specialists||42.6%||190||$51,030|
|Interpreters and Translators||39.6%||2,400||$74,130|
|Operations Research Analysts||35%||7,930||$106,490|
|Forensic Science Technicians||34.9%||660||$69,310|
|Cartographers and Photogrammetrists||32.3%||440||$76,930|
|Ophthalmic Medical Technicians||31.9%||-||$35,940|
|Diagnostic Medical Sonographers||31.6%||1,610||$72,250|
|Occupational Therapy Aides||31.3%||170||$33,180|
|Veterinary Technologists and Technicians||31.2%||1,650||$35,240|
Financial Aid and Scholarships in Virginia
There are numerous state-based financial aid opportunities that may be available to Virginia residents seeking four-year degrees. Here's a short list:
- The Virginia Commonwealth Award and Virginia Guaranteed Assistance Program aim to ease the burden for students with appropriate financial need.
- The Two-Year College Transfer grant provides up to $2,000 for qualifying students transferring into select four-year schools the year after finishing an associate degree.
- The Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program provides assistance for immediate family members of military veterans killed or drastically disabled in war.
Renewable up to five years if recipient reapplies and demonstrates satisfactory academic progress.
November 15 (Early Action admissions deadline)
Renewable if recipient maintains a minimum 3.25 GPA and full-time status.
Renewable for up to two years.
- State Council of Higher Education for Virginia
- Commonwealth of Virginia Financial Aid
- Higher Education Business Resources
- NCES College Navigator
- Virginia's Community Colleges