The state of Washington is home to colleges and universities both large and small, and it's no easy task to figure out just which one of them is the right one to help you meet your educational goals. There are six public four-year colleges in the state, including the University of Washington with its three different locations. And there are more than a dozen private four-year schools.
If you're currently attending (or planning to attend) one of the 34 community colleges that are part of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges system, you'll also want to know about your options for moving on to a bachelor's degree program in the state. A 2016 report showed that Washington community college transfer students were the best in the nation at finishing their four-year degrees after transferring. Remember to check with your advisor and find out if you're eligible for transfer assistance.
Best 4-Year Colleges in Washington
We took data about student success, cost, flexibility and access to distance education at dozens of accredited Washington schools and analyzed it to find out which ones came out on top. Read on below for our list of the top colleges and universities in Washington. When you're done here, you can see our rankings for the best community colleges in Washington, too.
The University of Washington's flagship Seattle campus deserves a mention as one of the best online colleges in Washington. The institution offers around 70 total online programs, including nearly 20 master's degrees and numerous certificate plans that often take less than a year to complete.
The list of online certificates at UW Seattle features a few subjects of study that may be hard to find at other Washington universities. From cutting-edge tech programs like ethical hacking and machine learning to laser-focused language arts training in editing, storytelling and content strategy, online courses at UW cover a lot of ground.
There are general advantages to attending school in Seattle, as well. As one of just a handful of U.S. cities with populations over 700,000, the urban amenities available here make it a great place for students.
Founded in 1890, Pullman's Washington State University was the first land-grant institution created in the Evergreen State. It consists of 11 academic colleges and offers nearly 100 undergraduate degree programs and more than 140 study plans for graduate and doctoral students.
If you're looking for fully online bachelor's degrees in Washington, WSU has a healthy catalog for you to choose from. Business administration degrees make up the largest portion of the available online degree programs, with specialties in accounting, management, information systems and the hospitality industry.
Students hoping to study abroad also have a wide range of options here. Programs led by WSU faculty include destinations like India, Italy, Peru, Thailand, Switzerland and Tanzania, and exchange programs to overseas institutions can transport you to Australia, Germany, France, Ireland, Singapore, Spain and more.
Central Washington University is located in the city of Ellensburg, a close-knit community of fewer than 20,000 residents where healthy living is a significant part of the way of life. Nearly 15 percent of Ellensburg residents commute to work by walking, and the city is home to around two dozen local parks and the celebrated Kittatas County Farmer's Market.
On-campus living at CWU takes a unique approach to integrating students' daily lives with their studies. Resident student groups called living learning communities (LLCs) are based on themes of common experience, whether through cultural heritage or similar academic pursuits.
The average class size here is around 20 students. If you thrive in an academic setting without too many giant lecture classes, CWU might be worth considering when you're deciding where to earn your degree in Washington.
This Spokane institution is one of the largest private, Roman Catholic institutions among Washington colleges. Total enrollment at Gonzaga University sits at about 7,500 students, of which more than 5,200 are undergraduates and close to 300 are pursuing doctoral degrees.
Measures of student success were one of the bright spots at Gonzaga, where more than 90 percent of first-year students return to continue their studies as sophomores. On top of that, nearly 85 percent of students complete their degree programs within four years, placing Gonzaga among the best colleges and universities in Washington for on-time graduation rate.
Gonzaga is also a hotspot for students looking to undertake overseas humanitarian work after graduation. No other small university in the country had more Peace Corps volunteers among its alumni in 2016.
Students at Western Washington University are encouraged to take an active role in designing their degree plan. Advisors are on hand to help you explore your options before declaring a major, and numerous minors, concentrations and internships can help create a well-rounded academic experience.
The city of Bellingham, where the Western campus is located, is a considerable draw for nature lovers. Approximately 180 acres of forest and 6 miles of woodland hiking trails surround the campus, and the majestic Mount Baker is just over 50 miles away.
What's more, if ecology and environmental sustainability are important to you, there's plenty to get excited about at Western. The university features a dedicated Office of Sustainability, has been purchasing 100 percent renewable energy to meet its power needs since 2004 and plans to become carbon-neutral by 2050.
Whitworth University one of the smallest Washington colleges -- its undergraduate enrollment is approximately 2,500 -- but that doesn't mean it's short on educational opportunity. This private, Christian university in northern Spokane offers more than 60 undergraduate majors and has designed certain degree and certificate plans specifically for adult learners.
Whitworth may also be one of the best schools in Washington for students who enjoy being able to work closely with faculty. The student-faculty ratio here is just 12:1 -- fully 25 percent better than the national average -- meaning professors and advisors should be able to spend personalized time with students.
Christian identity is important to the mission of Whitworth. While students aren't required to take dedicated Bible study courses, the university's core curriculum consists primarily of an examination of Western civilization from a Christian perspective.
Eastern Washington University is working to enhance access to higher education for students throughout Washington. The main campus may be located on 300 acres outside of Spokane, but EWU offers programs at community colleges in cities all across the state.
Outposts at Clark College, Lower Columbia College, North Seattle College and Everett Community College permit students to earn select EWU bachelor's and master's degrees on their hometown campuses. Students at Bellevue College, a two-institution across Lake Washington from Seattle, have access to six four-year majors and three minors through its EWU partnership.
On the university's main campus in Cheney, students have more than 140 undergraduate areas of study to choose from, including degree program options for students with high-tech ambitions. Bachelor's degrees in data analytics and industrial robotics and automation are among the marquee study plans here.
Enrollment figures list Seattle University as another of the top Catholic schools in Washington. A population of approximately 7,200 students can be found on this campus in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, of which around 4,600 are pursuing undergraduate degrees, close to 2,000 are graduate students and about 600 are enrolled in the law school.
If you prefer an intimate earning environment, Seattle University has a few figures that should be to your liking. There's a comfortable ratio of 12 students per faculty member, for one thing, and the average class size is just 18 students.
Students at Seattle U are also likely to find some assistance in paying their tuition. Nearly 87 percent of students here received some form of financial aid in 2016-17, with the average amount awarded coming in above $28,000.
This private, faith-based university is located in Seattle's Queen Anne neighborhood, just south of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. The institution and its basis in the Christian gospel were established in 1891, when it was founded as Seattle Seminary by members of the Free Methodist Church.
Seattle Pacific University took its current name in 1977 and has grown into a nationally recognized college with six academic schools and colleges. Total enrollment sits at just over 3,800, and the student-faculty ratio across its nearly 70 undergraduate majors and 45 post-baccalaureate programs is 13:1.
The core curriculum for all degrees at SPU contains between 10 and 25 credits of Christian scripture and theology study, depending on your transfer status. The most popular degree programs here in 2017 were business administration, nursing and psychology.
This institution sits on the youngest campus of any of the top schools in Washington, but its position as an outpost of the state's largest university helped it move into prominence quickly. In fewer than 30 years, the University of Washington Bothell has grown to serve a student body that's nearly 6,000 strong.
UW Bothell's student success figures are impressive for a university of any size. Its graduation rate and first-year student retention rate both rank in the top 15 percent among similar U.S. public institutions.
Online degrees may not be central to the mission at UW Bothell, but aspiring online students can tap into distance education offerings from the whole university system. Campus-based measures for schedule flexibility exist here, as well -- students in certain programs can make use of courses offered in the evenings and on weekends.
Most Popular Degree Programs in Washington
Students in Washington have a fairly wide range of interests when it comes to the subjects they choose as their college major. Check out this list of the most popular degree programs in Washington and see if the one you're considering made the list.
In-demand Careers in Washington
Employment projections show that the Washington job market is expected to grow over the next several years, and that certain employment sectors are likely to have greater demand than others for new applicants. Here's a list of the state's hottest occupations, to help you plan a route through college and into the workforce.
|Career Title||Projected Job Growth||Total Employment||Annual Salary|
|Wind Turbine Service Technicians||105.7%||40||$65,270|
|Software Developers, Applications||62.7%||53,860||$131,790|
|Computer Occupations, All Other||53.4%||13,100||$91,620|
|Computer and Information Research Scientists||47.9%||1,480||$143,080|
|Computer and Information Systems Managers||46.3%||13,690||$159,290|
|Information Security Analysts||43%||2,690||$107,800|
|Multimedia Artists and Animators||42.8%||-||$90,700|
|Gaming Change Persons and Booth Cashiers||41.8%||770||$33,840|
|Designers, All Other||41.6%||270||$66,270|
|Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists||41%||21,300||$81,890|
|Gaming Surveillance Officers and Gaming Investigators||40.1%||380||$32,950|
|Gaming Cage Workers||39.1%||1,070||$28,350|
|Building Cleaning Workers, All Other||38.3%||-||-|
|Health Specialties Teachers, Postsecondary||37.8%||3,470||$155,090|
|Advertising Sales Agents||36.1%||3,240||$63,760|
|Computer User Support Specialists||35.1%||18,630||$62,180|
|Pest Control Workers||34.9%||1,080||$46,160|
|Tree Trimmers and Pruners||34.6%||740||$55,860|
|Training and Development Managers||34.3%||750||$144,400|
Financial Aid and Scholarships in Washington
Several state-based and workforce-targeted financial aid programs may be available to Washington students:
- The College Bound Scholarship provides need-based financial assistance to qualifying students who apply for the program in the seventh or eighth grade, and who complete the formal pledge requirements by their senior year of high school.
- The State Need Grant (SNG) awards aid to first-time undergraduate students in eligible degree programs whose family income is less than 70 percent of the statewide median.
- The Washington State Work Study (SWS) program makes available part-time employment opportunities for low- and middle-income students.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
- Washington Student Achievement Council
- Washington Financial Aid Association
- Ready Set Grad
- Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges
- Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP)
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 10-11, 2018: Public Profiles - Enrollment, University of Washington, http://opb.washington.edu/content/public-profiles-enrollment; About the UW, University of Washington, http://www.washington.edu/about/; UW Online, University of Washington, https://www.pce.uw.edu/online; Quick Facts, Washington State University, https://wsu.edu/about/facts/; Leadership and Mission, Washington State University, https://wsu.edu/about/leadership/; Study Abroad, Washington State University, https://ip.wsu.edu/study-abroad/where-do-i-start/; Quick Facts, Central Washington University, http://www.cwu.edu/about/quick-facts; Community, Central Washington University, http://www.cwu.edu/community/; Living Learning Communities, Central Washington University, http://www.cwu.edu/housing/LLC; Facts and Figures, Gonzaga University, https://www.gonzaga.edu/about/at-a-glance/facts-and-figures; Rankings and Recognition, Gonzaga University, https://www.gonzaga.edu/about/at-a-glance/national-rankings; About Western, Western Washington University, http://www.wwu.edu/about/quick-facts; Western Sustainability, Western Washington University, https://sustain.wwu.edu/; Facts & Rankings, Whitworth University, http://www.whitworth.edu/cms/about/facts-and-rankings/; Undergraduate Majors & Programs, Whitworth University, http://www.whitworth.edu/cms/academics/undergraduate-majors-and-programs/; School of Continuing Studies, Whitworth University, http://www.whitworth.edu/cms/academics/school-of-continuing-studies/; General Education/Core, Whitworth University, http://catalog.whitworth.edu/undergraduate/generaleducation/; About EWU, Eastern Washington University, https://www.ewu.edu/about; Programs, Eastern Washington University, https://sites.ewu.edu/offcampus/bellevue/programs/; 2017-18 Student Facts at a Glance, Eastern Washington University, https://www.ewu.edu/Documents/Marcom/Facts/stufacts17-18.pdf; Seattle University Facts, Seattle University, https://www.seattleu.edu/about/facts/; SPU Facts, Seattle Pacific University, http://spu.edu/about-spu/spu-facts; Academics, Seattle Pacific University, http://spu.edu/academics; Common Curriculum, Seattle Pacific University, http://spu.edu/catalog/undergraduate/20167/degree-requirements-overview/baccalaureate-degree-requirements/general-education/common-curriculum; About UW Bothell, University of Washington Bothell, https://www.uwb.edu/about; Fast Facts 2017-18, University of Washington Bothell, https://www.uwb.edu/about/facts/fast-facts-2017; Program Overview, Master of Science in Accounting, University of Washington Bothell, https://www.uwb.edu/ms-accounting/overview;
- QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, accessed April 10-11, 2018: Seattle, https://www.seattleu.edu/about/facts/; Ellensburg, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/ellensburgcitywashington/PST045216;
- 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
- Peace Corps Announces 2016 Top Volunteer-Producing Schools, Peace Corps, accessed April 11, 2018, https://www.peacecorps.gov/news/library/peace-corps-announces-2016-top-volunteer-producing-schools/
- "Washington's community college transfer students do well in four-year colleges," The Seattle Times, Katherine Long, January 23, 2016, accessed April 27, 2017, http://www.seattletimes.com/education-lab/washingtons-community-college-transfer-students-do-well-in-four-year-colleges/
- Washington State University, Best Online Colleges, U.S. News & World Report, https://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/washington-state-university-236939
- Financial Aid Overview, Washington Student Achievement Council, accessed April 27, 2017, http://www.wsac.wa.gov/sfa-overview
- Scholarship directory data is copyrighted material which is reproduced on this website by permission of Wintergreen Orchard House, a division of Carnegie Communications. Copyright © 2017-18 by Wintergreen Orchard House. All rights reserved.
- 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/