- 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/
- School pages, accessed April 27, 2017: About EWU, Eastern Washington University, https://www.ewu.edu/about; Undergraduate Degree Completion, Eastern Washington University, https://sites.ewu.edu/easternonline/majors/; About, Clover Park Technical College, http://cptc.edu/about; About UW Bothell, University of Washington Bothell, https://www.uwb.edu/about; About, University of Washington Tacoma, http://www.tacoma.uw.edu/about-uw-tacoma/about-university-washington-tacoma; Green Campus, Western Washington University, http://www.wwu.edu/about/green; Goals and Commitments, Office of Sustainability, Western Washington University, https://sustain.wwu.edu/goals-and-commitments/; Online Bachelor's Programs, Washington State University, https://online.wsu.edu/undergrad/Default.aspx; Prior Learning from Experience (PLE), The Evergreen State College, http://www.evergreen.edu/eveningweekend/ple; Fast Facts, Heritage University, http://www.heritage.edu/About-Heritage/Fast-Facts; Online Degrees, Heritage University, http://www.heritage.edu/Academic-Programs/Online-Degrees;
- "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.
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
Thanks to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and other sources within the U.S. Department of Education, we were able to pull together enough data to rank Washington schools on 13 separate metrics and add up their scores to determine the top ten. You can find some details about our methodology at the bottom of the page, where we've listed each of the metrics we used and how they were weighted in the final calculation of the rankings. Here it is: the list, from No. 1 to No. 10, of the best traditional and online schools in Washington.
The flagship campus of the University of Washington landed in the top ten on nearly every metric in our analysis, including no fewer than seven placements in the top four. The size and variety of its catalog of degree programs gave it a runaway No. 1 placement among Washington schools — the 626 academic programs available at the Seattle institution were the most of any school of the more than 1,600 included in our nationwide analysis.
UW also took the No. 1 spot in the state for its institutional grant aid awarded as a percentage of tuition and fees. Plus, its students were among the best at managing their college debt load both during and after their degree programs. The median debt for newly minted UW alumni was under $16,000 in 2014-15, and more than 81 percent of graduates reported being able to pay off their loans within three years.
The raw cost of tuition and fees at Eastern Washington University ranked No. 2 among our top ten for affordability in 2015-16, according to NCES data, and its proportion of institutional grant aid awards also placed second among schools on our list. The Cheney-based school was also one of the best online colleges in Washington. Its selection of degrees and degree completion programs available via distance education tied for the No. 4 spot among our top ten schools.
Campus-based flexibility measures for nontraditional students were another driver of EWU's No. 2 overall ranking. Weekend and evening degree plans, course credit exams for relevant life experience and remedial services for students who need to be refreshed on the academic basics are all available.
The Bothell campus of the University of Washington recorded the third-highest 2015-16 graduation rate among our top ten schools and doled out an amount of institutional grant aid that just two other schools on our list could beat. Its average net price figures for both middle- and low-income students placed it at No. 5 in the state.
Although it offers the second-smallest catalog of degree programs of any school on our list, UW Bothell works to accommodate its students however it can. Certain degree programs can be completed entirely with courses offered in the evening and on weekends, and degree completers have access to placement services after graduation.
This campus on the southern edge of Puget Sound posted an affordable average net price that placed No. 3 in the state, for both middle-income and low-income students. It took the No. 5 spot among schools on our list for the proportion of institutional grant aid awarded to students, and it shares the state's No. 3 ranking for the manageable amount of debt incurred on average by its graduating students.
The numbers suggest that students tended to stick around through the ups and downs of their degree programs at UW Tacoma, as well. Only one other school on our list posted a better rate of first-year student retention, and its graduation rate placed above the midline among our top ten schools.
Western Washington University placed at No. 6 in the state for the raw affordability of its tuition and fees, and its average net price for low-income students took the No. 7 spot among all Washington schools. Its catalog of degree programs was larger than those at all but four other institutions in the state, and its graduation and retention rates ranked No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, among the schools on our list.
If ecology and environmental sustainability are important to you, WWU offers you plenty to be glad about. The Bellingham campus has 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.
It should come as no surprise that the second largest school in the state also features the second-largest academic catalog. Washington State University offered its students 366 different degree programs in 2015-16, according to NCES numbers, and did so while charging the lowest raw cost of books and supplies of any school on our list.
Students looking for an online bachelor's degree in Washington are likely to find a whole host of reasons to consider WSU for their online education. It took the No. 1 ranking in the state for its number of degree programs available in the virtual classroom, for one, and U.S. News & World Report listed the Pullman institution among its top 20 schools in the country for online undergraduate study.
The selection of degree programs at this Ellensburg institution placed third in the state in 2015-16, and the average net price reported for both low- and middle-income students landed at No. 9 statewide. Just four other schools on our list charged a lower amount for tuition and fees than Central Washington University, and its affordability of books and supplies ranked No. 2 among our top ten colleges.
CWU was also one of the best online colleges in Washington, both by enrollment and by the size of its online degree catalog. It took the No. 1 spot among schools on our list for the percentage of its student body taking at least some of their courses via distance education, and its array of online degrees was the third-largest in the state.
This liberal arts college in Olympia posted an affordable tuition and fees expense that placed at No. 3 out of our top 10 schools and average net price figures that ranked No. 8 in the state for students across the income spectrum. The Evergreen State College also ranked No. 4 among schools on our list for the proportion of its average tuition cost awarded to students as institutional grant aid.
As a fully brick-and-mortar school, Evergreen focuses on campus-based flexibility measures for its nontraditional students. Weekend and evening degree programs are available, and students who have spent some time outside the academic pipeline can earn course credit for the things their lives have taught them through the Prior Learning from Experience (PLE) program.
Heritage University has the smallest student body of any of the Washington schools in our top 10, and it's also one of the youngest. Founded in 1981 by two Yakama Nation women, Heritage has grown into a strong regional university that offers more than 70 degree programs on campus — good for the No. 7 spot in that category among schools on our list.
Heritage was also a top-tier online institution, taking the No. 2 spot on our list for its percentage of students enrolled in at least some distance education coursework. Students seeking a fully online bachelor's degree program in Washington can study English and humanities entirely in the virtual classroom at Heritage. It was also one of just a few schools in the top ten to offer remedial services and a tuition payment plan.
This evangelical faith-based institution in Tacoma squeaked past our No. 2 school to take the top spot in the state for its affordable raw cost of tuition and fees in 2015-16. On top of that, the manageable amount of debt typically carried by its graduates gave Faith International University the No. 4 ranking in the state in that category, and just one other Washington school reported a higher graduation rate.
The student body at Faith is exceedingly small — the institution's website counts just 400 students — but distance education is a significant part of their path through school. According to the NCES, more than 99.7 percent of students enrolled at Faith took at least one course in the virtual classroom in 2015, nearly 30 percentage points higher than the second-place school in that category.
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||84.9%||70||$52,300|
|Hearing Aid Specialists||47.8%||340||$57,090|
|Building Cleaning Workers, All Other||43%||-||$32,460|
|Ambulance Drivers and Attendants, Except Emergency Medical Technicians||41.4%||290||$30,430|
|Physical Therapist Aides||38.1%||800||$28,910|
|Computer Hardware Engineers||37.7%||1,810||$108,540|
|Software Developers, Applications||37.5%||49,010||$129,440|
|Film and Video Editors||37.1%||220||$53,210|
|Designers, All Other||36.8%||230||$77,980|
|Security and Fire Alarm Systems Installers||36.5%||840||$47,630|
|Tree Trimmers and Pruners||36.3%||420||$41,900|
|Pest Control Workers||36.2%||950||$44,830|
|First-Line Supervisors of Landscaping, Lawn Service, and Groundskeeping Workers||36%||1,670||$51,820|
|Computer and Information Systems Managers||35.9%||11,790||$149,580|
|Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists||35.5%||16,230||$79,190|
|Reinforcing Iron and Rebar Workers||35.2%||560||$64,150|
|Environmental Science and Protection Technicians, Including Health||34.7%||1,050||$63,870|
|Veterinary Technologists and Technicians||34.5%||1,760||$36,770|
|Floor Layers, Except Carpet, Wood, and Hard Tiles||34.3%||-||$38,340|
|Physical Therapist Assistants||33.8%||1,170||$58,770|
|Interpreters and Translators||33.5%||1,260||$42,280|
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.
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- 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)