Wisconsin has some elite public universities within its border and it turns out that they are all members of the University of Wisconsin System, which encompasses 26 schools overall, including 13 four-year universities. If you're a student in the Badger State who's looking to transfer from a Wisconsin community college or another four-year school, in Wisconsin or elsewhere, the UW System's Transfer Information System (TIS) and the collaborative Transfer Wisconsin program can help you find a way to make your transfer as easy as possible.
It may not be easy for prospective students to tell at a glance the difference between the Wisconsin schools, other than their location. So how might you decide which one might be your best option? We wanted to take a closer look at all of the schools in Wisconsin to find out which ones were the best traditional and online colleges, so we did it the most scientific way we know how — with math.
Best 4-Year Colleges in Wisconsin
To find the best colleges in Wisconsin, we developed a methodology that looked at factors important to students. We considered how many degree programs are offered, whether online courses are available and how much tuition costs. Based upon these metrics and more, the following are the top Wisconsin schools; when done, read about the top Wisconsin community colleges, too.
Many of the best universities in Wisconsin belong to the University of Wisconsin System. Its flagship campus, in Madison, has developed into a world-class research institution that offers one of the nation's largest selections of academic programs.
Founded in 1848, the University of Wisconsin-Madison enrolls more than 40,000 students annually. It spends $1.2 billion each year on research expenditures and has produced 39 Pulitzer Prize winners. The 13 colleges and schools at UW-Madison offer hundreds of degree options for both undergraduate and graduate students.
UW-Madison encourages its students to excel outside the classroom as well. More than 80 percent of students report volunteering, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison is one of the top schools for student study abroad experiences.
Situated near the heart of downtown Milwaukee, Marquette University is another of the best universities in Wisconsin. Decades in the making, the Catholic institution opened its doors in 1881. It's named for Rev. Jacques Marquette, a 17th Century Jesuit priest and explorer.
Today, Marquette University includes 11 colleges and schools. These provide degree programs in the liberal arts as well as specialized fields such as dentistry, law, nursing and management. Like other top Wisconsin universities, Marquette encourages students to embrace experiences outside the classroom, including community service, multicultural programs and study abroad opportunities.
More than 11,000 students attend Marquette University. Those enrolled represent nearly every state in the nation as well as 85 countries.
Affordable tuition and fees help propel the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to its spot among the best universities in Wisconsin. It also gets high marks for offering flexible scheduling for adult learners. In addition to online degree programs, UW-Whitewater provides the opportunity for students to finish their education entirely through night and weekend classes.
The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater was founded in 1868 but didn't become part of the state university system until 1971. The school enrolls more than 12,000 students through its four colleges. Popular courses of study include accounting, marketing and education. UW-Whitewater is also unique in that it offers the only Doctorate of Business Administration in the state.
Beyond that, the school is notable for its First Year Experience program which is intended to help freshman navigate and succeed at the university.
Viterbo University invites students to help change the world. Founded by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in 1890, the school is named after a city in Italy where its patroness, St. Rose of Viterbo, lived.
Over the years, this Catholic university has grown into one of the top schools in Wisconsin. It offers dozens of degree programs through four colleges that cover the fields of liberal arts, business, health care and education. Small classes taught by professionals, not graduate students, is one hallmark of the educational experience at Viterbo.
The university notes its graduates have a 99 percent placement rate when it comes to finding employment or continuing their education after earning a degree. Nearly all its students receive financial aid as well.
Students at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse get affordable tuition along with a quality educational experience. The public university also has strong retention and graduation rates, which help make it one of the top universities in Wisconsin.
Located along the western border of Wisconsin, La Crosse is a community known for its historic downtown and beautiful surroundings. That's reason enough for many students to choose to study on-campus. However, for those who can't make it to La Crosse, the university is also one of the state's best online colleges, offering a number of online degree programs and individual online courses.
UW-La Crosse contains five colleges and schools. They confer degrees in dozens of fields of study, including popular choices like biology, psychology and exercise and sport science.
Concordia University Wisconsin opened its doors way back in 1881. At that time, the school was known as Concordia College and was located in Milwaukee. Today, the institution has expanded to include six schools and has moved its campus to Mequon, along the shore of Lake Michigan.
The accredited school is affiliated with The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. It's part of a network of Christian institutions across the nation that make up the Concordia University System. As one of the top universities in Wisconsin, it offers students a chance to live an uncommon life and reach their unique potential.
CUW features a low student-faculty ratio, more than two dozen sports teams and a strong placement rate for graduates. It's also one of the top online colleges in the state.
The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire gets high marks for its strong retention and graduation rates. It also has a reputation for being an affordable choice and having an expansive academic catalog that covers dozens of majors.
With around 10,000 students enrolled, UW-Eau Claire likes to say it's a state university that feels like a private school. Students get access to smaller classes and a community atmosphere that might be missing at larger institutions.
Like other top Wisconsin schools, UW-Eau Claire has a rich history. It was founded in 1916 as the Eau Claire State Normal School. At that time, it was focused on preparing future teachers. However, today, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has four colleges that prepare students for careers in diverse fields such as social work, health care and business.
The University of Wisconsin-Stout holds the distinction of being the state's polytechnic university. That means students get the advantage of an education that is career-focused while also providing exposure to the liberal arts. Only about three percent of universities nationwide receive the polytechnic designation.
UW-Stout enrolls more than 9,500 students. Thanks to the university's partnerships with companies such as 3M, Thomson Reuters and Sony, those enrolled get access to facilities that provide a practical education. The University of Wisconsin-Stout's campus features three times as many labs as lectures halls, an indication of its commitment to hands-on learning.
James Huff Stout, a Wisconsin businessman and legislator, founded the school that bears his name. It opened in 1891 and has its campus in Menomonie.
The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh is another affordable choice among the top schools in Wisconsin. In addition to a diverse selection of on-campus programs, it is one of the state's more robust online colleges as well. UW-Oshkosh offers nearly 200 undergraduate majors through its four colleges as well as more than a dozen online degree programs.
The accredited university enrolls nearly 14,000 students and about three-quarters of those receive financial aid. As one of the best colleges in Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh is also home to numerous student organizations and study abroad opportunities which enhance the educational experience.
The school was founded in 1871 to train future teachers. It joined the University of Wisconsin System in its centennial year of 1971.
Another of the best schools in Wisconsin is Edgewood College. This four-year college in Madison provides an intimate learning environment where students can receive personalized attention. Enrollment runs around 2,200 students, and there is a 9-1 student-faculty ratio. Its average class contains 14 students.
Edgewood College started out as a junior college for women in 1927. It was founded by the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa and continues to operate in the Dominican tradition today as a Catholic institution. It offers undergraduate, graduate, professional development and adult education completion programs. There are also several online graduate degrees available.
Although a private institution, Edgewood College is generous with financial aid to help make its tuition affordable. Nearly all students receive some form of financial assistance.
Most Popular Degree Programs in Wisconsin
Whether you're hoping to run with the pack or find that elusive high-value degree off the beaten path, it can help to know which subjects of study typically see the highest enrollment. Here's a list of the most popular campus-based and online degrees in Wisconsin, according to recent numbers.
In-Demand Careers in Wisconsin
The Wisconsin job market can sometimes be unpredictable, but employment growth estimates offer some insight into which career sectors may be most in need of fresh college graduates when your time comes to leave school. Take a look at this quick survey of Wisconsin's hottest careers.
|Career Title||Projected Job Growth||Total Employment||Annual Salary|
|Gaming Change Persons and Booth Cashiers||37.3%||430||$25,150|
|Veterinary Technologists and Technicians||34.4%||2,360||$33,870|
|Derrick Operators, Oil and Gas||33.3%||-||-|
|Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers||32.4%||1,530||$26,870|
|Software Developers, Applications||31.7%||16,940||$87,700|
|Operations Research Analysts||30.2%||1,270||$72,900|
|Personal Care Aides||29.7%||63,270||$24,250|
|Home Health Aides||29.5%||5,600||$25,330|
|Electrical and Electronic Equipment Assemblers||25.8%||-||-|
|Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists||24.6%||12,660||$57,710|
|Nonfarm Animal Caretakers||23.6%||3,990||$23,530|
|Personal Financial Advisors||22.7%||4,730||$115,820|
|Marriage and Family Therapists||22.4%||620||$51,070|
|Industrial Engineering Technicians||22.2%||980||$51,190|
|Real Estate Brokers||22%||460||$97,970|
|Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors||21.7%||-||-|
|Physical Therapist Aides||21.1%||530||$30,460|
Financial Aid and Scholarships in Wisconsin
Financial aid can go a long way toward easing the cost burden of college. Here are a few aid programs for Wisconsin residents only:
- The Wisconsin Grant Program provides need-based awards of up to $3,000 annually for students in qualifying degree programs.
- Talent Incentive Program (TIP) grants offer additional funding assistance to nontraditional or disadvantaged students of public or private Wisconsin institutions.
- Aspiring nurses and classroom teachers may take advantage of several state-based loan programs, including the Nursing Student Loan Program and the Teacher Education Loan Program.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
Renewable if recipient continues to demonstrate financial need.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
Renewable up to five years if recipient continues to demonstrate financial need.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
Renewable if recipient continues to demonstrate financial need.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
- University of Wisconsin System
- Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities
- Transfer Wisconsin
- State of Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board (HEAB)
- EdVest: Wisconsin's College Savings Plan
- Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation
- State of Wisconsin Educational Approval Board
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/
- UW Facts and Figures, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Accessed April 2018, https://www.wisc.edu/about/facts/
- About the UW, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Accessed April 2018, https://www.wisc.edu/about/
- About Marquette, Marquette University, Accessed April 2018, http://marquette.edu/about/
- Academics, Marquette University, Accessed April 2018, http://marquette.edu/academics/
- About Vitebro, Vitebro University, Accessed April 2018, http://www.viterbo.edu/about-viterbo
- Fast Facts, University of Wisconsin La Crosse, Accessed April 2018, https://www.uwlax.edu/admissions/explore-uw-la-crosse/fast-facts/
- About Concordia, Concordia University Wisconsin, Accessed April 2018, https://www.cuw.edu/about/index.html
- About UW-Eau Claire, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Accessed April 2018, https://www.uwec.edu/about/
- A Rich History, University of Wisconsin-Stout, Accessed April 2018, https://www.uwstout.edu/about-us/meet-our-leadership/rich-history
- About Us, University of Wisconsin-Stout, Accessed April 2018, https://www.uwstout.edu/about-us
- History of UW Oshkosh, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Accessed April 2018, https://uwosh.edu/about-uw-oshkosh/history-uw-oshkosh/
- Fast Facts, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Accessed April 2018, https://uwosh.edu/about-uw-oshkosh/fast-facts/
- Fast Facts, Edgewood College, Accessed April 2018, https://edgewood.edu/about/fast-facts
- What is the UW System, University of Wisconsin System, accessed April 26, 2017, https://www.wisconsin.edu/about-the-uw-system/
- University of Wisconsin-Platteville, Best Colleges, U.S. News & World Report, accessed April 27, 2017, https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/uw-platteville-3921
- Financial Aid Programs, State of Wisconsin Higher Educational Aids Board, accessed April 27, 2017, http://heab.state.wi.us/programs.html
- Talent Incentive Program Grants (TIP), Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, accessed April 27, 2017, https://dpi.wi.gov/weop/tip-grant
- 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/