Best Virginia Colleges & Universities

Become Team
Become Team
November 18, 2020

Virginia's economy is increasing rapidly, and this growth is creating demand for the higher education system. Areas such as computer technology, accounting and allied health are expected to need more graduates, and students interested in one of these fields or a closely related subject will likely be warmly welcomed into Virginia's colleges, universities and two-year institutions. Virginia students can choose from numerous schools in the state, but the task of selecting a school can seem overwhelming. This guide aims to help with the process. We looked at factors that matter to college students, such as tuition rates, financial aid availability, graduation rates and alumni salaries. We also looked at cost of living, college resources and college planning tools to help give students an overview of what to typically expect from Virginia schools.

Best Virginia Colleges: Rankings

When it comes to choosing the best school, some questions always come to mind: What is the tuition? What is the student-to-faculty ratio? What is the graduation rate? These questions and more have led to our comprehensive rankings list, where we looked at a variety of factors that matter most and compared schools to come up with the best Virginia colleges.

Rankings Methodology Minimum Qualifications
  • Located in Virginia
  • Public or private not-for-profit
  • Institutionally accredited
  • At least 10 total programs
Ranking Metrics
  • Median annual alumni earnings 10 years after entering the college
  • In-state tuition and fees for undergraduates
  • Student/teacher ratio
  • 6-year graduation rate
  • % of students receiving institutional financial aid (first-time, full-time undergrads)
  • Average amount of institutional aid awarded per student (first-time, full-time undergrads)
  • Availability of placement services upon completion
  • Availability of academic/career counseling services
  • Availability of employment services
  • 3-year student cohort loan default rate
Data Sources

Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS): National Center for Education Statistics

Latest 'Final Release' data available as of Fall 2016 College Scorecard: U.S. Department of Education

2-Year Programs

Tidewater Community College View School Profile $ 14% 99.81 $29,400 22:1 3% N/A 8 92 Yes Yes
Lord Fairfax Community College View School Profile $ 33% 99.23 $31,500 19:1 12% N/A 2 42 Yes Yes
Southwest Virginia Community College View School Profile $ 32% 98.83 $24,200 24:1 58% N/A 7 62 Yes Yes
Danville Community College View School Profile $ 23% 98.46 $27,700 20:1 16% N/A 0 64 Yes No
Central Virginia Community College View School Profile $ 25% 98.39 $26,300 20:1 7% N/A 3 57 No Yes
Reynolds Community College View School Profile $ 13% 98.39 $30,800 20:1 4% N/A 3 71 Yes No
Blue Ridge Community College View School Profile $ 25% 98.35 $31,700 21:1 15% N/A 0 45 Yes Yes
Piedmont Virginia Community College View School Profile $ 27% 98.26 $29,400 19:1 7% N/A 2 39 Yes Yes
Northern Virginia Community College View School Profile $ 23% 98.21 $41,700 24:1 10% N/A 12 103 Yes Yes
Eastern Shore Community College View School Profile $ 26% 98.01 $28,000 15:1 12% N/A 0 27 Yes No
Virginia Western Community College View School Profile $ 22% 97.75 $28,900 26:1 25% N/A 2 63 No Yes
New River Community College View School Profile $ 24% 97.68 $30,000 29:1 11% N/A 1 51 Yes Yes
Mountain Empire Community College View School Profile $ 29% 97.18 $22,400 24:1 38% N/A 5 57 No Yes
Thomas Nelson Community College View School Profile $ 16% 97.15 $28,700 23:1 5% N/A 8 66 Yes Yes
John Tyler Community College View School Profile $ 14% 97.07 $33,800 23:1 3% N/A 5 49 No Yes
Virginia Highlands Community College View School Profile $ 24% 96.87 $24,500 20:1 17% N/A 0 54 Yes No
Wytheville Community College View School Profile $ 33% 96.83 $26,700 26:1 39% N/A 1 52 No No
Southside Virginia Community College View School Profile $ 35% 96.81 $25,300 23:1 15% N/A 2 67 Yes Yes
Germanna Community College View School Profile $ 23% 96.03 $32,400 27:1 8% N/A 0 35 No Yes
Patrick Henry Community College View School Profile $ 29% 95.97 $23,400 22:1 1% N/A 2 53 Yes No
Dabney S Lancaster Community College View School Profile $ 27% 89.31 $27,500 17:1 30% N/A 0 45 No Yes
Rappahannock Community College View School Profile $ 31% 87.48 $26,500 26:1 24% N/A 2 33 No Yes
Paul D Camp Community College View School Profile $ 24% 86 $23,700 14:1 3% N/A 0 33 No No

4-Year Programs

University of Richmond View School Profile $$$$ 83% 99.76 $60,800 8:1 51% 32% 0 67 Yes No
University of Virginia-Main Campus View School Profile $$ 93% 99.55 $58,600 15:1 29% 29% 9 111 Yes No
Virginia Military Institute View School Profile $ 71% 99.43 $56,600 11:1 66% 44% 0 14 Yes No
Washington and Lee University View School Profile $$$$ 90% 98.47 $77,600 8:1 49% 19% 0 37 No No
Hampton University View School Profile $$ 59% 98.13 $42,200 9:1 47% 29% 12 87 Yes Yes
College of William and Mary View School Profile $$ 90% 98.08 $56,400 12:1 27% 33% 0 49 Yes No
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University View School Profile $$ 83% 97.8 $57,900 16:1 39% 73% 6 137 Yes No
George Mason University View School Profile $$ 66% 97.7 $57,000 16:1 20% 67% 10 147 Yes Yes
James Madison University View School Profile $ 80% 97.7 $53,400 16:1 17% 66% 4 75 Yes Yes
Hampden-Sydney College View School Profile $$$$ 68% 95.8 $50,200 11:1 97% 47% 0 25 Yes No
Sweet Briar College View School Profile $$$$ 62% 95.28 $38,600 8:1 99% 94% 0 39 Yes No
Averett University View School Profile $$$$ 40% 95.26 $42,300 13:1 100% 60% 0 73 Yes Yes
Marymount University View School Profile $$$$ 50% 95.14 $49,600 13:1 94% 84% 1 50 No No
Lynchburg College View School Profile $$$$ 57% 94.92 $40,900 11:1 100% 67% 1 49 Yes No
Roanoke College View School Profile $$$$ 65% 94.85 $42,500 11:1 97% 69% 0 37 Yes No
Randolph-Macon College View School Profile $$$$ 56% 94.68 $45,700 12:1 100% 60% 0 35 Yes No
Emory & Henry College View School Profile $$$$ 46% 94.48 $39,600 11:1 100% 72% 0 69 No No
Jefferson College of Health Sciences View School Profile $$$ 41% 94.4 $52,300 9:1 97% N/A 4 16 No Yes
University of Mary Washington View School Profile $$ 76% 94.33 $47,400 15:1 25% 77% 0 32 Yes No
Eastern Mennonite University View School Profile $$$$ 59% 94.26 $39,500 10:1 98% 60% 1 50 No No
Bridgewater College View School Profile $$$$ 57% 94.18 $42,600 15:1 100% 48% 0 29 Yes Yes
Mary Baldwin College View School Profile $$$$ 49% 93.94 $36,800 11:1 100% 95% 0 47 Yes Yes
Randolph College View School Profile $$$$ 57% 93.84 $38,700 10:1 99% 81% 0 37 No Yes
Old Dominion University View School Profile $$ 49% 93.8 $43,300 20:1 41% 82% 26 88 Yes Yes
Shenandoah University View School Profile $$$$ 37% 93.41 $40,600 10:1 96% 83% 1 57 Yes Yes
Bluefield College View School Profile $$$ 34% 93.39 $42,800 14:1 100% 98% 7 35 Yes No
Hollins University View School Profile $$$$ 56% 93.38 $37,000 8:1 99% 56% 0 36 Yes No
Virginia Commonwealth University View School Profile $$ 56% 92.59 $41,800 17:1 41% 75% 13 131 Yes No
Radford University View School Profile $$ 60% 92.39 $42,100 18:1 18% 79% 0 55 Yes No
Christopher Newport University View School Profile $$ 67% 92.2 $42,400 15:1 36% 56% 0 23 Yes Yes
Virginia Wesleyan College View School Profile $$$$ 48% 91.32 $38,100 13:1 99% 89% 0 42 No Yes
The University of Virginia’s College at Wise View School Profile $ 42% 91.01 $36,500 12:1 80% 69% 0 11 No No
Virginia State University View School Profile $$ 44% 90.95 $34,400 14:1 62% 80% 0 49 Yes Yes
Longwood University View School Profile $$ 61% 90.4 $40,800 17:1 21% 73% 1 29 Yes No
Regent University View School Profile $$ 36% 90.27 $41,300 32:1 97% 80% 8 44 Yes Yes
Liberty University View School Profile $$$ 46% 89.73 $36,300 18:1 78% 22% 43 78 Yes Yes
Norfolk State University View School Profile $$ 36% 88.9 $34,400 18:1 42% 66% 2 46 Yes Yes
Ferrum College View School Profile $$$$ 33% 88.58 $36,500 15:1 99% 73% 0 34 Yes No
Southern Virginia University View School Profile $$ 30% 86.39 $28,800 15:1 90% 47% 0 13 Yes No
Virginia Union University View School Profile $$ 30% 86 $31,600 14:1 58% 24% 0 21 No No

Virginia College Search & Compare Tool

After prospective college students have reviewed the rankings list, they may want to consider factors that are tailored to their individual needs and goals. By placing schools side by side and directly comparing them based on characteristics like location and student enrollment, users can more effectively decide which Virginia school is more advantageous than another.

College Outreach Programs in Virginia

Getting to college is not typically easy. In order to help make the process less complicated, Virginia offers several programs to provide guidance and information to hopeful college students, including students who may be at a disadvantage in the college planning and application process. The following is a list of state programs that may be of interest to prospective college students.

GEAR Up Virginia

This state program helps low-income and homeless students get to college and succeed once there. Starting in middle school and continuing through the first year of college, students will receive college preparatory services and skill development assistance in the form of mentoring, college visits, tutoring, financial aid guidance and summer programs. There is also a GEAR UP scholarship to help pay for college as well as graduate resources for job seekers.

I Am The One

This is an information resource for prospective college students, their families and school guidance counselors. There are three primary categories of assistance, including financial aid guidance, college preparation, and career and academic planning. From help with standardized tests to information tailored to student athletes, there is a wealth of advice for those who want to attend college. There is even a section dedicated to helping middle school students anticipate their college and career goals.


Recognizing the difficulties many prospective Virginia college students face, 123Go! consists of three events to help students prepare for college. The first is College Nights in Virginia, an information session about things prospective college students should know. The second is Virginia College Application Week, where volunteers and counselors help first-generation college and low-income students fill out their college applications. The final event is Super FAFSA Project Virginia, where students will receive guidance on filling out their FAFSA application.

Cost of College in Virginia: How Does It Stack Up?

How much will school actually cost? Students at Virginia colleges can anticipate a certain amount of tuition set each year by the school. However, financial aid packages offset a great deal of that expense. How much those financial aid packages are and how many students receive them can help aspiring students figure out where Virginia stands compared to the national cost of college. The following charts examine tuition, financial aid and the percentage of students who qualify for it.

* Institutional aid represents grant and scholarship funds directly awarded by a postsecondary institution.

* Financial aid data represents 4-year public and private nonprofit schools only.

Most Affordable Virginia Colleges

The net price of a given college is the figure after applicable financial aid is subtracted from tuition. Since many students receive financial aid assistance in some form, the tuition rate of a school alone rarely provides an accurate representation of how much a school costs. The net price gives a much better idea of the cost a student might have to pay out of pocket after all financial aid options are exhausted. These six schools are the top in Virginia for the lowest net price.

Tennessee College Grad Debt Vs. National Average

Median Federal Student
Loan Debt After Graduation

Source: College Scorecard
Note: Rankings/data represent 4-year public and private nonprofit schools only.

Virginia Colleges with Highest Alumni Earnings

A major reason students go to college is to potentially increase their future earnings. To figure out which Virginia colleges offer the greatest earning potential, we looked at how much alumni make ten years after college enrollment. These are the top six Virginia schools with the highest-paid alumni.

Tennessee College Grad Debt Vs. National Average

Median Federal Student
Loan Debt After Graduation

Source: College Scorecard
Note: Rankings/data represent 4-year public and private nonprofit schools only.

Colleges in Virginia With Least Alumni Debt

Another way of calculating cost of attendance is to look at the average debt of a graduate of a particular school. In most cases, students who receive larger financial aid awards from their school of choice will need to take out fewer student loans. The following rankings display the top six schools in Virginia that produce graduates with the lowest student debt and compare them to the national average.

Tennessee College Grad Debt Vs. National Average

Median Federal Student
Loan Debt After Graduation

Source: College Scorecard
Note: Rankings/data represent 4-year public and private nonprofit schools only.

Virginia Cost of Living: College Expenses Beyond Tuition

Prospective students should also consider the cost of living in the area a desired school is located. An area that has a higher cost of living than the national average can easily offset any tuition savings or financial aid awards. Even though the average cost of living in Virginia is about 8 percent higher than the national average, not all parts of the state have the same cost of living. The following chart provides more detailed information about specific metropolitan areas in Virginia.

area composite index housing groceries utilities transportation health care misc.
Statewide Average 92% 87% 92% 99% 90% 97% 95%
Hampton Roads-SE Virginia 98% 88% 91% 102% 95% 107% 106%
Harrisonburg 97% 99% 94% 103% 87% 105% 96%
Lynchburg 91% 84% 90% 100% 86% 95% 95%
Richmond 81% 70% 91% 79% 90% 81% 83%
Roanoke 90% 88% 90% 100% 86% 95% 89%

Source: The Council for Community and Economic Research

Accrediting Agencies for Colleges in Virginia

Accreditation is a very important part of choosing the right school. Accreditation certifies that the education provided by a particular college meets certain high quality educational standards. Choosing an accredited school usually provides the student with valuable instruction, credits that will transfer and a degree that will be recognized by graduate schools and employers.

In Virginia, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges accredits schools at the institutional level. Depending on a college's specific course offerings, individual programs can be accredited as well. Below are a few examples.

Major College Cities in Virginia


One of Charlottesville's most notable features is the University of Virginia, one of the highest ranked schools in the United States. However, its students know how to enjoy themselves when not studying by visiting The Corner, a center for college socializing outside of class. Though it has a heavy influence, the University of Virginia is not the only school in Charlottesville. Many higher education options are available within a short drive of the city center.

College Name School Type Annual Net Price Annual Median Earnings
10 Years After College

Only includes former students who received federal financial aid.

CharlottesvilleUniversity of Virginia Public $17,149 $58,600
Founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, UVA enjoys the prestige of being one of the most well-regarded universities in the country. UVA has over 21,000 students who study in areas such as law, business, education, architecture, kinesiology and mechanical engineering. The University of Virginia is well known for its Health System, which provides outstanding medical care, research and education to students, patients and the world community.
CharlottesvillePiedmont Virginia Community College Public $7,541 $29,400
PVCC is one of 23 schools that make up the Virginia Community College System. This one focuses on serving students in central Virginia. Since its inception, PVCC has served an estimated 213,000 students by providing education and skills training in areas such as computer science, medical diagnostic sonography, graphic design and surgical technology. PVCC also serves as a feeder school, sending more than 2,400 students to the University of Virginia through its transfer program.

Although Richmond has all the trappings of a modern city, it holds onto the past by preserving historical neighborhoods and maintaining historical attractions. As a result, students who attend any one of the several colleges and universities in Richmond enjoy a pleasant mesh of modern day living and historical reminiscing.

College Name School Type Annual Net Price Annual Median Earnings
10 Years After College

Only includes former students who received federal financial aid.

RichmondVirginia Commonwealth University Public $18,354 $41,800
Established in 1838, Virginia Commonwealth University is a relatively large school with over 31,000 students. VCU offers over 225 study options, many of which are typical for a major university. However, some of the more unique programs include clinical radiation sciences, homeland security and emergency preparedness, kinetic imaging, and venture creation. The university especially shines with its medical and graduate arts program, having the number one hospital in Virginia and the number one graduate arts program in the country.
RichmondUniversity of Richmond Private not-for-profit $24,505 $60,800
Founded in 1830 as a private liberal arts school, the university now offers over 60 majors. The school pays special attention to its students with an average class size of 16 and an 8-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio; in fact, the university doesn't have a single class taught by a teaching assistant. Students will also appreciate the "Richmond Guarantee," where every undergraduate student is eligible to receive a fellowship of up to $4,000 for a research project or summer internship.
RichmondReynolds Community College Public $7,307 $30,800
Although RCC is the newest of Virginia's community college, having started in 1972, it is the third largest, with more than 20,000 students served over three campuses. The college offers a variety of programs and credentials, including automotive technology, culinary arts, cyber security, accounting and nursing. One of the more notable programs is its transfer associate degree, where students can begin the first two years of a bachelor's degree before transferring to a four-year college or university.

Source: College Scorecard

College Resources for Students in Virginia

Many students can use additional help to make the most of their higher education. The following is a list of programs and resources to help Virginia's college students accomplish their academic and professional goals.

Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia

The CICV represents the nonprofit, private and accredited colleges and universities in Virginia. CICV promotes private and independent higher education in Virginia by supporting both the schools and their students.

Elevate Virginia

This statewide initiative ensures that Virginia has the skilled workers it needs to fulfill the complex jobs springing up in the new economy.

State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV)

The SCHEV promotes higher education in Virginia. In addition to working on higher education policy, the SCHEV provides college resources for prospective college students.

Virginia 529 College Savings Plan

Run by VA529, an independent state agency, a 529 college savings plan is an investment vehicle that can receive certain tax benefits, like tax deferred growth.

Virginia's Community Colleges

These colleges exist to help students achieve necessary workforce training and college educational instruction. Virginia's Community Colleges's website helps guide students through the application, enrollment and attendance processes for community college.

Virginia Education Wizard

The Wizard is an online tool to help students of all ages learn more about themselves and determine what their academic and professionals goals are.

Become Team
Become Team
Contributing Writer