Best Washington Colleges & Universities

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Become Team
November 20, 2020 is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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According to the Lumina Foundation, the state of Washington has pledged to increase post-secondary educational attainment to 70 percent by 2023. The state is doing this through a series of initiatives, including a statewide policy for prior learning assessment. Many other policies are in place through the state, as well as individual institutions, in the hopes of encouraging even more residents to come into the higher education fold. To make a review of Washington colleges and universities easier, we have compiled a great deal of information in this guide. From alumni salaries to financial aid availability to cost of living information and rankings of tops colleges, students can get a firm handle on what to expect from college.

Washington College Leaderboard: Rankings

Washington is home to many public and private colleges, universities and two-year institutions. With so many options, prospective students may feel overwhelmed. However, students can use our rankings to narrow down the choices. Our rankings take into account the points that matter most to students, including graduation rates, student-to-teacher ratios, tuition and financial aid. The result is a comprehensive list of the best colleges in Washington.

Rankings Methodology Minimum Qualifications
  • Located in Washington
  • 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

Edmonds Community College View School Profile $ 27% 99.6 $35,500 14:1 27% N/A 3 121 Yes Yes
Shoreline Community College View School Profile $ 26% 98.19 $40,500 17:1 19% N/A 8 68 Yes Yes
Renton Technical College View School Profile $ 61% 97.75 $35,100 14:1 15% N/A 1 91 Yes Yes
Bates Technical College View School Profile $ 65% 96.34 $35,300 16:1 18% N/A 0 107 Yes Yes
Clark College View School Profile $ 24% 96.04 $32,800 15:1 11% N/A 2 98 Yes Yes
Seattle Vocational Institute View School Profile $ 69% 95.07 $30,700 13:1 15% N/A 0 16 Yes No
Bellingham Technical College View School Profile $ 42% 94.81 $34,600 22:1 14% N/A 1 73 Yes Yes
Everett Community College View School Profile $ 26% 94.06 $35,300 17:1 16% N/A 0 59 Yes Yes
Spokane Community College View School Profile $ 26% 93.77 $30,600 17:1 14% N/A 6 107 Yes Yes
Tacoma Community College View School Profile $ 27% 93.22 $34,500 18:1 12% N/A 0 59 Yes No
Walla Walla Community College View School Profile $ 37% 92.62 $31,400 17:1 40% N/A 0 86 Yes Yes
Pierce College at Fort Steilacoom View School Profile $ 20% 92.39 $34,200 18:1 11% N/A 1 65 No Yes
Lower Columbia College View School Profile $ 30% 92.15 $29,100 16:1 3% N/A 0 88 No Yes
Wenatchee Valley College View School Profile $ 27% 92.12 $31,500 17:1 22% N/A 0 48 No Yes
Pierce College at Puyallup View School Profile $ 20% 91.75 $34,200 17:1 8% N/A 0 36 No Yes
Whatcom Community College View School Profile $ 31% 91.69 $31,100 15:1 22% N/A 0 34 Yes Yes
South Puget Sound Community College View School Profile $ 29% 91.39 $31,600 17:1 12% N/A 1 54 Yes Yes
Spokane Falls Community College View School Profile $ 23% 91.29 $28,300 18:1 14% N/A 7 60 Yes Yes
Big Bend Community College View School Profile $ 33% 91.28 $32,200 17:1 37% N/A 0 39 Yes No
Grays Harbor College View School Profile $ 37% 89.11 $26,100 20:1 11% N/A 1 56 Yes No
Cascadia Community College View School Profile $ 31% 86 N/A 17:1 3% N/A 1 15 No Yes

4-Year Programs

Gonzaga University View School Profile $$$$ 81% 99.76 $52,800 11:1 98% 68% 5 59 Yes No
University of Washington-Seattle Campus View School Profile $$ 81% 98.71 $52,100 18:1 34% 55% 8 463 Yes No
Seattle University View School Profile $$$$ 78% 97.84 $55,200 12:1 93% 73% 0 105 Yes No
University of Puget Sound View School Profile $$$$ 77% 97.84 $51,500 11:1 99% 79% 0 51 Yes No
Pacific Lutheran University View School Profile $$$$ 70% 97.52 $45,900 11:1 98% 75% 0 53 Yes No
Saint Martin’s University View School Profile $$$$ 54% 96.5 $47,400 12:1 97% 89% 0 37 Yes Yes
Washington State University View School Profile $$ 67% 96.36 $46,400 15:1 51% 82% 16 235 Yes No
Whitworth University View School Profile $$$$ 76% 95.09 $41,200 11:1 97% 75% 0 57 Yes Yes
Seattle Pacific University View School Profile $$$$ 72% 94.24 $43,900 15:1 97% 83% 1 91 Yes No
Central Washington University View School Profile $$ 53% 94.08 $44,900 19:1 71% 86% 10 166 Yes No
Walla Walla University View School Profile $$$$ 50% 94.03 $45,800 13:1 96% 58% 0 52 Yes No
Whitman College View School Profile $$$$ 87% 93.71 $43,000 9:1 77% 41% 0 48 No No
Western Washington University View School Profile $$ 67% 93.27 $43,200 19:1 43% 85% 1 139 Yes No
Heritage University View School Profile $$ 16% 93.07 $33,000 8:1 95% N/A 7 47 Yes Yes
City University of Seattle View School Profile $$ 20% 92.75 $50,400 11:1 N/A N/A 16 21 Yes Yes
Eastern Washington University View School Profile $$ 46% 91.69 $40,500 21:1 56% 74% 1 111 Yes Yes
Northwest University View School Profile $$$$ 48% 90.96 $40,200 13:1 97% 96% 3 42 Yes Yes
Bastyr University View School Profile $$$ N/A 86 $32,000 9:1 N/A N/A 0 14 No No

Washington College Planning and Outreach Initiatives

In keeping with Washington's ambitious goal of increasing educational attainment in the coming years, the state has introduced numerous programs to help students achieve their goal of obtaining a college degree. These programs are designed to help students plan for college, both financially and academically, as well as provide them with the information they need to succeed while in college. Special attention is paid to underserved students, especially those who are first-generation or low-income students. Below are a few of the college planning tools set forth by the state.

Ready Set Grad

This program reaches out to students in six through 12th grade with college planning tools that prepare them to afford college, choose their major, narrow down the college options and figure out what they can do to plan right now. The program also targets those who are already in college, as well as those who are embarking on continuing education, by helping them choose the career path that works best for their goals.

12th Year Campaign

This is a combination of two programs: the College Application Campaign and College Goal Washington. The program specifically targets the goal of 70 percent educational attainment by 2023 by reaching out to high school students with financial aid and application information. Part of this plan provides in-depth help with the FAFSA, including the preparation and timely submission of this important form.

The Washboard

This is a free, web-based clearinghouse of scholarship opportunities for students in Washington. The goal of this organization is to increase the availability of scholarships for those who can use them, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. In addition, the program improves efficiency in the scholarship process and the data that students will find on those scholarships, and it provides high-quality, centralized resources for college students.

Cost Analysis of Colleges in Washington

Prospective students should consider a few things when determining the cost of college. Understanding tuition is the first step toward figuring out finances. Financial aid is another important component as it can bring down tuition by a significant amount. Finally, how many students actually get the large financial aid packages offered by schools also matters. These charts focus on the tuition, financial aid and percentage awarded to students in Washington.

Source: CollegeBoard

Source: IPEDS

Source: IPEDS

* 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.

Washington's Most Affordable Colleges

Though tuition does matter, it's important to remember net price is the bottom line, not tuition. Net price is calculated by subtracting any financial aid award from the cost of attendance. The result is a number that is typically more reasonable. Students can then look into additional financial aid, scholarships and loans to help cover any additional costs. These are the top six schools when it comes to lowest net price in Washington.

Washington College Net Price vs. National Average

Average Annual Net Price

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

Washington Alabama Colleges with Top Alumni Earnings

Though how much a student might make upon graduation depends upon a wide range of factors, some schools tend to produce alumni with higher wages. These six schools are the best for producing alumni with the highest salaries ten years after their enrollment. We have also compared those average salaries to the national average to give a better idea of where Washington graduates stand.

Washington Alumni Salaries vs. National Average

Annual Median Earnings
10 Years After Entering College

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

Colleges in Washington That Produce the Least Student Debt

One of the biggest concerns for students is the level of debt they might carry after graduation. The goal for many is to get out of college with as little debt as possible. These six schools produce alumni with the lowest amount of student debt after graduation. We have also compared the average graduate debt to that of the nation as a whole to provide better real-world expectations.

Washington 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.

Cost of Living for Washington College Students

Washington offers great economic opportunities for graduates. According to Forbes, the cost of living in the state is about 2.5 percent higher than that of the national average, but there is no state income tax, and the average wage is in excess of $50,000 per year. Washington is one of only eight states in the nation with such a generous average wage. We looked at the metropolitan areas of Washington to help students understand where it might cost more to live and thus where it might be cheapest to attend college.

area composite index housing groceries utilities transportation health care misc.
Statewide Average 107% 109% 106% 89% 115% 117% 107%
Everett 112% 129% 108% 82% 118% 126% 105%
Seattle 142% 183% 126% 111% 130% 122% 131%
Spokane 97% 91% 94% 86% 108% 115% 99%
Tacoma 105% 90% 101% 109% 111% 117% 113%
Vancouver 106% 102% 105% 94% 116% 109% 111%

Source: The Council for Community and Economic Research

College Accreditation in Washington

Accreditation is a process of validation. Colleges and universities seek accreditation from an independent accrediting body, which then evaluates the college to determine if it meets the high standards of a quality education. Accreditation proves a school has a strong curriculum, learned faculty and a meaningful degree. Employers prefer to see applicants with degrees from accredited schools, some colleges require transfer credits come from accredited institutions, and more financial aid options are available to those who attend an accredited college or university.

Accreditation for colleges in Washington is through the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU). In addition to regional accreditation through NWCCU, colleges can also opt for programmatic accreditation. This means an individual program has been evaluated and recognized for meeting the standards of a quality education. Below are two examples.

Washington College City Spotlight


Seattle is not only home to the Space Needle; it also has numerous colleges, including public and private institutions, vocational and trade schools, and career schools centered on specific fields - especially the arts. Here are a few of the more prominent schools in the Seattle area.

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

Only includes former students who received federal financial aid.

Seattle University of Washington Public $11,904 $52,100
More than 54,000 students are served annually by this large research university. They attend sixteen colleges and schools within the university and partake in the 1,800 classes available. Although Seattle is the flagship campus, there are also large campuses in Bothell and Tacoma as well as an academic medical center. The average time it takes to graduate is four years, and 83 percent of entering freshmen graduate within six years, which is the highest percentage of any public institution in Washington.
Seattle Seattle University Private not-for-profit $33,557 $55,200
Founded in 1891, Seattle University is affiliated with the Jesuit Catholic faith. More than 7,400 students enjoy the 50-acre campus in Seattle's Capitol Hill area, where they attend one of 64 undergraduate programs, 31 graduate programs and 28 certificate programs. Ninety-five percent of students attend full-time, and three out of four students engage in community service-that's three times the national average. Over 86 percent of undergraduates receive financial aid as do 67 percent of graduate students and 93 percent of law students.
Seattle Seattle Central College Public $5,366 $30,700
Seattle's first community college, SCC began in 1966. Today over 16,000 students pursue one of 32 associate programs, 45 professional certificates and two bachelor's degrees in 28 fields of study. Though most students attend during the day, the school offers evening and online courses as well. Fifty-six percent of those who earn their associate degree successfully transfer to a college with a four-year program.

The second most populous city in the state, according to the City of Spokane website, Spokane has been named an All-American City three times in the past 41 years. Spokane ranks fourth in the country for metro areas with the highest levels of healthcare employment. Students interested in healthcare and any other field can find their program at the two large public universities, two private colleges, and the public Community Colleges of Spokane system.

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

Only includes former students who received federal financial aid.

Spokane Gonzaga University Private not-for-profit $28,155 $52,800
Established in 1887, Gonzaga is a Catholic liberal arts university located on the banks of the Spokane River. Over 7,600 are enrolled as undergraduates, graduates, law students and non-credit students. The school includes seven colleges, 75 fields of study, 26 master's degrees, three doctoral degrees and a juris doctor degree, all with a student-to-faculty ratio of 12-to-1. Ninety-eight percent of students at the university receive financial aid.
Spokane Spokane Falls Community College Public $7,399 $28,300
The main campus of SFCC is in Spokane, but there are satellite campuses in Pullman and Fairchild Air Force Base as well as online options available. Over 8,000 students attend the school, with 66 percent of them seeking a transfer to a four-year college when their time at SFCC is over. Students select from over 40 pre-major programs, which prepare them for transfer, or from numerous career and technical programs. Students can also opt for the bachelor's degree in information systems and technology or applied management.

Source: College Scorecard

Resources for Prospective Washington College Students

Students seeking more information on Washington colleges and universities can start here. This list of resources, unique to the state, can help students with their college planning or provide a strong overview of the higher education system in the state.

Gear Up Washington State

This program, available in 73 districts across the state, helps students prepare for college and explore their financial aid options.

GET: Guaranteed Education Tuition

This program is the savings plan created by Washington to help students attend college through a prepaid plan, which locks in a potentially lower tuition rate.

Independent Colleges of Washington

This association of independent colleges in the state includes information on financial aid, student programs and other offerings through the member colleges.

OPEN Washington

The Open Education Resources Network provides free resources online for students, educators, parents and other interested parties. These resources might include lecture notes, assignments and tests, which serve as excellent study guides for college students.

Washington Financial Aid Association

This site offers in-depth information on various types of financial aid, how to get it and when to consider loans.

Washington Online

This collaborative program provides students with information on the online courses available through colleges in the state.

Washington Student Achievement Council

The goal of this state agency is to increase student success and boost educational attainment in the state. Students and parents can find information on a variety of issues, including financial aid and college readiness.

Become Team
Become Team
Contributing Writer is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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