To identify the Best Colleges in West Virginia for 2017-2018 we averaged the latest results from the most respected college ranking systems with thousands of real student review scores from around the web to produce a unique College Consensus rating for each school. You won’t find a more comprehensive ranking of the top colleges and universities in West Virginia anywhere. Read more about our rankings methodology and sources at our about page.
Colleges & Universities in West Virginia
The best colleges and universities are driving West Virginia’s 21st century reinvention as a center of alternative energy, technology, and tourism. While the mountainous state – the only state in the union entirely bounded by the Appalachians – has historically been dependent on mining, latter-day changes in the American economy hasn’t put West Virginia on the ropes. Instead, West Virginia is showing what it’s made of; it was one of only a few states to show growth during the 2008 Great Recession, and today is one of the fastest-growing economies in the nation, with the West Virginia higher education system working overtime to prepare a workforce of researchers, professionals, and technicians to lead.
West Virginia’s public colleges and universities are stepping up as some of the region’s best, from the state’s only top-tier public research institution, West Virginia University 58 , to acclaimed regional colleges working to prepare the state’s high school graduates and working adults for professional careers. West Virginia also has a host of highly-ranked Christian colleges and universities including Wheeling Jesuit University 60 (the state’s only Catholic college), West Virginia Wesleyan College 62 , and the University of Charleston 50 . From the traditional liberal arts to the most sophisticated sciences, West Virginia is making the 21st century their own.
Here are the top colleges and universities of the Mountain State.
Marshall University began in 1837 as the Marshall Academy, a private subscription school named for John Marshall, the influential Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The subscription school format was common in the 19th century, before public schools were widespread, and by 1858 the academy had developed into a college. However, the school had always struggled financially, and the Civil War put an end to Marshall until the newly-created West Virginia legislature took it over to open a State Normal School (the 19th century precursor to teacher’s colleges, in which teachers trained for two years at the head of a classroom). Over the 20th century, the now-public college grew into a full university, and today Marshall University is ranked in the top 50 regional universities of the South by U.S. News & World Report.
With more than 10,000 students, Marshall University is one of the most significant regional colleges of West Virginia’s Appalachian region, from supporting the fine arts and traditional Appalachian folk culture, to building the region’s business and healthcare industry. The Edwards School of Medicine has been recognized as one of the best in the US for family physicians, while the AACSB-accredited Lewis College of Business is the state’s leading business school. Marshall is also recognized as a pioneer in education for students with learning disabilities, while the Digital Forensics graduate program was the first nationally-accredited program of its kind. Marshall has been educating West Virginia’s best and brightest since before there was a West Virginia, and that heritage is still very much in effect.
West Virginia Wesleyan College
In the late 19th century, a shortage of public high schools meant a shortage of students qualified to go to college, so the West Virginia Wesleyan College began as a prep school for high school-aged students to prepare for college. This was the arrangement from 1890, when the Methodist Episcopal Church (now part of the United Methodist Church) started the school, to 1900, when it began offering college courses; for one year it was Wesleyan University, but settled on the Wesleyan College name. Today, West Virginia Wesleyan may well be on the verge of university status, as it has grown significantly, building new programs, adding graduate studies, and earning top regional rankings from U.S. News & World Report and the Princeton Review.
While WVWU has begun adding master’s degrees – including an MBA, an MFA in Creative Writing, and an MS in Nursing – the school is still primarily a liberal arts college, with a 13:1 student:faculty ratio and small classes for personal attention and interaction. More than 50 undergraduate degrees are available, from nursing and computer science to the traditional liberal arts, while West Virginia Wesleyan has also branched out with a 3-2 plan in collaboration with UVA, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia University, allowing students to earn a bachelor’s degree from WVWU and an engineering bachelor’s from the partner. With a curriculum framed by Methodist values like community service and responsible leadership, West Virginia Wesleyan is easily one of West Virginia’s top colleges.
Wheeling Jesuit University
Wheeling Jesuit University had been a dream of the Diocese of Wheeling; Bishop Richard Whelan requested the Society of Jesus establish a college in the city more than 100 years before the Maryland Society of Jesus and the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese finally founded Wheeling Jesuit College in 1954. The college had become a university by 1996, earning a regional reputation as one of the most academically rigorous, religiously faithful schools in the Ohio River Valley. Today Wheeling Jesuit – the youngest member of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, and the only Catholic university in West Virginia – is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the 50 best regional colleges in the South.
Jesuit education is renowned all over the world for its intellectual challenge, academic demands, and graduate excellence, and Wheeling Jesuit University brings that heritage to West Virginia. In addition to a strong liberal arts core grounded in the classical humanities and sciences, and an even more-rigorous Honors Program, Wheeling Jesuit puts a strong emphasis on undergraduate research, with most seniors completing a capstone project that they present at the yearly Student Research and Scholarship Symposium. WJU is also known for its outreach and research, such as the Lewis Appalachian Institute and the Institute for the Study of Capitalism and Morality. In addition, WJU is the home of the Mount de Chantal Conservatory of Music. With the needs of West Virginia’s students and people at its heart, Wheeling Jesuit University is one of West Virginia’s premier institutions.
West Virginia University
Founded as the Agricultural College of West Virginia in 1867, West Virginia University was a Morrill Land-Grant institution, dedicated to the most practical education in modern agricultural methods and applied science. That start gave West Virginia University the perfect foundation for STEM research and professional studies, and the school grew through the rest of the 19th century and into the 20th. Though the college was originally all-male, ten women were admitted as a trial in 1889; when the first woman graduated at the top of the class, the trial was complete, and by WWII, women were an equal presence on-campus. Today, West Virginia University is the state’s only Carnegie Classification R1 public research university, and is ranked in the U.S. News & World Report top tier of national institutions.
As the state’s top research and professional university, WVU is West Virginia’s center of academics and culture, with 15 schools and colleges and the Ruby Memorial Hospital, the state’s top teaching hospital. WVU is home of the state’s oldest School of Medicine, the state’s only School of Dentistry, and the state’s primary School of Nursing. The university has also been a pioneer in 21st century technology, with the nation’s first bachelor’s degree in Biometric Systems, and a groundbreaking Forensics and Investigative Science program founded in collaboration with the FBI. West Virginia University has set the standard for public higher education, and brought West Virginia’s name into the national spotlight for over 150 years.
Ohio Valley University
Ohio Valley University was founded in 1958 to bring Churches of Christ education to West Virginia. Modeled on Harding University (a Church of Christ institution in Arkansas), Ohio Valley University was built on donations gathered by a group of Harding alumni in Vienna, WV, a small rural town on the Ohio River. From its humble beginning in the building of a former church, Ohio Valley University earned regional accreditation and built a strong reputation throughout West Virginia and Ohio, eventually being named a university in 2005. Today, Ohio Valley University is ranked in the U.S. News & World Report top 50 regional universities, and has repeatedly earned recognition as a best value.
With its Churches of Christ heritage, Ohio Valley University’s curriculum is steeped in Christian values and biblical belief, emphasizing responsible, ethical leadership and service to God, community, and family. As a liberal arts college, all students at Ohio Valley work through a common core of humanities and sciences for a broad, well-rounded education before entering more than 20 majors or 11 pre-professional programs – including pre-med, pre-chiropractic, and pre-law. Job placement and graduate school placement for graduates is an impressive 91% – higher in some of the pre-professional programs – clearly distinguishing Ohio Valley University as one of West Virginia’s premier institutions.
Alderson Broaddus University
The Great Depression was as difficult a time for higher education as for every other industry, with many colleges and universities failing under financial strain. Two Baptist colleges in West Virginia – the Broadus Institute (1871) and the Alderson Academy (1901) – rode out the Depression by pulling together in a 1932 merger, combining their endowments, faculty, and students to form a new college. Affiliated with the American Baptist Church, Alderson Broaddus University – AB to its friends – stands today as one of West Virginia’s leaders in healthcare and teacher education, and has been ranked in the top 30 regional institutions by U.S. News & World Report.
Both of Alderson Broaddus’ constituent parts were traditional liberal arts colleges, so it should be no surprise that AB remains rooted in its commitment to fully-rounded humanities education. However, Alderson Broaddus has used that foundation to build one of the most impressive, ethically-focused and community enriching health sciences programs in the nation. AB was the home of the first 4-year Physician’s Assistant program, and a pioneer in radiology education, as well as training some of West Virginia’s best nurses since 1945. With a belief that good education makes responsible health professionals, and a basis in Christian values, Alderson Broaddus is transforming West Virginia’s healthcare system one class at a time.
West Liberty University
West Liberty, WV
Once the farthest western point of the United States – hence the name – West Liberty, WV, was one of the original American frontier regions, and West Liberty University is older than West Virginia itself. WLU was founded in 1837 as the West Liberty Academy, when West Virginia was still Virginia, bringing elementary and secondary education to the far-flung settlers (both boys and girls), making it West Virginia’s oldest college. When the Civil War wiped out the school’s funding, the campus was sold to the state, which established the West Liberty Normal School to train much-needed schoolteachers for the struggling new state. West Liberty University continues today as a highly respected public liberal arts institution, ranked in the top 20 regional public universities in the South by U.S. News & World Report.
With a student body under 3000, West Liberty University has the size and benefits of a small liberal arts college, but the motivation and ambition to be the greatest 4-year university in the Ohio River Valley. West Liberty is dedicated to providing the most current professional and academic education to the Appalachian region, from teacher education to healthcare. WLU’s College of Education, and the West College of Business, are two of the region’s most respected professional schools, preparing West Virginia’s future managers, teachers, and leaders with all that the state needs to thrive in the 21st century.
Glenville State College
Like West Liberty University (#7), Glenville State College was once a state normal school, founded in 1872 after a competitive, much-hyped competition among West Virginia’s towns and cities. Glenville, WV, impressed the legislature with its civic spirit, and in just a few years, the tiny town was outnumbered by normal school students, earning the nickname “The Lighthouse on the Hill.” Over the 20th century, Glenville State grew from a 2-year normal school to a 4-year teacher’s college, continually adding programs to become a full state college. Today, Glenville State is ranked by U.S. News & World Report in the top 20 Southern public regional colleges.
With its roots in teacher education, Glenville State is still one of West Virginia’s leading producers of schoolteachers, but GSU offers more than 30 undergraduate degree programs in a variety of fields. As always with a public regional institution, Glenville State’s programs are dedicated to the needs of the people, from business and criminal justice to nursing and human services. Glenville State operates much like a traditional liberal arts college, with small classes and a 13:1 student:faculty ratio, giving students much more access to faculty members for mentorship and guidance than the average public college. In all, Glenville State is a top choice for West Virginia college students.
Bluefield State College
Founded in 1895, Bluefield State College began as the Bluefield Colored Institute, a high school and preparatory school for black students in an area of West Virginia with a large African-American population. Bluefield then became a normal school, training black teachers for West Virginia’s segregated school system, and as Bluefield State College, hosted and employed numerous cultural leaders of the Harlem Renaissance. Bluefield State College is currently ranked one of the top 10 public regional colleges in the South by U.S. News & World Report, but it is a very different institution than the one that was founded in 1895.
Though Bluefield State is still categorized as a historically black college, demographic shifts in the late 20th century have resulted in an HBCU that is majority white. Bluefield has no residential students; instead, it serves a student body consisting primarily of nontraditional-aged commuter students. With an eye toward serving a community in transition – once rooted in coal-mining, Bluefield is now shifting to a service economy – BSU has become a regional leader in computer science, nursing, allied health, and business, as well as retaining its reputation as a top teacher education institution. Bluefield State is meeting West Virginia’s changes head-on.
University of Charleston
The University of Charleston was founded in 1888 by what was then known as the Methodist Episcopal Church (now part of the United Methodist Church), originally to prepare young men for ministry in the church. Known as Morris Harvey College, in honor of the coal miner who paid off the school’s debts with a gift in 1901, the college became the University of Charleston when it moved to West Virginia’s capital, opening up a whole new field of possibility, and a much larger job market, for its graduates. Now an independent, private liberal arts institution, the University of Charleston is ranked in the South’s top 100 regional colleges by U.S. News & World Report.
West Virginia’s capital city, Charleston, creates a host of demands on higher education, with a diverse population, a large number of working adults and professionals seeking career advancement, and young people entering their careers. The University of Charleston has worked to meet those needs, becoming known as one of the best colleges in the nation for veterans and working adults, as well as a best value. With a strong grounding in the liberal arts; an excellent First-Year Experience that increases success and retention; and policies accepting transfer credits, work experience, and life experience, the University of Charleston has what West Virginia’s students need – no matter that student’s background or circumstances.