To identify the Best Colleges in Washington 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 Washington anywhere. Read more about our rankings methodology and sources at our about page.
Colleges & Universities in Washington
The best college in Washington have one thing in common – they are designed to reflect the best of Washington’s culture and society, and they grow to meet the needs of Washington’s people as the world around them changes. Washington has seen changes, definitely. Many of Washington’s leading colleges and universities, including Whitman College 76 , Gonzaga University 69 , University of Washington 70 and University of Puget Sound 67 , were founded even before Washington was admitted to the union, when it was just an up-and-coming territory.
Washington’s people drive higher education in Washington. While three-quarters of Washington’s population is white, many descended from the settlers who came across the US in the mid 19th century, Washington is well on its way to becoming one of the most diverse states in the union, with a large Hispanic population and growing Asian demographic. Many of Washington’s residents are drawn to Washington’s booming economy, which in turn is driven by the tech and energy industries, as well as retail, including Amazon, Microsoft, and many entrepreneurial start-ups.
These are the top Consensus colleges for the Evergreen State.
A small, private Christian liberal arts college, Whitworth University was founded in 1890 as a local academy in Sumner, WA. Relocation to Tacoma, then its final home in Spokane, saw Whitworth grow into a junior college, then a full university. Regularly ranked by U.S. News & World Report as a top 10 regional institution for the West, Whitworth is also widely recognized as a best value, combining solid liberal arts education with strong return on investment. Kiplinger’s also recognizes Whitworth as one of the top 75 national private universities, reflecting its impact on students’ lives through student support, faculty mentorship, and other qualities.
As a small, Christian, institution, Whitworth’s curriculum is deeply tied to Christian values and teachings, with a highly religious, devoted student body and faculty, including chapel attendance, bible study, and prayer. Whitworth has also been recognized by the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for their outreach to the community. That outreach has also extended to greatly expanded adult education services, including a specialized campus in downtown Spokane devoted to convenient evening courses for non-traditional aged students. Whitworth is rising in prominence and making its status as a best Washington college known.
Ranked by U.S. News & World Report in the top 50 national liberal arts institutions, Whitman College’s heritage goes back to the very earliest days of American settlement in the Pacific Northwest. Founded in 1859, Whitman’s first incarnation was a Congregationalist school for pioneer youth erected in honor of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, Christian missionaries whose deaths spurred the formation of the Oregon Territory. No longer associated with any religious denomination, Whitman College is a small liberal arts college known for its high quality of undergraduate research and learning.
Whitman College has a long-standing reputation for educational experimentation and innovation, including pioneering the practice of comprehensive exams for graduation. Whitman focuses on a traditional liberal arts curriculum dedicated to critical thought, analysis, and experiential learning, with internships, field study, and study abroad programs providing experience outside of the classroom. As a small liberal arts college, Whitman has a 9:1 student/faculty ratio for extensive faculty mentoring, but Whitman is also proud of the 1:1 student/tree ratio – their beautiful, forested campus.
One of the most recognizable names in higher education, Gonzaga University is a highly respected, private, Catholic institution in Spokane, WA. Founded by Society of Jesus missionaries in 1887, Gonzaga’s original mission was to provide a rigorous Catholic education to the Native Americans in the area, hoping to prepare boys for the priesthood. Today, Gonzaga is a comprehensive university, still dedicated to the traditional liberal arts and to the intellectually and spiritually challenging education the Jesuit system is known for.
Gonzaga’s curriculum is based on the classical liberal arts, bringing together philosophy, theology, math, and science into a fully-rounded education designed to prepare students for a wide variety of professional paths. Gonzaga’s student body is highly diverse, with a low student/faculty ratio and some of the most decorated faculty in the nation. With its Jesuit heritage, Gonzaga is also known for community engagement and service. With some of the best engineering, nursing, and law programs in the nation, it’s not surprising that Gonzaga would be one of U.S. News & World Report’s top 5 regional colleges in the West.
University of Washington-Seattle Campus
Founded in 1861, the University of Washington is one of the oldest institutions on the west coast, intended to bring higher education to the Washington Territory. Today the University of Washington is one of the most prestigious, productive public research universities in the nation, with research expenditures over $1 billion and one of the best medical schools in the west. The University of Washington – U-Dub to its friends – is ranked one of the top national universities, and a top 20 public university, and has been named among the Public Ivies (public universities with the reputation and value of an Ivy League institution).
The University of Washington is highly diverse and known nationally for their contributions to social mobility in the state. The Husky Promise is one of the most generous financial aid packages in the US, allowing students from low-income families have their full tuition need met by grants and scholarships that never need repayment. This allows nearly 30% of undergraduates to graduate from UW without student loans, with a degree from one of the most reputable and marketable universities in the nation.
Like Gonzaga (#3), Seattle University is a member of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, representing the 28 Society of Jesus-founded institutions in the US. Seattle University’s history goes back to 1891, to a small Catholic school in the Immaculate Conception parish of Seattle, WA; over the years, higher education was added, and Seattle University eventually grew into the largest private institution in the Pacific Northwest, ranked in U.S. News & World Report’s top 5 regional institutions. Seattle was also a pioneer in college education for women, first with night classes, then full coeducation.
Seattle University’s many strengths include business, economics, and law; the Albers School of Business and Economics is nationally recognized among the finest business schools, particularly in macroeconomics and their award-winning MBA program, while the School of Law has been cited for one of the top legal writing programs in the nation. A highly diverse student body, made up of more than one third minority students, ensures that Seattle University stays current and aware, while service learning is at the core of the curriculum, making SU a crucial actor in Seattle’s community.
Pacific Lutheran University
Pacific Lutheran University, a small private liberal arts institution in suburban Tacoma, is one of the most respected colleges of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. Founded in 1890 by Scandinavian immigrants, PLU was originally intended to provide educational opportunity for the growing population of Norwegian settlers, helping them establish needed professions and religious leadership for the territory. Proud of its Scandinavian and Lutheran heritage, Pacific Lutheran is also committed to educational excellence and social uplift, and is ranked in the top 15 regional institutions for the west by U.S. News & World Report.
Part of the New American Colleges and Universities, Pacific Lutheran’s curriculum is dedicated to integrating the classical liberal arts education with modern professional studies and community action. PLU’s Lutheran heritage, which emphasizes ethical leadership and deep analysis, also dovetails with traditional liberal arts instruction to guide students into their professions and careers with excellent skills in cooperation, critical thought, and problems solving, regardless of the field. It’s no wonder Pacific Lutheran is known throughout the region as a best college value.
Western Washington University
Notably the northern-most university in the lower 48, Western Washington University sits just 20 miles from the Canadian border in Bellingham, WA. Founded in 1893 as a normal school – the contemporary name for a teacher’s college – Western Washington University is a large public regional institution ranked one of the best in the west by U.S. News & World Report. Western retains a grounding in the liberal arts, but the 21st century has seen the university grow as a research institution and make a major impact on professional life in Washington and throughout the Pacific Northwest with their highly collaborative, interdisciplinary approach.
Western’s excellence in both the humanities and STEM is notable; Western has been acclaimed for one of the best philosophy program in the nation, with its degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, and highly praised for the Industrial Technology and Vehicle Design. Western also pioneered environmental science with the Huxley College of the Environment. With traditional students, community college transfers, and working adults returning to school, Western accomplishes the public regional mission of making lives better with educational opportunity.
University of Puget Sound
A national, independent liberal arts college in Tacoma, WA – the only one of its class in Western Washington – the University of Puget Sound is widely known and respected throughout the Pacific Northwest for its educational excellence, commitment to service, and innovative programs. Founded by the Methodist clergy in 1888, Puget Sound retains some connections to the current United Methodist Church, but is an independent undergraduate university today. Puget Sound has been recognized as a College that Changes Lives, and was ranked one of the 20 most entrepreneurial colleges in the nation by Forbes.
With a student/faculty ratio of 11:1, Puget Sound puts an emphasis on student academic support and mentoring, and its commitment to success is clear from the outcomes. Puget Sound has one of the highest proportions of Fulbright Scholars (relative to their size) in the nation, as well as numerous other prestigious fellowships, and is one of the most productive institutions for sending students to the Peace Corps for global service. More than two dozen study-abroad programs give students a sense of cosmopolitan identity, and some of the most decorated faculty in the region make the University of Puget Sound a regional and national treasure.
The Evergreen State College
Founded in 1967, the Evergreen State College was created and designed for innovation – intended from the very beginning to be one of the most experimental, exploratory colleges in the nation. For that reason, Evergreen was built on the largest public campus in the state, and the curriculum is heavily interdisciplinary, with students receiving narrative evaluations instead of grades. Instead of conventional courses and credits, students take a single 16-credit course each quarter, and no traditional majors are offered; instead, students design their own specialization within the Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree.
Evergreen State’s method requires a small student body and a low student/faculty ratio, and face-to-face, deeply engaged mentoring and guidance is a necessity. The student body and faculty are famously activist, and Evergreen’s alumni is a who’s-who of artists, musicians, activists, and entrepreneurs drawn to Evergreen’s unique teaching. For undergraduate teaching, Evergreen has been ranked #4 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, reflecting its excellent commitment to student support, and Evergreen is a long-standing top regional institution for the West.
Seattle Pacific University
Founded in 1891 by the Free Methodist Church as a seminary, Seattle Pacific University is a small, highly-respected private liberal arts institution in the Pacific Northwest’s largest and most prominent city. Seattle Pacific remains a deeply faithful institution, part of the Methodist holiness movement and marked by an ecumenical spirit, Methodist doctrine, and evangelical mission. The educational excellence evidenced by Seattle Pacific’s students and faculty have gained national attention; Seattle Pacific is the only private institution in the Pacific Northwest to be included in U.S. News & World Report’s national-level ranking (rather than regional) and stands as one of Washington’s three most prestigious universities.
SPU’s curriculum is built around the traditional liberal arts, combining holistic spiritual and intellectual development with service to the community and professional growth. With a 12:1 student/faculty ratio students can trust SPU to provide the one-on-one mentoring that comes with a top-notch liberal arts education, while an inclusive, accessible campus environment welcomes a student body made up of more than a third minority students. From business and economics to nursing and physiology, Seattle Pacific is preparing the Pacific Northwest’s service leaders for tomorrow.