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Hawaii is home to more than 20 higher learning facilities, including both public and private institutions, as well as specialty schools offering programs in acupuncture and alternative medicine. Though the state of Hawaii is small in size, its numerous postsecondary education options can make choosing a school challenging. College-bound students in Hawaii typically look for desirable location, maximum affordability and reasonable program length. To help students compare colleges, we have applied our rigorous methodology to the latest education data to rank the best colleges in Hawaii, including the top four-year and two-year schools.

The top four-year institutions in Hawaii are spread amongst the state’s four major islands. The capital city, Honolulu, is home to the largest concentration of higher learning facilities in the state. The flagship University of Hawaii encompasses 10 campus locations; the state is also home to a variety of private four-year institutions, including Brigham-Young University and Hawaii Pacific University, which offer more specialized alternative education options. While some schools in Hawaii were established with religious affiliations, others are nonsectarian institutions.

Though the number of postsecondary institutions in Hawaii is relatively low, there is much diversity among available programs; public, not-for-profit universities tend to attract more students and offer lower tuition fees, while private or specialized programs serve fewer students and demand higher tuition costs. Below you will find our list of top Hawaii colleges to kick off your search.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description
1University of Hawaii at Manoa 2/556.19%Honolulu, HI

The University of Hawaii at Manoa is located in the lush Manoa Valley just outside of Honolulu, and is particularly well known for its environmental science programs, especially oceanography. Undergraduates can earn a BS in global environmental science, while graduate students can pursue an MS or PhD in oceanography.

The flagship campus of the UH system has a nationally-ranked Division I athletic program and was ranked among the top 50 public universities in research expenditures by the National Science Foundation. School faculty include members of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the National Institute of Medicine. Notable alumni include Ann Dunham Soetoro (‘92), mother of U.S. President Barack Obama.

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2Brigham Young University – Hawaii 1/554.84%Laie, HI

Brigham Young University-Hawaii sits adjacent to the Polynesian Cultural Center, and since 1963, the two have collaborated to help BYU Hawaii students earn money for education. BYU Hawaii is one of the leading colleges in Hawaii for Pacific Islands studies. Through the Jonathan Napela Center, students can earn a BA in Pacific Islands studies or pursue a minor in Polynesian studies.

BYU Hawaii is the leading institution in the state for the Church of Latter Day Saints. True to its heritage, the school seeks to seamlessly integrate LDS values with secular education.

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3University of Hawaii – West Oahu 2/540%Kapolei, HI

University of Hawaii-West Oahu is one of the most sustainable colleges in Hawaii. All campus buildings meet the LEED Green Building Rating System standards for sustainability, and expansive walking and cycling paths have been incorporated on campus.

UH West Oahu’s notable programs include a BA in public administration, a variety of BAS programs in fields such as computing and sustainable community food systems, and certificate programs in applied forensic anthropology and substance abuse & addiction studies. UH West Oahu is an indigenous-serving institution committed to promoting Native Hawaiian culture and serving its community. In fact, the school has a Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning devoted to this purpose.

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4University of Hawaii at Hilo 2/538.43%Hilo, HI

The University of Hawaii-Hilo owns a 110-acre farm in Pana’ewa, allowing agricultural students to gain practical experience in their field. UH Hilo’s College of Agriculture offers a BAS degree in four distinct fields, while the university also offers an MA in indigenous language and culture education, the only indigenous language MA in the country.

UH Hilo faculty carry out research at the campus' many laboratories, including research on indigenous languages, tropical conservation biology and environmental sciences, alternative energy, and astronomy.

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5Hawaii Pacific University 4/542.33%Honolulu, HI

Hawaii Pacific University has multiple campuses and facilities to provide students with hands-on experience. Notable among them is the Oceanic Institute, a leading marine biology, biotechnology, and ocean resource management research facility.

HPU offers several diverse undergraduate programs, including BAS degrees in marine biology and oceanography. It also offers many outstanding graduate programs, such as an MAS in global leadership and sustainable development.

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6Chaminade University of Honolulu 4/548.73%Honolulu, HI

Located in Honolulu’s Kaimuki neighborhood, Chaminade University’s campus features white stucco architecture built in the Spanish Mission style. Many of the campus’ older buildings have been recently renovated to include state-of-the-art, modern facilities including science laboratories and a center for nursing education.

Chaminade boasts small class sizes with a low student-to-faculty ratio. The school offers dozens of undergraduate and graduate degree programs, including a BAS in nursing, a BA in religious studies, and a masters in pastoral theology. Chaminade the only Catholic institution in Hawaii and one of three Marianist higher education institutions in the US.

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Community colleges and other two-year postsecondary institutions almost outnumber four-year universities in Hawaii. These programs are centered on serving both first-time college students in a variety of disciplines, as well as candidates interested in specialties like alternative medicine. With six branches located throughout Hawaii, the state’s community college system comprises satellite campuses for two-year commuter students under the larger University of Hawaii network. Specialty programs in acupuncture and alternative medicine are available through the Institute for Clinical Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and the World Medicine Institute, both located in Honolulu.

Educational materials aimed at attracting college students to Hawaii boast the international appeal of the higher learning institutions in the state: Hawaii is home to world-renowned science and technology programs. According to the U.S. Department of Education, graduates of top two-year schools in Hawaii have been noted as earning up to 57% more than those with only a high school diploma. Search our rankings below to find the Hawaiian two-year school that best suits your needs.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description
1Leeward Community College 1/513.93%Pearl City, HI

Leeward Community College's main campus is located between Pearl City and Waipahu, and overlooks the waters of Pearl Harbor. The college offers a variety of two-year degrees, including an associate of arts (AA) in teaching, an AA in Hawaiian studies, and an associate of science (AS) degree in culinary arts.

LCC is a major cultural center and offers a variety of community events and services. One facility that sets the school apart from other Hawaii colleges is the Leeward Theatre, which has entertained around 2 million audience members since 1968. Other community resources include the Foyer Art Gallery and the Shade House, LCC’s conservation propagation center.

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2Kapiolani Community College 1/520.15%Honolulu, HI

Kapi’olani Community College's campus was built to blend into the surrounding natural beauty, including the Ko’olau Mountains, Diamond Head Crater, and the Pacific Ocean. KCC boasts an award-winning culinary arts program, which offers $20,000 in annual scholarships and is the only one of its kind in the state with a specialization in pastry arts. The school stands out among colleges in Hawaii for its health education, STEM, and study abroad programs, as well as its highly diverse student body.

Each year, the school transfers more students to four-year universities than any other UH community college, and it offers a “dual admission” program that allows students to attend KCC and UH Mānoa simultaneously.

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3Hawaii Community College 1/521.09%Hilo, HI

Hawaii Community College shares a campus with the University of Hawaii at Hilo and the University of Hawaii Center at Kealakekua. HCC offers many distinguished degree programs, including an AS in tropical forest ecosystem and agroforestry management, and an associate in applied science (AAS) degree in diesel mechanics, carpentry, and architectural, engineering, and CAD technologies.

HCC is host to the award-winning Model Home project. One of HCC's notable features is its embodiment of the ideal of Kauhale, a Hawaiian term for village. Kauhale encourages the HCC community to treat the college like an “academic village without walls.”

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4Kauai Community College 1/518.18%Lihue, HI

The Kaua'i Community College campus offers several support centers, such as a cognition learning center and a wellness center. The campus also features a vibrant performing arts center open to nonprofit organizations supporting culture and the arts.

On top of its many degree programs, the school stands out among other Hawaii colleges for its certificate programs in Hawaiian studies, Hawaiian botany, and Polynesian voyaging. Kaua'i Community College also offers extra support through its Kipeipei program, which provides first year students with scholarships and assistance from transitional coordinators and peer mentors.

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5Honolulu Community College 1/514.84%Honolulu, HI

Honolulu Community College's main campus is located close to downtown Honolulu, allowing students access to natural beauty and an urban environment.

The school offers many exceptional degree programs, and is known specifically for its high-quality career and technology degree programs, including an AAS in administration justice and an AAS in small vessel fabrication and repair. Honolulu Community College also offers students a direct transfer to the University of Hawaii at Manoa and provides transfer students with extra support in application preparation.

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6Windward Community College 1/513.22%Kaneohe, HI

Windward Community College has some of the most unique facilities among colleges in Hawaii, including a golf course used by the Turf Grass Management program and a ceramics studio.

WCC offers a diverse selection of degree programs, including AS degrees in veterinary technology and natural science. The school also provides certification in agripharmatech, psycho-social developmental studies, and subtropical urban tree care, among other topics. WCC supports a vibrant TRiO community, an organization that assists first-generation college and low-income students. Since 2005, WCC has hosted nearly 700 TRiO participants.

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7Remington College – Honolulu Campus 3/546.57%Honolulu, HI

Remington College-Honolulu Campus is located in downtown Honolulu, just a few blocks away from the Pacific Ocean. RCHC offers diploma, associate's, and bachelor's programs, including the popular diploma in massage therapy program and a bachelor of general business concentration.

RCHC enjoys professional partnerships with many local businesses. Representatives from successful companies and institutions, such as Massage Envy and the Hawaii Medical Center, regularly visit campus to give talks and connect with students. This provides the school's student body with invaluable career advancement opportunities.

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8University of Hawaii Maui College 1/510.44%Kahului, HI

University of Hawaii Maui College offers several unique and specialized facilities, such as the Ka'a'ike Instructional Telecommunications facility, a culinary arts facility, and the Maui Oral Health Center.

Though UHMC offers associate and certificate programs, it stands out among other community colleges in Hawaii for its three bachelor's degree programs, including a BAS in applied business and information technology (ABIT), in engineering technology, and in sustainable science management. Additionally, UHMC's Office of Continuing Education hosts EdVenture, a program that promotes continuing education and encourages Maui County's residents to become lifelong learners.

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If you’re thinking about applying to one of the best colleges in Hawaii, continuing reading to learn more about living in the Aloha State.

Hawaii is unique among the United States. The only U.S. territory comprised entirely of islands, Hawaii was the 50th state to join the U.S. but is officially considered part of the Polynesian subregion, Oceania. From active volcanoes to rich Polynesian culture, Hawaii’s lush scenery and tropical climate support a healthy tourism industry year-round. As the site of 11 U.S. military bases, Hawaii draws a steady influx of military servicemembers in both temporary and permanent residence on its many islands. Hawaii is especially appealing to students and professionals interested in studying the unique flora and fauna of the islands.

Hawaii ranked fifteenth for per-capita income in the U.S. in 2009, with residents earning an average income of $42,055 a year. Over 30% of Hawaii residents 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher, according the U.S. census, while over 90% of Hawaiians in the same age group had at least a high school diploma; both numbers are above national averages in this category. Below check out our comparisons of some of the more popular regions.

Regional Spotlight: the Island of Oahu

  • Major Cities: Honolulu, Wahiawa, Kapolei
  • Attractions: Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor, Polynesian Cultural Center, Honolulu Zoo
  • Cost of Living: Honolulu’s Numbeo Cost of Living
  • Popular Schools: University of Hawaii at Manoa, Chaminade University, Honolulu Community College

Regional Spotlight: The Island of Hawaii and Kauai Island

  • Major Cities: Hilo, Kauai, Waimea
  • Attractions: Imiloa Astronomy Center, Wailoa River State Park, Lili’uokalani Botanical Garden
  • Cost of Living: Hilo’s Numbeo Cost of Living
  • Popular Schools: Hawaii Community College, University of Hawaii at Hilo, Kauai Community College


As a highly desirable place to live, college admission is competitive and the cost of living is especially steep in Hawaii, compared to the national average. Though moving to Hawaii for school may seem daunting, financial aid is available to those who qualify. Students 18 and older must show proof of state residency or of legal guardian state residency if they are under the age of 18. Details vary depending on individual rules and regulations.

For Minors:

If a student is a minor at the time of college enrollment, the student must prove that his or her parents or legal guardians are residents in the state to claim residence themselves. To prove residency in Hawaii, a minor must show that he or she lives with their parent(s) or legal guardians in their household within the state. If the parents are divorced or separated, the minor must reside with the parent who lives in Hawaii. Minors must show proof that they lived with their parent in Hawaii before turning 18 as well as prove their intention to continue living with that parent until the school year begins.

For Adults:

Individuals age 18 and older who intend to claim residence for the benefits of tuition and financial aid in Hawaii must meet specific criteria, including the following:

  • You must physically reside in Hawaii for at least one year prior to declaring residence.
  • You must prove intent to make Hawaii your home; you cannot move to Hawaii simply to pursue cheaper college tuition.
  • You should be able to prove that you are financially independent as an adult of legal age.

Additional Resources for Hawaii College Students

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Education Nonprofits

Higher Education News

Official State Links