Best Colleges in Montana

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Students electing to study at Montana educational institutions, as resident or out-of-state attendees, have a wide variety of postsecondary options available. The Montana University System is comprised of sixteen two- and four-year colleges and universities, while Montana State University also offers six campuses throughout the state. More than 70,000 students are enrolled in these two divisions, in addition to students attending one of the state’s three private institutions. Prospective students researching their options at the associate and bachelor’s levels will find the following data-driven guide helpful when planning their educational path. We have applied our rigorous methodology to the latest education data to rank the best colleges in Montana, including the top four-year and two-year schools.

Approximately 87% of university students in Montana elect to attend one of the state’s 11 four-year institutions. Options range from research institutions such as the University of Montana to Carroll College, a private institution associated with the Roman Catholic Church. There are also a number of tribal colleges scattered across the state offering bachelor’s degrees.

Students attending four-year institutions in the state graduate with nearly $6,000 less in student loan debt than the national average; every 6.6 out of 10 students will have accrued student debt upon graduation.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description
1Carroll College 4/563.16%Helena, MT

Carroll College is a liberal arts and preprofessional college in Helena, Montana. The private, Catholic institution consistently ranks high across the country, with well-established biology, civil engineering, nursing, and mathematics departments. A prudent choice for students looking to pursue careers in medicine, more than eight in 10 pre-med students at Carroll are accepted to medical or dental school.

Regardless of academic track, students at Carroll benefit from a transformative liberal arts education focusing on great thinkers, writers, and artists. Given the school’s Catholic mission, and the core curriculum, students leave Carroll well equipped to face real-world challenges.

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2Montana State University 2/549.64%Bozeman, MT

MSU is an academically robust school committed to maintaining a low student to faculty ratio, a supportive classroom experience, and hands-on learning. Standing apart from other Montana colleges, MSU’s students are known for their academic prowess, and have won several prestigious awards, including the Rhodes Scholarship, Marshall Scholarship, and Newman Civic Fellowship.

MSU is the largest research university in the state, and is renowned for its high volume of research activity and scientific discoveries in everything from immunology to physics. MSU holds over 250 active technology licenses, 91 patents, and 36 plant variety certificates. The university spends over $100 million annually on research.

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3Rocky Mountain College 4/541.62%Billings, MT

Rocky Mountain features strong liberal and practical arts traditions, and is committed to offering students a foundation in rational inquiry, creative expression, critical thinking, and practical knowledge. RMC offers 24 undergraduate academic programs, 52 major concentrations, and three master’s degrees.

Beyond academics and campus life, RMC is known for its strong athletic program. RMC is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and the Frontier Conference, and hosts 12 varsity and three junior varsity sports.

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4University of Montana 2/548.23%Missoula, MT

More than 13,000 students attend the University of Montana. The campus includes over 50 acres, 60 buildings, and a football stadium that comfortably seats over 25,000 Grizzlies supporters. The university’s south campus includes even more athletic opportunities for students at the golf course and outdoor track facility.

UM is also committed to innovation. Submittable—the cloud-based submission manager—was founded by a graduate of the creative writing program. Rivertop Renewables, a renewable chemical company, also came from the school. UM encourages students to form companies that help the university’s intellectual property reach the public, which makes the school an excellent choice for budding entrepreneurs.

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5University of Montana-Western 1/545.58%Dillon, MT

UMW provides a unique learning opportunity distinct from other Montana colleges, called Experience One. The program lets students take one class at a time, allowing students to engage faculty while focusing on an intensive learning experience. This helps students and professors form strong relationships while creating an active educational experience rooted in applied learning.

For students seeking academic rigor, Montana Western's honors program is an excellent target, as honors students take a variety of interdisciplinary courses. The program is committed to experiential teaching, and consequently, students can conduct independent research, travel internationally, and gain practical learning experiences under the direct tutelage of an expert in the field.

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6University of Great Falls 4/539.09%Great Falls, MT

Great Falls provides students with a premier small college experience, with just over 1,074 students on campus. Students benefit from a low student to faculty ratio (12:1), and a variety of degree opportunities (40 undergraduate, eight graduate, and four distance learning programs).

One of only two Catholic colleges in Montana, Great Falls is an excellent choice for students seeking a rigorous education rooted in the teaching mission of the church. Students of faith benefit from the academic elements of a liberal arts education, and upon completing their degree, emerge from school as strong, principled, and compassionate leaders.

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7Montana State University – Billings 2/523.84%Billings, MT

MSU-Billings provides an excellent education through its five colleges, offering a variety of degrees in the arts and sciences, business, allied health professions, education, and City College (formerly the college of technology). With so much to offer, campus life at Billings is active. There are a variety of clubs and student services, ranging from academic advising to direct tutoring. The school offers an honors program with smaller classes, scholarships, and online learning.

Online learning is perfect for students who want more educational flexibility. MSUB Online offers 240 classes, making the school a leader in online higher education among colleges in Montana. Online offerings include full academic programs and several online certificates.

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8Montana State University – Northern 2/526.13%Havre, MT

MSU-Northern has a bit of everything, offering a balance between a technology-centered and a traditional liberal arts education. Programs include everything from teacher education to applied agriculture, ensuring that the academic and research environment at the university aligns with the economic demands of the local community.

Northern is one of the colleges in Montana that offers a range of degree programs, featuring over 35 academic tracks. The school also offers a number of trade programs, including electrical, plumbing, and welding technology.

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The “Treasure State” is home to 10 public community colleges, 7 of which are part of MUS and MSU systems. Just over 9,000 students are currently enrolled in these institutions, paying an average annual tuition of $3,863 as an in-state attendee. Given the national average for attending a public community college is $3,347 per academic year, students in Montana pay a comparable amount to students attending two-year schools in other states.

The MUS system also has plans to expand their two-year college offerings in the coming years, leading to even more options for students seeking associate degree programs.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description
1Miles Community College 1/538.39%Miles City, MT

Miles Community College provides accessible, high-quality academic programs to degree-seeking students and lifelong learners. MCC boasts intimate class sizes, exceptional athletics, and a range of student organizations including the Ag Club, Campus Ministry, and a Rodeo Club. Students can pursue degrees in agriculture, animal science, equine, heavy equipment and CDL, and healthcare, among a range of other programs.

In 2010 Miles was named a Military Friendly School by G.I. Jobs Magazine, making it ideal for active military and veteran students. The school also provides assistance for those signing up for V.A. education benefits. Miles is committed to providing an accessible education, and honors open-door admissions to students.

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2Dawson Community College 1/523.96%Glendive, MT

Dawson Community College is the perfect choice for students seeking the full college experience, including a range of academic facilities—such as well-equipped laboratory and technical training facilities—and residence halls designed to support inclusive learning. For those looking to get a leg up for university, Dawson assists students transitioning into further degree programs.

Dawson is also an excellent choice for students researching colleges in Montana and seeking flexibility, as the college offers online learning. Online education is well suited for degree­-seeking students as well as those bolstering professional skillsets. Online learning includes programs in early childhood education, business management, criminal justice, and more.

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3Aaniiih Nakoda College 1/536.36%Harlem, MT

Aaniiih Nakoda College—a two-year college providing academic and grant sponsored programs—is revitalizing its academic programs and expanding into a new workforce training center. This change means an excellent academic experience for residents of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation and surrounding communities, even given competing alternatives among Montana colleges.

Beyond academic programs offering both associate of arts (AA) and associate of science (AS) degrees, Aaniiih Nakoda offers certificate programs in carpentry, tribal management, water quality, and health science. For aspiring teachers, the Nee-tha-hatsa-nak/Wa-Uspa-Wicakiya Preparation Program works with motivated students interested in in earning a bachelor's degree in education and improving Indian student achievement.

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4Chief Dull Knife College 1/526.09%Lame Deer, MT

The sprawling Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation is home to Chief Dull Knife College, which hosts laboratory facilities and a distance learning center. The school is a community-based, land grant, and tribally controlled community college serving 150 students.

Despite its small student body, Chief Dull Knife College has big goals, and is unique among colleges in Montana in having acquired funding from several government agencies, including NASA, to bolster science, technology, engineering and mathematics curricula on campus. The school offers a range of associate degrees, and beyond these, the college provides students seeking occupational skills the opportunity to pursue certificates preparing them to immediately enter the workforce.

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5University of Montana – Helena College 1/519.44%Helena, MT

Helena College is the perfect choice for students seeking academic flexibility, a low student-to-faculty ratio, and a range of degree and certificate programs. Students who plan on transferring to other four-year colleges in Montana can complete a Helena College general education program, which meets the general ed. core requirements of the Montana University System.

Helena is committed to expanding degree opportunities through partnerships, and recently established a partnership with Montana Tech allowing students to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business or business and IT at Helena. In addition, the Honors Pathway allows students to transfer coursework to UM and graduate with the Davidson Honors College University Scholar distinction.

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6Salish Kootenai College 2/559.3%Pablo, MT

Salish Kootenai College offers high-quality, post-secondary educational opportunities for Native Americans while honoring the cultural history of the Confederated Tribes of the Flathead Nation, a unique offering among Montana colleges. Salish Kootenai offers a range of associate programs, 14 different baccalaureate programs, and vocational certificates, and its campus features a Fine Arts Center, science facility, and a golf course.

Student Support Services (SSS) at the college is a federally funded TRIO program assisting students from communities traditionally underrepresented in postsecondary education. Services range from personal financial planning to textbook loans and professional enhancement workshops, empowering students to seek academic achievement and encouraging successful transfers. Alumni of similar TRIO programs include Oprah Winfrey and Angela Basset.

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7Flathead Valley Community College 2/524.35%Kalispell, MT

FVCC offers students an affordable, private education with options ranging from two-year associate degrees to general education classes and transfer support. Most importantly, the college maintains small class size to foster individualized attention.

The college serves as a key resource for the region by providing a range of retraining opportunities designed for those reentering the workforce; FVCC offers over 50 career and technical programs, making it standout among Montana colleges. Additional learning opportunities include online classes, as well as a Continuing Education Center offering courses from arts to cooking.

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8Highlands College of Montana Tech 1/518.67%Butte, MT

Highlands College of Montana Tech hosts a distinguished faculty and offers associate degree and certificate programs, continuing education, and customized training. Highlands provides intimate classroom settings and a supportive learning environment, perfect for a student returning to college or just starting out.

Academic offerings at Highlands include the AS degree—suited for students interested in transferring to a four-year degree program—as well the certificate of applied science (CAS) degree in network technology, business and accounting technology, and trades and technology. Students may also pursue a two-year associate of applied science (AAS) degree.

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9Fort Peck Community College 1/511.11%Poplar, MT

FPCC—a leading institution in Native American higher education—is a tribally controlled college committed to maintaining Indian culture, history, and beliefs through academic and vocational programs on the Fort Peck Reservation.

The FPCC educational experience is designed to create employable graduates across a range of AA, AS, and AAS programs, as well as certificate programs. Beyond traditional education, FPCC stands out among other Montana colleges as it is committed to incorporating community service into the educational experience. Each student, prior to graduation, must complete a service-learning experience developed with a course instructor.

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10Little Big Horn College 1/521.79%Crow Agency, MT

Little Big Horn College is a Crow higher education, degree-granting two-year public college offering eight associate degrees. The college is focused on courses of study directly relevant to the economic opportunities available on the Crow Indian Reservation and surrounding communities. Little Big Horn also offers distance education, ensuring that students benefit academically whether on-campus or off.

Little Big Horn is more than an academic institution, as it actively works to preserve the Crow culture and language. The college sponsors community programs, including Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers (OASDFR), The Crow Water Project, and the Green House Project.

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11Great Falls College Montana State University 1/518.02%Great Falls, MT

With an 18:1 student-to-faculty ratio and a nearly even split of full- and part-time students, Great Falls College is an accessible learning option for students looking at colleges in Montana. Students at Great Falls benefit from a curriculum that offers on-campus learning, distance education, and online coursework.

Whether just starting college or readmitting, great Falls College is a stand-out choice among Montana colleges, as students may choose from a variety of academic degree and certification options, including three transfer and three applied degrees. Students also benefit from institution’s partnerships, including 18 articulation agreements and five programs of study in place with several Montana-based four-year colleges.

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12Blackfeet Community College 1/510.67%Browning, MT

BFCC provides the Blackfeet Nation access to quality educational programs and fosters student achievement in education, employment, and skills instruction while integrating Blackfeet culture and language. Bridging the gap between education and community-mindedness, Blackfeet Community College is distinct among colleges in Montana as it focuses specifically on Blackfeet heritage.

The non-profit Montana college provides post-secondary and higher education coursework in a range of fields, including Blackfeet language and culture, business administration, education, and most recently, a licensed RN nursing program. The college offers degrees in associate of arts and science, associate of applied science, and certification programs.

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13Stone Child College 1/587.88%Box Elder, MT

SCC is one of the tribally chartered Montana colleges offering degree and certificate programs, as well as continuing education opportunities for enrolled students, whether members of federally-recognized tribes or members of the surrounding community. Stone Child College differs from other Montana colleges as its emphasis is placed on preserving the Chippewa Cree language, culture, and history.

Although SCC offers a range of general students degrees—Including a natural resources curriculum and Native American studies—the school is a particularly good fit for students seeking transfer support, or those hoping to work in social services. For the latter, SCC offers degrees in addiction studies and rural behavioral health.

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

Although Montana is the fourth largest state in terms of landmass, it ranks 44th in overall population. While there are a number of larger cities, the state is overwhelmingly rural, and therefore attracts many students looking to study a range of degrees devoted to understanding and working with land.

The overall cost of living is 6.9% higher than the national average, although utilities and transportation are both below this number. To give students a better sense of the varied areas within the state, we’ve compiled a sampling of well-known regions.

Regional Spotlight: Glacier Country

  • Major Cities: Missoula, Kalispell, Whitefish
  • Attractions: Glacier National Park, orchards, flourishing arts scene
  • Cost of Living: Kalispell
  • Popular Schools: University of Montana, Missoula College, Flathead Valley Community College
  • Population: 111,299
  • Unemployment: 4.0%
  • Climate: Mild

Regional Spotlight: Southwest Montana

  • Major Cities: Bozeman, Helena
  • Attractions: Little Big Horn Battlefield, Pomey’s Pillar, Mokoshika State Park, Bucking Horse Sale
  • Cost of Living: Bozeman
  • Popular Schools: Montana State University, Carroll College, University of Montana – Helena
  • Population: Bozeman, the largest city in the region, has a population of 41,660 as of 2014
  • Unemployment: 4.0%
  • Climate: Mild