Best Colleges in Washington

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With 86 post-secondary institutions available to those seeking an education in Washington, it is an understandably daunting process to choose just one. Prospective students must decide between a two-year or four-year school, but the decision making does not end there; other important factors to consider include retention rates, tuition cost and financial aid availability.

To assist you in your search, we have applied our rigorous methodology to the latest education data to rank the best colleges in Washington, including the top four-year and two-year schools. Using our comprehensive algorithm, each institution has been ranked according to essential factors and scores, giving you a head start in this important process.

Washington is home to some of the nation’s most acclaimed four-year institutions. Although the state does not have an official university system, the University of Washington is considered a public ivy, and was ranked #12 in the country by Forbes in 2015. Among its 20 private and public bachelor-granting institutions, several of these are considered the most competitive in the nation, according to a recent NY Times article. However, students who do gain admission to a four-year school can be assured of reasonable tuition rates; the Washington state Senate recently passed a bill to reduce public university costs to a lower percentage of the state’s average wage.

Additionally, the state has extensive resources in place to help attendees secure scholarships and financial aid, such as the College Bound program, which assists lower-income undergraduates with books and tuition. We have compiled the list below to help guide you through the decision making process.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description
1University of Washington87.643/587.64Seattle, WA

UW, located in Seattle, ranks as one of the best colleges in Washington. The student body is comprised of 136 Fulbright Scholars and 35 Rhodes Scholars, proving the students accepted to the UW are some of the brightest students in the country. Offering 165 different majors from American Ethnic Studies to Neurobiology, the UW makes an effort to cater to all of its students needs and interests giving them choice, opportunity, and freedom to explore. The UW experience offers the opportunity to become a master in various degrees. The school separates itself by prioritizing its Husky Leadership Initiative. This initiative facilitates student leadership education in and outside the classroom, providing the necessary knowledge for students to make their positive contribution in the world after graduation. The school is part of the Running Start Program, allowing 11th and 12th grade high school students to enroll in some college courses and earn dual credit.

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2Whitman College80.364/587%Walla Walla, WA

Whitman prides itself on providing an education that goes beyond the classroom, helping mold students into scholars, explorers, and scientists. Students have the opportunity to choose from majors across 45 departments and programs and the chance to create new interdisciplinary areas of studies to best fit their interests. Students can major in Politics-Environmental Studies, Japanese, Philosophy, and other programs. Whitman's emphasis on preserving the environment shows in its academic offerings which include over five specific Geology majors with different tracks such as astronomy, environmental studies, and physics. Campus life at Whitman is extremely active with their Outdoor Program being one of the best in the nation offering weekend trips that include kayaking, hiking, climbing, rafting, and more. Over 70% of the student body participates in intramural sports. Whitman's facilities, educational offerings, and overall values rank it as one of the best colleges in Washington.

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3Gonzaga University67.094/581%Spokane, WA

For over 130 years, Gonzaga has taught based on the Ignatian model of educating the whole person—mind, body, and spirit. This allows students to gain the knowledge and ability to integrate science, art, faith, reason, action, and contemplation. Offering 43 majors with an average class size of 23 students, Gonzaga prepares learners with the necessary knowledge to succeed in their field of study while emphasizing the value of the written word throughout all disciplines. The 131-acre campus incorporates 105 buildings ranging from The Jundt Art Museum to the newly built PACCAR Center for Applied Science. The university is located on the north bank of the Spokane River, only a short walk to downtown Spokane. Gonzaga alumni are diverse and successful and include: Christine Gregoire, the first female Washington state attorney general and former governor, Carl Pohlad, late Minnesota Twins owner, and James Wickwire, attorney and world-class mountain climber. These various alumni, and many others, provide students of Gonzaga with an incredible and distinct network when searching for a job post graduation.

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4University of Washington – Bothell66.823/564%Bothell, WA

UW-Bothell is founded on three distinctive practices: Cross - Disciplinarity, Connected Learning, and Community Engagement. Cross Disciplinarity refers to the faculty collaborating to ensure students connect all subjects and embrace various perspectives. Connected learning emphasizes the necessity of human social networks to learn and includes teaching circles and learning communities. Community engagement focuses on moving creativity to action through the collaboration of people within the campus and greater community. The UW Bothell is one of the most diverse college campuses in the nation with 46% of students being of color. It is also one of the fastest growing four year colleges in Washington state, with 27 of the 45 degrees and programs added in the past five years. Unique to the 128-acre campus is the environmentally friendly buildings that were designed to complement the land's natural beauty, overlooking the protected wetlands and the Cascades.

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5Seattle University62.095/578%Seattle, WA

One of the best colleges in Washington, Seattle offers its 4,800 undergraduate students more than 60 program choices and a chance to receive a Jesuit education. Four modules structure the university's core curriculum: engaging academic inquiry, engaging Jesuit traditions, engaging the world, and reflection. These modules prepare students to succeed in their chosen majors and broaden their perspective through interdisciplinary discourse. Unique to Seattle University is their pre-major program, giving students who are unsure what they want to study the flexibility to explore their options. These students participate in a two-year program where they build a foundation in liberal arts while discovering their various academic interests. Seattle University strives to make every student as comfortable as they can through the transition of becoming a college student. The Office of the Dean of Students commit their time to ensure all students find the necessary resources to fully engage and succeed while at the university.

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6Western Washington University58.913/567%Bellingham, WA

Western Washington offers an experience where students get the best of both worlds. Students to reap the benefits of a large school while still receiving the attention and access to faculty that a smaller school provides. Offering over 160 academic programs, Western Washington University strives to provide students with the necessary resources for success in the field of their choosing. Programs include journalism, Plastics and Composites Engineering, and environmental sciences. A unique aspect of the WWU experience is its Bellingham location; the campus is surrounded by water and mountains. Students benefit from an urban community, a live music scene, and a unique food culture while living in a natural setting. The school offers many programs for students to further their learning with a weekend MBA program, an RN-BSN program, a TESOL certificate, and an online college. The school's Viking Union aims to engage students, faculty, and staff to help in building a diverse community.

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7University of Puget Sound56.915/577%Tacoma, WA

Over 90 percent of students at Puget Sound receive need-based financial aid or merit scholarships, proving this university's commitment to giving students access to its liberal arts education. This includes the university's well known School of Business and Leadership and the competitive conservatory-caliber School of Music. Students usually declare their major in their second year at Puget Sound, and many choose to double major; truly taking advantage of the opportunities Puget Sound offers. The majority of students live on the 97-acre campus, cultivating a close community feel with amazing facilities, including a new Athletics & Aquatics Center with a 25-yard pool and expanded fitness center that opened in August 2016. Being the only independent national undergraduate liberal arts college in Western Washington, Puget sound differentiates itself, adding to its list of reasons why it is one of the best colleges in Washington.

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8Eastern Washington University55.913/546%Cheney, WA

Eastern Washington is the only college in the country with a research facility in a national wildlife refuge, further differentiating itself from other Washington colleges and universities around the nation. Its location in the small college town of Cheney, Washington, is minutes away from 20 different lakes, mountains, and parks, allowing students the opportunity to embrace the active spirit of the Pacific Northwest. Eastern is now the fastest growing public institution in Washington, seen through increased applications and physically through the structural changes around campus, including the Recreation Center, home to a NHL-size hockey rink, climbing wall, sports courts, and fitness center. The university offers an education that will prepare students to succeed in today's work environment including in-demand disciplines in biotechnology, cyber security, children's studies, and urban planning. Through its academic advising, academic success center, and eastern advantage programs, EWU provides the necessary resources to ensure students success.

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9Whitworth University55.554/576%Spokane, WA

Whitworth created a Four-Year Graduation Guarantee Program stating that the university will ensure eligible students graduate in four-years. If for some reason the student meets all of the criteria yet is unable to graduate, the university will cover 100 percent of tuition needed for any additional courses required for graduation. This unique program demonstrates the confidence Whitworth has in their faculty advising, dynamic scheduling, and individual attention needed to guarantee students will graduate in four-years. Students receive "an education of mind and heart" at Whitworth, based on academic excellence, opportunities to engage in research, service, and the integration of faith and learning. Professors at Whitworth are top scholars in their fields, making it one of the most academically selective universities in the Northwest. These professors provide immense knowledge of their field and go above and beyond to connect students through service-learning, research, and study abroad opportunities. Whitworth offers a rare experience to combine faith and education while attending a prestigious university, making it one of the best colleges in Washington.

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10Pacific Lutheran University55.554/570%WA

Since its founding in 1890, Pacific Lutheran, located in the Parkland neighborhood of Tacoma, Washington, continues to educate students through the tradition of Lutheran higher education. PLU maintains this tradition while continuing to search for ways to innovate and improve the education they offer to maintain their status as one of the best colleges in Washington. This focus is seen through being the first American university to have Study Away classes on all seven continents and being the first private university on the West Coast to receive the Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization. The school is home to an Emmy Award-winning MediaLab and a MacArthur Award-winning detachment of Army ROTC. Offering 44 rigorous liberal arts and professional programs to 3300 students, PLU ensures its students a hands on learning experience that includes research, internships, lab work, and more. Ninety percent of recent graduates from PLU were either employed or accepted into graduate school within six months.

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11University of Washington – Tacoma55.453/543%Tacoma, WA

A diverse student body, in which 80 percent of students transfer in from nearby community colleges or other universities, embodies the community at UW-Tacoma. Students include freshman from high schools across the Puget Sound, adults returning to school after years away, and military personnel and their families, creating a learning community full of different perspectives and life experiences. With over 40 majors to choose, students at UW-Tacoma have the opportunity to pursue various interests and learn in a small class setting from professors who believe in a collaborative, creative learning process. The first year curriculum includes a foundation of four core courses that students will take throughout the year in groups of about 25. The Teaching and Learning Center at UW-Tacoma provides students, faculty, and staff with resources to develop skills, strategies, knowledge, and confidence necessary for success. Their services include tutoring/drop-in consultations in writing, math, science, and statistics, and support for faculty.

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12Walla Walla University54.914/554%College Place, WA

Affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Walla Walla University welcomes students from all backgrounds with a desire to receive an exceptional Christian education. The university offers more than 100 areas of study in liberal arts, professional, and technical programs, priding themselves on small classes, personalized attention, and outstanding professors -- of which 72 percent hold doctoral degrees. The biggest undergraduate programs are the nursing, engineering, business, biology, and education programs. Walla Walla University dedicates an entire office: The Office of Student Life and Mission, to provide a growing Christian community that creates a culture which prepares students for Christ-inspired leadership roles. It also provides Freshman with a mentoring program, assigning them a trained mentor who checks in every week and provides them with resources necessary for their overall success at one of the best colleges in Washington. The school offers master's and associate programs.

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13Washington State University54.823/567%Pullman, WA

Life-changing research occurs every day at one of the best colleges in Washington, WSU, where the faculty includes members of the National Academies. This research includes a partnership with Alaska Airlines; the coalition is developing a fuel made from forest residuals to power commercial flights. Research also focuses on predicting the progression of cancers. Students at WSU are not limited to research, they have the choice of 95 undergraduate majors, 86 minors, and the opportunity to do fieldwork, internships, and in-depth labs. The university truly wants to make a difference in the world, starting by contributing to the state's clean technologies industry in fields including: aviation biofuels, smart grid, advanced composite and bio-based materials, and others. This commitment to clean technologies earned Washington State University the CleanTech Achievement Award in 2015. A range of master's, doctoral, and professional programs are available in Education, Veterinary Science, and more.

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14Seattle Pacific University52.554/572%Seattle, WA

Seattle Pacific combines outstanding scholarship and faith to bring about change in the lives of their students and the people and communities these students serve after graduation. Located about 10 minutes from Downtown Seattle, SPU's campus borders the Lake Washington Ship Canal and boasts views of the Cascade mountains. The school has cutting-edge science buildings, a four-story library/study center, a restaurant like dining facility, coffee shops, and five residence halls. The Office of Student Involvement and Leadership commits itself to offer various features to help build and maintain the community at SPU, including residence life and housing, student programs, multi-ethnic programs, and athletics. Classes at SPU average 22 students, allowing professors to know students by name and create an experience for academic excellence, a unique factor not often found in other Washington Colleges. The school has many majors and minors in liberal arts and theological studies.

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15Central Washington University48.453/553%Ellensburg, WA

Home of the Wildcats, Central Washington University's commitment to hands-on learning, discovery, and individual attention ranks it as one of the top colleges in Washington. Its partnerships with 30 colleges and universities around the world provide students with the opportunity to succeed in a global economy. CWU is known for its distinguished music, geology, physics, and education programs. It strives to cater to all students by presenting more than 135 options of majors and by maintaining an average class size of 25. Students at CWU have the opportunity to pursue their interests with access to individual help from professors themselves. The Wildcats compete in 13 sports in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference and are nationally ranked in football, basketball, and rugby. More than 30% of students participate in intramural sports, creating a close community full of school pride. Master's programs include education, chemistry, and primate behavior.

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16City University of Seattle42.273/547%Seattle, WA

Convenience and flexibility, relevant programs, and an adult learning environment are all reasons students choose to study at one of the best colleges in Washington, City University. Their programs cater to the working adult and student who cannot leave their jobs to get the degree they aspire. The school offers degrees in areas of study including business and management, teaching and education, and computer and info systems. Programs are also popular among international and military students. CityU is designed for adults/students who want to invest in their career by gaining the most current knowledge in their field and receive a degree or certificate. Through their practitioner model and practica, City U is able to provide a sense of real life situations to their students before they graduate and start their careers. CityU offers many resources including a career center, counseling center, student clubs, and academic advising.

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17Evergreen State College39.273/554%Olympia, WA

Evergreen State, located in Olympia, Washington, is a progressive, public liberal arts and sciences college. Boasting a low tuition rate, Evergreen students are able to graduate in a timely manner without the financial burden other universities cause. There are no competitive grades at Evergreen, faculty present meaningful feedback through narrative evaluations to students. Greeners (what Evergreen students refer to themselves) have the freedom to choose from over 60 subjects of interest. Students have access top tier equipment like 3D printers and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopes from the beginning. Rather than having a formal major, students choose an area of emphasis allowing them to connect their goals and interests together. Choosing an area of emphasis is option, students can still earn a degree with declaring. Students are open to choose an emphasis after earning 45 credits in their field of study; a secondary emphasis can be declared after earning 32 credits in a field of study.

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18Northwest University38.913/548%Kirkland, WA

Northwest, founded in 1934, has built a community dedicated to spiritual vitality, academic excellence, and empowered engagement with human need. Grown to include over 70 majors and programs and off campus internships, Northwest's undergraduate experience ensures all students are provided with the necessary knowledge for success. Programs offered range from Youth and Family Ministries to Intercultural studies, attracting a diverse range of students. Over 70 percent of Northwest students participate in on campus classes and are involved in off-campus internships. This allows students to take what they learn in class and apply it to real world situations. One of NU's oldest traditions is Screaming Eagle Week, it begins with a massive game of dodgeball, a tradition that allows students to come together for fierce competition and a chance to make new friends. A vibrant community, wide range of opportunity, and an extensive alumni network all contribute in making Northwest University one of the best colleges in Washington.

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19Saint Martin’s University38.363/554%Lacey, WA

The only Benedictine college out of the Washington colleges, Saint Martin's provides a unique learning experience. Founded in 1895 by monks of the Roman Catholic Order of Saint Benedict, their identity is deeply rooted in the Catholic, Benedictine tradition. The faculty, staff, and students create a community that strives to learn and live a meaningful life through the combination of academic rigor and moral thought. Saint Martin's offers 37 areas of study along with research, study abroad, and internship opportunities. Graduates of Saint Martin's have been employed by a variety of companies such as Warner Bros., US House of Representatives, Microsoft, Amazon, and others; students have a large and impressive network of alumni once graduated. Students participate in a variety of activities including athletics, service, social justice, urban excursions, and outdoor adventures. Student resources include first-year and pre-major advising, library and database access, and an on-campus bookstore.

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20Cornish College of the Arts26.735/549%Seattle, WA

Cornish College, located in Seattle, Washington, is one of the only Washington colleges to solely offer Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in the performing and visual arts. The many teaching artists believe in an education that exposes students to all the arts, shaping the college's curriculum and community involvement. Visual arts degrees include art, design, film and media, and interior architecture. Performing arts degree incorporates dance, music, performance, and theater. Cornish created The Student Life Staff to provide an environment that supports student's success and offers programs and services that specialize on student development. Students who attend Cornish will learn from actively involved professional artists, who teach and usually become incredible mentors. Faculty and staff at Cornish emphasize helping students find their own artistic voice; once learners graduate from Cornish they will have an individual artistic vision in place. Known Cornish alumni includes actor Brendan Fraser, actor Jane Adams, and choreographer and dancer Merce Cunningham.

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Two-year institutions in Washington provide services, degrees and transfer pathways to over 400,000 students each year across 34 campuses in the state. An associate’s degree can be a great platform for transitioning to a four-year university, or provide a skill-based career jumpstart; regardless of your end goal, Washington is a great place to pursue one. A 2016 budget plan includes expansion of community college MESA (Math, Engineering, and Science Achievement) departments to help supplement the state’s rapidly-growing technology workforce. Additionally, the state boasts a stellar transfer rate: nearly 40% of all Washington baccalaureate grads start at a two-year institution. Below is a collection of the top colleges to assist you in your search.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description
1Cascadia Community College70.822/559%Bothell, WA

Even though it's the newest of Washington state community colleges, Cascadia College already has a reputation for academic excellence. Cascadia is known for its active learning philosophy, which prioritizes hands-on academic experience, and offers numerous associate degrees, including the highly popular business and pre-nursing programs. The college even offers bachelor's degrees in disciplines like sustainable practices. Additionally, Cascadia students can complete the highly unique Associate in Integrated Studies, which is a multi-disciplinary degree ideal for those seeking to transfer to a four-year liberal arts program.

Located on land originally occupied by a ranch, Cascadia College's campus is committed to sustainability and hosts features such as solar panel installations, a LEED Platinum building, and a protected wetland habitat. However, Cascadia's beautiful setting doesn't deter students from exploring the world: the college supports a variety of popular study abroad programs to countries including Spain, Australia, New Zealand, and Costa Rica.

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2Everett Community College67.882/544%Everett, WA

Originally operating out of a former elementary school, Everett Community College now serves nearly 20,000 students at locations throughout Snohomish County. At Everett Community College, students can earn certificates and associate degrees in divisions like Aerospace and Advanced Manufacturing, Arts and Learning Resources, Business and Applied Technology, and more. More specifically, students can study disciplines as conventional as English and as unique as diagnostic ultrasound. When students aren't in class, they can enjoy Everett's vibrant athletic culture, which includes men's and women's teams in soccer, basketball, and track and field.

Everett is particularly committed to serving a diverse student body and veterans. With students of color accounting for about a third of its student body, Everett is one of the most diverse community colleges in Washington, and the campus supports a Diversity and Equity Center to foster multiculturalism. Additionally, the campus' Veteran's Resource Center provides extensive aid to veterans in pursuit of their degree.

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3Shoreline Community College66.002/549%Shoreline, WA

Already considered one of the best community colleges in Washington, Shoreline Community College is increasingly known for the beauty of its campus. Situated on over 80 acres, Shoreline's green campus is not only blanketed by tall evergreens and colorful flowers, but it also includes a state-of-the-art automotive center, multiple laboratories, and even a child care center. Of course, Shoreline is more than just a pretty campus; the college offers more than 100 academic programs, including associate degrees in disciplines like nutrition and food science and oceanography and marine sciences.

With over 40 active clubs and organizations, Shoreline makes it easy for students to get involved. Students can participate in activities like the Ebbtide, Shoreline's cutting edge student newspaper, while sports fans can join baseball, softball, and volleyball teams. For those who don't want to participate on an organized team, Shoreline supports multiple intramural activities and an on-campus fitness center.

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4Big Bend Community College64.711/550%Moses Lake, WA

Located east of the Cascade Mountain Range in Moses Lake, Big Bend Community College has cultivated a truly unique academic community. More specifically, it offers exciting and specialized associate degrees in areas like Homeland Security and Emergency Management, which prepares students to respond to diverse disasters, and the Japanese Agricultural Training Program, which fosters relations between the US and Japan by developing improved farming practices.

With Hispanic students making up nearly 50% of its student body, Big Bend is one of the most diverse two year colleges in Washington. In addition to extensive multicultural support, Big Bend also provides a wide array of academic aid, especially through its STEM Center geared specifically to math, science, and technology tutoring. Finally, for those looking to obtain new professional skills, Big Bend's Center for Business and Industry Service offers targeted and customized workforce training and development.

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5Walla Walla Community College62.592/551%Walla Walla, WA

Since Walla Walla, Washington is a center for some of the Northwest's finest wines, it's not surprising that Walla Walla Community College's campus has a Center for Enology and Viticulture, where students can explore a wine analysis laboratory and the College Cellars Winery. A truly unique feature among two year colleges in Washington, College Cellars' wine is crafted by students in an unparalleled learning opportunity.

In addition to providing superior wine industry experience through the Associate in Applied Arts and Sciences in Enology and Viticulture, Walla Walla provides a variety of associate degrees and certificates. The college offers particularly strong Energy and water technologies and management programs for students who want to gain experience in wind turbine technology, watershed ecology, and more. Walla Walla Community College also serves inmates at the Washington State and Coyote Ridge Corrections Center. Through this program, selected offenders can earn their associate degrees, or they can simply participate in workforce development programs.

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6Tacoma Community College62.121/546%Tacoma, WA

Among Washington state community colleges, Tacoma Community College is particularly committed to a diverse, global perspective: in addition to over 60 areas of transfer study, students can pursue an Associate of Arts degree in World Languages, which can prepare for specialization in Chinese, Spanish, German, Japanese, or Arabic. Also, students can pair a certificate in American Ethnic and Gender Studies, a multidisciplinary program drawing from departments across the college, with their associate degree. The campus itself includes a Japanese Friendship Garden to celebrate the Japanese-American culture of the Puget Sound, and over 40% of the school's students identify as people of color.

As a member of the Northwest Athletic Conference, Tacoma Community College competes with over 30 other community colleges in baseball, basketball, soccer, and volleyball. Additionally, aspiring artists can publish their writing each spring in the college's annual magazine, Una Voce.

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7Bellingham Technical College61.291/550%Bellingham, WA

Bellingham Technical College distinguishes itself from other community colleges in Washington for many reasons, but it's especially notable for its more than 30 associate degree programs covering diverse fields like accounting, nursing, radiologic technology, and more. Particularly notable are the Associate of Applied Arts degree in Culinary Arts, which utilizes the experience of award-winning faculty, and the Associate of Applied Science degree in Dental Hygiene, which enjoys a nearly 100% graduate placement rate. Bellingham Technical College's campus has many notable features, including the Student Lounge which functions as a dual study and relaxation space and even hosts special entertainment events.

In addition to fostering academic excellence, Bellingham Technical College works hard to support its community: in 2011, the school joined Achieving the Dream, a nonprofit program that helps low-income students and students of color earn their college degrees.

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8Edmonds Community College60.712/549%Lynnwood, WA

Edmonds Community College serves more than 11,000 students -- around 1,000 of whom are international students -- with over 60 associate degree programs. Some of the most popular degrees include the Allied Health degree, a pre-nursing program that prepares students for careers as clinical laboratory assistants, nurse assistants, and more, and the construction management degree, which instructs students who already have construction experience.

One of the best community colleges in Washington, Edmonds Community College is located on an extensive campus with many exciting features, such as a digital recording studio, two greenhouses, a theater, and an art gallery. The college's athletics have a rich history of success, as its sports teams have claimed over 10 Northwest Athletic Conference titles. The college is also notable for its financial generosity: during the 2015-16 school year, Edmonds awarded students over $17,000,000 in financial aid.

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9North Seattle College59.061/527%Seattle, WA

Though it's located close to downtown Seattle and the University of Washington, North Seattle College's campus also includes a wetland environment that reflects the institution's commitment to ecological responsibility. North Seattle offers excellent associate degree options, and it is especially recognized for its outstanding science and engineering programs, which train students in fields like nanotechnology, sustainability, and even watchmaking. Not only that, but students can complete Bachelor of Applied Science degrees in International Business, Early Childhood Education, and Application Development.

As a member of the Washington Community College Consortium for Study Abroad, North Seattle joins a group of fifteen two year colleges in Washington in offering quality international programs. By studying abroad, North Seattle students can enjoy cultural studies in countries like England, Peru, Costa Rica, Japan, and more. On campus, students can contribute to numerous cultural activities, including the Licton Springs Review, North Seattle's exceptional literary magazine.

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10Pierce College – Puyallup59.532/569%Puyallup, WA

One of four campuses in the Pierce College system, Pierce College-Puyallup is widely recognized as one of the best community colleges in Washington. Pierce College-Puyallup offers nearly 70 programs of study, including Associate of Science and Associate of Arts degrees for transfer students. Additionally, students at Pierce can pursue more targeted degrees like the Associate in Math Education, which sets a critical foundation for students who aim to become secondary math teachers, and professional programs like Fire Command and Administration.

Pierce College is well-known for its strong commitment to veterans. The college's Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success is specifically designed to support Pierce's veteran students through tutoring, special study spaces, and connection to other veterans. Additionally, students with families can utilize the child care services at the Puyallup campus' Garnero Child Development Center, which provides a meal program and emergent learning instruction for children ages 1-5.

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11Whatcom Community College58.592/550%Bellingham, WA

Recognized by the Aspen Institute as one of the best Washington state community colleges, Whatcom Community College instructs over 11,000 students each year at its Bellingham-based campus. Students at Whatcom can choose from multiple transfer programs including Associate in Arts and Sciences, Business, and Applied Science degrees. Whatcom offers a particularly excellent Associate of Applied Science in Cybersecurity, which trains students to pursue four-year degrees in computer information systems security, computer forensics, information security engineering, and more.

With a 20:1 student to faculty ratio, Whatcom students can benefit from small class sizes and individualized attention. First-generation students account for nearly half of Whatcom's student body, while more than 300 international students from 30 countries contribute to the school's global, diverse culture. Additionally, Whatcom's innovative Encore 50+ Program uses a special advisory committee and other support systems to actively support adults over 50 seeking continuing education to reorient their careers.

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12Everest College – Everett58.353/569%Everett, WA

Everest College's Everett Campus caters to students who need to train for careers in the fields of business and health care. With the goal of getting students into the workforce quickly, the college offers several stellar diploma programs that train students in specific health care fields, such as the Massage Therapy training program, which not only teaches students the basics of Swiss Massage, but also helps students master the business and ethical side of the discipline. Students can also train in specialized medical and dental assistant diploma programs.

Everest College is notable among community colleges in Washington for its excellent student services. The Everest Campus' Careers Services Department coaches students in resume building and interviewing techniques, while the CARE Program helps students overcome obstacles with transportation and child care. Additionally, the Igniter Ambassador program trains student leaders to help others navigate the diverse demands of the college experience.

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13Seattle Central College56.591/531%Seattle, WA

Seattle Central College instructs students in over 30 associate degree and professional certificate programs. These programs encompass many emphases, such as the Associate Degree in Applied Science in Sustainable Agriculture, which investigates the ways culture, economics and politics influence food systems. Students at Seattle Central College can also choose more hands-on programs, like the certificates and Applied Science degrees offered in woodworking and carpentry. Seattle Central Students can even finish a four-year degree through the Bachelor of Applied Science programs in Allied Health, Applied Behavioral Science, or Information Technology-Networking.

Seattle Central College is one of the most diverse two year colleges in Washington, with over half of its student body identifying as people of color. The campus also hosts a variety of restaurants, such as the Buzz coffee shop, the Atrium, and One World Restaurant, a seasonally-focused eatery catered by the college's culinary arts students.

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14Pierce College – Ft. Steilacoom56.712/556%Lakewood, WA

Like the Puyallup campus, Pierce College's Fort Steilacoom campus distinguishes itself from other Washington state community colleges in its commitment to innovative learner engagement. An example of this innovation can be found at the campus' Science Dome, a nearly 60-seat planetarium that conducts live astronomy presentations. Students can also benefit from the campus' multi-million dollar Health Education Center, which uses state-of-the-art technology to provide hands-on instruction in fields like kinesiology.

Transfer students at Fort Steilacoom can pursue an Associate of Arts and two versions of the Associate of Science degree: one which focuses biology, earth science, or chemistry, and one which targets engineering and computer science. When not in class, students can enjoy a thriving arts culture by participating in numerous musical performance groups, theatrical productions, a student newspaper, or the literary arts magazine. Additionally, students can use Fort Steilacoom's low-cost Dental Hygiene Clinic for affordable dental care.

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15Everest College – Tacoma56.714/568%Tacoma, WA

One of two Everest community colleges in Washington, Everest College-Tacoma offers excellent programs in health care similar to those offered at its sister campus in Everett. The Tacoma campus offers an outstanding Medical Administrative Assistant diploma program that prepares students to succeed in the daily activities of top medical facilities. Additionally, the campus' Pacific Avenue location puts it in the cultural heart of downtown Tacoma and close to attractions such as the renowned Museum of Glass and the Washington State History Museum.

Everest College-Tacoma sponsors several programs that support students and increase access to education. In particular, the campus' GED Program allows qualifying candidates to enroll in Everest College courses and earn their GEDs free of charge. Also, through the CARE Program, Everest College helps students manage personal issues, such as personal budget planning, to make classroom success easier.

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16South Seattle College54.591/522%Seattle, WA

South Seattle College works hard to help its diverse student body succeed in their education and career goals. Students can pursue a vast array of associate degree and professional certificate options, including the Landscape Horticulture or Wine Marketing and Sales programs. Additionally, South Seattle College offers several bachelor's programs, such as the popular Bachelor of Applied Science in Hospitality Management degree, which provides preparation for those interested in management positions in the hospitality industry.

Among the best community colleges in Washington, the South Seattle College campus houses numerous attractions that play dual roles as learning opportunities. The college's Arboretum, for example, was designed and installed by students in the horticulture program and was designated a National Wildlife Federation Urban Wildlife Sanctuary in 2012. Additionally, the WorkSource Career Center helps students search for gainful employment.

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17Grays Harbor College55.652/554%Aberdeen, WA

Grays Harbor College runs three campuses across Pacific and Grays Harbor counties and has provided local residents with superior, affordable education for almost a century. The college offers excellent transfer associate degrees in fields such as environmental science and occupational therapy. Grays Harbor is also one of the few two year colleges in Washington that also provides a Bachelor of Applied Science in Organizational Management. This degree is aimed at those pursuing leadership positions in a variety of organizations and includes a required internship or capstone project.

Grays Harbor is particularly committed to serving the local native American population. With its reservation based "Bridge-Program," the college provides the Native American community the opportunity to complete a transfer Associate of Arts degree via a mostly online platform. Moreover, the Native American Heritage Club promotes equity for the college's Native American population while also increasing awareness about Native American cultural issues.

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18Perry Technical Institute55.183/576%Yakima, WA

Founded in the 1930s as a tribute to the late Yakima businessman John Perry, Perry Technical Institute provides instruction in 12 unique and highly practical programs in technical and manufacturing fields. Perry's certificate programs include the one-year Welding Technology Program, while the Associate in Applied Science in Business Technology and Accounting equips students with the skills necessary to succeed in the dynamic and constantly changing modern office. Overall, Perry is proud to provide quality education at an efficient pace.

Perry's campus works hard to support the varied needs of students at Washington state community colleges. The Perry Pantry gives students short-term emergency food assistance, and the Harriet Circle is a support group for female students pursuing degrees in the trade and technical industries.

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19Highline Community College54.002/525%Des Moines, WA

For more than 50 years, Highline College has been a standout among community colleges in Washington. In addition to offering associate degrees and certificates in everything from from architecture to urban agriculture, Highline gives students the opportunity to complete their bachelor's education without leaving campus. The Bachelor of Applied Science in Cybersecurity and Forensics degree is particularly notable, as its faculty includes Dr. Amelia Phillips, a nationally recognized expert in the field and a Fulbright Scholar.

In 2016, Highline College received the prestigious Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award in honor of its outstanding to commitment to fostering diversity on campus. With only 25% of the school's student body identifying as Caucasian, the award is certainly well-earned. Highline College is particularly strong in giving students flexible learning options, offering a generous selection of online, hybrid, and evening courses alongside its traditional daytime classes.

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20Centralia College52.241/514%Centralia, WA

Out of all community colleges in Washington, Centralia College is the oldest continuously operating institution. Centralia College's Associate of Earth Science is especially notable, as it includes concentrations in the diverse fields of the discipline, such as geology, oceanography, or astronomy. Additionally, Centralia's Associate of Liberal Arts degree develops broadly applicable skills like critical thinking and logical reasoning, while its Bachelor of Applied Science in Teacher Education offers an affordable track for aspiring elementary school teachers.

Centralia College is home to the unique Center of Excellence for Clean Energy, which fosters the economic development of clean energy through numerous grants, projects, and partnerships. The college also has a proud athletic tradition and competes in basketball, baseball, softball, golf, and volleyball in the Northwest Athletic Conference. Student athletes will enjoy access to the remodeled Centralia College Health and Wellness Center, and will soon utilize a newly remodeled, state-of-the-art weight room.

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21Spokane Falls Community College53.292/550%Spokane, WA

Spokane Falls Community College is one of the best community colleges in Washington when it comes to instruction in the arts, and it's estimated that nearly 75% of the student body is enrolled in a liberal arts program. Students earning a transferable Associate of Arts in Fine Arts degree can focus on music, drama, or art. Through the Associate of Art in Communications Arts, Modern Languages, and Drama, students plunge into the liberal arts by studying drama, communications, film, and a foreign language. The campus' International Language Center provides extensive resources for foreign language students, such as peer-tutoring in French, Japanese, and Spanish.

Spokane Falls is part of the national Gateway to College program, which helps individuals from ages 16-20 finish high school degrees that may have been put on hold. The college also runs the Work First/Worker Retraining program to aid unemployed workers through extensive career planning, counseling, and job placement assistance.

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22Wenatchee Valley College52.822/542%Wenatchee, WA

Wenatchee Valley College educates North Central Washington through its two campuses in Omak and Wenatchee. The most popular degree at this institution is the Associate of Arts and Sciences transfer program, which prepares students to attend a four-year university by teaching broadly applicable writing, quantitative, and life skills. However, Wenatchee sets itself apart from other two year colleges in Washington through innovative programs like the Associate of Technical Science in Criminal Justice, which trains students for careers in criminal investigation. The campus also maintains a Radiologic Testing Center to support the radiologic technology program.

Culture and the arts abound at Wenatchee Valley College. The Visiting Writers Series invites distinguished authors to deliver readings on campus, and past artists include literary artists like Kimberly Burwick and David Gessner. Wenatchee Valley College also works hard to support the community through programs like Hispanic Orchard Employee Education, which aims to improve the professional skills of agricultural workers.

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23South Puget Sound Community College52.712/547%Olympia, WA

With campuses in Olympia and Lacey, South Puget Sound Community College has been serving the greater Olympia region since the 1960s. South Puget Sound's courses cover everything from the arts and sciences to education, and standout degrees include the Associate of Applied Science in Computer-Aided drafting, which teaches students how to effectively utilize modern technology in the world of industrial design and manufacturing. Students at the Lacey campus can make use of the Center for Business and Innovation, a strategic partnership with the Thurston Economic Development Council that aims to help students develop career competency and even start their own businesses.

South Puget Sound Community College sets itself apart from other Washington state community colleges by providing truly superior learning support. In addition to offering traditional tutoring, South Puget Sound's Learning Support Services oversees extensive eTutoring support and free workshops for college placement tests.

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24Clark College46.242/543%Vancouver, WA

Clark College is one of the largest single campus community colleges in Washington that provides for-credit classes. The college fosters numerous innovative degrees, such as the mechatronics program, which teaches students to maintain and repair mechanical equipment that is controlled by advanced electrical computer systems. Clark also supports quality programs in the humanities, and notable programs include the women's studies certificate and the studio art program.

Clark College has graduated numerous notable alumni, including major league baseball pitcher Randy Myers and the original founder of the Earth Day celebration, environmentalist Denis Hayes. Additionally, Clark College has the most extensive Running Start program in Washington state, providing almost 2,000 high school students with free or cheap college credits. Students are also sure to enjoy the Archer Gallery, an educational, non-profit art gallery that connects students with professional artists from the community.

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25Spokane Community College45.291/542%Spokane, WA

Though its main campus is located in Spokane, Spokane Community College also has campuses in Colville, Ione, Newport, Inchelium, and Republic, not to mention its excellent online campus. With such a large area of service, Spokane easily provides instruction for a variety of unique degree programs. The Associate of Applied Science in Cosmetology is especially popular, and it prepares students to take state qualifying exams to become professional barbers, stylists, and more. Spokane is also known for its associate degree in aviation maintenance technology.

Spokane is one of the best community colleges in Washington when it comes to training students for the workforce, and it develops future professionals through the college's Apprenticeship and Journeyman Training Center and the Avista/SCC Lineworker School.

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

Washington, commonly called ‘Washington State’ to differentiate it from the nation’s capitol, ranks 13th most populated in the US with over 7 million residents. Although over half of these reside in the western corridor, known as the Puget Sound, the entire state is a wealth of natural beauty and thriving communities, including two major mountain ranges and a primarily untamed coastline. The west boasts a hip, liberal culture and cool, marine weather; to the east, students will experience a bit more ‘country’, with ample farmland, a drier climate and smaller towns.

The cost of living ranges dramatically across the Evergreen State, with metropolitan Seattle being the highest. Students may have difficulty finding affordable housing in this region; the city has countered the problem with a recent building boom of micro-housing, or Apodments, designed for students and urban professionals in need of reasonably priced apartments in the city. As you enter into Central and Eastern Washington, prices drop significantly; those concerned with housing may do better in inland cities such as Spokane or Centralia, which have a much lower overall cost of living. Below we provide an in-depth look at each region so you can know your way around Washington state.

REGIONAL SPOTLIGHT: WESTERN WASHINGTON

  • Major Cities: Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue, Bellingham, Olympia
  • Attractions: Olympic National Park, Mt. Saint Helens, Mt. Rainier, Pike Place Market, Seattle Art Museum, Museum of Glass
  • Cost of Living: Seattle
  • Popular Schools: University of Washington, Western Washington University, University of Puget Sound, Bastyr University

REGIONAL SPOTLIGHT: CENTRAL WASHINGTON

  • Major Cities: Yakima, Ellensburg, Wenatchee
  • Attractions: Leavenworth, North Cascades Loop Highway, Lake Chelan
  • Cost of Living: Yakima
  • Popular Schools: Central Washington University, Heritage University, Wenatchee Valley College, Big Bend Community College

REGIONAL SPOTLIGHT: EASTERN WASHINGTON

  • Major Cities: Spokane, Pullman, Walla Walla
  • Attractions: Colville National Forest, Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, Woodward Canyon Winery, Pioneer Park Aviary
  • Cost of Living: Spokane
  • Popular Schools: Washington State University, Eastern Washington University, Whitworth University, Gonzaga University, Spokane Falls Community College

RESIDENCY

Considering the high cost of living in certain regions of Washington, as well as significantly higher out-of-state tuition (nearly triple at the state’s flagship institution), students would be well-advised to start the residency process as soon as possible. Individual schools may have additional requirements; take care to check before enrollment.

FOR MINORS:

Residency status depends upon their parent or legal guardian. If a student’s parents are divorced, the student must maintain primary residence with the parent who lives in Washington. Students must provide proof that the residing parent or parents are Washington state residents to be eligible for in-state tuition and residency status.

FOR ADULTS:

The criteria below must be met for students over 18 to obtain residency status in Washington for the purpose of in-state tuition:

  • You must prove that you are not in Washington only to pursue an education. During the first year, if you’re taking more than 7 credits per quarter, you must also work outside of campus for a minimum of 30 hours per week.
  • You must also live in the state for 12 months as a legal resident, meaning all ties with your previous state of residence have been relinquished (driver’s license, etc.).
  • You must then establish legal ties to Washington, such as steady employment, state ID or driver’s license, vehicle registration and so on.
  • If you’re under 25, you must also prove financial independence for both the current and previous calendar year.

Additional Resources for Washington College Students

COLLEGE SAVINGS

EDUCATIONAL NONPROFITS

HIGHER EDUCATION NEWS

OFFICIAL STATE LINKS

Best Colleges in Washington of 2016
Rank School Location
1 University of Washington Seattle, WA
2 Whitman College Walla Walla, WA
3 Gonzaga University Spokane, WA
4 Whitworth University Spokane, WA
5 Seattle Pacific University Seattle, WA
6 University of Washington - Bothell Bothell, WA
7 University of Washington - Tacoma Tacoma, WA
8 Seattle University Seattle, WA
9 Western Washington University Bellingham, WA
10 Pacific Lutheran University WA
11 University of Puget Sound WA
12 Washington State University Pullman, WA
13 Central Washington University Ellensburg, WA
14 Northwest University Kirkland, WA
15 Centralia College Centralia, WA
16 Saint Martin's University Lacey, WA
17 Eastern Washington University Cheney, WA
18 Walla Walla University College Place, WA
19 Evergreen State College Olympia, WA
20 City University of Seattle Seattle, WA
Best Community Colleges
Rank School Location
1 Renton Technical College Renton, WA
2 North Seattle College Seattle, WA
3 Green River Community College Auburn, WA
4 Seattle Central College Seattle, WA
5 Bellingham Technical College Bellingham, WA
6 South Seattle College Seattle, WA
7 Highline Community College Des Moines, WA
8 Walla Walla Community College Walla Walla, WA
9 Whatcom Community College Bellingham, WA
10 Pierce College - Puyallap Puyallap, WA
11 Edmonds Community College Lynnwood, wA
12 Gray Harbor College Aberdeen, WA
13 Centralia College Centralia, WA
14 Pierce College - Ft. Steilacoom Lakewood, WA
15 Clover Park Technical College Lakewood, WA
16 Big Bend Community College Moses Lake, WA
17 Bates Technical College Tacoma, WA
18 Cascadia Community College Bothell, WA
19 South Puget Sound Community College Olympia, WA
20 Shoreline Community College Shoreline, WA
21 Tacoma Community College Tacoma, WA
22 Clark College Vancouver, WA
23 Lake Washington Institute of Technology Kirkland, WA
24 Spokane Community College Spokane, WA
25 Everett Community College Everett, WA