Virginia’s Best Public Colleges & Universities of 2021

Public colleges and universities account for almost 75 percent of all undergraduate students in the U.S. The best public colleges in Virginia provide broad access to reputable degree programs, affordable tuition, and sprawling educational communities.

Virginia’s Best Public Colleges & Universities of 2021

Colleges and Universities in Virginia

Liberty University, a private Christian school in Lynchburg, is the largest school in Virginia, serving over 60,000 students. The largest public university, Virginia Tech, has a student population of about half that but offers many in-person degree programs as well as eight master’s programs and 19 certificate programs online. Students who attend Virginia Tech can pursue fields like engineering, criminal justice, education, and business.

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The majority of Virginia’s universities and colleges could be considered small schools, serving populations of less than 5,000 students. Included on this list are public schools, like Christopher Newport University in Newport News, and private schools, like Hampton University, a historically black university in Hampton. Though most of its higher education institutes charge tuition fees above the national average, Virginia offers several loan forgiveness programs for qualifying attorneys and medical, dental, behavioral health, and pharmaceutical professionals.

Virginia is perhaps most famous for its rich history — but the state is also home to many unique museums and famous landmarks. For example, those who love the classics can visit the Edgar Allen Poe Museum in Richmond. Those who harbor romantic dreams of espionage and intrigue might visit the CIA Museum in McLean. And, if you like your attractions random, you could check out Virginia’s 300-yard-long natural tunnel or its 29-ton spinning granite ball. While you’re here, you might consider attending one of the 78 colleges located in the state.

Learn more about Virginia’s higher education opportunities by checking out the state’s many colleges and universities.

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What are Virginia’s Colleges & Universities?

Virginia’s Best Overall

What is a public college? And what is the difference between a private and public college?

Public and private colleges and universities operate under different business models — one is a private company with private funding; the other is owned by the state and receives both state and federal funding to operate. If you’re weighing the pros and cons of private vs. public college, consider that many public colleges provide diverse course offerings, influential professors, and an excellent return on your investment.

Public colleges are schools that receive most of their funding from tax revenues. As a result, the cost of a four-year degree at a public university is often lower than the equivalent cost at a private college — especially for students attending a public school in their home state. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the average annual cost (tuition, fees, room and board for full-time students) at a four-year public university was slightly over $20,000. In contrast, private universities cost, on average, nearly $43,000 annually.

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How do we determine Virginia's best public colleges and universities?

The best colleges pound for pound!

The people affiliated with a school are ultimately what make it great. This is why, at the undergraduate level, we rank the best colleges and universities based on what we call Concentrated Influence. Concentrated Influence takes the combined influence score of a college or university’s top academic influencers (including faculty and alums) and divides it by the school’s total number of undergraduates.

Using concentrated influence gives small and mid-sized schools an opportunity to shine by taking away the size advantage of larger universities. A small school with proportionately more influential faculty than a large school, whose influence in absolute terms may be bigger, will nonetheless score higher in a concentrated influence ranking. Our approach highlights undergraduate schools that truly rank for excellence, regardless of size.

If you are serious about finding the best colleges and universities for a bachelor’s degree, you should be asking where the most influential professors are teaching and whether their graduates are themselves advancing the school’s reputation for academic excellence.

Most ranking sites rely on an opaque combination of reputation surveys and arbitrary performance metrics. Concentrated Influence provides a ranking that is free from bias, insulated from manipulation, and reflective of real-world educational outcomes.

Find out more about our ranking methodology here.

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This list is composed entirely of public colleges and universities that offer four-year undergraduate degrees. We’ve identified 15 public universities in Virginia, all of which satisfy our criteria. The list below of the best public universities in the state satisfies the following four conditions:

  1. It must receive direct funding from the state.
  2. It must be fully accredited.
  3. It offers a broad range of bachelor’s degree programs.

Best Public Colleges & Universities in Virginia

  1. #1

    University of Virginia

    #36 institution's historical influence
    #40 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $18K

    Acceptance

    23%

    Graduation

    94%

    Student body

    25K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1430/32

    Charlottesville, VA

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    What is University of Virginia known for?

    University of Virginia’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Law
    • Literature
    • Medical
    • Biology
    • Business
    • Philosophy
    • Education
    • Political Science
    • Computer Science
    • Engineering

    Most Influential Alumni

  2. #2

    William & Mary

    #274 institution's historical influence
    #53 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $23K

    Acceptance

    42%

    Graduation

    91%

    Student body

    8K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1415/32

    Williamsburg, VA

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    What is William & Mary known for?

    William & Mary’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Law
    • Literature
    • History
    • Business
    • Political Science
    • Education
    • Philosophy
    • Biology
    • Physics
    • Economics

    Most Influential Alumni

  3. #3

    Virginia Military Institute

    #608 institution's historical influence
    #124 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $19K

    Acceptance

    60%

    Graduation

    85%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1180/24

    Lexington, VA

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    What is Virginia Military Institute known for?

    Virginia Military Institute’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Literature
    • Mathematics
    • Biology
    • Computer Science
    • Economics
    • Physics
    • Chemistry

    Most Influential Alumni

  4. #4

    George Mason University

    #208 institution's historical influence
    #548 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Acceptance

    89%

    Graduation

    72%

    Student body

    31K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1215/27

    Fairfax, VA

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    What is George Mason University known for?

    George Mason University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Economics
    • Political Science
    • Business
    • Law
    • Computer Science
    • Engineering
    • Education
    • Philosophy
    • Biology
    • Literature

    Most Influential Alumni

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  5. #5

    Virginia Tech

    #231 institution's historical influence
    #230 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    66%

    Graduation

    86%

    Student body

    35K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1285/28

    Blacksburg, VA

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    What is Virginia Tech known for?

    Virginia Tech’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • Business
    • Biology
    • Mathematics
    • Political Science
    • Computer Science
    • Education
    • Medical
    • Literature
    • History

    Most Influential Alumni

  6. #6

    Virginia Commonwealth University

    #405 institution's historical influence
    #994 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $15K

    Acceptance

    91%

    Graduation

    66%

    Student body

    26K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1165/24

    Richmond, VA

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    What is Virginia Commonwealth University known for?

    Virginia Commonwealth University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Medical
    • Biology
    • Education
    • Business
    • Literature
    • Engineering
    • Psychology
    • Communications
    • History
    • Political Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  7. #7

    Virginia State University

    #1348 institution's historical influence
    #801 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $9K

    Acceptance

    96%

    Graduation

    46%

    Student body

    4K

    Median SAT/ACT

    920/17

    Petersburg, VA

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    What is Virginia State University known for?

    Virginia State University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • Business
    • Engineering
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Biology
    • Literature
    • Medical
    • Mathematics
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  8. #8

    Norfolk State University

    #2021 institution's historical influence
    #497 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $10K

    Acceptance

    91%

    Graduation

    39%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    950/18

    Norfolk, VA

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    What is Norfolk State University known for?

    Norfolk State University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • Engineering
    • Computer Science
    • Business
    • History
    • Communications
    • Political Science
    • Medical
    • Mathematics
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

  9. #9

    University of Mary Washington

    #1737 institution's historical influence
    #558 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Acceptance

    75%

    Graduation

    65%

    Student body

    4K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1180/26

    Fredericksburg, VA

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    What is University of Mary Washington known for?

    University of Mary Washington’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • Literature
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Nursing
    • Philosophy
    • Mathematics
    • Biology
    • Computer Science
    • Economics

    Most Influential Alumni

  10. #10

    James Madison University

    #922 institution's historical influence
    #1172 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    80%

    Graduation

    82%

    Student body

    21K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1205/25

    Harrisonburg, VA

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    What is James Madison University known for?

    James Madison University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Mathematics
    • Education
    • Business
    • Computer Science
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Communications
    • Medical
    • Philosophy
    • Physics

    Most Influential Alumni

  11. #11

    Old Dominion University

    #794 institution's historical influence
    #709 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $11K

    Acceptance

    95%

    Graduation

    53%

    Student body

    19K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1080/21

    Norfolk, VA

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    What is Old Dominion University known for?

    Old Dominion University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • Education
    • Business
    • Computer Science
    • Literature
    • Medical
    • Biology
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Physics

    Most Influential Alumni

  12. #12

    Radford University

    #1316 institution's historical influence
    #353 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $11K

    Acceptance

    79%

    Graduation

    56%

    Student body

    9K

    Radford, VA

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    What is Radford University known for?

    Radford University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Psychology
    • Medical
    • Education
    • Biology
    • Political Science
    • Business
    • History
    • Communications
    • Criminal Justice
    • Nursing

    Most Influential Alumni

  13. #13

    Christopher Newport University

    #2175 institution's historical influence
    #1255 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $15K

    Acceptance

    76%

    Graduation

    80%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1195/24

    Newport News, VA

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    What is Christopher Newport University known for?

    Christopher Newport University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Computer Science
    • Education
    • History
    • Chemistry
    • Political Science
    • Engineering
    • Physics
    • Literature
    • Biology
    • Mathematics

    Most Influential Alumni

  14. #14

    University of Virginia's College at Wise

    #5380 institution's historical influence
    #1250 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $10K

    Acceptance

    83%

    Graduation

    52%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1065/21

    Wise, VA

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    What is University of Virginia's College at Wise known for?

    University of Virginia's College at Wise’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Computer Science
    • History
    • Nursing
    • Mathematics
    • Engineering
    • Business
    • Medical
    • Biology
    • Literature
    • Sociology

    Most Influential Alumni

  15. #15

    Longwood University

    #2445 institution's historical influence
    #456 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    87%

    Graduation

    67%

    Student body

    4K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1055/20

    Farmville, VA

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    What is Longwood University known for?

    Longwood University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Education
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Literature
    • Medical
    • Computer Science
    • Communications
    • Economics
    • Criminal Justice
    • Nursing

    Most Influential Alumni

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