Washington’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 Washington provide broad access to reputable degree programs, affordable tuition, and sprawling educational communities.

Washington’s Best Public Colleges & Universities of 2021

Colleges and Universities in Washington

Of the 40 public options, the University of Washington in Seattle is the largest. Roughly 40,000 students attend classes in fields like nursing, education, biology, and computer science. This public research institution is also affordable, charging about $11,000 for tuition. In fact, none of the public schools in Washington exceed $12,000 in price. This includes community colleges, technical colleges, and four-year universities, making Washington a uniquely affordable place to earn your associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree.

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Washington also has 24 private institutions. Of those, nine are religious. The most widely known of these, Catholic university Gonzaga enrolls roughly 7,000 students, at a cost of $40,000, in areas such as religious studies, engineering, and law. Central Washington University (CWU) is a smaller public school, serving just over 12,000 students, and has a tuition of $8,000. With 15% of its population being Hispanic, CWU is now recognized as an emerging Hispanic-Serving Institution. Washington health professions also have the opportunity to receive funding for loan repayment through Washington’s Health Professional Loan Repayment Program.

Set in the Pacific Northwest, Washington offers ocean beaches and lush forests. In fact, over half the state is covered in forests, earning Washington its nickname as The Evergreen State. Viewers atop the Space Needle in Seattle can take in the sights of Puget Sound, Mount Rainier, and both the Cascades and Olympic mountain ranges. In addition, prospective students can choose from over 60 higher education institutions in the state.

Check out the top higher education programs and find an affordable degree in Washington.

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What are Washington’s Colleges & Universities?

Washington’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 Washington's best public colleges and universities?

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 30 public universities in Washington, 8 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.
  4. It must have a graduation rate greater than 45%.

Best Public Colleges & Universities in Washington

  1. #1

    University of Washington

    #27 institution's historical influence
    #69 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $11K

    Acceptance

    56%

    Graduation

    82%

    Student body

    47K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1345/30

    Seattle, WA

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    What is University of Washington known for?

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

    • Biology
    • Computer Science
    • Medical
    • Mathematics
    • Engineering
    • Business
    • Literature
    • Psychology
    • Physics
    • Political Science

    Most Influential Alumni

  2. #2

    Evergreen State College

    #738 institution's historical influence
    #346 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $8K

    Acceptance

    98%

    Graduation

    45%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1084/22

    Olympia, WA

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    What is Evergreen State College known for?

    Evergreen State College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Political Science
    • Education
    • Biology

    Most Influential Alumni

  3. #3

    Washington State University

    #284 institution's historical influence
    #844 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    80%

    Graduation

    59%

    Student body

    28K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1125/23

    Pullman, WA

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    What is Washington State University known for?

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

    • Biology
    • Communications
    • Engineering
    • Education
    • Business
    • Literature
    • Chemistry
    • Psychology
    • Computer Science
    • Medical

    Most Influential Alumni

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  4. #4

    Western Washington University

    #829 institution's historical influence
    #944 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $8K

    Acceptance

    94%

    Graduation

    68%

    Student body

    15K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1170/25

    Bellingham, WA

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    What is Western Washington University known for?

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

    • Biology
    • Literature
    • Business
    • Communications
    • Education
    • Mathematics
    • History
    • Psychology
    • Philosophy
    • Computer Science

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  5. #5

    University of Washington Bothell

    #5976 institution's historical influence
    #1126 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $11K

    Acceptance

    88%

    Graduation

    63%

    Student body

    6K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1140/23

    Bothell, WA

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    What is University of Washington Bothell known for?

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

    • Business
    • Political Science
    • Education
    • Biology
    • Engineering
    • Medical
    • Earth Sciences
    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Psychology
  6. #6

    University of Washington Tacoma

    #4316 institution's historical influence
    #1027 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    86%

    Graduation

    60%

    Student body

    5K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1085/20

    Tacoma, WA

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    What is University of Washington Tacoma known for?

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

    • Education
    • Engineering
    • History
    • Computer Science
    • Biology
    • Political Science
    • Sociology
    • Communications
    • Medical
    • Law

    Most Influential Alumni

  7. #7

    Eastern Washington University

    #1043 institution's historical influence
    #1149 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $8K

    Acceptance

    79%

    Graduation

    53%

    Student body

    11K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1025/20

    Cheney, WA

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    What is Eastern Washington University known for?

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

    • Business
    • Literature
    • Education
    • Political Science
    • Philosophy
    • History
    • Communications
    • Medical
    • Computer Science
    • Biology

    Most Influential Alumni

    REQUEST INFO
  8. #8

    Central Washington University

    #1590 institution's historical influence
    #769 overall school desirability

    Tuition + fees

    $8K

    Acceptance

    86%

    Graduation

    58%

    Student body

    12K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1060/20

    Ellensburg, WA

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    What is Central Washington University known for?

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

    • Business
    • Education
    • Psychology
    • History
    • Biology
    • Political Science
    • Computer Science
    • Philosophy
    • Earth Sciences
    • Law

    Most Influential Alumni

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