As everyone knows, Texas is a very big state, and colleges in Texas can be just as big. Thousands of students choose to attend colleges or universities in Texas every year. The Lone Star State ranks near the top of the list in terms of the number of colleges and universities and the number of students enrolled. Even community colleges in Texas are grand.
There are many good reasons to choose to attend colleges in Texas. Students enjoy the mild winters and warm springs, as well as the diversity of landscapes and people the state has to offer. In addition to being national leader in business, technology, agriculture, aerospace, and biomedicine, Texas also has the advantage of being one of the safest and most affordable states to live in.
For the Top 25 Colleges in Texas for 2017, we used the same methodology used in our inaugural 2016 edition of The Best Colleges Top 50 Colleges and Universities in America. In our attempt to create a college ranking system that takes into account what really matters to students and their parents, we’ve gone beyond investigating standard indicators of academic quality and student satisfaction used by other major ranking systems to also consider indicators of the economic value of a school and the quality of life offered by the city or town in which it is located.
At the top of this year’s ranking is Rice University, which has long been recognized as one of the premier universities in Texas and the world, as have the schools in the second and third spots, Trinity University and the University of Texas at Austin (though we imagine a few people might take issue with UT-Austin being ranked higher than Texas A&M).
Many exemplary religious schools have made the list, and they cross various Christian denominations from Baptist to Lutheran to Catholic. Those wanting to add a spiritual component to their education will have no trouble finding a school in Texas. The big metropolises are well-represented, with a wide variety of colleges and universities in Houston, Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio. Students who want to stay connected to vibrant and dynamic population centers have some amazing choices in the best colleges in Texas.
We believe our ranking of the top colleges and universities in Texas provides prospective students an excellent starting point for investigating the best colleges and universities in the Lone Star State. We measured each school across a dozen (12) different data points to come up with an overall score for each school. You can read a more detailed explanation of our Texas ranking methodology and data sources by clicking here.
First, we offer a few notes to help you navigate the rankings list. Underneath the school’s name is a brief introduction to the school, as well as a little information about the city or town in which it is located. Below that is the school’s classification, setting, population and student-to-faculty ratio. By clicking on the magnifying glass icon next to the student-to-teacher ratio, the profile will expand to display additional information on the school and city or town.
A small research university known for its programs in the applied sciences, the school also has a strong commitment to undergraduate education, operating on a residential college system with a student-enforced honor code that allows for all tests and exams to be taken home and completed unsupervised at the student’s convenience.
Students on the large wooded campus near the Houston, Texas, museum district have easy access to the amenities of the big and relatively low-cost city, all while attending one of the best colleges in Texas.
This academically rigorous university with a Presbyterian heritage offers a close-knit student body and a campus on top of a hill overlooking downtown San Antonio.
The home of the Alamo, San Antonio, Texas, is the second-largest city in Texas, offering students a number of cultural and entertainment possibilities in addition to a low cost of living.
One of the original “Public Ivies,” the biggest university and one of the best colleges in Austin, Texas, has the largest endowment of any other public university in the nation, allowing it to offer outstanding research opportunities in addition to being generous with financial aid.
Billed as “The Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin, Texas, is a youthful and active city with a reasonable cost of living and an eclectic personality.
Affiliated with but not governed by the Disciples of Christ, Texas Christian University has been guiding men and women to their degrees since the 19th century. It is a dedicated liberal arts college, with all students expected to show proficiency in across a wide range of subjects in addition to their major. Students can choose between 119 undergraduate majors, 53 master’s programs, and 28 doctoral programs, with business and journalism being the most popular programs among its 10,394 students.
Texas Christian University is in Fort Worth, Texas, near the city’s world-class zoo (which is well worth the day trip to visit). Students will have access to a dynamic downtown filled with some of the best art museums in the state. Bicyclers will find the area around the university well-suited for two-wheeled travel.
A private Methodist university with strengths in business and management, the Cox School of Business is widely considered one of the best in the country, and a prestigious Texas college.
Known as “The Big D,” Dallas, Texas, is one of the biggest cities in Texas and a center of business and commerce for the state.
With nearly 200 years of history under its belt, Southwestern University claims to be the first university in the Lone Star State. It’s one of the smallest colleges in Texas, sporting just over 1,500 students at a time. That gives its staff plenty of time to attend their charges as they pursue a classic liberal arts education. Civic-mindedness is a must, and students participate in community activities at more than twice the national average. There are 40 undergraduate majors and 36 undergraduate minors, divided between the art and science schools. New students should explore the First Year Seminar, meant to help them bridge the gap between high school and college.
The school is located in historic Georgetown, Texas, within easy driving distance of Austin for a weekend of music and restaurants. The city is a model of green energy, getting 100% of its power from renewable sources. You might spy some famous film locations there, as movies like Dazed and Confused and television shows like Friday Night Lights have been shot in the city.
Founded in 1849 by a Princeton-educated Presbyterian missionary, Austin College is the oldest institute of higher learning in Texas. It’s a small, private liberal arts college with an emphasis on turning out great teachers. A five-year master of arts in education is currently their only graduate program, but students can pursue 55 other undergraduate majors, ranging from film studies to neuroscience. Its student body of around 1,300 is required to live on campus.
Sherman, Texas, where the school is located, is a quiet place. Students can enjoy quaint parks and regular music festivals, as well as a variety of water activities in the summer thanks to its various pools.
This private Baptist university with large ambitions and a rising national reputation is making an effort to provide a more affordable education through the President’s Scholarship Initiative, a fundraising campaign initiated by the school that provides National Merit Finalists with between $28,000 and $88,000 for undergraduate studies over eight semesters.
The home of Dr Pepper, Waco, Texas, is a relatively youthful and inexpensive city north of Austin and south of Dallas on the I-35 corridor.
This Texas college shows it has a heart as big as its massive campus and student body, offering a full-need, no-loan financial aid package to qualified Texas students from families making less than $60K a year.
A youthful and highly educated town, College Station, Texas, offers country flavor in a conservative atmosphere and an exceptionally low cost of living.
A Catholic university that welcomes students of all faiths or none, 1,300 undergraduate students and 1,200 graduate students from across the U.S. and the world attend one of the best universities in Texas. The University of Dallas offers 29 undergraduate majors and more than 20 graduate programs, as well as other certification courses and noncredit education opportunities in the arts, humanities, sciences, education, business, and nursing. Students looking for an institute of learning with a staunchly conservative point of view will fit right in. William F. Buckley, Brad Miner, and Pat Buchanan have all been speakers there. Out of the online colleges in Texas, University of Dallas is ranked the best place to get a master’s in theology.
Students wishing to partake of the thriving culture and music scenes in Dallas, Texas, (the university is technically located in Irving, a suburb of Dallas), but who may not have a car, will find themselves well taken care of. The school has its own stop on the rail system, and can get you where you want to go within minutes.
Known for a willingness to cross disciplinary boundaries through its several multi/interdisciplinary degree programs, this university is making an effort to overcome class boundaries as well through its Tuition Promise Program, which covers tuition and fees through scholarships and grants for Texas students from families making less than $25,000 a year.
Richardson, Texas, is an affluent and well-educated inner suburb of Dallas which manages to keep cost of living low for students.
Fr. Edward Sorin set sail from France in 1841 specifically to found St. Edward’s University, and it has been providing an excellent liberal arts education ever since. A private school in the Holy Cross tradition with 5,000 students, the school has 38 undergraduate majors and seven graduate programs. It is also one of the nation’s top producers of Fulbright scholars.
St. Edward’s is located in Austin, Texas.
Have you been called to serve as a Christian spiritual leader, and want a first-class education to aid you in that endeavor? Then this might be the school for you. Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary aims to turn out preachers and scholars. The school offers both a bachelor of arts in religion and an associate of divinity, as well as four different master’s in further religious study. Fairly unique to the online colleges in Texas, students can acquire both undergraduate and graduate degrees on the internet.
Jacksonville, Texas, where the school is located, is the “Tomato Capital of the World,” and hosts an annual Tomato Fest to celebrate that glorious achievement. Students can enjoy a leisurely time away from studies at Lake Jacksonville when the weather is nice.
This private university affiliated with the Churches of Christ has ambitions as large as the West Central Texas plains that surround it, publicly declaring its intent to become the premier university for training global Christian leaders.
Home to three private universities, Abilene, Texas, is a mid-size university town with a low cost of living.
For over a century, Dallas Baptist University has been one of the best colleges in Texas. It’s perfect for students who like a cozy learning environment with its average class size of 11. There are 73 undergraduate programs, 31 master’s programs, and two doctoral programs to choose from. A variety of living arrangements are available on campus, everything from dormitories to three-bedroom townhomes.
The school is located in Dallas, Texas.
The Remington College system includes 16 non-profit campuses looking to bring a non-traditional approach to secondary education. The Dallas campus is a hub of connections in the city where students can find networking opportunities in everything from technology to medicine to law enforcement thanks to the various partnerships the campus has with local organizations. They also have a fantastic online degree program for both associate and bachelor’s degrees. Business and medicine are two of the school’s main areas of focus.
The school is located in Dallas, Texas.
The flagship university of the Texas Tech University System boasts one of the largest contiguous campuses in the country and a generous financial aid program that promises to cover all tuition and fees with scholarships and grants for Texas students from families making less than $40,000 a year. It truly is one of the best universities in Texas.
Known as “Hub City,” Lubbock, Texas, is the economic, education, and healthcare hub of the South Plains region and offers students a remarkably low cost of living.
St. Mary’s University has long been recognized as both an excellent value for the education it provides and for their dedication to teaching the concept of public service. Founded in 1852, St. Mary’s has 52 bachelor’s programs, 19 master’s programs, and a law degree program. The university has many different initiatives designed to engage students in various good works in the community, particularly on the west side of San Antonio. Their latest annual staple is the 40 Days of Service during Lent, during which students can participate in hunger drives, blood drives, and other civic engagement activities.
The school is located in San Antonio, Texas.
This former technical college retains strengths in engineering and technology but has grown into a nationally recognized comprehensive Christian university with degrees in the liberal arts, education, and business, among others.
Longview, Texas, is a small East Texas town with a low cost of living and the distinction of being the boyhood home of actors Matthew McConaughey and Forest Whitaker.
Nestled in quiet Seguin, Texas, near both Austin and San Antonio, Texas Lutheran University is a small school with a lot to offer. Average class size is just 20 students, which helps build a tight campus community dedicated to mutual benefit and understanding. It boasts a faith-based approach to a liberal arts education, and aims to send its graduates off with knowledge of a wide range of subjects. Bachelor’s programs focus on business, music, arts and nursing, with a master’s in accountancy also available. Their music program is particularly renowned, and a long list of scholarships are open to students interested in pursuing a melodic path in their education.
Texas Lutheran University is housed in historic Seguin, Texas, the birthplace of the famous Texas Rangers (the lawmen, not the baseball team). Appropriately for a school famous for its music program, Seguin has the only symphony in the region. Both Texan and Mexican festivals are annual events in the town. You will want to mark your calendar for the yearly chihuahua races.
The University of Houston is a sprawling, enormous campus in the southern part of the city. You can become almost anything there, with over 100 undergraduate majors and another 120 master’s programs available. Its theater program is one of the best in the country, and for the hard science student, you can be a part of over 25 world-class research centers. It’s located within easy driving distance of some of the best museums and dining in the Lone Star State.
Houston, Texas, is well-known as a cosmopolitan and diverse city. Its low cost of living and multi-national populace give the metropolis a unique identity that has made it one of the most dynamic places to live in America.
More than 3,000 students are getting their higher learning through Houston Baptist University. Its 100-acre campus is located just minutes from downtown Houston. The school is dedicated to a Christian worldview, and all the values that implies. Students receive a personalized education in classes that often number 20 or less, and pursue degrees in business, Christian counseling, psychology, the liberal arts, visual arts, and education. A variety of master’s programs are available, primarily in religious or counseling disciplines. Both in-person and online programs are options for potential attendees.
The school is located in Houston, Texas.
The motto of the Gemini School is ” “turning talent into a profession.” This art school is turning out the next generation of visual artists, animators, video game makers, and other creators. Students earn a four-year diploma in visual arts and communications. It is only a single program, but it is extremely hands-on and dedicated to giving artists a solid foundation for whatever they might want to do after graduation.
The school is located in Cedar Park, Texas, a suburb of Austin. Skaters will feel right at home in the major skate park located in the city, and sports fans will be thrilled to attend top-tier minor league games in hockey and basketball.
Northwood University is dedicated to the idea of free enterprise, but in a respectful and socially conscious way. It is consistently ranked as one of the best places to pursue online degrees in the United States. The focus is entirely on the world of business, though there are some interesting niche programs such as hospitality management and sports promotion in their undergraduate courses. There are also four master’s programs, including one specifically designed to prepare students for a career with General Motors. If you’ve ever wanted to be the best car salesman ever, this is the path for you.
The Texas campus is located in Cedar Wood, Texas, a suburb southwest of Dallas on the shores of Joe Pool Lake. The nearby state parks and canyon are popular with hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Founded in 1947, this is the only Catholic university in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. As you would expect from a school named for one of the greatest thinkers in history, St. Thomas has a first-rate philosophy program that goes all the way up to the doctoral level. Other students can pursue education, business, or nursing. It has one of the best-ranked study abroad programs for undergraduates, making it an ideal school for those with travel on their mind.
The school is located in the Montrose area of Houston, Texas, a bustling historical neighborhood popular with artists and musicians.
Detailed Ranking Methodology
A college education is among the largest and most important investments of time, effort, and money most Americans will make in their lifetime. The schools in our ranking were put through a rigorous selection process and then objectively evaluated across 12 unique data points in four different categories: economic value, quality of life, academic quality, and student satisfaction. Subjective decisions were limited to which data points to consider and the weight given to each one.
In order to be included in our rankings pool, a school had to be a regionally accredited four-year, bachelor’s degree-granting liberal arts college or university in Texas with at least 500 students, a 25th percentile score of 480 in SAT critical reading and math, and an acceptance rate at or below 80%. This ensured that all Texas colleges and universities considered were of significant size and demonstrated some level of selectivity in its admissions process.
Ranking Criteria and Weights
Economic Value (35%)
- Real cost (15%)
- Median starting salary of graduates (10%)
- Median mid-career salary of graduates (10%)
Quality of Life (30%)
- Cost of living index of city/town (15%)
- Median age of city/town residents (5%)
- Median household income of city/town residents (5%)
- Percentage of city/town residents with bachelor’s degree or higher (5%)
Academic Quality (20%)
- Acceptance rate (10%)
- Student-to-faculty ratio (10%)
Student Satisfaction (15%)
- Enrollment rate (5%)
- Freshman to sophomore retention rate (5%)
- Six-year graduation rate (5%)
1. Real Cost
As the cost of a college education continues to climb and the overall economy struggles, keeping costs and student loan debt low is more important to students (and their parents) than ever. With that in mind, The Best Colleges awarded schools in Texas for having lower real costs, which we calculated by taking the estimated undergraduate student tuition and fees and subtracting the average amount of freshman financial aid. Because the average amount of financial aid packages tracks the tuition costs of the majority of the student body, for public schools that draw most of their students from in-state, we subtracted the average aid amount from in-state tuition costs.
Data on tuition, fees, and aid was taken from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which is the core postsecondary education data collection program of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a branch of the U.S. Department of Education. After the data was compiled and average aid was subtracted from estimated tuition and fees to get the real cost, the data was standardized using Z-scores and then weighted to give it a 15% overall importance in the final ranking of the top colleges in Texas.
2. Median Starting Salary of Graduates
In order to get a sense of the value of a degree from a given college, it is important to consider the likely economic payoff. Students (and their parents) want to know that after all the blood, sweat, tears, and cash, there’s a well-paying job to look forward to. And so, The Best Colleges awarded Texas colleges and universities with higher starting salaries for recent graduates.
We collected data on the median starting salary of college graduates (1-4 years post-graduation) from the 2016-2017 PayScaleU College Salary Report. Data for the report was collected through a voluntary survey of full-time employees in the U.S. with a bachelor’s degree but no higher degree. You can read more about the report’s methodology here. After collecting salary data for each of the schools in our pool, the data was standardized using Z-scores and then weighted to give it a 10% overall importance in the final ranking of the top schools in Texas.
3. Median Mid-Career Salary of Graduates
How much one makes several years into a career is just as important as what one makes immediately after graduation, and this may indicate more about the knowledge and skills actually learned at a school since recent graduates are often hired more on the basis of the reputation of their alma mater than their actual knowledge and skill. Therefore, The Best Colleges awarded schools in Texas with higher mid-career salaries for graduates.
We collected data on the median mid-career salary of college graduates (10-19 years post-graduation) from the 2016-2017 PayScaleU College Salary Report. Data for the report was collected through a voluntary survey of full-time employees in the U.S. with a bachelor’s degree but no higher degree. You can read more about the report’s methodology here. After collecting salary data for each of the schools in our pool, the data was standardized using Z-scores and then weighted to give it a 10% overall importance in the final ranking of the best schools in Texas.
Quality of Life
4. Cost of Living Index
Especially during tough economic times like these, many students (and their parents) want to live in a place where they can make a dollar stretch. The Best Colleges measured the buying power of a student’s dollar in a given location by the cost-of-living index (COLI), a theoretical price index which measures the relative cost of living in a place base on the relative costs of goods and services. Schools were awarded for being in locations in Texas with a lower COLI.
The COLI of each city/town came from City-Data.com, a private company which collects and analyzes data on thousands of cities and towns across the U.S. After the data was compiled for each one of the cities/towns in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 15% overall importance in the final ranking of the best colleges in Texas.
5. Median Age of Population
Assuming most students prefer to live with and around other young people and appreciate the social and cultural opportunities that tend to accompany younger populations, The Best Colleges awarded cities/towns in Texas with more youthful populations.
Data on the median age of a city/town’s population was taken from City-Data.com. After the data was compiled for each one of the cities/towns in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 5% overall importance in the final ranking of top schools in Texas.
6. Median Household Income
On the assumption that most students prefer to live in areas populated by economically successful people, which often correlates with greater social, cultural and economic opportunities, The Best Colleges awarded cities/towns in Texas with higher amounts of income wealth.
Data on the median household income of a city/town’s population was collected from City-Data.com. After the data was compiled for each of the cities/towns in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 5% overall importance in the final ranking of top colleges and universities in Texas.
7. Percentage of Population with College Degrees
On the assumption that students prefer to live in places with well-educated populations, which often correlates with greater tolerance and more interesting social opportunities, The Best Colleges awarded cities/towns in Texas with a greater percentage of residents with college degrees.
Data on the percentage of a town/city’s residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher was collected from City-Data.com. After the data was compiled for each one of the cities/towns in our pool of Texas colleges, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 5% overall importance in the final ranking of the best colleges in Texas.
8. Acceptance Rate
The quality of a college education is largely determined by the academic quality and competitiveness of the student body. Generally speaking, the more stringent and selective a college is in its admissions process, the better the quality of students. And so The Best Colleges awarded schools in Texas with lower acceptance rates.
Data on acceptance rates was collected from the IPEDS database. After the data was compiled for each one of the schools in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 10% overall importance in the final ranking of the best schools in Texas.
9. Student-to-Faculty Ratio
On the assumption that smaller class sizes and fewer students per professor means the possibility for more individualized attention and greater access to faculty during and after class, The Best Colleges awarded colleges in Texas with lower student-to-faculty ratios.
The most recent available data on student-to-faculty ratios was collected from the IPEDS database. After the data was compiled for each one of the schools in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 10% overall importance in the final ranking of the top colleges in Texas.
10. Enrollment Rate
In general students are happier and more satisfied at a school where they really want to be. Thus The Best Colleges awarded schools in Texas with higher enrollment rates, which measure the percentage of admitted students who choose to enroll. Generally, a higher enrollment rate indicates a school is more desirable to students who apply.
The most recent available data on enrollment rates was collected from the IPEDS database. After the data was compiled for each one of the schools in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 5% overall importance in the final ranking of the top schools in Texas.
11. Retention Rate
The freshman to sophomore retention rate measures the percentage of students who return to a school after their freshman year. We interpret this as a general measure of student satisfaction with a school and awarded colleges in Texas with higher retention rates.
Data on enrollment rates was collected from the IPEDS database. After the data was compiled for each one of the schools in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 5% overall importance in the final ranking of the best colleges in Texas.
12. Six-Year Graduation Rate
The six-year graduation rate measures the percentage of students who graduate from a school within six years of enrolling. We interpret this as a general measure of student satisfaction with a school and awarded schools in Texas with higher graduation rates.
Data on graduation rates was collected from the IPEDS database. After the data was compiled for each one of the schools in our pool, it was standardized using Z-scores and assigned a weight giving it a 5% overall importance in the final ranking of the best schools in Texas.