Colleges in Washington

Why go to College in Washington?


Going to college in Washington is an appealing option for many students. The state boasts beautiful scenery and a temperate climate, along with plenty of outdoor recreational activities that are available year-round, such as hiking, skiing, and boating. Washington's most populous city Seattle, hosts many cultural institutions and events, such as concerts, festivals, and galleries. Prospective students will find prestigious public and private traditional higher learning institutions throughout the state, along with impressive online colleges.

Washington has a population of over 7 million people, and 44% of them are college-educated. Although relatively small compared to other major American metropolises, Seattle is the most populated city in the state and is home to the University of Washington, the state's largest school.
Most of Washington's major colleges and universities are located west of the Cascade Mountains, a region that enjoys mild temperatures most of the year. Summer days are usually under 79°F, while winter days generally don't drop below 46°F.
Number of Higher Learning Institutions
Washington is home to six public and 33 private four-year institutions, along with 34 public two-year community and technical colleges. The University of Washington was ranked 15th best university in the world in the Shanghai Jiao Tong University Ranking of 2014.
Sporting Events
Washington, and Seattle in particular, host regular sporting events that students may want to attend. Seattle has professional teams in the NFL, MLS, MLB, and WNBA, along with a regional league hockey team and an all-female roller derby team. Collegiate sports are popular at the major state schools and several private universities in Seattle.
Seattle is the place to be for students seeking leisure and entertainment. The city offers a range of nightlife hotspots, from swanky lounges to dive bars and everything in between. Along with karaoke bars and dance clubs, music lovers can enjoy shows at numerous concert venues including Seattle Center, Benaroya Hall, and the Showbox.

What Options are Available for Colleges in Washington?


For many high school graduates, moving away from home and attending a traditional college are the natural next steps on the path to a successful career. They're eager to live with new roommates, interact face-to-face with classmates and peers, and take full advantage of on-campus resources such as libraries and writing centers. This type of student benefits most from being able to attend lectures and instructors' office hours in person. They may also enjoy the social atmosphere of on-campus life and might choose to participate in sports or clubs. Part of the appeal of attending a traditional university is that students have the opportunity to explore their newfound independence among peers in a new and exciting environment.

Online Programs

Online schools in Washington provide an affordable alternative to traditional university campuses. Online programs allow students to access coursework at any time from anywhere in the world. Distance learners enjoy the convenience of viewing lectures and submitting class assignments on their own schedules. They may also save money as compared to traditional students since they don't need to pay for transportation or child care. Students enrolled in online colleges in Washington hail from every walk of life, but many are attracted to these programs because the flexibility allows them to work part- or full-time during their schooling. Students who do well in online programs are generally self-motivated and don't require a rigid structure to succeed.

Hybrid Programs

A hybrid program is yet another option that may appeal to degree candidates. These are programs in which students take some of their courses on campus and some online. This format may be right for the student who wants the flexibility to listen to lectures in their own time, but without being completely separated from the resources and support of a campus environment. Students with a variety of learning styles can succeed in a hybrid program. For example, many practical and scientific disciplines will require students to complete labs, practicums, or other on-campus classes while completing the majority of their school work online. Other students may want the opportunity to take some courses on campus until they feel more confident in their ability to work independently.

Popular Degree Programs in Washington

Students who want to live and work in the region after they graduate should keep a close watch on industry trends. Washington's thriving high-tech culture in its city centers, along with its abundant natural resources, define the major industries in the state. These industries are also reflected in Washington's two most popular majors: oceanography and business management and administration.

  • Oceanography

    Oceanography is the study of the oceans' diverse ecosystems and how they interact with and impact the planet as a whole. Oceanography is a popular major in Washington, as the state's proximity to the sea means much of its industry and importance as a region revolve around ocean resources and activities.

  • Business Management and Administration

    A business management and administration degree teaches you how to organize and run a business. Students learn how to maximize efficiency and profitability, manage employees, and thrive in a competitive environment. Since many large, multinational corporations call Washington home, graduates with this degree are well-suited to begin their careers in the region.

What are the Best Online Colleges in Washington?

Due to the variety of options available, choosing the right school can be overwhelming for some applicants. Prospective students may choose to enroll in a two-year college, a four-year university, or an online program. Before this choice can be made, however, it's useful to understand the unique characteristics of each school being considered. Our rankings of the best online colleges in Washington gives students the help they need to make an informed decision. Below you will find information about the degree concentrations schools offer and the types of resources they make available to distance learners.


Washington State University Pullman, WA


WSU, established in 1890, is one of the nation’s top research institutions. Through the WSU Global Campus, students have access to a comprehensive catalog of online programs. As one of the top online colleges in Washington, WSU offers bachelor’s degrees in accounting, criminal justice, economics, human development, management, and psychology.

Classes are delivered using the Blackboard learning management system. Some programs require students to enroll either part time or full time. Distance learners have access to online tutoring, writing labs, webinars, live-streamed events, online career fairs, online study groups, and virtual mentors to help with academic challenges. Admission requirements include a high school diploma or its equivalent for freshmen. WSU Global Campus offers undergraduate, graduate, non-degree, and teacher endorsement options.


Central Washington University Ellensburg, WA


CWU is a national leader in providing distance learners with flexible, online programs. The institution, located in Ellensburg, offers bachelor’s degrees in fields such as aviation management, business administration, psychology, public health, and social services. The BS in IT and administrative management boasts four concentrations, including cyber security and retail management and technology.

The BS in paramedicine is a hybrid program for certified paramedics, and students may transfer an associate degree or its equivalent into the program. Courses are delivered using the Canvas learning management system, and online students have access to support services through the Online Student Resource Center. CWU celebrates its standing as one of the online colleges in Washington with a focus on offering students greater scheduling flexibility to improve degree completion times.


Western Washington University Bellingham, WA


WWU is a campus of 15,000 learners that offers approximately 160 academic programs. WesternOnline offers two online programs, including a 76-credit BA in human services, which prepares students for careers as advocates, case managers, grant writers, and youth workers. The fully online program has a social justice emphasis and requires 380 hours of field experience through work with human service organizations.

WWU, one of the best online schools in Washington, also offers a 60-credit, hybrid BA in multidisciplinary studies. It is a customizable program in which students use existing credits to build a degree that aligns with their personal and professional goals and learned skills. WWU provides online students with many study abroad, internship, and volunteer work opportunities.


Northwest University Kirkland, WA


Since 1934, Northwest has been helping students unleash their full potential with rigorous academic programs in a learning environment that facilitates excellence and spiritual vitality. The school, located in Kirkland, offers eLearning options through its virtual arm, NU Online. Undergraduates can earn BA degrees in business management, information technology, ministry leadership, organizational leadership, psychology, and public safety administration.

Northwest encourages faith as an integral underpinning of its learning and provides support services to help online learners succeed. Admission into any of the programs requires a high school diploma or equivalent, SAT or ACT scores, and a minimum 2.3 GPA. The school does not offer online programming in Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, and Wisconsin.


City University of Seattle Seattle, WA


CityU’s programs are designed with the working adult in mind. The school offers several online baccalaureate degrees in disciplines such as applied psychology, human services, management, business administration, and criminal justice. Some programs are delivered fully online or in a hybrid format, which requires students to complete some classes on campus. The BS in project management gives students the option to specialize in information technology or to develop their own area of specialization that fits career goals.

Courses are delivered using the Blackboard learning management system. Students can complete some online programs in three years. CityU, one of the top online schools in Washington, has one tuition for on-campus and online learners in the US, regardless of in-state or out-of-state residency.


Heritage University Toppenish, WA


Heritage, an institution with roots in the Yakama Nation, was incorporated in 1981 to reduce socio-economic and geographical barriers to higher education. The school offers a BA in English that students can complete entirely online. The program includes a liberal arts core and the study of British, Latino/Chicano, Native American, or African American literature. The curriculum also covers grant writing, creative writing, and rhetoric.

The program prepares students for careers in journalism, research, and public relations. Heritage, one of the top online Colleges in Washington, offers asynchronous courses with a low student-to-faculty ratio. The school is not authorized to offer distance learning in a number of states.

What are the Best Online Community Colleges in Washington?

Making the decision to pursue higher education is a big step. Beyond that, students need to decide whether a two-year or a four-year institution is right for them. Two-year programs are generally available at community colleges, which offer associate degrees, or at vocational schools, which offer certificates and career training.

Four-year colleges and universities are institutions where students can earn bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. Four-year schools have traditionally been viewed as a higher level of education than community colleges, but that perception may be changing. Students interested in a postsecondary degree also have the option of pursuing their education through online schools in Washington.


Shoreline Community College Shoreline, WA


SCC is located north of Seattle and serves around 10,000 students per year. As one of the largest online community colleges in Washington, SCC's virtual campus offers 16 associate degrees and several more certificate programs. The school's honors college offers additional support and opportunities to students who plan to transfer to a four-year university. Those who enroll in the honors college can complete independent research through an optional research track, participate in a cohort community, and receive academic distinction.

SCC's online associate degrees include business technology, criminal justice, health information technology, and purchasing and supply chain management. Most online coursework is taught asynchronously, though some classes feature occasional synchronous requirements. The school provides several resources for its online students such as live librarian assistance, computer help, laptop rentals, and academic advising. Students enrolled in online programs pay discounted tuition.


Walla Walla Community College Walla Walla, WA


WWCC is is one of the most diverse online community colleges in Washington. The college maintains several educational programs and services for inmates at local penitentiaries and corrections centers. WWCC's Hispanic Caucus focuses on supporting Hispanic and Latino students through guest speaking, cultural celebrations, and other events.

The school offers seven fully online degrees and certificates; these programs include associate degrees in turf management and human and social services, as well as certificates in irrigation and patient navigation. Most of the school's online degrees are dual purpose, which means that they prepare students to immediately find employment or to transfer to a four-year university. Online courses are mostly taught asynchronously. Distance learners pay the same tuition rate as on-campus students.


Edmonds Community College Lynnwood, WA


Edmonds Community College is located in Lynnwood. As one of the best online community colleges in Washington, the school serves around 20,000 students per year and emphasizes cultural diversity and academic excellence. The school is popular among prospective and current students for its generous transfer policies, its extensive workforce training, and its large business program.

Edmonds CC offers nine online associate degrees and eight online certificates. Notable programs include an associate of technical arts in event planning, an associate of family support studies, and an associate of business management. Several online programs are offered in conjunction with articulation agreements or direct transfer agreements with four-year universities in Washington. Online students pay the same tuition rates as on-campus students, and students who are veterans may qualify for reduced tuition.


Whatcom Community College Bellingham, WA


Whatcom has a 72-acre campus in Bellingham near the Canadian border. The college offers extensive student resources and academic and career opportunities, including several study abroad programs. The college's large selection of online course offerings makes it one of the best online community colleges in Washington. Depending on the program, online students pay the same tuition as in-state, on-campus students.

Whatcom offers fully online associate degrees in arts and science and in liberal studies. The school also has hybrid physical therapy and massage practitioner programs; these programs feature primarily online coursework, with one weekend per month of on-campus meetings and classes. Programs that are offered half online include hospitality and tourism business management, business administration, and accounting. The school also offers several other self-paced courses.


Lower Columbia College Longview, WA


Founded in 1934, LCC is located in Longview along the Columbia River. The college emphasizes small classes and quality teaching. LCC also maintains partnerships with several four-year universities. The school's University Center program allows students to earn bachelor's degrees and graduate degrees on the LCC campus without having to commute to different campuses.

LCC, one of the best online community colleges in Washington, has a fully online direct transfer associate of arts, as well as several other online and hybrid classes. Most coursework is taught asynchronously, although some classes require students to use a proctoring service for their exams. Online students pay an additional per-credit technology fee, and students who are veterans are eligible for discounted tuition. The school offers a free online tutoring service.


Spokane Community College Spokane, WA


SCC is located in eastern Washington and serves more than 30,000 students. Some of the school's most popular majors include social services, criminal justice, administration, and automotive technology. With 14 online degrees and certificate programs and several more individual courses online, SCC is one of the largest online community colleges in Washington.

The school's notable online programs include health information management, early childhood education, library information systems, and business software. Several online programs, such as SCC's associate degree in business, are direct transfer programs that prepare students to earn a bachelor's degree at a four-year university. Online classes are taught by the same faculty who teach on-campus classes and feature asynchronous and synchronous coursework. Classes are offered in fully online, hybrid, and web-enhanced formats.

Education Trends in Washington

Although Washington spends less on postsecondary education per full-time student, and allocates a smaller percentage of tax revenue to higher education than does the nation as a whole, demographic studies reveal a relatively educated populace. Specifically, Washington has higher percentages of citizens over the age of 25 with associate degrees, bachelor's degrees, and graduate or professional degrees compared to the national average.

  Washington United States
Source: SHEEO and U.S. Census
Postsecondary Education Spending per Full-Time Student $5,764 $6,954
Percent of Tax Revenue Allocated to Higher Education 4.4% 5.8%
Percentage of adults over 25 with associate degree 9.8% 8.1%
Percentage of adults over 25 with bachelor's degree 20.9% 18.5%
Percentage of adults over 25 with graduate degree or higher 12.0% 11.2%

Paying for College in Washington

Projections state that by 2020, 65% of all jobs in the U.S. will require a postsecondary degree. Though a college education is increasingly necessary, it is sometimes cost prohibitive. Prospective students will find that different types of higher learning institutions confer degrees at different price points. Additionally, the region where a student chooses to reside while pursuing their degree can have a big impact on the overall cost of their education. Financial aid opportunities may vary depending on the type of school, area of the country, and student eligibility.

Tuition Prices

In general, tuition is the same for online colleges in Washington as traditional schools, and students can expect to pay less tuition at a public two-year institution compared to a public four-year university. The tradeoff is that a two-year degree may not lead to as many career opportunities as a four-year degree. Students should also consider other expenses that are incurred in the pursuit of a college degree, such as textbooks, transportation, and overall cost of living.

Financial Aid

No matter whether students are enrolled in traditional schools or online colleges in Washington, earning a degree can be very expensive. This means that students should pursue any and all opportunities that help them pay for their education. This process starts with filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). There are several types of financial aid available to students, including scholarships, grants, work-study programs, and loans. Scholarships and grants are gifts that students earn on the basis of demonstrated academic merit or financial need. This type of aid does not need to be repaid and is therefore the most desirable. Work-study is a program in which students are provided with part-time employment to help them work off some of the cost of their degrees. Loans are disbursements of money that must be repaid with interest, which means they should receive less priority compared to other forms of financial aid.

Cost for Online Programs in Washington

As a general rule, any financial aid given to a student may be applied to online programs in the same way it's applied to traditional, on-campus programs. Aside from financial aid, there are other ways that distance learners save money by getting their degrees at online schools in Washington. Since they don't have to pay for transportation or parking, these students have fewer costs as a result of taking classes and completing coursework from home. Additionally, online textbooks are often cheaper than their physical counterparts, and students with children may find that they save money on childcare by choosing one of the many online colleges in Washington.

Cost of Living by Region

As cost is such an important factor to most people considering earning their college degree, where they choose to live can make a huge difference. Some cities have a much higher cost of living than others, so judicious students may choose to base their decision in part on a school's location. For those who want to live and work in the cities where they attended school, the location's cost of living will be of even greater importance in the long term.

Scholarships for Washington College Students

Washington State School Retirees Association Foundation Scholarship
$1,500; must be a high school senior in Washington with a GPA of 3.0 or higher who wants to have a career in an education field. View Scholarship
Robert J. Handy Scholarship
$900 a year for up to four years; must be a high school senior in Washington with a GPA of 3.0 or higher who wants to have a career in an education field. View Scholarship
Neil D. Prescott Scholarship
$1,500; must be a high school senior in Washington with a GPA of 3.0 or higher who wants to have a career in an education field. View Scholarship
PEMCO Scholarship
$3,600; must be planning to attend a postsecondary school in the state of Washington. View Scholarship
Salal Credit Union Healthcare Scholarship
$2,500; awarded to a student who will attend a postsecondary school in Washington. View Scholarship
Hal Wolf Scholarship
Amount varies; awarded to incoming freshmen at Central Washington University with a minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA who have attended Business Week on campus. View Scholarship
Don C. Brunell Scholarship
Up to $2,000; must be currently enrolled or planning to enroll in a higher learning institution in a field related to business with a minimum 3.0 GPA for the last school year. Must be the child or grandchild of an active or former member of the Association of Washington Business. View Scholarship
Rod Hetland N.O.F.A. Memorial Scholarship
$1,000; must have attended Boston Harbor Elementary for some portion of elementary education, must be under the age of 23 and be a high school senior or currently enrolled in postsecondary education. View Scholarship
Dan R. Montgomery Scholarship
$1,000 a year, with potential to renew for an additional year; must be a high school senior in Thurston County, WA planning to pursue a law enforcement career. Preference will be given to those who plan to attend an institution in Washington. View Scholarship
Cody Brown Memorial Scholarship
$2,000; must be a high school senior in Thurston County, WA with a minimum 3.0 GPA who formerly attended Griffin Elementary School. View Scholarship
John and Opal McGimpsey Scholarship Fund
$10,000 a year, renewable up to four years; must be a graduating senior at Olympia or North Thurston High School with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Must be planning to attend an accredited school in Washington and be able to demonstrate financial need. View Scholarship
Learning Seed Scholarship
$500-$2,000, may renew each year for up to four years of undergraduate studies; geared toward students of color, must be a graduating senior in Thurston or Pierce County, WA. View Scholarship
L&E Bottling Company Scholarship Fund
$1,000, renewable yearly for up to four years; must be a high school senior in Thurston County, WA. View Scholarship
Ecosystems Scholarship Fund
Up to $5,000; must be a sophomore, junior, or senior at the University of Washington, Washington State University, Western Washington University, or Evergreen State College with a declared major in natural resources or land use planning with a 3.0 GPA or above. View Scholarship
BBB Foundation Students of Integrity Scholarship - Northwest
$10,000; must be a high school junior or senior residing in Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, or Western Wyoming. View Scholarship
Cancer for College Henry Streuli Scholarship
$5,000; must be a cancer survivor enrolled in an accredited college and must be from or attending school in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, or Montana. View Scholarship
Scottish Rite Scholarship Foundation of Washington Scholarship
$3,000; must be a Washington state resident entering junior year or above at an accredited higher learning institution in Washington with a minimum 3.0 GPA. View Scholarship
Washington Thoroughbred Foundation Scholarship
$5,000; must be a Washington resident or a student attending a Washington school earning a degree in pre-veterinary (equine) medicine with a 2.85 GPA or above. View Scholarship
Washington State PTA Scholarship
$3,000 or $1,000; must be a graduating senior with a GPA of at least 3.2 from a Washington state public high school with an active parent teacher association who is starting college in the fall of the application year. View Scholarship
Anderson Criminal Justice Scholarship
$2,500 a year for two years; must be a Washington resident who is either a graduating senior or a returning student/adult learner, and must be a criminal justice major at a school in Washington. View Scholarship

Can all Scholarships be Used for Online Programs?

Most scholarships can be used for any type of program, whether it's online or in-person. Students should ensure they understand all of the requirements of a particular scholarship award, as some may stipulate that recipients attend a specific school or pursue a certain type of degree concentration in order to qualify. Students at either traditional or online schools in Washington can normally seek guidance from their school's financial aid office or the pertinent scholarship organization.

Employment Outlook in Washington

As of July of 2017, Washington's rate of unemployment was similar to, but just above, the national unemployment rate. However, the 2016 annual mean wage for Washingtonians was 11% higher than the average wage for workers in the U.S. as a whole, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Washington's biggest industries are can be summed up in three groups: finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing; professional and business services; and government. Since Boeing, Microsoft, and Amazon are all in the state, students who want careers in high-tech industries should also consider working in Washington.

  Washington United States
Source: BLS and BLS
Unemployment Rate, July 2017 4.5% 4.3%
Annual Mean Wage, May 2016 $55,810 $49,630

Top Employers and Industries in Washington

Top Industries in Washington

  • Finance, Insurance, Real Estate, Rental, and Leasing: This sector revolves around the transactions of financial assets, risk assessment, and payments that are involved in the insuring of individuals and businesses. It also involves the buying, selling, and renting of property.
  • Government: The public sector in Washington is made up of state and local government services, along with jobs at federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Defense. Public primary and secondary educational services are also included.
  • Professional and Business Services: Professional and business services refer to services provided in the professional, technical, or scientific arenas. Employees who maintain securities or management interests, or who provide contracted services for other companies, are also included in this category.

U.S. Department of Commerce and BLS

Top Employers in Washington

  • Boeing Co. : 44,000 employees
  • Microsoft Corp.: 40,000 employees
  • Amazon: 40,000 employees

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

Accreditation for Colleges in Washington

Accreditation is a process in which an approved agency evaluates a school's program and decides whether or not it meets the national or regional quality standards. National accreditation agencies frequently certify trade and vocational schools and don't apply standards as strict as those held by regional accreditation agencies. Employers may want to verify that a candidate's school is properly accredited when evaluating job qualifications. In addition, in many fields professional licensure requires a degree from an accredited institution. For these reasons, students considering either traditional or online schools in Washington may want to look for regional accreditation status when choosing a program.

According to U.S. News & World Report, accreditation standards are equally demanding for online schools as they are for on-campus schools. However, there may be special considerations for online colleges in Washington that don't apply to traditional institutions, such as the level of student-teacher interaction in the online environment and the type of resources available to distance learners. Students who wish to attend online schools in Washington should look for evidence that the school has been accredited by an agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. The regional accrediting agency responsible for Washington is the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Resources for Students in Washington

  • Washington Student Achievement Council: The Washington Student Achievement Council promotes the value and benefits of postsecondary education by spearheading the planning of statewide coordination efforts and administering financial aid to students.
  • Association for Higher Education (at Washington Education Association): Through community outreach, coalition building, and lobbying, this organization advocates for the needs of higher education instructors and students, specifically at community colleges or technical institutions.
  • Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education: WICHE is a regional organization with 15 member states in the western U.S. that participate in resource sharing and student transfer and exchange programs. Most notably, WICHE enables students attending member campuses to pay less than out-of-state students.
  • Washington Higher Education Technology Consortium: The Washington Higher Education Technology Consortium aims to improve the efficiency and quality of technology used by higher education facilities across the state of Washington. They coordinate the implementation and maintenance of technological services for students at various public, postsecondary schools in Washington.
  • Washington State Adult Education Advisory Council: The Washington State Adult Education Advisory Council is appointed by the governor to ensure that all residents of Washington have the knowledge, skills, and credentials necessary to earn a living wage and contribute to a successful state economy.
  • Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges: The WSBCTC is focused on directing, coordinating, and advocating for Washington's system of 34 public community and technical colleges. They work to raise the knowledge and skill levels of students in two-year colleges in the state in order to strengthen the competitiveness of Washington's economy.