Top 25 Best Colleges in the Northwest: 2018 Rankings

The states of the American Northwest, the Pacific Northwest in particular, provide a diverse offering of liberal arts colleges and larger research universities to potential students.

Including the states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, and Northern California, this region has a school for everyone.

For the purposes of this list, we have included the northern half of California (north of San Jose) in the Northwest region. Check out the list of the best of the best in the Northwest below.

25. Oregon State University

  • Location: Corvallis, OR
  • Student Enrollment: 29,576
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

Although it is located in a small city, Oregon State University is a fairly large school. The university receives over 14,000 applications each year and accepts 77% of students. Many of the attending undergraduate students select majors in Human Development and Family Studies, Computer Science, Health and Physical Education/Fitness, Public Health, or Psychology.

24. Pacific Lutheran University

Flickr user Gexydaf

  • Location: South Tacoma, WA
  • Student Enrollment: 3,170
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

The Pacific Lutheran University dates back to 1890. Although it is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church, only about 20% of those attending consider themselves Lutheran, so a religious affiliation is not a requirement. The university has extremely high rates for financial aid and grants, with 98% of students receiving grant aid and/or institutional grants.

23. Washington State University

Flickr user GlacierGuyMT

  • Location: Pullman, WA

  • Student Enrollment: 29,686
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

A Doctoral/Research University, Washington State University has an extremely heavy emphasis on science and history. Top majors include social sciences, nursing, psychology, and mechanical engineering. With 23,223 applications each year, 16,720 students are accepted and 4,727 decide to enroll in the university. Just under 80% will stay after their freshman year.

22. Linfield College–McMinnville Campus

Flickr user Derek Severson

  • Location: McMinnville, OR
  • Student Enrollment: 1,700
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

All students attending the Linfield College -McMinnville Campus are undergraduates, with about 464 freshman. A majority are from the West Coast, though some do come from Ohio, Colorado, and Texas.  With a student to faculty ratio of 11 to 1, approximately 82% of students will stay at the college after their first year.

21. University of Washington–Bothell Campus

Flickr user brewbooks

  • Location: Bothell, WA
  • Student Enrollment: 5,277
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

Sharing a campus with Cascadia College, University of Washington’s Bothell Campus is actually the largest campus branch in the state. A vast majority of the students are from Washington state with study abroad programs and weekend/evening college classes available. Business, nursing, media studies, and computer science are the four most popular majors at the campus.

20. Western Washington University

Flickr user Joe Wolf

  • Location: Bellingham, WA
  • Student Enrollment: 15,332
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

The northern most university in the continental United States, Western Washington University accepts 83% of those who apply, with 32% choosing the school for their education. Over 100 undergraduate students are currently pursuing degrees in interdisciplinary studies, but psychology and environmental science are top choices. Popular varsity sports include basketball, track, and soccer.

19. Seattle Pacific University

Flickr user Curtis Cronn

  • Location: Seattle, WA
  • Student Enrollment: 4,024
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Located right in the famous city of Seattle, even outside of studies, students will never find a shortage of activities, both off campus and on. With great culture and personality, the University’s motto is Engaging the Culture, Changing the World.” The campus is home to some of the oldest trees in Seattle and a wilderness field dedicated to biology at the school.

18. Saint Mary’s College of California

Flickr user Franco Folini

  • Location: Moraga, CA
  • Student Enrollment: 4,030
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Offering up to Doctorates, Saint Mary’s College of California currently has nearly 3,000 undergraduate students, with a vast majority deciding to major in business and commerce. After their first year at the college, approximately 86% will stay to continue their education. Although most students are from California, many are also from Washington, Texas, Illinois, and Oregon.

17. San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Flickr user gastondog

  • Location: San Francisco, CA
  • Student Enrollment: 379
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

This school for art, music, and design is located right in a heart land of culture, spirit, and passion: San Francisco. With just over 400 students applying each year, only 42% of these are accepted. 33 will go on to enroll in the conservatory. This results in small class sizes and a 6:1 student to faculty ratio. The most popular study is voice and opera, but the school also offers majors in keyboard and music theory.

16. Whitworth University

Flickr user Ian Sane Pictured: Spokane Courthouse

  • Location: Spokane, WA
  • Student Enrollment: 2,650
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Whitworth University has a very high acceptance rate, with 89% of applying students being accepted to the school. Although only 20% of students will go on to attend the university, 85% of freshman will stay at the campus after their first year. The school offers a variety of varsity sports including baseball, football, soccer, golf, and volleyball.

15. University of Oregon

Flickr user Wolfram Burner

  • Location: Eugene, OR
  • Student Enrollment: 24,032
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

Founded in 1872, the University of Oregon is one of the most well known schools in the United States. Popular for their football team, the athletes are known as the Oregon Ducks and the mascot is based off Donald Duck. Most students major in business and social sciences, but economics, psychology, and physiology are also common choices.

14. University of Puget Sound

Flickr user mSeattle

  • Location: Tacoma, WA
  • Student Enrollment: 2,774
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

The University of Puget Sound, although it accepts nearly 80% of applicants, asks for relatively higher ACT and SAT scores when compared to other schools. Out of the 5,000 accepted students, approximately 13% will go on to attend the Tacoma university. 86% of freshman will stay on at Puget Sound and 68% of students will graduate within 4 years.

13. University of San Francisco

Flickr user Michael Fraley

  • Location: San Francisco, CA
  • Student Enrollment: 10,797
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

Sitting in between the Golden Gate Bridge and Golden Gate Park, the University of San Francisco is dedicated to education and the city it calls home as demonstrated by its motto: Pro Urbe et Universitate or For City and University. Many students choose majors in business, nursing, finance, and psychology.

12. Seattle University

Flickr user javacolleen

  • Location: Seattle, WA
  • Student Enrollment: 7,405
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Dating back to the 1890’s, Seattle University’s most popular major by far is currently nursing, although finance and psychology are also common choices. The school has a fairly high acceptance rate of 74%, with just under 17% of accepted students deciding on the university as their choice. Part of the Western Athletic Conference, track, basketball, and baseball are popular sports.

11. Willamette University

Flickr user Max Rae

  • Location: Salem, OR
  • Student Enrollment: 2,746
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Willamette University is the oldest university located in the Western United States, having been founded in 1842. With a large athletic department and part of the Northwest Conference, popular sports include football, baseball, and soccer. Their mascot is the bearcat, with gold and cardinal colors. Popular majors include political science and economics.

10. Lewis & Clark College

Flickr user Curtis Cronn

  • Location: Portland, OR
  • Student Enrollment: 3,526
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

The Lewis & Clark Expedition ended just to the northwest of present day Portland and gave this college its name. Their motto is also a reflection of the expedition: Explorare, Discere, Sociare or To explore, to learn, to work together. Seeking higher ACT composite scores of 27 to 31, this college is quite selective, only accepting 55% of applying students.

9. University of Portland

Flickr user Thomas Le Ngo

  • Location: Portland, OR
  • Student Enrollment: 4,338
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Accepting only 61% of applicants, approximately 13% of these accepted students will go on to attend the University of Portland. A majority of students do come from the West Coast, but many are also the neighboring states of Nevada, Idaho, and Arizona. Nursing is by far the most popular major at the university, but biology is also a top choice.

8. Gonzaga University

Flickr user Michael Li

  • Location: Spokane, WA
  • Student Enrollment: 7,491
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

73% of students who attend Gonzaga University will graduate within 4 years, following a very high freshman year retention rate of 92%. With a 12:1 student to faculty ratio, the university also offers study abroad and ROTC – Army for students to participate in. Business is the top major for Gonzaga undergraduates.

7. Reed College

Flickr user Dale Cruse

  • Location: Portland, OR
  • Student Enrollment: 1,453
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

A smaller school, Reed College is highly selective. Out of 5,705 applications, only 1,768 students will be accepted, resulting in a 31% acceptance rate. With a first year retention rate of 87%, the college boasts a 9:1 student to faculty ratio. Many students attending Reed will also choose to major in several studies, rather than just one.

6. University of California–Davis

Flickr user Prayitno

  • Location: Davis, CA
  • Student Enrollment: 35,186
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

University of California – Davis boasts a very large amount of undergraduate students: 28,792 out of the 35,186 attending. Highly selective, only about 42% of students applying to the university will be accepted. Research and Experimental Psychology is a top major at this Doctoral/Research university, with business and economics not far behind.

5. Whitman College

Flickr user Chuck Taylor

  • Location: Walla Walla, WA
  • Student Enrollment: 1,470
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Whitman’s inspirational school motto of “Per ardua sergo” translates to: Through adversities I rise. The most popular majors on this campus are Biology, Psychology, Biochemistry / Molecular Biology, and Political Science. Almost 4,000 applications are sent to this private liberal arts school each year.

4. University of Washington–Seattle Campus

Flickr user Curtis Cronn

  • Location: Seattle, WA
  • Student Enrollment: 45,408
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

This large flagship university in Washington state is one of the oldest institutions on the west coast with views of the Cascade mountain range.  Speech communications, psychology and biology top the most popular majors list.  The University launched its CoMotion initiative to act as an innovation hub dedicated to expand the economic and societal impact in Seattle area and has generated 81 startup companies created in the past five years.

3. Santa Clara University

Flickr user Ed Bierman

  • Location: Santa Clara, CA
  • Student Enrollment: 8,680
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Santa Clara University is the oldest still-operating institution of higher education in California, and has remained in its original location for 166 years. The university’s 17 varsity sports teams play in NCAA Division I, and its mascot is Bucky Bronco. Students at the highly selective school tend to have ACT scores between 27–32 and SAT scores between 1,220–1,410.

2. University of California–Berkeley

Flickr user K. Oliver

  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Student Enrollment: 38,189
  • College Type: Public, 4-year or above

Berkeley, the result of an 1868 merger of the private College of California and the public Agricultural, Mining and Mechanical Arts college, is the oldest research university in the UC system. The school’s faculty, alumni and researchers make up an impressive group which includes Nobel laureates, Academy Award winners and Olympic gold medalists.

1. Stanford University

Flickr user Michael Estigoy

  • Location: Stanford, CA
  • Student Enrollment: 16,980
  • College Type: Private not-for-profit, 4-year or above

Stanford’s german motto—Die Luft der Freiheit weht—stands for “The wind of freedom blows.” For this prestigious school, the average ACT score is between 31 and a perfect 36, for the SAT between 1,390 and 1,580. Given its proximity to Silicon Valley, it comes as no surprise that the most popular major on campus is Computer Science.

About our methodology

Colleges are ranked based on a combination of factors, including graduation rates, campus diversity, endowment per student, and other data as reported via the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) for the most recently-available enrollment year. Some colleges may have been excluded from rankings based on certain criteria, including specialization and classification. Learn about our full methodology.

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College Raptor Staff

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