6 Best Colleges in Hawai’i

While you might only think of Hawai’i as a tropical paradise, there is a lot more to our newest state than sand and surfing.

Best Colleges in HawaiiOf course, it certainly has that, along with many other natural wonders like Waimea Canyon, which is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, a World Heritage site that was officially protected in 2006. It covers 140,000 square miles (more than all U.S. National Parks combined) and is the world’s second largest protected area.

Related: Best Online Colleges in Hawai’i

So if you come to college here in Hawai’i, what else might you experience? For one, the state is unique in its ethnic and cultural diversity, because it is the only state in the country with a plurality of Asian residents. It also has two official languages—English and Hawaiian—though many other languages are spoken on the island as well including Hawai’i Creole English, Japanese, Tagalog, Ilokano, and Spanish. With such cultural diversity, Hawai’i has a thriving musical and literary tradition, and a unique culinary tradition as well.

What are the best colleges in Hawai’i?

In case you needed further convincing, hopefully this has really got you to think about going to college in Hawai’i. It offers so much, and even more than the postcards let on. For interested prospective students, we’ve put together this ranking based on our own data aggregation to determine what are the best colleges in Hawai’i. We rank them according to three central criteria: excellence, return on investment, and student satisfaction. These criteria are each informed by a thorough collating of data from numerous databases, including IPEDS, U.S. News & World Report, Payscale, and various sites students use to rate their own college experience.

2018 Ranking

See our rankings methodology page.


Brigham Young University-Hawaii

College Choice Score: 100

Average Net Price: $17,304

School Website


Missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) established a presence in Hawai’i (then the Sandwich Islands) as early as 1843. Not until 1955 did construction begin on the future university. Hawaiian statehood was still four years away. The campus sits ten minutes from the beach. The Temple can be reached on foot within five minutes.

LDS students comprise 97 percent of the demographics. Recruitment focuses on international students, who make up 55 percent of the student body. Subsidized heavily by the Church, the university follows an Honor Code of Conduct. Students must attend church and devotionals, and the campus buildings close for both.

Program Features

Being located in Hawai’i, the university offers unique majors not found on the mainland. These include Hawaiian studies and Pacific Island studies. A special Hawaiian canoe, named Iosepe, was hand carved from Fijian hardwoods. The Hawaiian Studies program uses the vessel as a floating classroom.

Students in this major learn Hawaiian, Samoan, Maori, and Tongan languages, as well as the ukulele and traditional dances of the islands. The Center for Hawaiian and Pacific Island Studies will expand with four new majors in the fall of 2017. They include Communication Studies, Cultural Anthropology, Integrated Humanities, and Intercultural Peace Building.

Unique courses offered at BYUH include:

  • Ke Kahua o ka ‘Olelo- Kau Hope – The Foundation
  • Malama ‘Aina – Land Responsibility
  • Folk Dance of the Pacific
  • Ho’oikaika Kama’ ilio – Traditional Oratorical Styles


The mission statement of the Center for Hawaiian and Pacific Island Studies reads, “Highly qualified students possessing a strong testimony of the Gospel, with in-depth knowledge of Hawai’i and Pacific cultures and languages in order to build communities and strengthen families.” BYUH funds the Polynesian Culture Center (PCC) and supports its research and presentations. Many students find part-time work at the PCC. The university’s outreach program includes addressing the environment, biology, peoples, cultures, politics, sea life, and language of the state and the Pacific.


Hawai'i Pacific University

College Choice Score: 94.06

Average Net Price: $39,336

School Website


What sets HPU apart is its broad reach: classes are held on 7 military bases on Oahu as well as in Honolulu, Kaneohe, and Makapu’u. In 2012, the university earned a silver award from GI Jobs, which ranks military-friendly schools. The school regularly waives tuition for military personnel.

Founded in 1965, the school is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission. As a private, nonsectarian, co-ed, and not-for-profit school, HPU serves 5,600 undergraduate and graduate students. Its stated goal is to be in the top 10 independent Western schools.

The values that set HPU apart are Pono (morality), Kuleana (communal responsibility), and Aloha (love, patience, thoughtfulness, unity). In 2014, the university merged with the Oceanic Institute, which was noted for innovating methods for shrimp farming.

Program Features

HPU offers continuing education, professional development, certification, undergraduate, and graduate pathways. Business courses include:

  • International Trade and Finance
  • Managerial Economics
  • International Marketing


Their MBA online degree was listed in the top 25 Best Online MBA in International Business Degree Programs. They also offer an MBA Hybrid On-Base program, in which students can take classes on campus, on base, or online to accommodate deployments.

MBA coursework includes:

  • The Regulatory Environment of Business
  • Decision Models for Managers
  • Strategic Management


Chaminade University of Honolulu

College Choice Score: 91.58

Average Net Price: $37,893

School Website


This Catholic university opened its doors in 1955 as the St. Louis Junior College. Connected with the Association of Marianist Universities (AMU), the co-ed school operates as a private not-for-profit entity. Accreditation is by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

Chaminade offers 23 undergraduate and 7 graduate degree programs. Criminology and Criminal Justice graduates leave prepared for careers in customs, the ATF, the CIA, the FBI, the Secret Service, INS, corrections, and as detectives, police officers, U.S. marshals, and forensic psychologists. Eighty percent of the Honolulu Police Department’s officers at or above the rank of lieutenant have Master’s degrees.

Program Features

The school offers the largest criminal justice program in the state of Hawai’i. Students engage in hands-on learning, including crime scene recreations. They conduct simulated witness interviews and evidence collection. One elective teaches underwater evidence recovery.

Courses include:

  • Juvenile Deviancy and Juvenile Justice
  • Criminal Procedures
  • Criminal Law


To graduate with a B.S. in Criminology and Criminal Justice, students need to earn 120 credit hours. The Master’s program requires 42 credit hours, and these students can choose from three tracks: corrections, law enforcement, or a hybrid of both corrections and law enforcement.

Special opportunities offered include internships, study abroad, and the Hogan Entrepreneur Program. Juniors, seniors and graduate students remain in this program for one to two years to earn a certificate. Hogan teaches entrepreneurship, and the 30 to 45 students receive mentorship, internships, and valuable networking opportunities.


University of Hawai'i at Hilo

College Choice Score: 84.3

Average Net Price: $33,720

School Website


In 1947, the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa began a program in Hilo, which became the University of Hawai’i at Hilo two decades later. This public liberal arts school has accreditation from the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

Students attend 2 semesters of 16 to 17 weeks, or an intensive 4-week summer term followed by a 6-week summer term. With 43 undergraduate, 8 graduate, and 4 doctorate degrees, UH Hilo offers something for every student.

Program Features

The most popular programs are pharmacy studies and marine science. Students in marine science experience hands-on learning and engage in research. The goals for their education include training in focused areas such as fisheries, geology, or aquaculture. Mastery of the sciences includes physics, chemistry, biology, ecology, and oceanography. Calculus and computer applications round out the requirements.

A B.S. in Marine Science requires 120 credit hours. Courses include:

  • Oceanography Lab
  • Statistical Applications in Marine Science
  • Coastal Methods and Analyses

Seniors choose from an internship, thesis, or seminar. Electives include:

  • Atoll Ecosystem
  • Coral Reef Ecology
  • Marine Debris in the Pacific

Equipment used includes research crafts (catamaran, motorboat, inflatables), and SCUBA gear. Students make use of the Scanning Electron Microscopy Laboratory.


Graduating seniors have experience in lab and field methodology, computer applications, analysis, experimentation, and monitoring the marine environment.

Prospects depend on the degree chosen. A Bachelor of Science leads to graduate school, professorial positions, management, medical school, or veterinary school. The Bachelor of Arts option works best for future secondary school teachers, non-profit positions, government roles, tourism specialists, and law students.

An exciting Marine Option Program (MOP) provides all students the opportunity to earn a certificate. Interested students must complete a project and coursework, and they participate in the Student Skill Project Symposium. MOP teaches underwater photography, boating, fishing, snorkeling, and research methods. The program also hosts lectures, movies, and field trips.


University of Hawai'i at Mānoa

College Choice Score: 78.65

Average Net Price: $48,776

School Website


Located in the beautiful Mānoa Valley outside Honolulu, the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa appeals to a wide array of students interested in undergraduate, master’s, professional, and doctoral degrees. Since 1907, the school has earned a reputation for research. The National Science Foundation positions UH Mānoa in the top 50 public universities in terms of research investment ($300 million in 2014). The university boasts of its rare designation as a land-, sea-, and space-grant institution.

Its 18,056 students are 67 percent Hawaiian, 27 percent out-of-state, and 6 percent international. With a class size averaging just 20, the school offers 99 bachelor’s degrees, 85 master’s degrees, and 58 professional and doctoral programs. Accreditation comes from the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

Program Features

The School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene (SONDH) gives students several avenues to pursue nursing degrees:

  • Direct from high school (4 years, achieve B.S. Nursing)
  • Current students, transfers, and veteran students (preparation for graduate school)
  • Students with associate’s degrees from the Consortium (Maui College, Kaua’i Community College, and Kapi’olani Community College)
  • RN to B.S. Nursing (non-Consortium students with less than 2 years working as RNs)
  • Executive RN to B.S. Nursing (2 or more years working as an RN)

SONDH also offers master’s and doctoral programs for careers in population health, research, teaching, geriatrics, administration, innovating health care, and writing public policy. Graduates with advanced degrees can anticipate influencing choices about patient care at the highest level of medical facilities. PhD graduates are equipped for a future in research. Advanced degree programs are conducted online, on campus, or a hybrid of both. Specialties for graduate students include:

  • Advanced Population Health Nursing (Master’s level)
  • Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (Doctor of Nursing Practice or DNP)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner (DNP)
  • Organizational Leadership (Post-Master’s to DNP)


One unique program at UH Mānoa is ‘Ike Ao Pono, which promotes nursing education among Hawaiian and Pacific Islander natives. Once graduated, these nurses return to their communities to administer health care. Another project is Veterans to Nurses, which supports veteran students as they proceed through their years in the nursing program. As part of its outreach efforts, the school’s students conduct health checkups and teach locals about health topics.


University of Hawai'i-West Oahu

College Choice Score: 65.06

Average Net Price: $36,808

School Website


This 4-year college serves the indigenous population of the state with 6 bachelor’s degrees and 7 certificates. Located in Kapolei, it hosts 2,700 students with an average age of 26.7 years.

The school has no online-only option at this time, but semesters are shorter than average at 15 weeks. Accreditation comes from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

Program Features

The General Business Administration major offers a B.A. in Business Administration in a combination of online and traditional classes. Graduates anticipate finding work in retail, sales, education, HR, project management, accounting, government, and finance.

Courses include:

  • Statistics for Decision-Making
  • Global Management and Organizational Behavior
  • Business Finance

The business school offers concentrations in accounting, facilities management, finance, general business administration, hospitality and tourism, management, and marketing.


After joining the Business Club, students conduct volunteer work within the community. They have opportunities to visit and tour corporations, which leads to networking with executives. Fundraising events and hosting lectures round out the experiences acquired within the Business Club.