25 Best Colleges in Virginia

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Are you ready to find your fit?

Want to be as well-educated as possible? Then consider going to college in Virginia, which aims to become “the best-educated state by 2030.”

As their state government notes, of all the 11.5 million new jobs created since the Great Recession, 99 percent require more education than just a high school diploma. Going to college has never been more important.

And Virginia is taking this reality very seriously. In 2016, the state devoted $316 million to higher education. This led to the lowest tuition increases in the past 15 years, which should help ensure that fewer students graduate with debt—and that those who do have a smaller, more manageable load.

Related: Best Online Schools in Virginia.

Going to college in the Commonwealth of Virginia, as it’s officially known, will not only put you in a strong educational environment, but in a beautiful and historic part of the country. Called the “Mother of Presidents,” Virginia has been the backdrop for much of American history: Jamestown, the American Revolution, and the Civil War being obvious examples.

You’ll also benefit from proximity to the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., which is nearby. If you’re interested in areas like politics, defense, or technology, going to college in Virginia will give you the opportunity to build networks with likeminded students and alumni who might be able to connect you to the internships and jobs that will put your career on a firm footing.

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Top 10 Best Colleges in Virginia

Rank School Location
1 Washington and Lee University Lexington, VA
2 University of Virginia Charlottesville, VA
3 University of Richmond University of Richmond, VA
4 College of William and Mary Williamsburg, VA
5 Virginia Military Institute Lexington, VA
6 George Mason University Fairfax, VA
7 Bridgewater College Bridgewater, VA
8 Hampton University Hampton, VA
9 Hampden-Sydney College Hampden-Sydney, VA
10 James Madison University Harrisonburg, VA

What are the best colleges in Virginia?

This ranking takes under consideration every college and university in Virginia that grants 4-year degrees. We take that list, and filter it through our methodology. Our methodology accounts for three central factors: student body diversity, academic quality, and return on investment, which we analyze using data from IPEDS, a database on higher education statistics available through the National Center for Education Statistics.

Rankings

See our rankings methodology page.

  1. Washington and Lee University
    Location

    Lexington, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    With roots that lead back to 1749, Washington and Lee University is one of the oldest universities in the country. Named for both George Washington and Robert E. Lee, the school is tucked in amid the scenic mountains surrounding Lexington, VA. In 1985, women joined the undergraduate student population of this private, liberal arts university. Today approximately 1,900 undergraduates enjoy W&L’s small class sizes and student/faculty ratio of 8:1.

    Features

    An education from Washington & Lee University lays the groundwork for success after graduation. Students become ethical leaders that are ready for “lives of consequence,” as envisioned by the university’s namesakes. Opportunities abound at W&L, such as the distinctive spring term that allows students to complete an intensive four-week class at home or abroad. W&L offers 37 majors leading to a bachelor’s degree as well as a graduate law program. Popular studies include:

    • Business
    • Accounting
    • Economics
    • Political Science
    • English Literature

    Notables

    Washington and Lee University is the #11 liberal arts school in the country and the #9 in best value, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. Additionally, W&L has more than 130 student organizations, and 80% of students are involved in sororities or fraternities. As a side note, Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition graduated from W&L in 1793.

  2. University of Virginia
    Location

    Charlottesville, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    In 1819, Thomas Jefferson established the University of Virginia, and his vision to create a revolutionary institution that would educate the citizenry of a newly-formed country continues to live on at UVA’s campus in Charlottesville, VA. Some areas of the original grounds, designed by Jefferson, are named to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Almost 16,000 undergraduate students and 6,500 graduate students attend this public, co-educational university. In 1970, women were admitted to UVA. The student/faculty ratio is 15:1.

    Features

    The University of Virginia was the first school to practice interdisciplinary study which is still emphasized in UVA’s current curriculum. Students are taught how to lead, to push the boundaries of knowledge, and to influence the path of the world. Experiential learning is available during innovative summer session classes and January term. More than 140 undergraduate majors, 80 master’s degrees, and 54 doctoral degrees are attainable. The most popular majors:

    • Economics
    • Commerce
    • Biology
    • International Relations
    • Psychology

    Notables

    The University of Virginia is a highly ranked university. U.S News & World Report lists UVA as #2 in the country for best public school, #24 of best public and private universities, #5 for value among public universities, and #8 among top law schools. For best value among public institutions, UVA is #2 according to Kiplinger’s and #3 according to Money magazine.

  3. University of Richmond
    Location

    University of Richmond, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The University of Richmond is a private, liberal arts university in Richmond, VA with a low 8:1 student/faculty ratio. Nearly 4,200 students go to classes at UR and 90% live on campus. Only 18% of undergraduates are Virginians. The history of UR goes back to 1830 when the school was first conceived as a Baptist seminary. Later the seminary transformed into Richmond College and Westhampton College, which still exist today as part of UR.

    Features

    The University of Richmond promises that each student is given $4,000 for an internship or research over the summer. This guarantee enables students to work closely with mentors and develop skills required for productive careers. Not a single class is taught by a teaching assistant, which underscores UR’s commitment to quality academics. UR makes available over 60 undergraduate majors and 7 graduate programs. Popular choices include:

    • Business Management
    • Social Sciences
    • Biomedical Sciences
    • Psychology

    Notables

    The first-year seminar is required for freshman at the University of Richmond and prepares them for academic success through critical discourse. Such programs have helped earn UR high marks from U.S. News & World Report. UR is #27 among top liberal arts universities nationwide and #26 for best value. Princeton Review and Kiplinger’s also called out UR as a top value for the money.

  4. College of William and Mary
    Location

    Williamsburg, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Williamsburg, VA is home to the historic College of William and Mary. Dating back to 1693 when England’s King William III and Queen Mary II established the college, the school is second oldest in the country. This public university became co-educational in 1918. Approximately 8,600 graduates and undergraduates are enrolled at William and Mary, where the student/faculty ratio is 12:1.

    Features

    The College of William and Mary focuses its education on original research, volunteer service, and academic excellence via top notch teaching. Students at William and Mary are encouraged to make an impact on the world. The university presents students with 40 majors for undergraduates and 20 programs for graduates. Popular majors are the following:

    • Social Sciences
    • Economics
    • Biology and Neuroscience
    • Psychology

    Notables

    The prestigious, academic honor society of Phi Beta Kappa was started at the College of William and Mary in the 1700s. The first law school in the U.S. was also established at William and Mary. U.S. News & World Report named William and Mary to the #6 spot for public universities in the U.S., to the #12 spot for excellent teaching, and to the #19 spot for top colleges for veterans. Kiplinger’s and Forbes also rank William and Mary among the best institutions nationally and for value.

  5. Virginia Military Institute
    Location

    Lexington, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Nearly 1,750 cadets attend the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, VA. Established in 1839, VMI is a public, co-educational institution and also the country’s oldest, public military college. VMI has a 12:1 student/faculty ratio and students receive individual support from VMI professors. Classes are taught by faculty only, not teaching assistants.

    Features

    The Virginia Military Institute purposely keeps the number of its majors to a minimum to maintain academic quality. There are only 14 majors for cadets, each resulting in a B.A. or B.S. degree. Popular areas of study are:

    • Engineering
    • International Studies
    • Psychology
    • History

    Cadets must join an ROTC program while at VMI. Half of all students enter military service upon graduation, but going into the military is not required. Cadets are expected to follow the military lifestyle while at VMI which includes upholding values such as honor, integrity, and responsibility.

    Notables

    For more than 15 years, the Virginia Military Institute has merited top marks for its education. This year, U.S. News & World Report selected VMI as #4 among public schools in the country, #3 of national colleges for value, and #72 in best liberal arts institutions. Money magazine also recognized VMI as among top U.S. colleges.

  6. George Mason University
    Location

    Fairfax, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Not too far from Washington D.C. is where you’ll find George Mason University. The public, co-educational university started out in Fairfax, VA with fewer than 20 students in 1957 but today enrolls more than 34,000. Approximately 6,300 students live on campus, but the majority of attendees are commuters. Mason is one of youngest schools in Virginia and also the largest. The student/faculty ratio is 16:1.

    Features

    A forward-leaning education that prepares students to serve their communities and tackle the world’s biggest problems is the goal of George Mason University. Students are urged to complete an internship at places like the White House, the Justice Department, or ESPN. There are over 200 degree programs at Mason for the bachelor, master, and doctoral levels. A few of the generally popular majors are:

    • Psychology
    • Political Science
    • Accounting
    • Biomedical Science

    Notables

    Considered as one of the top 15 innovative universities nationwide by U.S. News & World Report, George Mason University also placed #71 among all public institutions, and its law school placed #41. Additionally, Mason is widely thought to be a best value by Kiplinger’s and Forbes. Upon graduation, Mason students earn the highest salaries on average of those who attended Virginian universities.

  7. Bridgewater College
    Location

    Bridgewater, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Almost 2,000 students are pursuing their degrees at Bridgewater College in Bridgewater, VA where the student/faculty ratio is 14:1. Tucked into Virginia’s scenic Shenandoah Valley, the school is only minutes away from Harrisonburg. From its founding day in 1880, Bridgewater was the first private, liberal arts institution in the state to allow women. Bridgewater maintains ties with Church of the Brethren but also welcomes students from all religious backgrounds. Around 9% of students are Brethren.

    Features

    Equality and inclusion are important ideals of the academic community at Bridgewater College. The curriculum here challenges students to ask more of themselves, live with purpose, and contribute to society. Students experience a close-knit environment in which education holistically addresses each individual. Bridgewater’s 62 majors and 10 pre-professional areas of study lead to an undergraduate degree. The most popular majors include:

    • Business Administration
    • Biology
    • Athletic Training
    • Psychology
    • Health and Exercise Science

    Notables

    Through Bridgewater’s Center for Engaged Learning, students can experience hands-on learning outside the classroom via activities such as teaching in the community, research, peacebuilding, study abroad, and green programming. According to Princeton Review, Bridgewater College is one of the best schools in the Southeast, an honor that Bridgewater has received multiple times.

  8. Hampton University
    Location

    Hampton, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Hampton University’s history reaches back to the years prior to the Civil War, but the official founding date of the school is 1868. This private, co-educational institution is a historically black university with an inspiring past and a multicultural, 21st century future. HU enrolls nearly 4,700 students at its campus in Hampton, VA where class sizes are small with a 9:1 student/faculty ratio. Notable alumni include Booker T. Washington.

    Features

    Progressive teaching, diversity, and the pursuit of excellence are hallmarks of Hampton University. The dual objectives of research and service come together during a student’s tenure at HU. Character is developed and graduates are ready to lead with integrity. There are 49 undergraduate majors, 21 graduate programs, and 7 doctoral programs for students. Some of the popular majors are the following:

    • Psychology
    • Biology
    • Business Administration
    • Communications
    • Pharmacy

    Notables

    Among historically black colleges, U.S. News & World Report named Hampton University as #3 in the U.S. HU also scored #18 for best colleges in the South, and #13 for best schools for veterans in the South. More than 110 student organizations are part of student life at HU, and the Black History Extravaganza is an engaging and widely-attended event.

  9. Hampden-Sydney College
    Location

    Hampden-Sydney, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Hampden-Sydney College is one of the only private, all men’s institutions in the United States. Almost 1,100 men form the student body at H-SC in Hampden-Sydney, VA about an hour from Richmond. H-SC was founded in 1775 by Presbyterians who modeled the school on the University of Edinburgh. Among the ten oldest colleges in the nation, H-SC has a student/faculty ratio of 10:1 and an average class size of 14. The majority of students (65%) are from VA.

    Features

    Hampden-Sydney College requires all students to complete its distinctive Rhetoric Program, an intensive reading, writing, and speaking course to build superior communicative skill. An H-SC education also focuses on critical thinking, honor, and common good. Students can select from 25 majors and 5 pre-professional programs at the bachelor’s level. Popular majors at H-SC include:

    • Economics and Commerce
    • Biology
    • History
    • Government

    Notables

    U.S. News & World Report ranks Hampden-Sydney College among the top liberal arts institutions in the U.S. H-SC came in at #105 overall and #11 for best schools for veterans. Forbes seconded that opinion, also placing H-SC among best Southern colleges. Students can join more than 60 clubs for extracurricular, leadership, and service. Outdoorsmen will love fishing, hunting, and camping in the nearby state forest.

  10. James Madison University
    Location

    Harrisonburg, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Harrisonburg, VA in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley is home to James Madison University. A public, co-educational university with 19,300 undergraduates and 1,500 graduate students, JMU has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio. Established in 1908 by the state of Virginia to fulfill the need for a teacher’s college, JMU began as a women’s school but changed to include men in 1966.

    Features

    Despite its larger size, James Madison University students receive personal attention from their professors, and that is one of the reasons JMU’s student body is among the happiest in the nation. More than 97% of classes are taught by faculty, not teaching assistants. Approximately 80% of students complete an internship or study abroad. JMU has a variety of coursework across 123 degree programs. Some popular majors are:

    • Nursing
    • Biology
    • Marketing
    • Health Sciences
    • Finance

    Notables

    Among public universities, Kiplinger’s selected James Madison University as a best value, and so did Princeton Review. U.S. News & World Report picked JMU as the #2 public university in the South and the #3 most innovative school. Of all public and private Southern institutions, JMU ranked #8. Additionally there are almost 400 student organizations ranging from 3-D printing to environmental management and everything in between.

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