The Best Colleges in Virginia

The best colleges in Virginia excel in academics, athletics, and are renown for their beautiful campuses. History plays a large role in these institutions, especially so with those which were established years before the United States was established as a country. Virginia was one of America’s original 13 colonies and still holds the nickname “Old Dominion” which is reflected in the name of one of the state’s top colleges and premier collegiate sport divisions.

We reviewed dozens of colleges and have identified the best in Virginia to help you choose your best path of higher learning. Considering factors such as class size, academic achievements, and athletic opportunities we’ve picked our top choices and broken down the rest to show you our favorite colleges in Virginia.

Top Pick
University of Virginia

U.S. News & World Report ranked the University of Virginia as a top-five public school in the United States in 2019.

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After scrutinizing all of Virginia’s colleges, we’ve chosen the University of Virginia as our top pick. The college has received countless awards for its academic programs and has been praised by students for its excellent campus life.

The 5 Top-Rated Colleges in Virginia

Editor's PicksCollegeRating
Best OverallUniversity of Virginia5.0
Runner UpVirginia Tech5.0
Best ValueJames Madison University4.0
Best for AcademicsWashington and Lee University4.7
Best for AthletesUniversity of Richmond5.0

*Ratings are from U.S. News and Niche.com at the time of publication and can change.

Our Top Pick: University of Virginia

The University of Virginia is the state’s flagship university. This institution is the academic home to over 15,000 students studying a wealth of different topics with economics, biology, and business as the top undergraduate programs. With an average freshman retention rate of 97% and an overall graduation rate of 95%, the University of Virginia is one of the most successful schools for students in the nation.

Graduates of the university have a median earning that is nearly double that of the national average, and 94% of students are employed within two years of graduation. The numbers directly showcase how successful this school and its alumni are.

Students say that daily life at the school is enjoyable, noting the beautiful campus and inclusive atmosphere as outstanding highlights. Historical significance emanates throughout the campus and reflects in the university’s grandeur. The college was originally founded by President Thomas Jefferson and the campus safeguards one of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence which is on display for all to see.

University of Virginia Key Features:

  • 15 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • NCAA Division I-FBS athletic status
  • Average freshman retention rate of 97%
  • Founded by Thomas Jefferson

Our Runner Up Pick: Virginia Tech

Runner Up
Virginia Tech

Scoring well across the board in academics, athletics, and student life, Virginia Tech is a well-rounded institution that students love.

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Virginia Tech ranks high in all aspects of student life according to Niche.com where the college ranks ninth overall in the United States for student life, an honor which is bolstered by a third-place rating for the best college campus and second for best campus food. Freshmen students are required to live on campus, but, from the sounds of it, the students enjoy living there.

Dozens of superb academic programs form the foundation upon which the college stands, and the highly acclaimed schools of engineering and business are the most popular among students. Virginia Tech also has 73 graduate programs born from eight different graduate schools.

The Virginia Tech Hokies are competitive across a wide range of sports in top-tier national divisions and conferences. This school has it all, and, at a cost of under $7,000 a semester, it’s fairly inexpensive to boot.

Virginia Tech Key Features:

  • 14 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Features seven research institutes and two research centers
  • Freshmen must live on campus
  • NCAA Division I-FBS athletic status

Best Value: James Madison University

Best Value
James Madison University

Low tuition costs makes James Madison University an attractive option for coin-conscience consumers, and the school’s academic prowess ensures its value.

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Ranked as the third-best college in the southern United States by U.S. News & World Report in 2019, James Madison University stands proudly among Virginia’s best colleges while providing an unbeatable value for students. At an average cost of $5,500 per semester for in-state students, the price of a quality collegiate education rarely comes cheaper.

Holding great value doesn’t mean that James Madison University skimps on the students. In fact, the college is among the top schools in the nation for overall campus accommodations and on-campus food. Students will find their day-to-day lives are as opulent as some of America’s finest academic institutions.

This liberal arts university draws students seeking degrees in health professions, communications, business, and social sciences. The campus is comprised of seven different colleges that serve both graduate and undergraduate students.

James Madison University Key Features:

  • 16 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • NCAA Division I-FCS athletic status
  • Robust study abroad program

Best for Academics: Washington and Lee University

Best for Academics
Washington and Lee University

U.S. News & World Report and Niche.com both rank Washington and Lee University among the top 10 liberal arts colleges in the United States.

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Washington and Lee University is a small, private college with one of the lowest acceptance rates in the nation. It’s a tough school to get into, but those who make it will be attending one of the finest academic institutions in all of Virginia. This liberal arts university is held in high regard throughout the country by academics and employers alike.

The Business program is at the heart of these hallowed halls for undergraduates, and graduate students hover around the university’s esteemed law school like moths circling a flame. Accounting, economics, and political science are other popular course options on the campus.

Though the education here is laudable, the proof is in the pudding. Those who graduate from Washington and Lee University have a median earning twice that of the average American with 94% finding gainful employment within two years of receiving their diploma.

Washington and Lee University Key Features:

  • 8 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Ninth oldest college in America
  • 76% of classes have fewer than 20 students
  • 92% graduation rate

Best for Athletes: University of Richmond

Best for Athletes
University of Richmond

Tournament champions in tennis, football, and basketball, the University of Richmond Spiders have earned a big reputation for a small university.

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The University of Richmond may not be the biggest name in sports, but if you’re looking for a smaller school with a vast catalog of athletic options and a track record of on-field achievements, look no further. Enormous universities like the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech hold the most athletic acclaim on our list without a doubt, but the University of Richmond packs quite a punch despite its small stature.

Holding onto NCAA Division-I status in multiple sports for a school that houses around 3,000 students is no small feat. The Spiders are comprised of 16 varsity teams spread across men’s and women’s sports ranging from the NCAA Division I football champions to the women’s national tennis champions.

Aside from athletics, the University of Richmond is also a well-respected academic institution that focuses on business and humanities. Small class sizes and high student retention rates are hallmarks of this college, though they’re not as attention-grabbing as those championship banners.

University of Richmond Key Features:

  • 8 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • NCAA Division I-FCS
  • Compact when deflated and easily portable

Who Should Attend College in Virginia

There are a number of top colleges in Virginia worthy of your attention, especially if you already live within the state’s borders and can benefit from low in-state tuitions. Quite a few of Virginia’s universities hold historical significance and date back to before the founding fathers had crafted the United States Constitution.

Student life is a big sell for many of Virginia’s best colleges. The state is home to a number of campuses that are ranked nationally for their beauty as often as they are awarded for their academics or athletics.

If you’re moving to a college town, then you won’t want to miss Life At College: 5 Keys To Finding Your Perfect College Town Apartment.

Top Pick
University of Virginia

U.S. News & World Report ranked the University of Virginia as a top-five public school in the United States in 2019.

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Important Features to Consider

The college of your choice should fit your current needs and future goals. Here’s what to consider before applying to a college.

  • Your academic and career goals. Perhaps the most important consideration is what you want to get out of college. A liberal arts degree will serve you differently than will nursing or political science degrees. When you browse the colleges on this list, be sure to focus on the institutions which have degree programs in your fields of interest, and then you can dive into further detail once you’ve whittled down your options. You can also search for each school’s graduate statistics to discover which schools have higher post-graduate employment rates and salaries.
  • Cost and scholarship opportunities. The end goal for most people attending college is to earn a degree that can help them attain a well-paying job or career, but how much debt you accrue during those academic years should also be a priority consideration. Colleges have varying tuition rates and total costs. You can find schools that offer the same degree at different costs, and campus locations, such as rural and urban campuses, can drastically affect your day-to-day expenses. Academic and athletic scholarship opportunities can also change your potential costs.
  • Average class size. A good sign of how attentive school faculty will be on your academic journey is the size of the average class, a statistic that is well represented in the school’s overall student to faculty ratio. The more students there are per professor, the less time the professors will be able to spend with you. If you’re someone who likes the idea of visiting your teachers during their office hours, you’ll want a school with a lower student to faculty ratio.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many colleges are in Virginia?

As of this article’s publication, there are 95 four-year universities and colleges in Virginia. Of those, 39 are public schools and 56 are private.

What is the hardest college to get into in Virginia?

Washington and Lee University is the most difficult college to get into with only 27% of applicants accepted as students.

What is the most expensive college in Virginia?

The most expensive college in Virginia is also Washington and Lee University with annual tuition and fees exceeding $54,000.

What Ivy League school is in Virginia?

Strictly speaking, there are no Ivy League schools in Virginia. There does exist a shortlist of “Public Ivy” schools which are considered exemplary public institutions that provide an Ivy League equivalent experience, and on that list is a sole Virginia college which is the College of William and Mary.

Other Colleges We Reviewed

Top Pick
University of Virginia

U.S. News & World Report ranked the University of Virginia as a top-five public school in the United States in 2019.

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We looked at 20 other colleges in Virginia. Even though they didn’t make our five best colleges list, they’re still excellent in many ways and may be the right choice for you. The information you’ll need to compare each one is included with the listing below. All costs reflect the current per-semester in-state tuition and fees at the time of writing.

Virginia’s Academic Colleges

College of William and Mary

College of William and Mary

Neck and neck in the race for Virginia’s top academic institution with our top choice, the College of William and Mary was founded in 1693 and was honored as one of the original eight Public Ivy Schools in 1985. Business, political science, and liberal arts are the largest programs here.

Key Features:

  • 11 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Public Ivy School
  • Second oldest college in the nation

Cost: $11,000

Eastern Mennonite University

Eastern Mennonite University

Eastern Mennonite University is a well-respected Christian college that focuses heavily on nursing education. Students will find this to be a caring and safe campus, one that emphasizes a well-rounded student life guided by family values, small class sizes, and compassion.

Key Features:

  • 9 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Christian liberal arts institution
  • Nursing, humanities, and biology are the top majors

Cost: $19,000

ECPI University

ECPI University

Focused on being the best, ECPI University stands out in the medical, information technology, and culinary fields. Though the highly-accredited nursing program is the most populous in the entire university, the award-winning IT and culinary programs rank among the nation’s best.

Key Features:

  • 12 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Rated among the top IT and culinary schools in the nation
  • No on-campus housing or athletics programs

Cost: $8,000

Hampden-Sydney College

Hampden-Sydney College

Hampden-Sydney College is an all-male learning institution that has been steeped in history dating back to the founding of the United States. A plethora of degrees is available for potential graduates to choose from, but the halls and classrooms sing with economics. The “good ol’ Hampden-Sydney boys” have an academic reputation that has been upheld for centuries.

Key Features:

  • 10 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • All male student population
  • The 10th oldest colleges in the United States

Cost: $23,000

Hampton University

Hampton University

Hampton University is a historically black college that is now accepting of people from all backgrounds. A wide range of programs graces the campus classrooms, everything from psychology to broadcast journalism and business. Students applaud the determined staff and revel in the inclusive, welcoming campus community.

Key Features:

  • 13 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Campus has a dress code
  • Masters programs in health and physics

Cost: $14,000

Hollins University

Hollins University

Hollins University ranks as the 12th best women’s college in the nation according to Niche.com. The school focuses its academic offerings primarily through there English Language and Literature program, though a number of other degrees are available as well.

Key Features:

  • 10 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • All female student population
  • 4-1-4 term academic calendar

Cost: $20,000

Jefferson College of Health Sciences

Jefferson College of Health Sciences

Located in downtown Roanoke, Virginia, Jefferson College of Health Sciences boasts a highly accessible campus and a focused approach to learning which concentrates solely on medical professions. The college is also ranked highly in numerous publications for its online learning programs.

Key Features:

  • 8 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Online degree programs available
  • Evening degree programs available

Cost: $21,000

Regent University

Regent University

Business, psychology, communications, and biblical science are the bread and butter of this fast-growing Christian institution. Notable for its well-regarded on-campus student life and affordable online degrees, including an online master’s in political science, Regent University is proving to be a well-rounded school with a bright future.

Key Features:

  • 42 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Highly-praised dormitories
  • Private Christian school

Cost: $9,500

Roanoke College

Roanoke College

The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well at Roanoke College where business majors are the norm and the wide spectrum of undergraduate studies are focused on intensive learning classes over generic “101” lecture halls. At Roanoke, students are encouraged to find and follow their passion.

Key Features:

  • 11 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • 100% of students receive some form of financial aid
  • Business degree focus

Cost: $22,500

Shenandoah University

Shenandoah University

Fold in one part career-focused education with a healthy dollop of liberal arts and you’ll have Shenandoah University in your mixing bowl. The structured nursing and business schools at Shenandoah produce well-paid graduates while the nationally-ranked music and acting programs generate gobs of talent.

Key Features:

  • 10 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Private Christian school
  • An All-Steinway music school

Cost: $16,500

Virginia’s Athletic Colleges

George Mason University

George Mason University

George Mason University is one of Virginia’s largest colleges. The main campus is located in Fairfax, Virginia near Washington D.C. The school is well known for its basketball and soccer athletic achievements, and it is a respected academic institution with a long list of popular degree programs.

Key Features:

  • 16 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • NCAA Division I athletic status
  • Atlantic 10 conference

Cost: $6,000

Liberty University

Liberty University

On campus or abroad, Liberty University provides a world-class learning experience that’s matched by its top-tier athletic status. Women’s sports hold the limelight in recent years with field hockey and cross country leading the way, yet all of the Liberty Flames’ varsity teams compete on a national level.

Key Features:

  • 18 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • NCAA Division I-FBS athletic stature
  • Ranked as the #2 online college in America by niche.com

Cost: $12,000

Old Dominion University

Old Dominion University

Old Dominion University was originally established as a division of the College of William and Mary but has since branched off and become one of the larger universities in Virginia. A vast spectrum of noteworthy degree programs and a top-tier sports program, led by the multi-champion women’s basketball team, make this an attractive college for many potential students.

Key Features:

  • 18 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • NCAA DivisionI-FBS athletic stature
  • 18 different NCAA athletic teams

Cost: $5,000

University of Lynchburg

University of Lynchburg

For those looking to join a small college, the University of Lynchburg offers a high-ranking public health program and a diverse array of competitive athletics. For its small size of under 2000 students, the athletics programs here are highly competitive in NCAA Division III and the Old Dominion Athletic Conference.

Key Features:

  • 11 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • NCAA Division III athletic stature
  • 19 intercollegiate athletic programs

Cost: $18,500

Virginia Commonwealth University

Virginia Commonwealth University

Psychology, biology, and business are the heart of Virginia Commonwealth University’s academic offerings with its medical center serving as the primary hospital in the greater Richmond area. The VCU Rams hold over 30 conference championships in various sports and are renown for their tennis accomplishments.

Key Features:

  • 18 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • NCAA Division I athletic stature
  • 16 varsity teams

Cost: $7,000

Virginia’s Value Colleges

Christopher Newport University

Christopher Newport University

Students get a great bang for their buck at Christopher Newport University. Highly-rated on a national level for its quality dorms and beautiful campus, student life at this college is well above the typical undergraduate experience. The education students receive also comes at a great value with the majority of graduates earning above-average incomes in comparison to their peers from other universities.

Key Features:

  • 15 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Highly rated student life features
  • Low out-of-state tuition premium

Cost: $7,000

Emory and Henry College

Emory and Henry College

Don’t let the price fool you because Emory and Henry College is a great value for all who get into this small college. Not only is there no additional cost for out-of-state students, but every single student receives substantial financial aid which equates to nearly four times the national average. Once all is said and done, many students have their tuition fully covered.

Key Features:

  • 11 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Private Christian college
  • No out-of-state premium

Cost: $17,000

Radford University

Radford University

Radford University is a leader in Virginia when it comes to helping veterans and active-duty service members attaining a degree and paying for it via federal initiatives. Overall, tuition is among the lowest that can be found among accredited universities. There are a wealth of academic paths to choose from and a fair number of post-graduate degrees to pursue.

Key Features:

  • 16 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Ranked as a top 20 school for veterans
  • Graduate degrees in business, health, and art

Cost: $5,500

University of Mary Washington

University of Mary Washington

Much like the previous college, the University of Mary Washington is a leader in the charge to educate veterans and financially assist their learning through federal initiatives. Business, liberal arts, and humanities are the main programs at this college, and many degrees can be achieved solely through night and weekend classes.

Key Features:

  • 14 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Ranked as a top 10 school for veterans
  • Weekend and evening degree programs available

Cost: $5,500

Virginia Military Institute

Virginia Military Institute

Cadets of the Virginia Military Institute learn far more than their courses can teach them. Leadership and fortitude are among the qualities instilled upon the students here, and the close-knit alumni program all but ensures gainful employment immediately after graduation.

Key Features:

  • 11 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Ranked as the second-best value college in Virginia by niche.com
  • 97% of graduates are employed within two years of graduation

Cost: $9,000

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