The Best Colleges in the Pacific Northwest & How to Get In

Bridge in Seattle, Washington
April 10, 2024


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/4/22

If you want a great education and you love the great outdoors, look no further than the Pacific Northwest. Here’s our complete guide to the best colleges in the northwest. 

So you want to go to college, and you’re looking at the Pacific Northwest. Some of the best colleges in the northwest are along the Pacific coast. It’s a wonderful place to go to school, with tons of beaches, hiking, and outdoor activities to fill your college experience with excitement! 

Beyond the climate, the academic aspect is important too. You want to make sure you’re getting a good education out of the deal. To that end, we’ve broken down the top ten colleges in the Pacific Northwest, and what makes each school special. 

Let’s first take a look at the numbers.

The Best 10 Colleges in the Pacific Northwest 

We’ve sorted the best ten colleges in the Pacific Northwest from placement on US News’ list of Best National Universities in 2022. We go through the acceptance rates, tuition fees, student-faculty ratios, and graduation rates, with information from US News’ comparison tool. With all this info, you’ll be well-equipped to make your choice.   

1. University of Washington 

University of Washington
Source: George Burns, Flickr

The University of Washington is a public university in Seattle, Washington. It was founded in 1861, and it celebrates the natural beauty of its location. The university values sustainability and educates a diverse student body. Its primary mission is “the preservation, advancement, and dissemination of knowledge.” 

The University of Washington is ranked as #59 in US News’ National Universities list. If you’re interested in applying, take a look at these key stats:

  • Acceptance Rate: 56%
  • SAT Range: 1200-1457
  • ACT Range: 27-33
  • In-State Tuition: $12,076
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $39,906
  • Student-Faculty Ratio: 20:1
  • Average Alumni Starting Salary: $59,100

Coming in at number one, the University of Washington is the best college in the Pacific Northwest. With a high graduation rate (84% for six-year graduation rate) and affordable tuition, particularly for in-state students, this would be a great school to call home.

2. Gonzaga University 

Gonzaga University
Source: Gonzaga University, Flickr

Gonzaga University is a private university in Spokane, Washington, founded in 1887. It offers a Jesuit, Catholic, humanistic education to its student body. Gonzaga encourages its students to develop critical thought, seek lifelong learning, and pursue ethical discernment and creativity. 

Gonzaga University currently sits as #79 in National Universities and #13 in Best Undergraduate Teaching. Recent stats shows:

  • Acceptance Rate: 73%
  • SAT Range: 1160-1350
  • ACT Range: 25-30
  • Tuition: $48,470
  • Student-Faculty Ratio: 11:1 
  • Average Alumni Starting Salary: $56,000 

With its lower student-faculty ratio and its high ranking in undergraduate teaching, you’re sure to get a quality education at Gonzaga University. 

3. University of Oregon

University of Oregon
Source: Rick Obst, Flickr

The University of Oregon is a public school in Eugene, Oregon, founded in 1876. The university is ranked as the #99 Best National University and the #42 Best Public School

The University of Oregon strives for excellence in teaching, research, and artistic expression, with the goal of developing the whole person. It values a sustainable relationship to the land and seeks to develop scholars who live ethically. 

Here are a few stats to keep in mind for the University of Oregon:

  • Acceptance Rate: 83%
  • SAT Range: 1090-1290
  • ACT Range: 22-29
  • In-State Tuition: $13,856
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $39,308
  • Student-Faculty Ratio: 17:1
  • Average Alumni Starting Salary: $49,800

As one of the top 50 public schools in the country, the University of Oregon is a great choice, especially for in-state students. The high acceptance rate shows that you have a good chance of getting in! 

4. Seattle University 

Seattle University 
Source: Jay Liu, Flickr

Seattle University is a private university in Seattle, Washington, founded in 1891. It holds the #127 spot in the National Universities and #48 for Best Undergraduate Teaching lists. 

Seattle University’s mission is to educate “the whole person, to professional formation, and to empowering leaders for a just and humane world.” It celebrates diversity and academic excellence, and strives to be a leader in environmental sustainability. 

Here are some important stats about Seattle University:

  • Acceptance Rate: 83%
  • SAT Range: 1130-1330
  • ACT Range: 24-30
  • Tuition: $49,335
  • Student-Faculty Ratio: 11:1
  • Average Alumni Starting Salary: $59,800

Seattle University’s beautiful campus is just one of its many selling points. It has a low student-faculty ratio, which means small class sizes and a quality education. 

5. Oregon State University 

Oregon State University
Source: Oregon State University, Flickr 

Oregon State University is a public university in Corvallis, Oregon, founded in 1868. The university takes up the #162 spot for National Universities and is the 34th Most Innovative School

Oregon State University has more research funding than any other public university in Oregon, and it boasts its spot as the third best university for solving climate change. It is committed to equity, diversity, and inclusion. 

Before sending in an application for Oregon State University, take a look at these stats:

  • Acceptance Rate: 84%
  • SAT Range: 1080-1310
  • ACT Range: 21-29
  • In-State Tuition:  $12,188
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $32,288
  • Student-Faculty Ratio: 18:1
  • Average Alumni Starting Salary: $55,200 

Ranking high in innovation, Oregon State University is a great choice for students who are looking for cutting edge curriculum, technology and facilities. 

6. Washington State University 

Washington State University 
Source: Qaiser Farid, Flickr

Washington State University is a public university in Pullman, Washington, founded in 1890. Its mission statement declares its commitment to advancing, extending, and applying knowledge through creativity, innovation, and local and global engagement. It is a land-grant university, rooted in accessibility and public service.  

Washington State University ranks #179 in National Universities and #88 Top Public Schools. If you want to know more about Washington State University, take a look at these admissions and academic stats:

  • Acceptance Rate: 80%
  • SAT Range: 1020-1210
  • ACT Range: 20-26
  • In-State Tuition: $12,417
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $27,733
  • Student-Faculty Ratio: 16:1
  • Average Alumni Starting Salary: $55,300

A top public school with a high acceptance rate, Washington State University is a good school to attend for students who want to make the west coast their home.

7. Pacific University 

Pacific University 
Source: Pacific University, Flickr 

Pacific University is a private university in Forest Grove, Oregon, founded in 1849. The University aims to blend the learning environment of a liberal arts college with the academic rigor of a research institute. 

Pacific University holds the 187th spot for National Universities and has been recognized nationally for its sustainability practices, from transportation practices to campus biodiversity. 

For more information on Pacific University, take a look at these stats:

  • Acceptance Rate: 89%
  • SAT Range: 1050-1230
  • ACT Range: 22-27
  • Tuition: $50,070
  • Student-Faculty Ratio: 10:1
  • Average Alumni Starting Salary: $48,400

A high acceptance rate and a low student-faculty ratio make Pacific University a great choice for students who want small class sizes on a breathtaking campus.

8. George Fox University 

George Fox University 
Source: Linda Shapiro, Flickr

George Fox University is a private university in Newberg, Oregon, founded in 1891. It ranks as #213 in the National Universities list and is the 66th Top Performer on Social Mobility

George Fox University is a Christian institution that values diversity and prioritizes affordability. Its mission is to “[prepare] students spiritually, academically, and professionally to think with clarity, act with integrity, and serve with passion.”

Here are a few admissions and academic stats for George Fox University:

  • Acceptance Rate: 91%
  • SAT Score: 1020-1240
  • ACT Score: 20-28
  • Tuition: $38,520
  • Student-Faculty Ratio: 16:1
  • Average Alumni Starting Salary: $50,700

A top performer in social mobility, George Fox University accepts nine out of ten applicants and helps them thrive in their professional lives.

9. Seattle Pacific University 

Seattle Pacific University 
Source: CurbedSeattle, Flickr

Seattle Pacific University is a private university in Seattle, Washington, founded in 1891. US News ranks Seattle Pacific University as the 227th National University and the 232nd Top Performer on Social Mobility

Seattle Pacific is committed to reconciliation with the Coast Salish people and has three core themes

  • Academic excellence and relevance
  • Transformative and holistic student experience
  • Vital Christian identity and purpose

Curious about what you can expect from Seattle Pacific University and how you measure up to other applicants? Review these stats:

  • Acceptance Rate: 91%
  • SAT Range: 1010-1160
  • ACT Range: 20-27
  • Tuition: $35,646
  • Student-Faculty Ratio: 13:1
  • Average Alumni Starting Salary: $49,400

Choose Seattle Pacific University if you want to attend a Christian school with a high acceptance rate and a beautiful campus. 

10. Portland State University 

Portland State University 
Source: Rosa Say, Flickr

Portland State University is a public university in Portland, Oregon, founded in 1946. It takes up the #288 spot on the National Universities list and #29 in Most Innovative Schools

Portland State University is committed to accessibility, inclusion and supports equal opportunities for students and faculty alike. It’s mission is to:

  • “We serve and sustain a vibrant urban region through our creativity, collective knowledge and expertise.
  • We are dedicated to collaborative learning, innovative research, sustainability and community engagement.
  • We educate a diverse community of lifelong learners.
  • Our research and teaching have global impact.”

Recent stats about Portland State University include:

  • Acceptance Rate: 95%
  • SAT Range: 1000-1190
  • ACT Range: 17-24
  • In-State Tuition: $8,649
  • Out-of-Stat Tuition: $23,769
  • Student-Faculty Ratio: 18:1
  • Average Alumni Starting Salary: $49,300

Portland State University is a great school to choose for inexpensive tuition and a high acceptance rate. It’s a good choice for students who want to take their time completing their education.

Attending College in the Pacific Northwest: What to Expect 

All of the colleges on this list have an acceptance rate above 50%. With this level of selectivity, you can expect that if you have good grades and put together a solid application, you have a good chance of getting in. 

Once you’re in school, the Pacific Northwest has some very attractive features that make it a great place to live while you pursue your undergraduate degree. 

The Outdoors 

The Pacific Northwest has a reputation for being rainy, but that’s not a constant. In a report on water and climate in the Pacific Northwest, Oregon State University maps the precipitation in the region. While the winters get a lot of rainy days, they also get some snow that makes for great skiing, snowboarding, or other winter activities. 

Forest Grove, home of Pacific University, boasts its lakes, wetlands, and state forest. If you like birding, boating, camping, or hiking, Forest Grove is an excellent place to live. 

Pullman, home of Washington State University, lists its copious green spaces, which include the Lawson Gardens. It’s a lovely and serene town, brimming with natural beauty. 

The Arts 

Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture funds public art, so there’s always something to see in the city. Notable installations include Story House: Select works by Women of Color and Visual Stories: Journeys Home, curated by Carina A. del Rosario. 

Seattle is home to the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center, which hosts the Seattle Black Film Festival, as well as live music and theater. Seattle also hosts the Pacific Northwest Ballet, and many museums, including the Museum of Pop Culture

The Culture 

If you’re looking for a city full of culture, Portland is a great place for you. Its street plazas, recently made permanent by the city, offer free gathering spaces where you can hang out with your friends. 

Outdoor Garden, Portland
Source: TMimages PDX, Flickr

From its many breweries and restaurants to its Community Music Center and Indigenous Marketplace, the city has something to offer everyone.

Best Colleges in the Northwest: Making Your Choice 

The final consideration is whether you want to attend a public school or a private school.  

Public universities tend to have a higher student body, which generally corresponds to a wider student-faculty ratio. This means slightly bigger class sizes on average, but you can still develop meaningful educational relationships with your professors. 

Public universities are funded by the government, while private universities are funded by tuition and donations. This means that the tuition is generally lower at a public university than a private one, especially for in-state students. However, many schools both public and private offer significant financial aid. 

The private institutions on this list are all Christian institutions. They have varying degrees of dedication, but they all proclaim spirituality in their mission statements. The least pious school is Pacific University, which supports religious pluralism while maintaining its ties to the United Church of Christ Council for Higher Education.

If you’re looking for a Christian education, any of the private schools on this list would serve you well. If you’re not, a public school might be the way to go.

FAQs: Best Colleges in the Pacific Northwest 

If you still have lingering questions about the list of colleges these FAQs can provide the answers you need. 

1. What Is the Best College for Athletics in the Pacific Northwest? 

This depends on what sport you want to pursue. Many of the schools on this list have great athletics. Gonzaga University’s women’s basketball team and men’s team both made it to March Madness this year. The University of Oregon women’s basketball team is also competing in March Madness

Oregon State University boasts its men’s rowing team, which competes in the NCAA Division 1, along with its baseball, basketball, football, soccer, golf, and wrestling teams. 

2. What Is the Best College for the Arts in the Pacific Northwest? 

Because Seattle is a very artistic city, it’s a great place to live if you want to be involved in the arts. The University of Washington’s School of Art, Art History & Design is a great option for artistically inclined students. It offers studio art classes, and seniors get the opportunity to exhibit their work in a gallery for their capstone project. 

If you prefer the written word over visual art, consider Portland State University’s BFA in Creative Writing. Students take fiction, nonfiction, and poetry workshops, with the ultimate goal of producing a senior portfolio of publishable material. 

3. Where Should I Go for the Most Rounded Education? 

Because Pacific University aims to provide a liberal arts-style education, it offers a rounded core curriculum to all its students. In addition to the requirements of the major and the minor or electives, all students complete courses in the following categories: 

  • Analysis and Interpretation of Texts
  • Artistic Practice and Creative Process 
  • Historical Context 
  • Quantitative Reasoning 
  • Scientific Perspectives on the Natural World 
  • Social Systems and Human Behavior 

All students also study civic engagement and sustainability. Finally, they complete a senior capstone project that varies based on the major they pursue. 

4. Is the Student-Faculty Ratio Important?  

The student-faculty ratio can be important, but it shouldn’t be a deal breaker. The main consideration is the class sizes. Some people prefer small classes, and the smaller the ratio, the smaller the average class size. 

A smaller student-faculty ratio means you have a better chance of developing a good relationship with your professors. This is helpful if you intend to pursue graduate studies because you’ll need recommendation letters from them. 

However, a wider ratio doesn’t mean you can’t get to know your teachers! It just means you might have to put a little more effort into introducing yourself and participating in class. 

5. What Schools in the Pacific Northwest Offer Financial Aid? 

All of the schools on this list offer merit-based scholarships, need-based grants, and work-study opportunities to make your education as affordable as possible. 

6. What School Has the Best Beaches in the Pacific Northwest? 

While these schools are not directly on the coast, several of them are very close. Corvallis, Oregon, home to Oregon State University, is an hour’s drive to the coastal town of Newport. 

Eugene, Oregon, is about the same distance to Florence, which has beautiful beaches as well as the famous Oregon sand dunes. Eugene houses the University of Oregon. 

From Forest Grove, Oregon, you can drive to Rockaway Beach in an hour and twenty minutes. This beach town has gorgeous scenery for you to get lost in.

Final Thoughts 

If the west coast is calling you, you’ll want to attend one of the best colleges in the Pacific Northwest. With a wide selection of colleges, from large, rigorous research universities to small, personable private institutions, you’re sure to find the perfect school for you. 

The main takeaway is that your school should work for you. You’ll be spending, on average, four to six years studying at one of these colleges, so you should make sure that the school you choose is the one that fits your unique needs, ambitions, and personality.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter
Thanks ! You're now subscribed!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Get A Free Consultation

Speak to a college admissions expert about how we can help you get into your dream school
Schedule a Call

You May Also Like

Before you go, here are a few facts about us!
The Quad Factor: Working with us can increase your chances of admission by 11x!

The Best of the Best: Our team comprises of only 99th percentile tutors and admissions counselors from top-ranking universities, meaning you work with only the most experienced, talented experts.

The Free Consultation: Our experts would love to get to know you, your background, goals, and needs. From there, they match you with a best-fit consultant who will create a detailed project plan and application strategy focused on your success.