9 Best Colleges in Virginia – 2024

May 13, 2024

best colleges invirginia

Back in 1819, when former President Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia, Old Dominion was hardly a premier location for higher education. What a difference a couple of hundred years makes… The following list of the 9 best colleges in Virginia is meant to give you a sense of the bevy of wonderful higher education options in the state in the 21st century. The data in each profile card is intended to give you a better sense of the academic offerings and outcomes at each institution. If you happen to reside in Virginia, you have public and private options that will allow you to stay close to home for college without sacrificing a single ounce of quality.


Click here to read our methodology for the Best Colleges in Virginia. As you’ll see, some schools with spectacular (and deserved) reputations simply do not happen to fare well on metrics such as student-to-faculty ratio or spending per student. We understand that a list based solely on prestige/general reputation would look different than what you will find below.

Best Colleges in Virginia

Here’s a quick preview of the nine Virginia-based institutions that made our list. Detailed profiles and stats can be found when you scroll below.

1) University of Virginia

2) Washington and Lee University

3) University of Richmond

4) College of William and Mary

5) Virginia Tech

6) James Madison University

7) University of Mary Washington

8) George Mason University

9) Virginia Commonwealth University

All of the schools profiled below have a history of sending graduates to the most desirable employers and graduate schools in the country. College Transitions will provide you with—when available—each school’s:

  • Enrollment
  • Cost of Attendance
  • Acceptance Rate
  • Median SAT
  • Median ACT
  • Retention Rate
  • Graduation Rate

We will also include a longer write-up of each college’s:

  • Academic Highlights – Includes facts like student-to-faculty ratio, average class size, number of majors offered, and most popular majors.
  • Professional Outcomes – Includes info on the rate of positive outcomes, companies employing alumni, and graduate school acceptances.
#1 Best College in Virginia
University of Virginia

University of Virginia

  • Charlottesville, VA

Academic Highlights: Undergrads can study within one of seven colleges/schools, which all offer many small classes; 15% boast single-digit enrollment and 48% contain 19 or fewer students. The McIntire School of Commerce and the School of Engineering and Applied Science have glowing reputations. Other notable strengths include computer science, economics, and political philosophy, policy, and law. The most popular degree areas are liberal arts/general studies (22%), the social sciences (14%), engineering (11%), business/marketing (8%), and biology (7%).

Professional Outcomes: Upon receiving their degree, 95% of the Class of 2022 immediately joined the workforce–with an average starting salary of $90k–or headed directly to graduate school. The most popular industries were internet & software, higher education, and management consulting. Capital One (85), Deloitte (46), Amazon (38), and Bain & Co. (26) scooped up the greatest number of 2022 grads. UVA itself was the most popular grad school destination followed by Columbia, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Johns Hopkins.

  • Enrollment: 17,496 (undergraduate); 8,653 (graduate)
  • Cost of Attendance: $39,494-49,874 (in-state); $78,214-90,378 (out-of-state)
  • Median SAT: 1470
  • Median ACT: 33
  • Acceptance Rate: 19%
  • Retention Rate: 97%
  • Graduation Rate: 95%

#2 Best College in Virginia
Washington and Lee University

Washington and Lee University

  • Lexington, VA

Academic Highlights: The university offers 36 majors and 29 minors. With an exceptionally low 7:1 student-to-faculty ratio, over 80% of class sections contain 19 or fewer students. Instructors earn rave reviews. The renowned Williams School of Commerce, Politics, and Economics offers outstanding programs, as do the Journalism and Mass Communication, English, and History Departments. Altogether, business accounts for 23% of the degrees conferred; the social sciences (25%), biology (9%), and foreign language (6%) are also popular.

Professional Outcomes: Last year, 69% of recent graduates found employment within six months of leaving Lexington; the most frequently entered industries were financial services, economics/finance, education, consulting, and real estate. Companies presently employing more than two dozen Generals including EY, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, PwC, JPMorgan, Capital One, and Morgan Stanley. Starting salaries are solid with the majority of the cohort being paid $55,000 or more while 18% brought home in excess of $75,000.

  • Enrollment: 1,867 (undergraduate); 376 (graduate)
  • Cost of Attendance: $87,000
  • Median SAT: 1480
  • Median ACT: 34
  • Acceptance Rate: 17%
  • Retention Rate: 97%
  • Graduation Rate: 94%

#3 Best College in Virginia
University of Richmond

University of Richmond

  • Richmond, VA

Academic Highlights: There are over sixty undergraduate majors and many standout programs, including the one-of-a-kind Jepson School of Leadership Studies and the highly regarded Robbins School of Business, which grants 37% of degrees conferred by the university. The international relations, political science, and history departments as well as pre-professional pathways have excellent reputations. 21% of classes have single-digit enrollment, 76% of sections contain fewer than 20 students, and 50% of students participate in an intensive research experience with a faculty member.

Professional Outcomes: One year after graduation, 96% of Richmond grads who were seeking employment had found jobs, with an average salary range of $55,000-$59,000. The most popular sectors were financial services/insurance (17%), accounting (7%), consulting (6%), healthcare (6%), teaching (6%), and sales/business development (6%). Companies where you can find at least 50 Richmond alumni employed include Capital One, Deloitte, PwC, Wells Fargo, EY, Dominion Energy, and Morgan Stanley.  25% of recent alumni chose to enroll directly in a graduate or professional degree program.

  • Enrollment: 3,054 (undergraduate); 722 (graduate)
  • Cost of Attendance: $84,930
  • Median SAT: 1460
  • Median ACT: 33
  • Acceptance Rate: 23%
  • Retention Rate: 93%
  • Graduation Rate: 88%

#4 Best College in Virginia
College of William & Mary

College of William & Mary

  • Williamsburg, VA

Academic Highlights: Forty undergraduate programs are available and William & Mary has a 13:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Class sizes are rarely tiny seminars, but 44% do enroll fewer than twenty students, and only 9% contain more than fifty. Among the college’s most notable academic programs are (1) government and (2) international relations, both of which serve as pipelines to Washington, DC, employers. The Mason School of Business is highly regarded in the corporate world. The social sciences (20%) and biology (11%) are also popular.

Professional Outcomes: 52% of the most cohort joined the workforce, and 36% entered graduate school within six months of graduation. Over 500 employers snatched up at least one member of the Tribe. Companies hiring at least four 2020 grads included Accenture, Booz Allen Hamilton, KPMG, and Deloitte. Many of those opting for immediate entry into graduate school stayed at their alma mater and the next most frequented universities included Columbia, Duke, Harvard, Northwestern, and the University of Chicago.

  • Enrollment: 6,797
  • Cost of Attendance: $39,595 (In-State); $63,967 (Out-of-State)
  • Median SAT: 1460
  • Median ACT: 33
  • Acceptance Rate: 33%
  • Retention Rate: 94%
  • Graduation Rate: 91%

#5 Best College in Virginia
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

  • Blacksburg, VA

Academic Highlights: Eight undergraduate colleges that offer 110+ distinct bachelor’s degrees are housed within Virginia Tech. 33% of sections contain fewer than 20 students, and 21% of recent graduates report participating in some type of undergraduate research experience. Engineering is the area where the greatest number of degrees are conferred (23%), but business (20%) is a close second. Both disciplines are among the most respected at Tech, along with computer science. Other popular majors include the family and consumer sciences (8%), social sciences (8%), biology (8%), and agriculture (4%).

Professional Outcomes: Within six months of graduating, 56% of the Class of 2022 were employed and 18% were in graduate school. One recent class sent large numbers to major corporations that included Deloitte (67), KPMG (44), Lockheed Martin (39), Capital One (30), EY (28), Booz Allen Hamilton (18), and Northrop Grumman (12). The median salary for 2022 graduates was $67,000. Among recent grads who decided to pursue an advanced degree, the greatest number stayed at VT, while others enrolled at Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason University, William & Mary, Columbia, Duke, and Georgia Tech.

  • Enrollment: 30,434 (undergraduate); 7,736 (graduate)
  • Cost of Attendance: $37,252 (in-state); $58,750 (out-of-state)
  • Median SAT: 1330
  • Median ACT: 29
  • Acceptance Rate: 57%
  • Retention Rate: 91%
  • Graduation Rate: 87%

#6 Best College in Virginia
James Madison University

James Madison University

  • Harrisonburg, VA

Academic Highlights: JMU offers 75+ undergraduate degrees to a very happy student population; surveyed undergrads report a stunning 93% satisfaction rate. A 17:1 student-to-faculty ratio does not fully capture how generally modest class sizes tend to be at the university. Thirty-seven percent of sections enroll fewer than 19 students and the average class size is 25 students. 19% of all degrees awarded are in nursing. Next in popularity are business/marketing (15%), communication/journalism (9%), and the social sciences (8%).

Professional Outcomes: Within six months of graduating, 75% of 2022 grads had obtained full-time employment, 22% were continuing their education, and 4% were still figuring out their next step. More than 25 recent grads were hired by each of KPMG and Deloitte. Dukes found employment at 1,610 organizations around the world and the average starting salary was $57,615. Among the almost one-quarter of recent grads who matriculated directly into a graduate school program, the most popular location was JMU itself.

  • Enrollment: 20,346
  • Cost of Attendance: $32,248 (In-State); $49,482 (Out-of-State)
  • Median SAT: 1240
  • Median ACT: 26
  • Acceptance Rate: 78%
  • Retention Rate: 90%
  • Graduation Rate: 81%

#7 Best College in Virginia
University of Mary Washington

University of Mary Washington

  • Fredericksburg, VA

Academic Highlights: At Mary Washington, over 60 majors, minors, and courses of study are offered. Popularity-wise, the most degrees are conferred in the social sciences (15%), business/management/marketing (13%), psychology (10%), biological sciences (10%), and computer science (6%). Undergraduates receive a high level of support—the student-to-faculty ratio is 13:1, and nearly 60% enroll fewer than 20 students. There is strong support for undergraduate research and creative, hands-on learning.

Professional Outcomes: 89% of a recent graduating class experienced positive outcomes, with 67% employed, 20% attending graduate school, and 2% volunteering. Top industries included healthcare (17%), scientific consulting (7%), retail (6%), government (6%), and internet & software (5%). Alumni headed to a wide array of companies and organizations such as Amazon, Booz Allen Hamilton, the FBI, Geico, Mary Washington Healthcare, the Peace Corps, and Yellowstone National Park. Graduate schools included Columbia, UNC Chapel Hill, Wake Forest, and WPI, among many others.

  • Enrollment: 3,493 (undergraduates); 264 (graduate)
  • Cost of Attendance: $32,900 (in-state); $46,170 (out-of-state)
  • Median SAT: 1260
  • Median ACT: 28
  • Acceptance Rate: 86%
  • Retention Rate: 83%
  • Graduation Rate: 71%

#8 Best College in Virginia
George Mason University

George Mason University

  • Fairfax, VA

Academic Highlights: Fifty-two percent of class sections at GMU enroll nineteen or fewer students, 13% have fifty or more students, and the remaining sections lie in between. The most popular program is business (20%) and is followed by computer and information sciences (13%), the social sciences (8%), health professions (8%), and homeland security (8%). The Volgenau College of Engineering, which houses a top-tier Information Technology Department, and the School of Business are both extremely reputable in the eyes of prospective employers

Professional Outcomes: Six months after receiving their degrees, 87% of the class of 2022 had accepted a job offer or started work in a graduate program. GMU grads flow into major consulting firms like Booz Allen Hamilton, Deloitte, and Accenture, financial institutions like Capital One and Freddie Mac, and engineering/tech firms like General Dynamics, IBM, and Microsoft. Mason graduates tend to pursue advanced degrees either at Mason itself or at other area schools including George Washington, American University, or the University of Maryland.

  • Enrollment: 27,014
  • Cost of Attendance: $28,963 (In-State); $53,127 (Out-of-state)
  • Median SAT: 1240
  • Median ACT: 28
  • Acceptance Rate: 90%
  • Retention Rate: 85%
  • Graduation Rate: 70%

#9 Best College in Virginia
Virginia Commonwealth University

Virginia Commonwealth University

  • Richmond, VA

Academic Highlights:  A large public institution with 200 academic offerings, VCU still manages to keep 48% of its class sections capped at an enrollment of 19 thanks to a manageable 16:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Popular majors include the visual and performing arts (12%), business (11%), psychology (10%), biology (9%), education (7%), and homeland security (7%). The university is highly rated for innovation, value, and its stellar nursing program.

Professional Outcomes: After earning their diplomas, 48% quickly landed their first job and 22% entered an advanced degree program. The top industries were healthcare, internet & software, higher education, government, and retail. Overall, 87% of grads were satisfied with their employment outcome and 78% remained in the state of Virginia. Massive numbers of alumni can be found in the offices of Dominion Energy, VCU Health, Capital One, CarMax, Deloitte, and Apex Systems.

  • Enrollment: 20,958
  • Cost of Attendance: $29,516 (In-State); $52,100 (Out-of-State)
  • Median SAT: 1160
  • Median ACT: 26
  • Acceptance Rate: 91%
  • Retention Rate: 85%
  • Graduation Rate: 65%

We hope you have found our list of the Best Colleges in Virginia to be useful and informative as you continue your college search process. We also invite you to check out some of our other resources and tools including: