According to U.S. News & World Report, Washington state ranks in the top ten for states with the most educated population. In addition, Washington's educational attainment projections reveal that over 70% of Washington jobs require postsecondary education by 2020. Due to the state's highly educated workforce, Washington professionals benefit from completing undergraduate and graduate degrees. Earning an online degree can mean increased salary potential and career options. Below is a ranking of the best and most affordable online colleges in Washington and resources on transfer credits, financial aid, and scholarship opportunities.
The best online colleges in Washington offer a quality education at affordable prices. Our ranking of the top online colleges in Washington considers factors such as tuition costs, student-to-teacher ratios, and graduation rates. Availability of financial support, career counseling services, and job placement support also affect rankings. These factors contribute to the program's overall accessibility and value.
Accredited public or private not-for-profit institution
At least 3 online associate degrees or certificate programs (2-year schools)
At least 3 online bachelor’s or master’s degrees (4-year schools)
Annual in-state tuition below $5,000 (2-year schools)
Annual in-state tuition below $25,000 (4-year schools)
Colleges receive a total score based on performance in the following categories:
Average in-state net price for first-time/full-time undergraduates
Count and breadth of online programs available
6-year graduation rate (4-year schools only)
% of beginning, full-time undergrads receiving scholarship/grant aid from the college
Average $ of financial aid students receive directly from the college
Availability of academic/career counseling services
Availability of job placement services for students and graduates
3-year loan default rate
AC Online Peer-Based Value (PBV)*
*PBV is a proprietary metric that compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or a similar) qualitative score. It also compares the qualitative score of the program to the score of other programs with the same (or similar) cost. In short, the PBV calculation denotes the overall value – or 'bang for your buck' – of an online degree.
Our college rankings are backed by data collected and analyzed from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, a program managed by the National Center for Education Statistics. Surveying over 7,500 colleges annually, it is among the most longstanding and trusted providers of U.S. postsecondary information.
Most recent “Final Release” data available as of October 2017
Washington state colleges and universities currently have over 25,000 undergraduates completing all courses online. With over a hundred programs offered fully online, Washington colleges provide flexible and accessible options for growing groups, such as single parents and full-time workers. Members of these groups benefit from the ability to earn an online degree in Washington, arranging coursework around work or family obligations.
Number of programs offered Completely online in Washington 112
Undergraduate students enrolled exclusively online in Washington 25,429
Graduate students enrolled exclusively online in Washington 4,252
Total international students enrolled exclusively online in Washington 469
Students attending an online program in Washington may pay different tuition rates depending on their residency status. Washington state residents receive a small tuition discount at public institutions, while private schools charge a flat rate. To receive the in-state tuition rate, students must prove they have lived in the state for at least 12 consecutive months, sever legal ties with their former location of residency, and demonstrate financial independence for at least one year. Students from neighboring states, such as Oregon or Idaho, may qualify for tuition reductions through the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE), which is discussed in more detail below.
Source: National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
Washington residents pay slightly less than the national average for in-state tuition at four-year public universities. Two-year institutions and out-of-state residents at four-year public schools pay slightly above the national average.
Student earning online degrees in Washington may pay different tuition rates than students enrolled in an on-campus program. Some schools offer a discount for online students enrolling from out of state, but others do not.
The majority of students enrolled in online colleges in Washington live in the state; however, out-of-state students can also benefit from the exceptional education available from Washington colleges and universities. Reciprocity agreements with neighboring states, which offer tuition discounts, and from the state's online graduate programs also aid out-of-state students. Non-residents considering an online program in Washington should also consider any licensing requirements that may apply to their profession, which varies by state.
Out-of-state undergraduate students studying exclusively online in Washington 1,343
Out-of-state graduate students studying exclusively online in Washington 1,899
Residents of states near Washington qualify for tuition discounts through the Western Undergraduate Exchange. On average, students who meet the qualifications save $9,000 a year. In the 2017/2018 academic year, over 40,000 students used the WUE, saving over $365 million in out-of-state tuition. Over 160 colleges and universities participate in the exchange, including two-year colleges. The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), which administers WUE, also offers a discounted tuition program for graduate students.
The WUE applies to 16 states, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming in addition to Washington. Residents of the U.S. pacific territories Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands also qualify.
Washington participates in the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA). A voluntary agreement between states, SARA sets standards for online education across state lines. Membership grants institutions approval to educate students living in other states, easing the process of transferring. Accredited online colleges in Washington participate in SARA, which authorizes that institution to offer degrees through distance education programs to out-of-state students.
Tuition rates are ultimately program- and institution-based. Ask someone from a prospective program about what rates apply to you specifically as a potential member of a specific program.
Prospective students considering online schools in Washington may wonder about transfer credits, applying with a GED, and financial aid options. The following section answers some frequently asked questions.
The cost of online credits varies depending on the institution. Public colleges and universities often charge less than private schools. Washington residents may also save on the cost of online credits at certain universities. Washington State University (WSU) and its online Global Campus, for example, charges part-time Washington resident students $507 per credit or $565 per credit for non residents.
Students attending online colleges in Washington may save on tuition over students attending in person. For example, at WSU full-time online Washington resident students pay $10,135 a year in tuition, while the same Washington residents attending courses on campus pay $10,268 per year.
Non residents save a significant amount by attending online. Full-time online WSU students from out of state pay $11,329 per year in tuition, while non residents enrolled full time in an on-campus program spend $24,504 per year.
Each online school in Washington sets its own guidelines for accepting transfer credits. At Central Washington University, for example, students can transfer up to 135 quarter credits, or the equivalent of 90 semester credits, toward a bachelor's degree. City University of Seattle also accepts 135 quarter credits toward an undergraduate degree. When applying to an online college in Washington with transfer credits, students must submit their transcript for review to determine how many credits apply toward their degree.
Not all credits automatically transfer. Many schools only accept credits earned at an accredited college or university, while some place limits on how many upper division credits apply toward a degree. Schools must also determine the course equivalency at their institution; some courses may not count if they have no equivalent class at the college.
Some institutions also grant credits for prior learning assessment, which can include military training, workplace experience, professional certifications, and examinations such as the Advanced Placement tests.
Most online colleges in Washington accept applicants who hold a GED instead of a high school transcript. Students who pass a GED exam earn the equivalency of a high school diploma, meeting the admission requirements for most colleges and universities. City U of Seattle, for example, accepts students with a GED, as does WSU. In most cases, students ask the testing agency which administered the GED to send proof of their passing score to the university during the admissions process.
Some students do not need to provide proof of a GED or high school transcript, including those with over one year of college credits. Depending on the program's admission guidelines, these students may simply need to provide college transcripts rather than proof of high school graduation. Homeschooled students can also apply to online colleges in Washington by submitting proof of their course of study in the form of a curriculum or academic resume.
Some online colleges offer classes that start every few weeks or month, with multiple start dates throughout the year. Most of Washington's public colleges and universities that offer online classes use the institution's regular academic schedule, meaning students can start during any semester or quarter. WSU's Global Campus uses the semester schedule, for example, and online students enroll for fall, spring, or summer semester. At Central Washington, the online classes follow a quarter schedule, meaning students start in fall, winter, spring, or summer.
Due to academic schedules, many of the online schools in Washington do not offer courses starting every week or month. Prospective students can plan ahead, however, by researching the next class start date at their intended institution and completing their admission process in advance of the start date. Online schools may accept rolling admissions, meaning students can apply at any time to join the program, or set an admission deadline for each semester or quarter. Students needing an earlier start date may be able to enroll in an online college outside of Washington state and transfer the credits to their Washington program.
Students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to qualify for federal financial aid. Aid includes financial support through the Stafford Loan, Perkins Loan, subsidized and unsubsidized loans, and federal work study programs. Not all online colleges accept FAFSA; in order to qualify, the program must hold regional accreditation from an agency that holds approval from the U.S. Department of Education. Prospective students can look up qualifying colleges and universities in the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
The best online colleges in Washington, including WSU's Global Campus, Central Washington University, City University of Seattle, and Western Washington University, hold regional accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU). In addition, all the schools ranked in our best online colleges in Washington list hold accreditation, meaning students can apply federal financial aid toward their degree.
Several Washington colleges offer free online classes, which are available to students in any state. Many operate as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). These classes may incorporate live or pre-recorded lectures, assigned readings, discussion forums, and assignments. Students in Washington can take free online classes through several Washington colleges and universities.
For example, the University of Washington offers free online classes through multiple outlets, including UW Online, Coursera, and edX. Some of these courses base their content on information taught in the university's certificate and degree programs. The free online classes offered by the UW include courses on programming languages, cybersecurity, public speaking, and information technology. Depending on the format, students taking a free online course may be able to complete the class at their own pace, or the course may start on a certain date and involve a cohort of other learners.
Keep in mind that free online classes do not typically grant college credit, nor can they be applied toward a degree. In some cases, students may be able to complete a certification through taking these online classes if they pay a small fee.
With multiple online colleges in Washington, prospective students may look to a program's support services and other options to narrow down their choices. Many of the top online colleges in Washington offer tools and services for prospective students. UW Online, for example, offers bachelor's degree completion programs fully online, and WSU Global Campus provides multiple undergraduate and graduate degree options. These programs also provide online learner support, including academic advisors, tech support, and online tutoring.
Prospective students can identify the best online colleges in Washington, as well as the most affordable online colleges in Washington, by using our ranking. Visiting each school's online learning site also helps prospective students learn more about the degree options, student services, and online learning tools offered by each college.
Students attending online colleges in Washington qualify for several scholarship and grant opportunities. The federal Pell Grant program offers financial aid for undergraduate students demonstrating financial need. In addition, private foundations and state programs provide financial assistance in the form of scholarships for students who meet the eligibility guidelines.
Funded by the Washington state legislature, the program grants awards to currently licensed and employed Washington teachers who plan to return to school and teach in the state's teacher shortage areas.
Scholarship Amount: $3,000View Details
Washington high school graduates attending a two- or four-year college, including technical colleges, can apply for the scholarship. Applicants must submit their SAT or ACT scores, two letters of recommendation, and a copy of a letter of acceptance to a two- or four-year college.
Scholarship Amount: $5,000View Details
The Pride Foundation offers more than 60 scholarship with a single application. Applicants should identify as LBGTQ, straight allies, or students from LGBT families. Applicants should be residents of Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, or Oregon, or attend school in an eligible state.
Scholarship Amount: variesView Details
Offered by the Seattle Public Library Foundation, the scholarship competition awards funds to high school seniors and undergraduates who live, work, or attend school in Seattle. Applicants submit an essay about an individual or group from Washington that demonstrates civic courage.
Scholarship Amount: $5,000View Details
Scottish Rite offers multiple awards each year for Washington residents. The merit-based scholarship does not consider financial need. Applicants must attend an accredited four-year college or university in Washington as a full-time student and maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA.
Scholarship Amount: $3,000View Details