50 Best Value Alternative Graduate Schools in the East 2016

By Iris Stone
April 2016

Read below for our ranking of the 50 best alternative graduate schools in the Eastern United States.

First of all, let’s clarify what we mean by “alternative.” Why wouldn’t we just rank the best grad schools? Why did we feel compelled to look for something different? In short, because a list of the 50 best graduate schools based on traditional factors – like selectivity and test scores – wouldn’t be news to anyone. That’s because the same colleges and universities always appear at the top of those rankings, in almost the exact same order. We all know about the prestigious Ivy League universities and schools like Northwestern and Emory, which many consider to be “new Ivies.” And so we wondered: is it possible to create a ranking of top grad schools that doesn’t include any of these typical options?

Methodology

We developed our own “alternative” methodology, which you can read all about here.

The 50 best alternative grad schools in the region are listed below. Many schools are probably still not that much of a surprise, as they all have plenty to offer advanced degree seekers. For each, we highlight some of the university’s strongest subjects, which we hope will help guide you as you consider the school that’s right for you.


University of Southern Mississippi Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

The University of Southern Mississippi has a top graduate program in materials science and is the recipient of large amounts of funding from the U.S. military.

50. University of Southern Mississippi

Hattiesburg, MS

Website
The University of Southern Mississippi has rapidly developed as a contender in the American research landscape in the last 20 years, largely owing to the efforts of their former president, Dr. Shelby Thames. A materials science professor and researcher, Thames substantially amplified research activity in his department and other fields such as Biology, Education and Psychology, raising the annual research budget to a staggering $100 million. To this day, USM remains a top graduate school for polymer research and has even received $4.9 million in funding from the U.S. Army to develop hi-tech helmet lining.
Tuition and Fees: $11,375/yr
Score: 111.5

University of Massachusetts Lowell Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Baseball fans should look closely at UMass Lowell, which has a top engineering degree and a research program that works closely with Major League Baseball teams.

49. University of Massachusetts-Lowell

Lowell, MA

Website
As the second largest public university in the state, the University of Massachusetts-Lowell boasts a wide range of strong graduate programs as well as a robust research endowment of $65 million. UMass Lowell is probably most widely respected as a top graduate school for engineering, with pioneering research programs in nanotech and radiation. The engineering department even has a baseball research center funded by the MLB! On the other side of the equation, Lowell’s business school offers a nationally ranked online/part-time MBA program, and the education department claims an impressive 100% graduate pass rate on the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure.
Tuition and Fees: $16,193/yr
Score: 112.9

Miami University Oxford Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Grad students at Miami University in Ohio enjoy access to some of the best grad programs in the Midwest – including popular choices like psychology and economics.

48. Miami University-Oxford

Oxford, OH

Website
In 1985, Richard Mall famously included Miami University-Oxford on his list of eight “Public Ivy’s” that could offer a world-class education at a wholesale price. Although that characterization is typically applied towards Miami’s undergraduate program, the intimate post-grad cohort (about 12% of enrollment) at this school enjoys the same quality of education through ready access to faculty and abundant educational resources and opportunities. Most graduate students at Miami are in the Psychology program, where some 80 students are divided among cognitive, social, and clinical studies. Other competitive graduate degrees (according to the Fiske Guide) include Accounting, Chemistry, Microbiology, and a master’s of arts in Economics that was ranked among the 50 best degrees in economics by The Financial Engineer.
Tuition and Fees: $21,485/yr
Score: 113.6

University of Toledo Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

For eco-conscious students, the University of Toledo offers an impressive array of top grad programs in environmental topics and is home to innovative facilities like the Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization.

47. University of Toledo

Toledo, OH

Website
The University of Toledo offers a comprehensive range of graduate programs in the arts and sciences that are delivering bold research in many fields. From science, engineering, and medicine to business, fine arts, and social sciences, students of virtually all major academic disciplines convene in Toledo to work with the internationally regarded faculty at this esteemed university. Just consider the Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization (PVIC), a key facility in the national green electricity enterprise, which has its main location at the University of Toledo. With tens of millions of dollars in federal and industry funding to increase efficiency and reduce production costs for solar energy, Toledo is a top graduate school for green engineering.
Tuition and Fees: $19,889/yr
Score: 116.1

Rochester Institute of Technology Best Alternative Graduate Students in the East

RIT is small but packs a powerful punch — including some of the best graduate degrees in Imaging Science and Game Design.

46. Rochester Institute of Technology

Rochester, NY

Website
With only 6 PhD programs, the graduate studies division at the Rochester Institute of Technology is about a fifth of the size of the undergraduate program, yet it still manages to get a lot of attention (as well as nearly $50 million in annual research funding). RIT is well known for offering the first and only Imaging Science doctoral program, and students and faculty have worked closely with researchers at nearby Kodak and Xerox for over 20 years. RIT is also one of the best graduate schools for video game design, with a #2 ranking from The Princeton Review in 2012.
Tuition and Fees: $40,426/yr
Score: 118.1

University of Rhode Island Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

The University of Rhode Island almost seems out of place in such a tiny state, given its substantial academic offerings – including nearly 50 graduate programs.

45. University of Rhode Island

Kingston, RI

Website
As the primary public research institution in the small state of Rhode Island, the University of Rhode Island offers 49 graduate programs spanning the full breadth of academic disciplines, nearly a third of which are ranked nationally by U.S. News. But as a land and sea grant university, the URI devotes most of its funding and resources to oceanic conservation and agricultural studies. In fact, URI’s graduate school of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics, established in 1969, was the first of its kind – and with a  10-member faculty, this program has earned a #4 national ranking from the Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index.
Tuition and Fees: $19,547/yr
Score: 120.3

DePaul University Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

DePaul is unique in this ranking as one of the only private schools featured, and it is one of the best graduate schools for professional programs like business and law.

44. DePaul University

Chicago, IL

Website
DePaul University is the largest private university in the state of Illinois, with two prominent campuses in Chicago. Among its universally celebrated graduate departments, DePaul’s Driehaus College of Business stands out as one of the oldest and best graduate schools for business in the country. With an online MBA program regularly placing on U.S. News’ top ten list and a graduate entrepreneurship program that has been ranked third nationally by The Princeton Review, it almost goes without saying that DePaul treats its business students very well. Also worth noting is the DePaul University College of Law, which offers top tier programs in both intellectual property and health science.
Tuition and Fees: $18,330/yr
Score: 121.3

Western Michigan University Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Western Michigan University has 1,000 students enrolled in its graduate business and accounting programs alone, proving that WMU is a top grad school for management, finance, and similar professional degrees.

 43. Western Michigan University

Kalamazoo, MI

Website
With 67 master’s degree programs and 29 doctoral programs, Western Michigan University has one of the most substantial graduate departments on our list. But that’s not all. WMU’s Haworth College is also one of the largest graduate schools of business in the country, with 500 combined MBA and MSA (Master of Science in Accounting) students enrolled annually. And since 2014, WMU has been the proud home of a new medical school and research center—all thanks to a $100 million cash gift, the largest amount ever donated to a university in Michigan.
Tuition and Fees: $20,766/yr
Score: 123.3

University of Mississippi Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

The University of Mississippi is not just a top grad school for health degrees, but also a top school for innovation thanks to its research in animal-to-human transplants and uses for medical marijuana.

42. University of Mississippi

University, MS

Website
The University of Mississippi, affectionately known as “Ole Miss,” is another powerhouse research institution with enough federal funding to break a camel’s back. In fact, Ole Miss is a veritable hotbed of audacious discovery. It was the site of the first animal-to-human transplant in the early 60s, and as of 2016 operates one of the few legal marijuana production facilities in the country (at the behest of the NIDA, of course). Yet Ole Miss is also known for less curious exploits, such as the Patterson School of Accounting— ranked the 4th best graduate school for accounting in 2013 by Public Accounting Report—and its School of Pharmacy, which won the AACP’s Lawrence C. Weaver Transformative Community Service Award in 2011.
Tuition and Fees: $14,059/yr
Score: 123.4

Springfield College Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Of all the colleges on this list, Springfield is the unequivocal leader in physical fitness programs, with some of the best graduate degrees in Physical Therapy and Physical Education.

41. Springfield College

Springfield, MA

Website
Best known as the birthplace of basketball in 1891, Springfield College has, against all odds, made a name for itself as a physical education research institution. In fact, Phys. Ed is just one of three doctoral programs available at Springfield, along with Counseling Psychology and Physical Therapy. But that’s not to diminish its reputation. For one thing, we also owe the sport of volleyball to an alumnus of this doctoral program, which is ranked among the top degrees in physical education available nationwide. Not to mention that just last year, Springfield earned the Carnegie Foundation’s coveted Community Engagement Classification for “educating students in spirit, mind, and body for leadership in service to others.”
Tuition and Fees: $28,985/yr
Score: 125.8

North Carolina State University Raleigh Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Drawing on North Carolina’s history as an agrarian state, NCSU at Raleigh has developed some of the nation’s top graduate degrees in agriculture, botany, and the life sciences.

40. North Carolina State University at Raleigh

Raleigh, NC

Website
At North Carolina State University, research is not just about discovery; it’s about enterprise. Among public universities without a medical school, NCSU ranks 9th in the country in terms of National Science Foundation R&D rankings. This includes interdisciplinary collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy to build clean energy manufacturing, the National Science Foundation to build a smart power grid, and even the USDA to develop GMO-resistant organic corn. Students looking to make a difference in engineering, agriculture, or life science would do well to consider attending one of the top graduate schools for science in the U.S.
Tuition and Fees: $17,274/yr
Score: 126.1

Kent State University Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Kent State is a true leader in alternative graduate education, and over the years has become a top grad school for niche subjects like fashion design and information architecture.

39. Kent State University at Kent

Kent, OH

Website
With over 300 degree programs across associate, baccalaureate, and advanced fields of study, the odds alone suggest that Kent State University has at least a few graduate programs befitting the “alternative” label. Take, for example, Kent State’s Center for the Study of World Musics. Although it might not be a household name, this program is actually one of the premiere ethnomusicology departments in the world! Kent State is also one of just of a handful of universities to offer a degree in Information Architecture and Knowledge Management at the graduate level. And if that’s not enough, KSU’s top programs for financial engineering and fashion design are sure to grab the attention of aspiring financiers and fashionistas alike.
Tuition and Fees: $14,622/yr
Score: 126.3

Ball State University Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Ball State University is a clear winner when it comes to offering choices, with more than 100 different graduate programs available for students of every interest and aspiration.

38. Ball State University

Muncie, IN

Website
With so many highly ranked graduate programs, it’s hard to pin down what exactly sets Ball State apart from its competitors. Perhaps it’s their top degree in Landscape Architecture, which has earned the high praises of The Almanac of Architecture and Design and Design Intelligence, or their online Master of Science in Nursing program (one of the largest in the country). Then again, U.S. News also regularly recognizes Ball State for offering competitive degrees in Physics, Secondary Education, and Counseling Psychology—not to mention the 100+ other degrees from which students may choose. Ultimately, the greatest advantage of Ball State is that the choice is all yours!
Tuition and Fees: $14,961/yr
Score: 126.5

University of Vermont Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

In keeping with the liberal and “green” profile of its home state, the University of Vermont has developed a top graduate program in environmental science, which is offered through the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources.

37. University of Vermont

Burlington, VT

Website
Another “Public Ivy,” the University of Vermont was founded in 1862,and is the state of Vermont’s sole land-grant university.  UVM’s full name is University of Vermont and State Agricultural College, and it fully lives up to its “green thumb” reputation. UVM’s business school even offers MBA and MSA programs in Sustainable Entrepreneurship! After the UVM Medical Center, which is the largest hospital complex in the state, most of UVM’s funding goes directly to the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, which recently earned a $6.7 million grant to clean up Lake Champlain.
Tuition and Fees: $27,704/yr
Score: 126.7

University of North Carolina Greensboro Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

From creative writing to nanoscience, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro has positioned itself as an equally strong graduate school for science, technology, and the humanities.

36. University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Greensboro, NC

Website
In the mid-20th century, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro made a name for itself by launching one of the first MFA programs in creative writing in the country, led by vanguard poets like Allen Tate and Robert Frost. Although it hasn’t discontinued this historic program, UNC Greensboro is now refashioning itself as a leader in nanotech and nanoscience education. In collaboration with the North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, Greensboro has launched the only professional graduate school for nanotech in the country that includes a unique biochemical focus.
Tuition and Fees: $14,214/yr
Score: 129.3

The New School Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

The New School has a history of being one of the best graduate schools around for philosophy, but it also is no slouch in other liberal arts fields!

35. The New School

New York, NY

Website
Although the official name is relatively recent, The New School has been pushing the envelope with progressive agendas and experimental curricula for decades. Its history dates back to the early 1900s, when in 1933, a small group of professors and academics opened the University in Exile to support refugees fleeing anti-intellectual regimes during WWII. Soon it was hosting such renowned scholars as Hannah Arendt and Claude Levi-Strauss, and the philosophy department continues to cherish European critical tradition even today. In fact, TNS has become one of the best graduate schools for Continental philosophy in the country. Other graduate departments are also faithful to this humanistic tradition, with doctoral programs in Anthropology, Economics, Politics, Psychology, Public Policy, and Sociology.
Tuition and Fees: $41,250/yr
Score: 131.8

Illinois Institute of Technology Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

If engineering is where your interest lies, The Illinois Institute of Technology offers one of the top engineering degrees with over a dozen engineering specialties.

34. Illinois Institute of Technology

Chicago, IL

Website
As one might gather from its name, the Illinois Institute of Technology is a leading resource in Chicago for STEM researchers and post-graduates, particularly in the field of engineering. Although IIT does offer top programs in law and design (as recognized by U.S. News and Bloomberg Business, respectively), it is best known for its fully comprehensive engineering department with dozens of master’s specializations and doctoral programs in everything from Aerospace Engineering to Materials Science. IIT also offers a wide range of professional master’s programs in technology, including IT, web application development, and food safety, as well as a nationally recognized cybersecurity degree.
Tuition and Fees: $25,247/yr
Score: 133.5

University of Wisconson Milwaukee Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is a top graduate school all around with many programs of note, but the university excels in their Archives and Preservation program, ranking in the top 10 in the nation.

33. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Milwaukee, WI

Website
With a research budget of over $68 million and an R1 classification from the Carnegie Foundation (indicating the highest degree of research activity), the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is everything you’d expect from the state’s second-largest academic institution. UWM boasts 30 nationally ranked graduate programs, including the United States’ only graduate school for freshwater science, as well as the state’s largest nursing, architecture, and health sciences programs. Yet UWM’s greatest strength appears to be the Archives and Preservation program within its Library and Information Studies Department, which U.S. News lists as one of the top 10 nationwide.
Tuition and Fees: $18,244/yr
Score: 137.9

Drexel University Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Drexel University offers top degrees in numerous fields and sets itself above the rest with its co-op program that gives students employment opportunities after graduation.

32. Drexel University

Philadelphia, PA

Website
Like many other schools on this list, Drexel University has earned acclaim for its top graduate schools for: law, medicine and business; forward-thinking research in engineering and computer science; and robust resources for graduate programs in art and design. But Drexel is committed to its student body in ways that extend far beyond the classroom. Specifically, the university’s cooperative education program has set the bar for college work programs around the country, and has been so successful in placing both graduate and undergraduate students that nearly a third of graduates are offered a full time job at their co-op employer. Drexel’s distance learning initiative has also been groundbreaking, now offering over 100 degrees—including masters and PhDs—completely online.
Tuition and Fees: $31,519/yr
Score: 141.0

George Mason University Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

George Mason University offers many top degree programs, including a SMART lab for sports medicine research.

31. George Mason University

Fairfax, VA

Website
Offering 88 masters degrees (and a law degree) throughout four campuses across Virginia, George Mason University is a treasure trove of educational resources for students of all disciplines. It would be difficult to enumerate the sheer variety of resources available at GMU. Suffice it to say that the university is heavily invested in research centers as diverse as Neural Informatics, History and New Media, and Climate Change Communications, which promise great opportunities for interdisciplinary graduate partnership. For health science students, GMU also operates a SMART Lab (Sports Medicine Assessment, Research & Testing) and the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being, which emphasizes “science and practices that lead to a life of vitality, purpose, and resilience.”
Tuition and Fees: $22,364/yr
Score: 143.3

Marquette University Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Marquette University offers some of the best degrees that combine different specialties, such as their engineering program that teams with the policy and epidemiology departments to improve water treatment methods.

30. Marquette University

Milwaukee WI

Website
As the first co-educational Catholic university in the world, Marquette has been hard at work bridging gaps for over 100 years. Marquette is currently home to several ambitious and publicized interdisciplinary research initiatives that are also knocking down institutional boundaries. For example, MOVe (Marquette Obesity Venture) is one of the most comprehensive investigations into the world’s obesity epidemic, spanning fields as diverse as law and public policy, neuroscience, nutrition, and exercise science. Marquette’s engineering department is also collaborating with policy and epidemiology researchers to improve water treatment methods across the globe.
Tuition and Fees: $18,900/yr
Score: 143.5

West Virginia University Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

West Virginia University offers one of the top graduate degrees in medicine, specializing in rural medicine.

29. West Virginia University

Morgantown, WV

Website
With a nearly $200 million annual budget for research, West Virginia University truly exemplifies a “highest research activity” school. So it’s no surprise that WVU’s medical center is ranked 9th in the country for rural medicine by U.S. News, or that its local teaching hospital, Ruby Memorial, has earned magnet status for advanced nursing. Funding a portion of WVU’s gargantuan research budget is the FBI, which helped establish the university’s nationally-ranked graduate school for Forensics and Investigative Science department. WVU also leads the country in biometrics and identification research, which it conducts on behalf of the FBI as well.
Tuition and Fees: $15,354/yr
Score: 143.5

Clemson University Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Clemson University is climbing up in the ranks, recently taking its place as one of the best graduate schools for automotive engineering.

28. Clemson University

Clemson, SC

Website
The Carnegie Foundation now lists Clemson as a doctoral university with the highest research activity it measures, but it wasn’t always this way. In the past 10 years, Clemson has risen steadily in U.S. News. rankings, climbing from 34th to 21st among public research universities by investing heavily in research and graduate studies. In addition to developing interdisciplinary graduate programs like Rhetoric, Communication, and Information Design, Clemson has staked a claim in some highly specialized areas. For instance, its partnerships with BMW, IBM, Microsoft and other major corporations to develop a motorsports research center has put it on the fast track to becoming one of the top graduate schools for automotive engineering in the country.
Tuition and Fees: $13,813/yr
Score: 143.7

Northern Illinois University Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Ecology and Geoscience are just a couple of areas where Northern Illinois University ranks above the rest, offering some of the top graduate degrees in the nation.

27. Northern Illinois University

Dekalb, IL

Website
Thanks to the addition of two interdisciplinary departments in Environmental Science and Community Leadership in 2012, Northern Illinois University now officially offers 80 graduate degrees (including doctoral and law programs). And although the Environmental Science program is just four years old, NIU has always put nature and ecology at the center of its research initiatives. In fact, the school’s Department of Geology and Environmental Geoscience has led the global community in Antarctic field research for nearly 50 years. And while their geoscientists trek to the South Pole, NIU’s graduate theater and dance students take a journey to the other side of the world to study in a month-long residency at the renowned Moscow Art Theater School.
Tuition and Fees: $16,450/yr
Score: 144.7

Florida International University Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Florida International University selects its students carefully, but those who gain admission are sure to get one of the best graduate degrees in law, medicine or architecture.

26. Florida International University

Miami, FL

Website
Florida International University is recognized as a high-research doctoral university by the Carnegie Foundation and a tier-one research institution by the Florida Legislature, and for good reason. Just last December, a team of FIU medical and engineering faculty made news for their “remote-controlled brain” after inserting nanotech implants in a living mouse cranium. FIU is also notable for its high-demand graduate degrees, which are actually some of the most selective in the state. While FIU’s overall admission rate hovers just above 50%, entry rates to its graduate programs in law, medicine, and architecture clock in at 19%, 6%, and 4.6% respectively.
Tuition and Fees: $17,338/yr
Score: 145.1

Florida State University Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Florida State University offers top graduate degrees in law, criminology and library studies, not to mention an excellent film program.

25. Florida State University

Tallahassee, FL

Website
In 2010, the Fiske Guide to Colleges called Florida State University a “Budget Ivy.” In addition to having one of the most underrated film schools in the country, FSU leads the state in virtually every sector of STEM research funding and has one of the highest pass-rates for the Florida Bar of any law school in the state—all for the price of, well, a state school. FSU has a few other notable graduate programs as well, namely the seventh best graduate program for criminology and the 11th top Digital Librarianship program in the nation – according to U.S. News.
Tuition and Fees: $18,759/yr
Score: 147.3

University of Central Florida Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

If your dream is to work in the aerospace industry, look no further than the University of Central Florida, which offers one of the best graduate programs for aerospace engineering.

24. University of Central Florida

Orlando, FL

Website
The University of Central Florida was established in 1963 to support the U.S. Space Program at the Kennedy Space Center, and it remains a formidable ally in aerospace engineering and materials science research to this day. UCF has since developed corporate partnerships with Boeing, Siemens, and Lockheed Martin to support dozens of research centers in optics, turbomachinery, emerging media, economics, simulation, forensic science, and more. Such is UCF’s reputation that when they launched their graduate school of medicine in 2009, it immediately became one of the most selective in the country, with 4,300 applicants for 41 spots.
Tuition and Fees: $18,294/yr
Score: 148.5

Loyola University Chicago Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

For those interested in a top graduate degree in health, Loyola University of Chicago offers impressive programs in medicine and nursing.

23. Loyola University Chicago

Chicago, IL

Website
Loyola University Chicago is primarily distinguished for its top graduate programs in the health sciences. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has toured campus and seen the impressive array of resources Loyola offers via the Stritch School of Medicine, Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, and nearby Loyola University Medical Center – a highly regarded health complex and level I trauma center. Although Trinity Health purchased the medical center in 2011, Loyola still operates research initiatives on campus, and many students acquire valuable internships and positions at the hospital. Of course, as one of the largest Catholic universities in the country, Loyola also provides a comprehensive range of other competitive graduate programs – including Saint Joseph College Seminary, one of the best graduate schools for theology in the nation.
Tuition and Fees: $18,886/yr
Score: 149.9

Auburn University Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Auburn University is a jack of all trades, offering top graduate degrees in agriculture, aquatics, veterinary science and engineering.

22. Auburn University

Auburn University, AL

Website
Auburn University is something of a triple-threat; as one of the nation’s few land, sea, and space grant institutions, funding abounds for research in the fields of agriculture and aquatics. Auburn is also known for its strong architecture, veterinary science, and engineering departments. In fact, Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering ranks among the top graduate schools for engineering by graduation rate, and is nationally ranked for specializations in Industrial and Systems Engineering, Civil Engineering, Chemical Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering. This nearly 150-year-old institution has stood the test of time preparing engineers throughout the state and country.
Tuition and Fees: $19,220/yr
Score: 153.2

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University offers one of the best graduate degrees for engineering, with a large amount of research funding for new innovations.

21. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Blacksburg, VA

Website
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, or Virginia Tech for short, has long been one of the state’s leading research institutions and a regional standout in the engineering and tech fields. From 2000 to 2014, Virginia Tech’s research funding budget more than doubled – from $192.7 million to $513 million – thanks to increased industry and federal funding. Along the way, the school has grown to accommodate more than 160 master’s and doctoral programs in the arts and sciences. In fact, Virginia Tech’s graduate programs in Information Technology and Landscape Architecture currently lead the nation in rankings from U.S. News and DesignIntelligence, respectively.
Tuition and Fees: $20,247/yr
Score: 154.0

University of Delaware Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Although the University of Delaware may not have a large graduate student population, their graduate engineering program is one of the best in the country, with seven specialties and a soon to be designated STAR accreditation.

20. University of Delaware

Newark, DE

Website
As a land, sea, and space-grant institution, the University of Delaware is well-poised to offer its graduate students plenty of opportunities to succeed. And while advanced degree seekers may constitute less than 20% of UD’s student body, grad students thrive. The university has one of the best graduate programs in engineering in the entire country, with additional top rankings for seven engineering specialties. And while many schools’ engineering programs are overwhelmingly male-dominated, UD stands out with a student body that is almost 30% female – and growing! The university is also developing a Science, Technology, and Advanced Research (STAR) campus that will serve as an interdisciplinary space for business, education, and research.
Tuition and Fees: $30,924/yr
Score: 154.7

University of Alabama Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Indecisive students beware: the University of Alabama hosts so many top graduate degrees in business, law, and education that it’s hard to pick just one!

19. The University of Alabama

Tuscaloosa, AL

Website
For the more than 2,000 graduate students who attend the University of Alabama, flexibility and variety are simply a given. After all, the graduate school is home to more than 150 distinct programs, plus doctoral degrees and options for educational specialists. UA is perhaps best known for its business and law programs, but that’s far from the end of the story. For instance, the graduate degree in library and information sciences is not only ranked in the top 20 nationally – it’s also the only American Library Association-accredited program in the state. UA is also unique for the support programs it offers grad students. From the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition to the Women in STEM Experience (WiSE), this top grad school is full of opportunities for students to grow both personally and professionally.
Tuition and Fees: $18,060/yr
Score: 154.9

Georgia State University Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Georgia State University offers some of the most innovative top graduate degrees in the country, with specialties that include Health Care Law and Nonprofit Management.

18. Georgia State University

Atlanta, GA

Website
When you have to share a city with a well-known university like Emory, it can be hard to make a name for yourself as an academic powerhouse in your own right. But Georgia State has nonetheless carved a space for itself in the bustling metropolis of Atlanta. One of the nation’s most diverse universities with a keen focus on student success, GSU has become known for its focus on health and socioeconomic issues. Indeed, these interests often cross paths through interdisciplinary programs like Health Care Law (ranked 3rd in the nation by U.S. News) and Nonprofit Management (#12 nationally). On the research side, GSU professors and grad students regularly make headlines for their work in alternative cancer treatments, obesity, and mental health.
Tuition and Fees: $16,753/yr
Score: 159.6

Virginia Commonwealth University Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Virginia Commonwealth University offers one of the best graduate degrees in fine arts, including such specialties as ceramics, painting and printmaking.

17. Virginia Commonwealth University

Richmond, VA

Website
If you focus solely on the numbers, it would be easy to write off VCU as “just another big state school.” It’s true that Virginia Commonwealth University enrolls more than 30,000 students, boasts a sprawling 150-acre campus, and is located in one of the state’s most populous cities. And yet, this university is anything but traditional. Over the years, VCU has cultivated an identity as an edgy, artistic school that reflects Richmond’s diverse culture and truly embodies the meaning of “alternative.” As a result, the university now dominates the rankings when it comes to the fine arts; in addition to the nation’s best graduate degree in Sculpture, VCU also houses top grad programs in Ceramics, Painting, Graphic Design, and Printmaking, among others.
Tuition and Fees: $18,391/yr
Score: 162.0

University of Tennessee Knoxville Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

UT Knoxville is committed to maintaining its status as a top graduate school and has developed an ambitious master plan for expansion.

16. The University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Knoxville, TN

Website
While many institutions have a master plan, UT Knoxville’s is particularly bold and ambitious. Over the next several years, the university aims to renovate nearly half of its facilities, promote energy and environmental responsibility, and expand its campus to include additional greenhouses, research buildings, and gardening space – among many other projects. These efforts demonstrate UT Knoxville’s commitment to its students and its pursuit of continual growth. Not that current grad students are hurting from a lack of…well, anything. Opportunities abound, from the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research, which promotes the study of energy-related science and engineering, to the UT Humanities Center, which supports advanced study in history, literature, and philosophy.
Tuition and Fees: $21,450/yr
Score: 162.5

University of Kentucky Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

The University of Kentucky excels in most health fields and provides some of the best graduate programs in medicine, pharmacy and public affairs.

15. University of Kentucky

Lexington, KY

Website
There is a reason people call UK “Kentucky’s indispensable institution.” Throughout its 150-year history, the University of Kentucky has produced scholars, researchers, and medical professionals who have had an undeniable impact on the local economy – not to mention that of the entire nation! The University of Kentucky is known for its medical school, which excels in research and patient care, as well as its graduate programs in Pharmacy and Public Affairs. But that’s not all. The university also has one of the nation’s best graduate degrees in Rehabilitation Counseling, which includes access to the relatively new (2008) Center for Muscle Biology. In addition to a Human Performance Lab (HPL) this research center also has access to an actual human muscle bank – the only one of its kind!
Tuition and Fees: $18,921/yr
Score: 164.9

University of Massachusetts Amherst Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

The University of Massachusetts-Amherst is a top graduate school for innovation and has developed unique alternative programs in areas like Artificial Intelligence.

14. University of Massachusetts-Amherst

Amherst, MA

Website
We already included the University of Massachusetts – Lowell in this article, so why mention a second campus? Well, considering UMass Amherst independently earns 40 top rankings for its grad school programs, it seemed worthwhile to give this school its own spot on our list. From graduate degrees in Sex and Gender, and Physics, and Earth Sciences to top grad programs for Public Health and Artificial Intelligence, it’s difficult to pin down a single “claim to fame.” But that almost seems intentional. Even at the school’s state-of-the-art UMass Innovation Institute, the goal is broad and hopeful: to ensure that UMass Amherst discoveries and technologies move forward into society.
Tuition and Fees: $22,364/yr
Score: 168.4

University of South Carolina Columbia Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Although business is what the University of South Carolina-Columbia is recognized for, they also offer a top graduate degree in sociology that is quickly gaining recognition.

13. University of South Carolina-Columbia

Columbia, SC

Website
At the University of South Carolina, there’s one program that stands out above all: business. In particular, USC has the #1 International Business program at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, as reported by U.S. News. But that’s not why we have included the university on our alternative ranking of graduate schools. And for many of the school’s more than 6,000 grad schools, that’s not why they chose USC either! Did you know that the sociology graduate degree is #3 in the Student Ranking, which considers factors like student achievement and financial aid? And take the College of Information and Communications, which is home to one of the most distinguished library science programs in the country – despite also being one of the youngest!
Tuition and Fees: $19,858/yr
Score: 169.4

University of Buffalo Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

SUNY at Buffalo encourages innovation and discovery of all kinds, making it one of the best graduate programs for cutting-edge research.

12. University at Buffalo

Buffalo, NY

Website
In addition to its esteemed position as a Tier 1 research institution on the Carnegie Classification, SUNY University at Buffalo is also one of just 60 universities in all of North America to be elected to the Association of American Universities. And there is plenty of other evidence to indicate how devoted the university is to maintaining its status as a research powerhouse. Research activities range from discovering new ways to mathematically describe a wave to evaluating the validity of bite marks as forensic evidence. UB is also five years into its six-year plan to construct a new state-of-the-art medical building, which will house additional research facilities and support innovative treatments to improve patient care.
Tuition and Fees: $18,835/yr
Score: 172.0

University of Illinois Chicago Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

The University of Illinois Chicago offers several of the best graduate degrees in the country, including unique specialties like Urban Education Leadership.

11. University of Illinois at Chicago

Chicago, IL

Website
In a city that is very nearly oversaturated with colleges and universities, you might be surprised to hear that UIC is Chicago’s only public research university. The University of Illinois at Chicago has taken advantage of its unusual position to become an unequivocal leader in innovation throughout the region. One of UIC’s particular strengths is in Urban Education; in addition to a top graduate degree in Urban Education Leadership, the university supports cutting-edge pedagogical research through the Centers for Literacy and Mathematics Education of Latinos/as and the Collaborative for Equity and Justice in Education. As one of the most diverse campuses in one of America’s most diverse cities, this research hits home for more than a few of UIC’s graduate students.
Tuition and Fees: $21,223/yr
Score: 176.7

Temple University Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Temple University’s list of top graduate degrees covers both ends of the spectrum, with recognizable programs in everything from art to business to occupational therapy.

10. Temple University

Philadelphia, PA

Website
Temple University may be one of several colleges in Philadelphia – including a prestigious member of the Ivy League – but this school is anything but a wallflower. It is the 42nd largest postsecondary institution in the country and supports nearly 40,000 students at any given time. Temple even has campuses in Rome and Tokyo! Of course size isn’t everything, but for students at Temple it means big opportunities. Grad students in particular benefit from the school’s expansive resources, which include tens of millions of dollars in annual funding. High profile graduate programs in Fine Arts, Law, and Business earn the school plenty of accolades, but their master’s degrees in Criminology, Clinical Psychology, and Occupational Therapy deserve our attention, too.
Tuition and Fees: $18,988/yr
Score: 176.8

University of Connecticut Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Only the most seaworthy students will be lucky enough to study in UConn’s top graduate program in oceanography.

9. University of Connecticut

Storrs, CT

Website
Most “top” grad school rankings would have you believe that high test scores, deep pockets, and lucrative alumni connections are all that should matter to students. But what about accessibility? The University of Connecticut has five campuses across the state, making sure that its affordable education is available to anyone who is willing to work hard for it. For UConn, “accessibility” also means that students enjoy access to the kinds of unique resources that will truly enrich their experience. Although you won’t find this on a U.S. News ranking, UConn is actually a top graduate school for oceanography. All marine and maritime studies are concentrated at Avery Point, a coastal campus that houses the National Undersea Research Center and the Connecticut Sea Grant College Program.
Tuition and Fees: $25,689/yr
Score: 181.7

Syracuse University Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Wordsmiths should pay close attention to Syracuse University, which offers some of the best graduate degrees in linguistics and library science.

8. Syracuse University

Syracuse, NY

Website
In the world of top rankings, Syracuse is well known for its top programs in journalism as well as its graduate degree in law, public affairs, information sciences, entrepreneurship, and various social science disciplines. But what if you’re not interested in becoming a lawyer or librarian? Maybe you prefer linguistics.  If so, Syracuse has a top 40 program in Speech-Language Pathology and a research program through the Center for Natural Language Processing (CNLP) that seeks to improve human speech recognition in computer systems. It’s also worth noting this university’s serious commitment to veteran affairs. In fact, JPMorgan Chase recently donated $13.8 million to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse, which focuses on “advancing the post-service lives of America’s service members.”
Tuition and Fees: $34,500/yr
Score: 182.2

Indiana University Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Those interested in receiving their graduate degree in business should look no further than Indiana University in Bloomington, as their business school is ranked 21st in the U.S..

7. Indiana University-Bloomington

Bloomington, IN

Website
Whether you’re talking about academics or athletics, the “Hoosiers” are everywhere you look in the Midwest college scene. And with more than 40,000 students and an endowment of nearly $2 billion, it’s easy to understand why IU Bloomington has such a ubiquitous presence. At the graduate level, IU gets more than enough publicity for its prestigious Kelley School of Business and lauded IU School of Education, which place at 21st and 25th, respectively, on U.S. News’ top graduate school rankings. But the university also has burgeoning grad programs in cognitive science, including research that explores the limits of human-robot systems, and environmental science. In the latter program, students are currently investigating materials that could lead to “next generation” solar cells – courtesy of a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
Tuition and Fees: $18,928/yr
Score: 183.1

University of Georgia Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

For those interested in research, the University of Georgia offers numerous  graduate programs that are research centered.

6. University of Georgia

Athens, GA

Website
The University of Georgia isn’t usually at the top of anyone’s list of the best graduate schools, but maybe it should be! In addition to an enticingly affordable tuition rate and #21 rank on U.S. News’ listing of top public schools nationwide, UGA also boasts a Tier 1 Carnegie Basic Research designation and is considered one of the best 150 universities in the world, according to Shanghai world rankings. For grad students interested in making a career out of research, UGA is an ideal choice. With land- and sea-grants and an impressive library that includes 13 buildings and one of the biggest map collections in the country, this school is never short of resources with which to empower its students.
Tuition and Fees: $18,549/yr
Score: 183.3

Rutgers University Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

With impressive scientific gadgets like a scanning transmission electron microscope plus top graduate programs in the humanities, Rutgers is about as well rounded as they come.

5. Rutgers University-New Brunswick

New Brunswick, NJ

Website
With all this 21st century focus on science and technology, it seems as though graduate programs in engineering and computing have become the only ones worth mentioning. But recent trends suggest that all is far from lost for humanities majors, and in this way, Rutgers University in New Brunswick is ahead of its time. Some of the nation’s best graduate degrees in English and History (including Gender and Literature and Women’s History) are offered at this New Jersey college. On the other hand, you’ll also find some of the foremost grad programs in Physics and Math here. In fact, Rutgers is the only university in the world to possess both a scanning transmission electron microscope and a helium ion microscope on one campus.
Tuition and Fees: $24,034/yr
Score: 183.7

Michigan State University Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

Above all, MSU stands out with its top graduate programs for agriculture and community health students.

4. Michigan State University

East Lansing, MI

Website
Michigan State University is the quintessential state college. With a robust athletic program, active Greek life, a vibrant college town, and a fan base that borders on the fanatical, MSU is a haven for undergraduates seeking a traditional college experience. But what about grad students? Behind the university’s jock-like exterior is an inquisitive, passionate community of intellectuals studying everything from the effects of sleep deprivation to the water crisis in nearby Flint. Underpinning MSU’s research is a strong commitment to the local community, and much of the university’s endeavors focus on agriculture, occupational hazards, and general human health.
Tuition and Fees: $23,898/yr
Score: 186.8

University of Illinois Urbana Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

It’s hard to go wrong at a school like the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which boasts a long list of top 10 graduate degrees.

3. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Champaign, IL

Website
The list of graduate programs available at UI Urbana-Champaign is  staggering. In fact, with the number of top-ranked degrees that the university claims, it’s almost hard to justify this one as an “alternative” grad school. Its top 10 offerings include Psychology, Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science, Engineering, and Accounting, plus the #1 best graduate degree in Library and Information Studies in the entire country. It may not be the world’s most selective school, but that just means more students can benefit from its extraordinary academics. Plus, its affordable tuition – especially for in-state residents – certainly doesn’t hurt!
Tuition and Fees: $24,636/yr
Score: 195.4

University of Pittsburgh Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

The University of Pittsburgh has combined its love of interdisciplinary studies with its top graduate degrees in health to develop strong research programs in nanoscience and bioengineering, among others.

2. University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus

Pittsburgh, PA

Website
The 10,000 graduate students who attend the University of Pittsburgh comprise nearly a third of the total student body – a significant ratio for a large public college. What drives so many students to choose U Pitt for their advanced degree? Its health programs are perhaps the biggest draw; the medical school is one of the nation’s premier sources for research in geriatrics, women’s health, and drug abuse, as well as a top spot for just about every type of graduate nursing degree. But Pitt has also established itself as a major force in interdisciplinary studies and research. From Nanoscience to Bioengineering to Computer Modeling, researchers at Pitt are drawing connections to picture a better future for us all.
Tuition and Fees: $28,902/yr
Score: 197.7

University of Wisconsin Best Alternative Graduate Schools in the East

With more than 100 nationally-ranked graduate degrees – many of which are in the top 10 in the entire country – UW Madison deserves a #1 ranking not only for its size and scope, but also for its pioneering spirit.

1. University of Wisconsin-Madison

Madison, WI

Website
The University of Wisconsin barely counts as an “Eastern” school, and the city of Madison is less than two hours from the natural dividing line that is the Mississippi River. And yet, that hasn’t stopped UW from climbing its way to the top of our list as the #1 best alternative graduate school. In addition to its highly esteemed programs in Education, Medicine, Chemistry, and Psychology, the university boasts a wide selection of other worthwhile options, from Sociology to Physics. UW has also revealed an ambitious plan it calls “UW2020: WARF Discovery Initiative,” which will  fund projects that “have the potential to fundamentally transform a field of study.” This independent spirit manifests in many other UW projects as well, from the “Institute for Discovery” to ecological restoration at the Arboretum.
Tuition and Fees: $18,533/yr
Score: 200

Sources:
College Navigator
U.S. News Education: Grad Schools
Carnegie Classification Definitions
The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education
Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System