In 2017, over 1.5 million college students enrolled in colleges and universities across Texas, according to the Texas Almanac. Many of the best colleges in Texas have legacies stretching back for hundreds of years, and are only expected to grow between now and 2025. As home to some of the most ethnically mixed cities in the United States, including Houston and Dallas, learners at the top colleges in Texas have a unique opportunity to receive the education necessary to become truly global citizens. According to the Houston Chronicle, business, social sciences, history, and health (particularly in the world-renowned Texas Medical Center) rank among the top majors for Texas-based undergrads, and agriculture also stands as a popular choice. Texas is also home to some of the highest-ranked institutes of higher learning in the United States, particularly when it comes to doctoral programs.
Our Ranking Methodology:
Graduation Rate: This indicator refers to the percentage of students who complete their degree within 150% of normal time (six years for a typical four-year degree program). Schools that perform well in this area have a track record of keeping students engaged and successful for their entire time on campus. We weighted this category 30% of the total and retrieved the information from College Navigator.
Net Price: In order to make sure that cost was still a factor in the ranking, we also considered overall net price as an indicator. Taken from data on College Navigator, “net price” is an approximate value that refers to the average amount of money a student could expect to pay each year after taking into account tuition, room and board, living expenses, scholarship awards, and financial aid packages. We weighted this category 25% of the total.
Acceptance Rate: Academically challenging, popular universities tend to be more selective and thus have a lower acceptance rate. In order to pinpoint those colleges that boast rigorous academics and also receive a large number of applications, we considered acceptance rate – the percentage of students out of the total number of applicants who receive an acceptance letter. We retrieved this information from College Navigator and weighted it 30% of the total.
20-Year Net Return on Investment: Taken from information on the website PayScale, this statistic provides a picture of how much students can expect to make after they graduate from a particular college. More specifically, the figure is calculated by taking the average income an alumnus will make over his or her first 20 years after graduation and subtracting the amount paid in tuition. Schools with a high ROI tend to be better at preparing their students for the job market. We weighted this category only 15% because data was not available for all colleges considered.
After adding all the points, we gave each university a final score out of 200. The schools below have scores ranging from 95 to 165, and each has something different to offer in terms of its cost, quality, and reputation. No one college is perfect (which is why the scores vary so much) but this ranking offers you a premier selection of universities to help get you started on your search for an education in Texas.
25. St. Mary’s University
San Antonio, TX
San Antonio-based St. Mary’s University has been awarded with the Brookings Institute’s seventeenth highest value-added score in the United States, hitting 99 out of 100 metrics. It’s the highest in San Antonio and second highest in Texas. Alumni make between $16,000 to $30,000 more annually than other nearby universities. For individuals interested in a career in politics or criminal justice, 500 alumni are currently holding judge or elected official positions. SMU was also the first university in Texas to receive fair trade designation for its commitment to ensuring foreign laborers are paid fairly and work in safe conditions.
Net Price: $17,229/yr
24. Baylor University
In 2017, over 1.5 million college students enrolled in colleges and universities across Texas, according to the Texas Almanac. Many of the best colleges in Texas have legacies stretching back for hundreds of years, and are only expected to grow between now and 2025. As home to some of the most ethnically mixed cities in the United States, including Houston and Dallas, learners at the top colleges in Texas have a unique opportunity to receive the education necessary to become truly global citizens. According to the Houston Chronicle, business, social sciences, history, and health (particularly near the world-renowned Texas Medical Center) rank among the top majors for Texas-based undergrads, and agriculture also stands as a popular choice. Texas is also home to some of the highest-ranked institutes of higher learning in the United States, particularly when it comes to doctoral programs.
Net Price: $34,900/yr
23. Dallas Christian College
All of the programs at Dallas Christian University follow ABHE requirements for incorporating Biblical principles into the curriculum. It offers the FLEXCampus program for select disciplines, allowing students from nontraditional backgrounds, such as single parents or military, to find online, night, and weekend options to complete their degrees. Most of the student organizations revolve around students’ preferred ministries, such as fellowship, food, or music, and DCU partners with churches around the state to provide more opportunities for spiritual growth.
Net Price: $15,496/yr
22. Austin College
The Presbyterian Church founded Austin College as a liberal arts and sciences school in 1849. In order to carry out its mission of inquiry, the curriculum requires students to work with a faculty mentor to create their own academic program, and from there may choose from one of 40 programs either as a second major or a minor. Most majors/minors allow for independent and directly study for qualified learners. It’s one of the best colleges in Texas for independent, self-disciplined students who want to graduate with an interdisciplinary worldview.
Net Price: $21,875/yr
21. Texas State University
San Marcos, TX
Texas State University is located in San Marcos, and ranks fourteenth in the nation for number of degrees conferred to Latinx students. Fifty-two percent of TSU students are ethnic minorities and 58% are female, making it one of the best colleges in Texas for learners who understand the importance of a diverse academic environment. The school offers 97 bachelor’s programs, 92 master’s programs, and 14 doctoral programs. Its campus is the fifth largest in Texas, at almost 4,500 acres.
Net Price: $11,871/yr
20. Southwestern University
The curriculum at Southwestern University, based just outside of Austin in Georgetown, emphasizes integration of the arts, humanities, and sciences. Bachelor’s degree holders from SU are accepted into graduate programs across the United States at three times the national average, and the school attributes this to its adaptive outlook that adjusts itself based on social, technological, and economic changes. Forbes considers it the top liberal arts college in Texas, and its Office of Career Services is lauded as one of the best in the nation for placing students in upwardly mobile positions after graduation.
Net Price: $25,635/yr
19. Sam Houston State University
Originally founded 175 years ago as a teacher’s college in Huntsville, Sam Houston State University is now recognized as a Doctoral Research University by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, with nationwide praise for its criminal justice, business, fine arts, mathematics, and education programs. Its online education programs are ranked among the best in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report, and is designed with military personnel in mind. SHSU offers 80 bachelor’s degree, 50 master’s degrees, and six doctoral degrees.
Net Price: $11,260/yr
18. Houston Baptist University
Houston Baptist University is one of the only major colleges in Texas where 100% of its classes are taught by the faculty, not teaching assistants. Because of its location in one of the most diverse cities in the United States, HBU encourages a multicultural outlook in addition to its Christian mission. Fifty-five percent of students are commuters, so the school established The Collegium as an exclusive meeting space for the off-campus crowd which includes study spaces, lockers, a TV, a fridge, and free coffee.
17. Texas A&M University College Station
College Station, TX
Texas A&M University is the oldest institute of higher learning in Texas, opening in Bryan/College Station in 1876. Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board ranks this research-focused university as the top college in Texas for 6-year student graduation rates, and Washington Monthly ranks it third in the nation for its community service, academics, economic mobility options for students, and research. U.S. News & World Report ranks Texas A&M as fourth in the nation for best value public schools. Its 19 different colleges house among them 128 undergraduate programs and 268 graduate programs.
Net Price: $11,725/yr
16. Dallas Baptist University
Dallas Baptist University began as Decatur Baptist College in 1898 before changing its name and moving to Dallas in 1965. Today, the school offers 78 undergraduate programs, 74 dual master’s programs, 31 master’s programs, and 2 doctoral programs. Sixty-seven of the undergraduate and master’s programs also have an accelerated option available. Participation in student organizations is heavily encouraged as a cornerstone of the school’s Christian mission, and many of the available groups focus on providing students from multicultural backgrounds a voice on campus.
Net Price: $23,796/yr
15. Tarleton State University
Tarleton State University has five different campuses to choose from, as well as an online campus for distance learners, though the main campus is located in Stephenville. This 118-year-old school offers over 100 programs, and the student body is comprised mostly of women. Veterans are welcome with a full suite of services to help them apply their military benefits and find a community in their new environment. For learners who prefer the wider range of perspectives found in larger class sizes, Tarleton has a 19:1 student-to-teacher ratio.
14. Texas Christian University
Fort Worth, TX
Texas Christian University was founded in Fort Worth in 1873, and now offers 114 bachelor’s programs, 58 master’s programs, and 36 doctoral programs. Its proximity to the Barnett Shale makes it unique among the best colleges in Texas because it provides students interested in petroleum, natural gas, and alternative energy with a chance to explore a major play right in their own backyard. Much of the school’s lauded research is in developing cleaner fuel sources for greater ecological preservation.
Net Price: $31,087/yr
13. LeTourneau University
LeTourneau University brands itself as “the Christian polytechnic university,” showing its dual priorities of faith and 140 different STEM programs. Classes here emphasize hands-on learning and small student-to-teacher ratios, with the goal of ensuring that students leave with practical experience, not just theoretical. Their theology and nursing programs both have 100% graduate placement rates, with six other programs – including aviation and aeronautical sciences and engineering and engineering technology – having placement rates of 93% or higher.
Net Price: $21,434/yr
12. University of North Texas
Located just north of Dallas in Denton, University of North Texas is one of the largest institutes of higher learning in the United States. It offers 103 bachelor’s programs, 86 master’s programs, and 38 doctoral programs, and holds creativity as one of its core values. Students from nearby Oklahoma receive an exclusive tuition rate, which saves $5,500 per 15 semester credit hours over other out-of-state students. With over 425 student organizations to choose from, there are plenty of opportunities to forge lifelong friendships and professional connections.
Net Price: $10,827/yr
11. Texas Tech University
Nestled in Lubbock, in the Texas panhandle, Texas Tech University is one of only 115 colleges and universities in the United States to have received Highest Research Activity honors by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. For students who prefer the opportunities afforded by larger schools, it’s also the largest college in the western two-thirds of the state. Since 1923, 40 Texas Tech students have earned Goldwater Scholarships, and 34 have been Fulbright Finalists within the past decade.
Net Price: $13,901/yr
10. University of Houston
University of Houston offers 109 majors and minors, including 105 master’s programs and 46 doctoral programs, as well as 25 different research centers. It’s been recognized as having the second best undergraduate program for entrepreneurs by The Princeton Review, the fifth best online graduate education program by U.S. News & World Report, 3 of the top 10 law programs by U.S. News & World Report, and one of the top engineering programs by U.S. News & World Report. UH is also notable for hosting the first master’s degree in subsea engineering in the country.
Net Price: $12,618/yr
9. Midwestern State University
Wichita Falls, TX
Wichita Falls, Texas, home of Midwestern State University, is located halfway between Dallas-Fort Worth and Oklahoma City. Among the best colleges in Texas, MSU stands out as particularly friendly to out-of-state students, with recognition from U.S. News & World Report as one of the top American universities with the cheapest out-of-state tuition. The school is also well known for its liberal arts program, which emphasizes social justice, community service, and ecological sustainability with an eye toward the preservation of human resources.
Net Price: $10,172/yr
8. Southern Methodist University
Located in Dallas, Southern Methodist University is ranked sixth in the nation for internship opportunities and thirteenth in the nation for best alumni networks, according to The Princeton Review. Forbes considers Dallas itself the top city for jobs in the United States as well, so students here are already at an advantage when beginning their careers. SMU offers 100 majors, 85 minors, and, unique among the best colleges in Texas, triple major opportunities. For American history buffs, the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which includes the Presidential Library and Museum, is located on campus.
Net Price: $34,189/yr
7. Trinity University
San Antonio, TX
Trinity University has been a part of San Antonio history for over 150 years. With 2,430 students, this private liberal arts college has a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio, making it ideal for learners who prefer faster, more detailed feedback from their professors. It’s also an option for students who love to give back, as Tigers donate around 100,000 hours per year to community service. There are 47 majors to choose from, and each department helps carry out the school’s main mission to create an ecologically sustainable campus.
Net Price: $27,851/yr
6. Texas A&M International University
The New York Times ranks Texas A&M International University as third in the nation for upward mobility, and Washington Monthly ranks it as number four in its list of the best American colleges for economic mobility. Located in Laredo near the Mexican border, the school commits itself to teaching students how to thrive in a global, multicultural society. Texas A&M International University originally only offered courses for juniors and seniors in the 1970s, but by 1995 began accepting freshmen and sophomores for baccalaureate degrees. One of the most unique on-campus perks is the The Lamar Bruni Vergara Planetarium.
Net Price: $4,639/yr
5. Texas A&M University Commerce
One of the earliest-established colleges in Texas, Texas A&M University Commerce launched as East Texas Normal College, a “normal” (aka “teacher’s”), college in 1889. It became part of the Texas A&M system in 1995. Students have their pick of five different schools with over 100 graduate and 40 graduate programs available, although agriculture is the main attraction. The department plays host to a popular rodeo, and four students have advanced to compete nationally. For students with children, Texas A&M University Commerce offers an accredited, four-star Children’s Learning Center that serves double duty as a childcare center and educational institution.
Net Price: $8,625/yr
4. Prairie View A&M University
Prairie View, TX
Prairie View A&M University, now part of the Texas A&M system, was the first state-supported college for African-American students in Texas, and enrollment began during Reconstruction in 1878. It began as a “normal school,” a designation for colleges in Texas focused on training teachers. Now, it hosts eight different schools with programs ranging from agriculture to architecture. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 18:1, students receive extra attention from their professors. In addition to its academic legacy, Prairie View A&M is well-known for its tight-knit community, with over 150 student organizations and the #1 homecoming ranked by HBCU Digest.
Net Price: $8,628/yr
3. University of Texas Dallas
University of Texas at Dallas offers 142 academic programs, which includes bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctorates. The school opened in 1969 as part of the University of Texas system, which by then had already established itself as one of the best colleges in Texas. Unsurprising given that it was founded by the same minds behind Texas Instruments, it’s best known for its engineering, science, and business programs. The faculty includes six members of the National Academies and one Nobel laureate. Located 20 miles north of downtown Dallas, the UTD campus is ideal for students who prefer suburban environments.
Net Price: $27,540/yr
2. Rice University
Located in the heart of Houston near the Museum District and legendary Texas Medical Center, Rice University consistently ranks as one of the top 20 schools in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report. Rice University officials recently unveiled a plan to make tuition free for students from families with incomes under $130,000 as part of an effort to make a college education more accessible to the middle and working classes. The Princeton Review praises Rice as the #1 school for race/class interaction, making it the most integrated institute of higher learning in the country.
Net Price: $20,512/yr
1. University of Texas Austin
Since 1883, University of Texas at Austin – located a short jaunt from the state capital building – has stood out as one of the top universities in the United States. With 156 undergraduate degrees and 237 graduate degrees (master’s and doctorate) to choose from, aspiring enrollees have plenty of options available. There are over 1,300 organizations, 17 libraries, and four museums to keep students entertained on campus; off-campus, they can enjoy the city’s world-class live music and art scenes. For the globetrotters out there, UT also offers 400 study abroad opportunities in 78 different countries.
Net Price: $16,832/yr
About the Author:
Iris Stone began her writing career as a freelance writer and researcher. She now owns and operates a writing and editing firm that works with clients all across the country. Her work has included articles related to education policy, colleges and universities, academic programs, and careers.