Best Value Colleges And Universities In Virginia

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Best Virginia Schools

By Iris Stone

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As one of the 13 original colonies, Virginia is home to some of the oldest universities in the entire country – and many of them maintain close ties with their historic roots. From Emory & Henry College, which draws its commitment to civic engagement from the eponymous Patrick Henry (the first governor of Virginia), to the College of William & Mary, which sits just down the road from Colonial Williamsburg, universities in this state wear their age well. Virginia is also home to some of the biggest names in public education, including top-rated UVA, the engineering hub Virginia Tech, and George Mason University – an up-and-coming state school with a growing reputation (and easy access to D.C.). For the corresponding ranking of online schools, see Best Online Colleges in Virginia.

But the main shared feature amongst all the schools listed below is their value; in other words, their ability to combine cost with quality in a way that will make you think they have a tree of money hidden somewhere on campus. To identify these “best value” colleges, we identified a few primary metrics. By simultaneously judging a school on its affordability an selectivity as well as both student and alumni success, we aimed to bring you the best of both worlds.

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 71 to 185, 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 Virginia.

Rank School Location
1 University of Virginia Charlottesville, VA
2 College of William and Mary Williamsburg, VA
3 Washington and Lee University Lexington, VA
4 Virginia Military Institute Lexington City, VA
5 James Madison University Harrisonburg, VA
6 University of Richmond Richmond, VA
7 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Blacksburg, VA
8 George Mason University Fairfax, VA
9 University of Mary Washington Fredericksburg, VA
10 Christopher Newport University Newport News, VA
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  1. University of Virginia
    Location

    Charlottesville, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The University of Virginia has a longstanding reputation as one of the best public schools in the country. It's the dream college of Virginia residents who are banking on a low in-state tuition rate, and it has become a top choice for out-of-state overachievers as well. UVA might very well be the perfect school, which its incredibly high score of 185/200 (one of the highest we've calculated for any state) clearly indicates. A leader in innovation and research, UVA provides no shortage of unique learning opportunities. These opportunities extend to undergrads, who can tackle interdisciplinary problems as they learn about the digital technology behind musical composition and study eastern architecture in New Delhi. Ultimately, student engagement is paramount at this top university in Virginia, which boasts a 94% graduation rate and an appealing $615,000 20-year ROI.

  2. College of William and Mary
    Location

    Williamsburg, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    One of only eight official "Public Ivies" in the nation, the College of William and Mary fully embodies the definition of "best value." It's also the second oldest school in the entire nation, and nearby Colonial Williamsburg offers a quaint reminder of the area's rich history. The school attracts some of the smartest kids around - both in and out of state - and has become incredibly selective in its admissions policy (only 33% of students are admitted). But no matter how brilliant you are, expect to be challenged at this college; incoming freshmen even take a class in the summer before their first semester as a way to adjust to the demands of William and Mary.

  3. Washington and Lee University
    Location

    Lexington, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Washington and Lee: a dichotomous name that honors both the nation's first president and the commander in chief of the Confederate army. And although W&L is about as exclusive as they come - it's acceptance rate is a slim 19%, making it the most selective in Virginia - the school is anything but divisive. Ambitious students flock to the tiny town of Lexington for what the school dubs "the W&L difference." This unique approach to education combines an emphasis on analytical, technological, and critical thinking skills with a strong ethical compass - which the university believes is the cornerstone to visionary leadership.

  4. Virginia Military Institute
    Location

    Lexington City, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    If you're looking for an ordinary college, the Virginia Military Institute is not your best bet. As its name suggests, military life is an integral part of the VMI experience, from ROTC units that organize the cadets to mandatory fitness tests each semester. Far from being a distraction from your studies, the military structure is meant to help students focus on what's important: public service, a respect for leadership, unwavering patriotism, and of course a love of learning. And although VMI offers a limited selection of majors, a supplementary list of minors and concentrations - in highly targeted areas such as Aerospace Engineering and Military History - generates a nearly endless list of ways for you to customize your academic experience.

  5. James Madison University
    Location

    Harrisonburg, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    If there's any one area in which James Madison University excels, it's in its attentiveness to undergrads. While many large public schools tend to turn their focus to graduate students as their research programs grow, JMU has taken a different tack. Even as campus balloons past 20,000 students, 94% of those enrolled are undergraduates. As a B.S. or B.A. degree seeker, you'll be invited to assist on faculty research projects and explore every one of your academic interests - and since JMU offers more than 120 majors and minors, there really is no end to the possibilities. Considering this affordable Virginia college maintains a graduation rate above 80%, it's safe to say that James Madison is successful at getting all its students off the sidelines and into the action.

  6. University of Richmond
    Location

    Richmond, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    It's difficult to describe the University of Richmond in just one paragraph. Far from fitting a single stereotype, this school combines the best aspects of many types of colleges. It combines a core liberal arts curriculum with top professional schools in business, leadership, and law. Research programs rival those at much larger universities and yet are accessible to all undergrads. In fact, the "Richmond Guarantee" promises that every student will participate in at least one fellowship, internship, or summer research experience before graduating. Plus, with an acceptance rate of just 32% and a 20-year net ROI that approaches $500,000, Richmond inarguably takes its place among the best universities in Virginia - and the nation, for that matter.

  7. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
    Location

    Blacksburg, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Anyone even remotely familiar with colleges in this state will quickly identify Virginia Tech as the premier school in the region for STEM - especially engineering. The most comprehensive university and research engine in Virginia, Tech adheres to an educational mission that accentuates hands-on learning, discovery, and engagement above all. But even if you don't have big plans to work as a biomedical engineer, the school's 240+ undergraduate and graduate degrees guarantee that you'll find a place where you fit perfectly. 83% of students receive their diploma within six years, and their success doesn't end there; practical learning experiences seem to serve this top Virginia college's alumni well, as the average 20-year net ROI is $496,500.

  8. George Mason University
    Location

    Fairfax, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    If George Mason's history is any indication of its future performance, this university is going places. Although it started as a simple extension center for UVA, GMU has skyrocketed to a position of national prominence in just 50 years. In addition to being the largest public research university in the state, Mason is also one of the most impressive; with 34,000 students from 130 different countries (and a new satellite campus in South Korea!) it's no wonder U.S. News identifies the school as one of the nation's "up and comers" to watch. Take a tour of its observatory - which houses the largest telescope of any university on the east coast - or check out the gargantuan 185,000 sq. ft. LEED-certified Volgenau School of Engineering, and you'll soon see why GMU is one of the best colleges in Virginia.

  9. University of Mary Washington
    Location

    Fredericksburg, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Although Fredericksburg isn't exactly Virginia's most populous city, it holds a unique appeal all its own. Conveniently positioned within an hour's drive of both Richmond and Washington, D.C., the small town offers a quiet place to study without being completely isolated from city life. Small classes at the University of Mary Washington mimic the cozy feel of the town, and passionate, experienced teachers stand at the helm of classes that are meant to broaden your horizons and stimulate your love of learning. Programs like Environmental Science, Women and Gender Studies, and Leadership and Management Studies let students explore careers that will allow them to really make a difference.

  10. Christopher Newport University
    Location

    Newport News, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Christopher Newport may be a young school - especially compared to some of the state's most historic universities - but its future is no less promising. Thanks to its serious commitment to liberal arts values and heavy investment in its students, CNU is now one of the best universities in the South, not to mention one of the top colleges in Virginia! The 260-acre campus is packed full of gleaming facilities that would suggest a much more established university, including a new library, an internationally known arts center designed by famous architect I.M. Pei, and decked out residence halls with an established "Greek Village." CNU has also quickly risen through the ranks to become one of Virginia's most selective schools and admits just over half of its applicants (56%).

Sources:
College Navigator
Pay Scale

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.

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