A Guide to Online Colleges in Washington

Explore our ranking of the best online degree programs in Washington. Discover what makes each program unique and find the right program for you.

Updated February 1, 2024

BestCollegeReviews.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

The Evergreen State is home to over 7 million residents, making it the thirteenth most populous state in the union. Washington is also the eighteenth largest state by area. Its square mileage is known for housing some of the Union’s most famous national and geographical landmarks, including the Puget Sound, a large inlet of the Pacific Ocean carved into the Northwest corner by glaciers over aeons; the Hoh Rainforest, one of only a handful of temperate rainforests in the United States; as well as the Cascade Range, a series of mountains which are active volcanoes and include the state’s tallest mountain, Mount Rainier, located just south of the capital of Seattle. In addition to all these geographical landmarks and countless outdoor opportunities, Washington’s urban centers feature a great degree of cultural flavor and flare, especially in the realms of food, music, and art.

The State of Washington also plays host to the second-largest number of in-state learning opportunities on the West Coast with over 200 online degrees programs offered by 28 of its colleges and universities. Of course, one of the best parts about living in the twenty-first century is that residents from almost anywhere can choose to attend a college or university from almost anywhere, so that someone in Washington’s more rural southern and eastern corners could attend an institution in the state’s urban northwestern half, and vice versa—all from the privacy of their own home. So whether you’re a longtime resident or a recent mover, there are a number of reasons why you might want to obtain a degree online as an in-state resident. If you’re trying to figure out how to do so, this guide is for you.

One reason to obtain an online degree in your home state is that in-state tuition can often be applied to public schools that offer online programs. Many online programs require some face-to-face interaction, or they provide more numerous support services that local students can avail themselves of by living close to the brick-and-mortar institutions they attend online. Intensive study experiences—which often take place on weekends or in several weeklong bouts—enable many online students to accelerate their time-to-graduation. Students looking at online education opportunities can drastically expand their options if they also search for locally offered, hybrid online / on-site degrees (i.e., programs where classes can be taken either partially or mostly online), and which students from other locations are unable to gain advantage of. And finally, one of the most common stipulations for obtaining scholarships is that applicants be from a certain state or region, a stipulation that permits far more funds for local students seeking degrees in-state than students applying from out-of-state.

Featured Online Schools

Many of Washington’s top public schools offer online programs of study from the associate's degree up to the doctorate. Among Washington’s 20 public-funded colleges and universities that provide such degrees, 10 offer at least one online bachelor’s degree. These include the Washington State University system, two of the University of Washington’s three locations (i.e., Seattle and Tacoma), as well as Central Washington University, and Western Washington University, all of which rank either nationally or regionally among U.S. News’ Best Colleges and Universities. For those looking to obtain an associate’s degree, or save funds and transfer into four-year programs, 12 of Washington’s 14 community colleges offer at least one fully online associate's degree. All of these offer transfer programs into four-year programs around the state. Although no public colleges or universities offer doctoral programs in 2016, the University of Washington at Seattle leads the pack for number of online master’s degrees offered by public colleges and universities with 14, followed closely by Washington State University with 12, and Central Washington University with 7.

A good number of online degrees are available through private colleges and universities in Washington. Seven private colleges and universities offer online degree programs across the state and range from the associate’s to the doctorate. In terms of that range, City University of Seattle leads the pack, offering at least one bachelor’s, master’s, and a doctoral program online, including 12 bachelor’s programs, 7 master’s programs, and 1 doctorate. Gonzaga University offers online programs purely at the graduate level, with 11 master’s programs and 5 doctoral programs. Gonzaga University is also the most prestigious private university in the state to offer online degree programs, and it is the number four ranked regional university in 2016, according to U.S. News.

For a variety of reasons, online learners may move to the state that hosts their online degree program, whether specifically required by the program or not—be it for a job, love of the area, or for scholarship benefits, etc. Different states have different policies on what defines a resident, and some of them can be rather demanding. Washington can be one of these. To declare residency in the state for tuition purposes, an incoming student must reside continually in a Washington domicile for at least 12 months prior to attending the university. That student’s presence in the state must also not be primarily for educational purposes. This means that an online learner who moves to Washington expressly to receive in-state tuition will not earn that perk by simply renting an apartment on the border. However, if a student were to relocate (or already be relocated) to the state for job or career purposes, family ties, or personal needs such as those involved with healthcare and has paid taxes at least once to the state government, they are much more likely to be considered a resident in the eyes of a public university. Military personnel on active duty in the state and their direct family members residing in a Washington domicile are also granted in-state tuition without needing to have lived there 12 months prior.

Compared with the rest of the nation, Washington is one of the least expensive states in terms of its cost of higher education. For 2015-2016, the state’s average annual tuition for a full-time undergraduate student was $12,340, which is $1,246 lower than the national average. During that year, Whitman College was the most expensive institution to attend at $45,770 per year, while the University of Washington — Seattle Campus was the most popularly attended university at $10,768 per year. These costs are less than the national average for cost of attendance at both public and private colleges and universities. Additionally, in a state where part-time and online options abound, online students will not pay sticker prices near this high, especially those who can find public colleges or universities that afford in-state rates or offer special scholarships for continuing education. Central Washington University for example, a 52nd ranked regional university, came in well-under the state average tuition at $6,897, which is largely representative of other public offerings in the state.

Five Seattle-based colleges and universities offer online degrees. Some of the city’s most popular online offerings include include the University of Washington’s Bachelor of Arts in Integrated Social Sciences and Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood & Family Studies, as well as that institution’s Master in Geographic Information Systems. Other notable universities in Seattle consistently recognized for top-ranked online programs are the City University of Seattle, whose online Doctor of Education in Leadership program is singular, as well as Seattle Pacific University, whose Master of Arts in Teaching and Residency Teacher Certification is quite popular. Seattle also hosts two community college campuses (i.e., Seattle Community Colleges North and Central) that offer Associate’s of Arts degrees fully online. Students stationed in the neighboring city of Bellevue are within commuter distance to all Seattle schools, as well as Northwest University, which is located north of their own city limits and offers degree programs from the Associate’s to the Master’s.

Four colleges and universities offer online degrees in the Spokane metro area. Notable offerings include Whitworth University’s Master of Education and Master of Arts in Teaching for the Gifted and Talented, both of which are offered through its fully online Adult Degree Programs. Perhaps most notably, Gonzaga University offers five Post-Baccalaureates for a Doctor of Nursing Practice with various focuses, including Geriatric, Family Nurse Practitioner, and Psychiatric, all completely online. And the similarly named but separate Spokane Falls Community College and Spokane Community College each offer 15 online Associate’s of Applied Science, most of which provide focuses in Business, Education, or the Health Professions.

Three colleges and universities offer online degrees in Tacoma. The University of Washington — Tacoma Campus notably offers a unique Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice; Tacoma Community College offers an Associate of Applied Science in Medical Reimbursement; and Bates Technical College offers three Associates: one in Business, one in Arts and Sciences, and one in General Studies, all of which are directly transferable to traditional four-year institutions. Since all of these are institutions are public, they offer in-state tuition for Washington residents.


Population: 668,342
Cost of Living: 1.19
Top Industries: Professional, scientific and technical services, Healthcare and social assistance, Retail trade
Local Online Degrees: 5


Population: 212,052
Cost of Living: 0.92
Top Industries: Healthcare and social assistance, Retail trade, Educational services
Local Online Degrees: 4


Population: 205,159
Cost of Living: 1.1
Top Industries: Healthcare and social assistance, Retail trade, Accommodation and food services
Local Online Degrees: 3


Population: 136,426
Cost of Living: 1.19
Top Industries: Professional, scientific and technical services, Retail trade, Healthcare and social services
Local Online Degrees: 3


Population: 105,370
Cost of Living: 1.13
Top Industries: Manufacturing, Healthcare and social assistance, Retail trade
Local Online Degrees: 3


Population: 98,404
Cost of Living: 1.14
Top Industries: Healthcare and social assistance, Retail trade, Accommodation and food services
Local Online Degrees: 2


Population: 93,357
Cost of Living: 0.94
Top Industries: Retail trade, Health care and social assistance, Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting
Local Online Degrees: 1

The Best Online Colleges in Washington

1. Washington State University

Online Programs: 21
Type: Public

Washington State University is the second-largest public research university located in Washington State. With 4 campuses spread across the southeastern corner of the state including a Global Campus for its online degree program, WSU is consistently recognized among the top 150 universities in the United States for its undergraduate and graduate programs. Its Global Campus is increasingly noted for pushing the envelope of innovation in online education. As a public university, Penn State comes with the modest sticker price of $492 per credit hour for in-state residents, while its 21 extensive online offerings range from popular Bachelor’s programs in Management and Management Information Systems to a unique and fully online Executive MBA program.

2. University of Washington-Seattle Campus

Online Programs: 16
Type: Public

University of Washington — Seattle is the state’s public flagship university with locations in Seattle, Tacoma, and Bothell. Situated in the state’s northwest corner, these three campuses include the School of Professional & Continuing Education’s University of Washington Online campus, or UW Online, where students can earn the same respected credential that on-campus students receive. UW Online’s 16 online offerings range from a Bachelor of Arts in Integrated Social Sciences to a Master of Aerospace Engineering and several online certificate programs. Many of UW’s fully online programs are in sustainable sciences, suiting them well to accommodate the state’s (and especially Seattle’s) aeronautic workforce, who are often in search of extra qualifications. Cost per credit hour for in-state residents is approximately $802 per credit hour for in-state resident undergraduates but varies per degree program for graduates. Most students admitted receive some form of financial aid.

3. Gonzaga University

Online Programs: 16
Type: Private

Gonzaga University is a private Roman Catholic research university located in Spokane, Washington. The university hosts seven colleges, and is considered among the best schools in the Pacific Northwest. All of Gonzaga University’s 16 online programs are at the graduate level, ranging from a Master of Sport and Athletic Administration to post-Master’s (and post-Baccalaureate) Doctors of Nursing Practice in a variety of specialties. Most of its programs are tailor-made for degree holders in Nursing, especially its Post-Baccalaureate programs, which make it the perfect fit for practicing nurses who are looking for ways to augment their experience with additional qualifications. Cost per credit hour is $975 for Master’s and Doctoral programs of Nursing, while most other graduate programs are approximately $945 per credit hour.

4. Central Washington University

Online Programs: 17
Type: Public

Central Washington University is a regional public university with central campus in Ellensburg and satellite centers in the Puget Sound and central regions of the state. As the fastest-growing university in the state of Washington, Central Washington University is an emerging Hispanic-Serving institution, housing 15 percent Hispanic students. CWU’s is well-known for its scientific research in the realms of geology, weather, and wine. To these ends, CWU’s 17 online offerings include both a Bachelor and Master’s in Information Technology and Administrative Management. Tuition for in-state residents is very affordable at less than $200 per credit hour for up to 10 credits at the undergraduate level and less than $300 per credit hour.

5. Northwest University

Online Programs: 9
Type: Private

Northwest University is a private Christian Liberal Arts School based in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland. Maintain satellite locations in Oregon and California, Northwest University is known for emphasis on faith, the sciences, and its School of Nursing. NU’s 20 online offerings range from an Associate’s in Ministry Leadership, to a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, and a Master of Business Administration. Northwest University also offers unique master’s degrees in Ministry and International Community Development. Cost per credit hour for depends on program of choice, with most bachelor’s degree programs around $440, and the master’s in International Community Development at $633.

6. City University of Seattle

Online Programs: 20
Type: Private

City University of Seattle is a private non-for-profit university based in Seattle and with satellite locations throughout the state and worldwide. City University of Seattle is known for its Distance Learning model which stretches across the globe, supporting campuses in 27 countries like Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Switzerland, and Vietnam, as well as a location in most Washington cities with over 50,000 residents. City University of Seattle’s 20 online offerings range from Bachelor’s degrees in Accounting, General Studies, and Applied Psychology, to Master’s degrees in Education Leadership and Adult Learning, to a Doctor of Education in Leadership. Cost per credit hour for in-state residents depends on degree program but is generally $340 for undergraduate courses and $495 for graduate courses. Specialty tuition rates exist for military personnel at $166 per credit hour for undergraduate courses and $306 per credit hour for graduate courses.

7. Big Bend Community College

Online Programs: 19
Type: Public

Big Bend Community College is a public community college located in Moses Lake, Washington. It is named for its location close to the big bend of the Columbia Basin in the state’s rural heartland. Among BBCC’s 19 online offerings are 18 associate’s degrees and 1 bachelor’s degree. These include associate’s in fields as diverse as Multimedia Communications, Business Technology, Marketing, and Entrepreneurship, as well as a bachelor’s in Business Administration. Cost per credit hour for in-state residents depends on degree program, with Associate’s degree programs at $103 per credit and Bachelor’s degree programs at $201 per credit. The majority of Big Bend Community College’s course credits are directly transferable to Washington state’s public colleges and universities.

8. Whitworth University-Adult Degree Programs

Online Programs: 2
Type: Private

Whitworth University is a private Christian liberal arts school located in Spokane, Washington. Whitworth places consistently among U.S. News’ Top 10 Best Value schools in the Northwest, and its Adult Degree Programs has been recognized for its excellence in continuing education. Its 2 online degree programs are both master’s programs, both in Education. The Master of Arts in Teaching comes with a focus in teaching the gifted and talented, while the Master of Education comes with an emphasis in either elementary or secondary education. Cost per credit hour is comes at the reduced evening-tuition rate of $540 for all programs. Multiple payment options exist at Whitworth, especially in the form of assistance for veterans and employer reimbursement.

9. Spokane Community College

Online Programs: 16
Type: Public

Spokane Community College is a public community college located in the city of its namesake, Spokane, Washington. Although a community college, SCC is a comprehensive educational institution that covers all facets of contemporary education, including the liberal arts, sciences, and a wide array of career-technical degree and certification options in high-demand fields. It has a special interest in health sciences with the largest health sciences division among community colleges in Washington state. Spokane Community College’s 16 fully online offerings include 14 Associate’s of Applied Science, many of which are in the health sciences and education, as well as 2 Associate’s-to-Bachelor’s programs in Business and Art. Cost per credit hour for in-state residents depends on degree program, with Associate’s degree programs at $103 per credit and Bachelor’s degree programs at $201 per credit. The majority of Spokane Community College’s course credits are directly transferable to Washington state’s public colleges and universities.

10. Shoreline Community College

Online Programs: 16
Type: Public

Shoreline Community College s a public community college located 10 miles north of Seattle in the city of its namesake, Shoreline, Washington. Shoreline is recognized as a large community college offering a wide variety of degree and certificate programs on its 80 acres of land. The college’s 16 online programs are all Associate’s degree programs ranging from Applied Arts & Sciences in Business Technology to Early Childhood Educator/Paraeducator. Cost per credit hour for in-state residents is uniform, with Associate’s degree programs at $101 per credit. The majority of Spokane Community College’s course credits are directly transferable to Washington state’s public colleges and universities.

11. Seattle Pacific University

Online Programs: 1
Type: Private

Seattle Pacific University is a private liberal arts university located in the state capital of its namesake, Seattle, Washington. Affiliated with the Methodist Church since its founding, Seattle Pacific University is a member of the Christian College Consortium and is recognized for its excellence in Christian education and education in general. Although it only offers one degree program, that regionally ranked program is a rigorous Master of Arts in Teaching, which prepares graduates to become certified as Washington teachers upon completion. Cost per credit hour for this program is $572 per credit for degree and $578 per credit for certification in k-12 education.

12. Spokane Falls Community College

Online Programs: 15
Type: Public

Spokane Falls Community College is a public community college that functions as an arm of Spokane Community College and the city of the same name. Spokane Falls Community College is known as a center for the visual and performing arts, providing an alternative to its sister institution’s focus in the health sciences, with a number of associate’s and technical degrees in the drama, music, fine art, photography, and graphic design. Among its 15 online offerings are the same as those offered by Spokane Community College, including Associate’s of Applied Sciences in Interpreter Training, as well as Associate’s-to-Bachelor’s programs in Art and Business. Cost per credit hour for in-state residents depends on degree program, with Associate’s degree programs at $103 per credit and Bachelor’s degree programs at $201 per credit. The majority of Spokane Falls Community College’s course credits are directly transferable to Washington state’s public colleges and universities.

13. Western Washington University

Online Programs: 1
Type: Public

Western Washington University is a public university based in Bellingham, Washington close to the Canadian border and city of Vancouver. WWU is known for placing consistently among the best schools in the Northwest, and it has notable degree programs in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Although it only offers one fully online degree program, that Bachelor of Arts in Human Services resides within the university’s Department of Health and Community Studies and Woodring College, which is one of the institution’s oldest, most diverse, and most respected programs. Cost per credit hour for in-state resident in the B.A. in Human Services program is $250 per course credit.

14. Saint Martin's University

Online Programs: 1
Type: Private

St. Martin’s University is a private Catholic liberal arts university located Lacey, Washington. It is known for housing a functioning Benedictine monastery on campus for which some members also serve as professors, as well as for placing consistently well among regional schools in the Northwest. SMU’s single online offering is a Bachelor’s in Psychology, which is taught through professors in the College of Education and Professional Psychology and is well-known for teaching students how to practice psychology with the Benedictine principle of service to others. Cost per credit hour for students enrolled in the Psychology program depends upon military status, with civilians expected to pay $455 per course credit towards a bachelor’s degree and military personnel expected to pay a reduced price of $250 per credit towards a bachelor’s degree.

Monitoring the accreditation of a university you are interested in attending is incredibly important. Accreditation ensures your credits can transfer that you can receive Federal financial aid, and most importantly that certain standards of educational quality are during your schooling. The highest accreditation standard for most programs in the United States is provided by regional accreditation agencies. The regional accrediting agency for California is the Northwest Commission on College and Universities, one of six regional accrediting agencies responsible for accrediting schools in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington.

Making sure that a University you're hoping to attend is regionally accredited — or accredited by a real and respected accrediting agency — is one of the most important choices you can make in ensuring the quality of your education.

Three Steps for Securing Financial Aid

  • Submit your FAFSA.
  • Check to see if additional forms are needed at your university of choice.
  • Search and apply for private scholarships.

Through the previous three steps most students find themselves offered some sort of federal grant, work study, private grant, scholarship, or stipend.

Great Washington Higher Education Resources

  • The Independent Colleges of Washington (ICW) generates over $2.5 billion for the local economy in the form of the student scholarships and teacher salaries its endowment can afford. It also supports an excellent graduation rate with over 9,400 students per year, which accounts for approximately 20% of all college graduates in the state of Washington. This bodes well for all students who earn one of their scholarships. Here’s a comprehensive list of the organization’s member colleges and universities.
  • Washington’s 529 college savings plan is available through its Guaranteed Education Tuition website, along with information about several other savings plans for college tuition. The 529 plan, if adopted early and contributed to yearly, allows parents, grandparents, and guardians to earn tax benefits for making contributions to their student’s future right from the get-go.
  • The state government’s GEAR UP program is in charge of overseeing a wide range of grants and initiatives for increasing preparedness and accessibility to Washington colleges and universities. Check out their site for some of these opportunities.
  • WashBoard.org is a free service that connects Washington students to state-specific scholarships both in and outside of Washington. Great for those who are relocating.
  • Washington Student Acheivement Council (WSAC) is the site to visit for any and all information pertaining to public higher education in the state.
  • For students who want to finish a degree or start an entirely new one at one of Penn State’s locations, PA Universities Online is an excellent resource that demonstrates the accessibility that comes from there being a college or university that offers an online education in every corner of the state.
  • Washington Community and Technical Colleges maintains 34 institutions, 14 of which offer online degrees. See their site for more general information on locations, credit-granting mechanisms and policies, as well as funding and workforce development.
  • The Washington Department of Education provides some general resources for students interested in learning more about existing initiatives for college and career support, as well as about how public secondary education in Washington is governed.
  • Washington’s Department of Veterans Affairs provides useful information on Education and Training Benefits for prospective students and family of students who have served in the military.
  • Washington Education Association offers news and information pertaining to the ever-changing state of education in the state of Washington.
  • The Washington Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) provides abundant resources for students looking for assistance with career and technical education both in and around the state.
  • The University of Washington furnishes a list of 4 steps for establishing residency in Washington state.
  • Access Washington furnishes new residents with an accessible and consolidated list of options for how to go about becoming an official resident of the Evergreen State.

Recommended Reading

See all posts