Best Colleges in Hawaii

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When you see pictures of Hawaii, you see paradise. But what people don’t know is that Hawaii is also a very popular destination for academics. In fact, about 4% of the island’s population consists of college students. Schools like Hawaii Maui College, Chaminade University, and Hawaii Pacific University attract aspiring students who desire a quality education where they can learn from experts. Not only do students get an educational experience like no other, but they also get to begin their journey towards a bright future!

Today’s article is about Hawaii and the best schools the island has to offer. I'll discuss everything from top colleges to how to establish residency in Hawaii. Now, while college life in Hawaii sounds like a dream come true, making a move for college is a big decision that takes careful consideration. Embarking on an educational journey is a milestone that every student should prepare for, so take out your pen and a piece of paper and get ready to dive into the academic world in Hawaii. Let’s get started!

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The Best Colleges in Hawaii

In the world of real estate, they say it’s all about location, and the same can be said when it comes to your education especially if you’re a student headed to college in the state of Hawaii. The island is a world full of naturalistic wonder, as well as academic opportunity. Let’s begin our journey down the list of some of the top schools in Hawaii.

  1. The University of Hawaii at Mānoa - is a public land grant research university located in the city of Honolulu. It is the oldest of the ten University of Hawaii campuses and is a land, sea, sun, and space grant institution. The school offers students access to over 200-degree programs across 18 schools and colleges, and despite its size of nearly 20,000 students, the school boasts a student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1.The average tuition for in-state students at UH Mānoa is $11,304, and $33,336 for out-of-state students, both of which are below the national average. The school is widely recognized for its strengths in tropical agriculture, tropical medicine, oceanography, astronomy, electrical engineering, volcanology, and more.
  2. Brigham Young University, Hawaii - BYU Hawaii is a Christian university with roughly 3,200 students attending. It offers students 37 major programs to choose from as well as 61 minor programs. It has a student-faculty ratio of 16:1 and seeks to give students both a challenging curriculum and a personal learning experience.
  3. The University of Hawaii West Oahu - The University of Hawaii West Oahu is one of the top 10 institutions in the University of Hawaii system. It has a total enrollment of 3,008 and offers students nine majors to choose from as well as 11 subject certificates.
  4. Chaminade University of Honolulu - Chaminade University is a private Christian institution located in Honolulu. It has five schools that collectively contain over 55 degree programs from which students can choose. Like many private universities, Chaminade University has a smaller student enrollment. With a student enrollment of 2,198, the average class size at CU is just 16.

When you begin your school search, be sure to look for things that serve your educational aspirations and goals. It's important that the school of your choice supports your passions and interests.

Best Community Colleges in Hawaii

Getting a higher education is such an important milestone in a student’s life, but it can also be one of the biggest financial decisions one can make. With the price of tuition inflating year after year, being able to afford to go to a traditional four-year college can be a challenge, but it’s important to know you don’t always have to start there.

Community colleges offer students the opportunity to get a good education without the burden of student debt. Not only is it known to be more affordable, but it can also be seen as the stepping stone to the college of your dreams. Below are some of the best community colleges in Hawaii.

  1. Leeward Community College - Leeward Community College is located in Pearl City, Oahu. Its student enrollment is nearly 7,000 and it has an average class size of 21 students. Students at Leeward can choose from 30 different academic programs through which they can earn an associate's degree and/or transfer to a four-year institution.
  2. Kapiolani Community College - Located in the capital city of Honolulu, Kapiolani Community College has nearly 7,000 students and is just slightly larger than Leeward. The school is committed to student success and provides them with opportunities to further pursue their educational and professional careers.
  3. Kauai Community College - Kauai Community College offers students 34 degrees and certificate programs to choose from. The school seeks to provide students with access to an affordable education as well as opportunities to further their education.

Best Colleges in Hawaii for Science Studies

In the world of education, science studies rank high for undergraduate and graduate students, especially in healthcare. Healthcare is something society will always need, and luckily, for aspiring nursing students, Hawaii is home to some of the best academic opportunities for nursing. Here is our list of top nursing colleges and programs in Hawaii.

Nursing Schools

  • University of Hawaii at Mānoa - Students of the University of Hawaii at Manoa's nursing school can earn a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, or a doctorate in nursing. In the year 2021, the school even had a first-time pass rate of 100% on the NCLEX-RN exam.
  • Chaminade University - Undergraduate nursing students at Chaminade University can follow a normal track for a bachelor's of science in nursing, or can take advantage of the accelerated track, which lasts two years or less. The school emphasizes hands-on learning and seeks to give students a diversity of educational experiences.
  • University of Hawaii at Hilo - The School of Nursing at the University of Hawaii at Hilo gives students a multi-faceted education that involves labs, field work, and other activities in addition to traditional lectures. Students can also get a doctorate in nursing at UH Hilo, and the school even offers an online graduate division for those that cannot study in-person.
  • University of Hawaii at Mānoa: John A. Burns School of Medicine - As an honorable mention for being the only medical school in Hawaii, John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa was ranked as the #24 medical school in the country for primary care by US News and World Report in 2021. John Burns gives students a very strong healthcare education and also offers students bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, and doctoral degrees.

Check out these exclusive nursing scholarships to help you pay for your nursing education!

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Marine Biology Colleges

As Hawaii is surrounded by beautiful ocean waters, it’s only appropriate that it houses some of the best marine biology programs in the country. Not only do Hawaii residents get the opportunity to learn about the underwater world, but students from all corners of the world with a passion for sea life get the chance to study marine science like no other.

Check out the top-ranked colleges in Hawaii for marine biology.

  • Brigham Young University, Hawaii - The marine biology program at BYUH allows students to study marine organisms, their behaviors, their interactions, and their habitats in some of the world's most biologically diverse oceans. This could lead to a career in marine biology, environmental science, research, and more.
  • University of Hawaii at Mānoa -The Department of Biology at UH Mānoa is a recently developed official department within the College of Natural Resources. Students gain experience working in labs and with researchers that are both within and external to the department.
  • University of Hawaii at Hilo - UHH's marine science program seeks to take advantage of the natural biodiversity of the Hawaiian oceans to teach its students. With a multi-disciplinary approach, students study oceanography, marine ecology, statistical applications of marine science, and more.
  • Hawaii Pacific University - Hawaii Pacific University is a private university in Honolulu, Hawaii. The school offers a strong marine biology program that incorporates other sciences like physics, geology, and chemistry while also drawing on other studies like phycology, marine toxicology, ichthyology, and more.

Browse through these marine biology scholarships to help lessen your college expenses!

best colleges hawaii

Best Colleges in Hawaii for General Studies

Now, for interested students with passions for subjects like social studies and creative arts, Hawaii is your playground for a diverse community and academic opportunity, plus more. Check out the best universities in Hawaii for all general studies.


  • Brigham Young University, Hawaii - Students who study business management at BYUH complete the required base courses and choose an area of concentration, as well. The concentrations that the school offers include Economics, Finance, Organizational Leadership and Human Resources, Marketing, Supply Chain Operations, and Analytics.
  • University of Hawaii at Mānoa - UHM's Shidler College of Business is the only business college in the state to be available to students pursuing a bachelor's degree, as well as graduate students pursuing an MBA or PhD in business. The school has an undergraduate enrollment of 1,302 students and roughly 35,000 alumni worldwide.
  • Chaminade University - Chaminade University's School of Business and Communication offers its diverse student body majors in accounting, business administration, communication, integrated marketing communication, and sports and event management. Additionally, the school has eight minors that students can choose from.


  • University of Hawaii at Mānoa - Psychology students at UH Mānoa can decide to pursue either a B.A. or a B.S. The school's psychology program offers studies across three main areas of focus: clinical studies; cognition, neuroscience, and social; and community, cultural and developmental. With over 100 years of experience, the Department of Psychology at UH Mānoa is sure to give interested students a strong education.
  • Chaminade University - Psychology students at CU can choose to partake in a traditional psychology curriculum or an online one. Either way, students receive a thorough education in psychological concepts like counseling theory, applied psychology, cross-cultural psychology and research. The school also offers graduate degrees that students can apply to pursue.
  • Brigham Young University, Hawaii - A college degree in psychology at BYU Hawaii provides students with a strong foundation in psychological sciences. Students will then be prepared to pursue careers in psychology and social work or to continue their studies to the graduate level.


  • University of Hawaii at Mānoa - The Department of Art and Art History at UH Mānoa provides undergraduate students with three bachelor's degree programs as well a unique bachelor of fine arts (BFA) degree. UH, Mānoa is also the only school in the state of Hawaii to offer a master's degree in visual art.
  • University of Hawaii at Hilo - Students in the Department of Art at the University of Hawaii at Hilo can choose from a bachelor's degree in art, a minor, or two different art certificates. The school recognizes the cultural importance of artwork and seeks to imbue students not only with studio skills, but with an appreciation for the cultural heritage and history of their artwork.
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How to Establish Residency in Hawaii for College

Though it is not required to live in the state of Hawaii in order to attend college there, when it comes to tuition rates, non-Hawaiian residents are subject to different cost of attendance rates. Establishing your residency is an option all students have, especially if you’re considering a permanent move. And to be considered a resident of the state of Hawaii for college, you must have a few things under your belt.

  1. You must live in Hawaii for a minimum of one year before you are considered a bona fide resident
  2. You must present intent to make Hawaii you’re home
  3. Physical presence in Hawaii at the time of your intent (i.e., a home or address where you sleep at night)

It is likely that your school of choice will ask you for documents like your personal income tax or voter certificate to do this, so please be thorough in your research when establishing residency in Hawaii. You want to make sure you are as prepared as possible, which means paperwork is included.

Things to Consider When Applying to Colleges in Hawaii

As you’re on your school search for the best college in Hawaii, it’s important to consider all aspects of your educational needs. You should look into what each school can offer you as first-time students, their honor code, campus life, and anything else that will support your decision to attend their institution. Going to college is an amazing opportunity, but without the proper guidance, it’s easy to get lost in the things that don’t matter.

Here are some factors to consider when looking for the best school for you:

  • Programs of study
  • Location
  • Housing
  • Reputation
  • Student life
  • Cost of attendance
  • On-Campus Resources
  • Faculty
  • Amenities
  • Campus clubs and extracurricular activities

Above all, you want to make sure that your school of choice aligns with your passions, interests, values, and goals for the future. With the proper research and careful planning, your college years can be some of the best years of your life.

collges in hawaii

Frequently Asked Questions About Hawaii Colleges

What are some of the major colleges and universities in Hawaii?

Notable institutions include the University of Hawaii system (with its main campus at Manoa and several other campuses across the islands), Hawaii Pacific University, Chaminade University of Honolulu, and Brigham Young University-Hawaii.

Is establishing residency in Hawaii difficult?

Not at all! The state of Hawaii makes being a resident simple if you’re committed to such a big move. All you need is intent and physical presence to support that intent. That is, if you want to move to Hawaii, you must know why and where. Residency is official once you’ve lived on the island for a minimum of one year. Though residency is not required in order to attend school in Hawaii, it’s important to be sure you want to move to Hawaii before making that kind of commitment.

What is the best college in Hawaii?

According to different school rankings, the best college in Hawaii is the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, located in the city of Honolulu. It is the oldest of the ten University of Hawaii campuses and is a land, sea, sun, and public institution. However, the best college for you should be the one that supports your academic goals, passions, and aspirations.

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