1. Whitman College
Walla Walla, Washington
Founded 1882
Undergrad enrollment 1,452
Tuition / Average amount of financial aid $32,670 / $22,805
Applicants / Freshman class size / Sophomore retention rate 2,047 / 425 / 90 percent
Average SAT / GPA of incoming freshmen 620–730, 620–700, 610–700 / 3.8 
Diversity 22 percent
Average time to obtain bachelor’s degree 4.1 years
Alumni giving rate50 percent

If you can get in, Whitman might be one of the best schools for all-around college experience in the Northwest—_college_ being the operative word. The school’s president vows Whitman will never become a university. Nine out of 10 undergrads who make it through their sophomore year stay to graduate, and student satisfaction numbers bear that out: Whitman is ranked ninth for classroom experience and 12th for quality of life by the PrincetonReview.com. The Greek system is huge (34 percent of guys join frats and 29 percent of girls pledge sororities). And for all their hard work, students reward themselves with the annual end-of-school Beer Mile in Ankeny Field.

 

2. University of Portland
Portland, Oregon
Founded 1901
Undergrad enrollment 2,967
Tuition / Average amount of financial aid $29,400 / $24,516
Applicants / Freshman class size / Sophomore retention rate 4,196 / 805 / 93 percent
Average SAT / GPA of incoming freshmen 530–640, 540–640, NA / 3.7
Diversity 17 percent
Average time to obtain bachelor’s degree 4 years
Alumni giving rate 16 percent

The College Board, which oversees the ever-controversial SAT test, recently issued a report showing that the University of Portland was the private school that Oregon students most often picked to receive their standardized test scores. Little wonder, then, that when students gain admission to this competitive Roman Catholic institution, they tend to stay. A high retention rate, picturesque campus, and strong programs in subjects like engineering, nursing, and business may contribute to its regional allure, but this school’s bragging rights go beyond academics: UP has also pulled in top-notch coaches and attracted sporty kids with its superlative soccer program, which has produced two women’s national championship teams and several international male stars over the past decade. Well-known UP alumni include Clan of the Cave Bear author Jean Auel and U.S. Women’s soccer star Tiffeny Milbrett.

 

3. Reed College
Portland, Oregon
Founded 1908
Undergrad enrollment 1,492
Tuition / Average amount of financial aid $37,960 / $32,154
Applicants / Freshman class size / Freshman retention rate 3,365 / 347 / 91 percent
Average SAT / GPA of incoming freshmen 680–760, 630–710, 650–730 / 3.9
Diversity 25 percent
Average time to obtain bachelor’s degree 4.2 years
Alumni giving rate 28 percent

Reedies are nerds, but we say that with love: Passionate about testing their cranial limits, students here have earned 31 Rhodes and 63 Fulbright scholarships, 108 National Science Foundation Fellowships, and 53 Guggenheim Fellowships, and two graduates have gone on to win Pulitzer Prizes. Famous dropouts James Beard and Steve Jobs got quirky kick-starts at this school, where hard-working students like to have fun with knowledge, hosting week-long seminars between fall and spring semesters on everything from Scotch tasting to the declining American psyche as expressed in The Sopranos. Sports are nearly nonexistent, but that doesn’t mean extracurricular activities are; mind expansion, thanks to a seemingly lax attitude toward hallucinogens, is a popular hobby (work hard, play hard, right?). Did we mention they study a lot?

 

4. Gonzaga University
Spokane, Washington
Founded 1887
Undergrad enrollment 4,386
Tuition / Average amount of financial aid $27,820 / $20,127
Applicants / Freshman class size / Freshman retention rate 5,023 / 1,100 / 91 percent 
Average SAT / GPA of incoming freshmen 530–640, 540–650, NA / 3.7
Diversity 15 percent
Average time to obtain bachelor’s degree‡ 5.3 years
Alumni giving rate 27 percentThere’s no Greek system at this Jesuit university, but the students still make philanthropy a priority, logging more than 100,000 hours of community service every year; some even (gasp!) spend spring break working in low-income neighborhoods. Don’t want to work for the Man? Gonzaga puts an emphasis on small-business ownership through its Hogan Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, and the school’s laureled debate team prepares students for real-life quid pro quo. In the category of “Where did they come from?” Gonzaga’s basketball team has gone from a nobody to one of only four schools in the country with 10 straight NCAA tournament berths; student fans of the Zags join the Kennel Club to cheer (and drink).

 

5. Willamette University
Salem, Oregon
Founded 1842
Undergrad enrollment 1,900
Tuition / Average amount of financial aid $33,750 / $27,209
Applicants / Freshman class size / Sophomore retention rate 4,241 / 490 / 90 percent
Average SAT / GPA of incoming freshmen 570–690, 550–660, 550–660 / 3.8
Diversity 18 percent
Average time to obtain bachelor’s degree 4 years 
Alumni giving rate 29 percent

Willamette is the oldest university in the Northwest, but that doesn’t mean it’s old school; the modern and sustainable Kaneko Commons residence hall is a new option for the nearly two-thirds of students who live on campus. Classes are considered rigorous without being competitive; biology and political science are popular fields of study, and Boeing CEO Jim Albaugh, former Oregon Governor Mark Hatfield, and erstwhile Senator Bob Packwood round out Willamette’s impressive alumni roster. Mill Stream cuts through campus, adding to the school’s outdoorsy aesthetic, offering an obstacle over which to “slackline”, and serving as the official dunking spot for birthday boys and girls. Salem isn’t necessarily an active town, forcing kids here to “make their own fun,” as one grad told us; they do, through groups like the Outdoor Club. Hungry students look forward to Midnight Breakfast during finals week.