Updated December 6, 2022

By Iris Stone Read below for our ranking of the 50 best alternative graduate schools in the Western United States. First, let's clarify what we mean by "alternative." Why wouldn't we just rank the best grad schools? Why did we feel compelled to look for something different? In short, because a list of the 50 ...

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By Iris Stone

Read below for our ranking of the 50 best alternative graduate schools in the Western United States.

First, let's clarify what we mean by "alternative." Why wouldn't we just rank the best grad schools? Why did we feel compelled to look for something different? In short, because a list of the 50 best graduate schools based on traditional factors - like selectivity and test scores - wouldn't be news to anyone. That's because the same colleges and universities always appear at the top of those rankings, in almost the exact same order. We all know about the prestigious Ivy League universities and schools like Stanford and Cal Tech, which many consider to be "new Ivies." And so we wondered: is it possible to create a ranking of top grad schools that doesn't include any of these typical options?


We developed our own "alternative" methodology, which you can read all about here.

The 50 best alternative grad schools in the West are listed below. Many schools are probably still not that much of a surprise, as they all have plenty to offer advanced degree seekers. For each, highlight some of the university's strongest subjects, which we hope will help guide you as you consider which is the right school for you.

#1 University of Washington-Seattle Campus Seattle, WA
#2 University of Arizona Tucson, AZ
#3 University of Iowa Iowa City, IA
#4 Arizona State University-Tempe Tempe, AZ
#5 University of Missouri-Columbia Columbia, MO
#6 University of Nebraska-Lincoln Lincoln, NE
#7 University of Houston Houston, TX
#8 Saint Louis University Saint Louis, MO
#9 University of Oregon Eugene, OR
#10 University of North Texas Denton, TX

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  1. University of Washington-Seattle Campus

    Seattle, WA



    The University of Washington places as the #1 alternative graduate school in the West due in no small part to its massive size - more than 14,000 graduate students, over 500 buildings, and a research budget that has more than $1 billion since 2006. UW graduate students have better access to federal research funding than any other public university in the country, and has nearly 100 different top rankings from U.S. News - for its graduate programs alone! But perhaps UW's biggest standout is its medical school, which hosts one of the country's top graduate degree in medicine and is one of the most prestigious in the world.

  2. University of Arizona

    Tucson, AZ



    The University of Arizona is a heavy hitter in research, with a Tier 1 Carnegie designation and more than $500 million in annual research funding. The school boasts a deep and fruitful partnership with NASA, and the space agency awards UA more grants for space exploration than any other university in the country. Students pursuing a graduate degree in Planetary Sciences have access to the historic and state-of-the-art Lunar and Planetary laboratory, which has had a hand in nearly two dozen interplanetary spacecraft launches (including the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey).

  3. University of Iowa

    Iowa City, IA



    The University of Iowa is the originator of the "Iowa Idea," an innovative model for liberal arts education first developed in the 1920s. The Iowa Idea become the model for the modern Master of Fine Arts program, and UI has built on this heritage with the development of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, a top graduate program in creative writing that is one of the best in the world. Although the Program in Creative Writing might be UI's best-known graduate degree, the school also offers master's and doctoral degrees in more than 100 areas of study, including 25 that are ranked in the top 25 of their fields.

  4. Arizona State University-Tempe

    Tempe, AZ



    Arizona State University is at the top in several categories. It is the largest public university in the United States, a Carnegie Tier-1 research institution, and U.S. News & World Report's Most Innovative School in America. All those resources enable ASU to offer an incredible depth and range of graduate programs - more than 15 colleges and schools that are home to nearly 400 master's and doctoral programs, concentrations, and certificates. There's just no comparison between ASU and smaller schools, and the university takes advantage of this scale to offer a robust set of interdisciplinary graduate degrees. For example, ASU's graduate program in design comes in a number of multidisciplinary flavors, including engineering, healthcare, and interaction design.

  5. University of Missouri-Columbia

    Columbia, MO



    As the flagship campus of the University of Missouri system, UM (or Mizzou) has a large graduate program with nearly 7,000 students and more than 150 graduate degree programs. The school is proud of the incredible variety it offers graduate students, emphasizing that Mizzou is one of only five U.S. universities with law, medicine, and veterinary medicine programs plus a nuclear reactor all on the same campus. In fact, Mizzou considers interdisciplinary research to be a "hallmark" of its graduate studies, and the school offers an Interdisciplinary Innovations Fund that provides grants specifically for multidisciplinary student projects.

  6. University of Nebraska-Lincoln

    Lincoln, NE



    The big news at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is the Nebraska Innovation Campus (NIC). This ancillary research campus is currently under construction, but expectations are high. The NIC, which will eventually occupy 2.2 million square feet. It will work to facilitate relationships between UN and private companies, particularly in the university's focus areas of agricultural biotechnology and life science. This initiative underscores UNL's long history of supporting research and innovation within its home, and is one of the reasons that Nebraska residents dominate the student body (78% of students are from the Cornhusker State). Still, students from any state looking to pursue a graduate degree in agriculture should consider UN's strong agronomy, food science, and animal science programs.

  7. University of Houston

    Houston, TX



    Although the University of Houston's graduate research program might not be quite as well-funded as some of the other Tier-1 Research Institutions on this list, it nonetheless benefits from an extensive network of more than 40 on-campus research centers and institutes. One unique element is the university's multidisciplinary "research clusters," which bring together investigators from multiple fields of study to tackle a specific problem. These and other teams work together in the 200,000 square-foot state-of-the-art Science and Engineering Research and Classroom Complex, which was built in 2005 and features more than 40 laboratories.

  8. Saint Louis University

    Saint Louis, MO



    Saint Louis University is a Catholic Jesuit institution with a 200-year history of "educating the whole person" in the Jesuit tradition. The school is home to a number of top 50 graduate programs, including degrees in health care management, public health, and supply chain management. SLU also offers several dual graduate degrees that incorporate public health. And if studying abroad appeals to you, you can earn your entire graduate degree in English or Spanish at SLU's Madrid campus, located among other educational and religious institutions in the Spanish capital's Chamberí district.

  9. University of Oregon

    Eugene, OR



    One of the most unique elements of the University of Oregon's graduate school is its large number of "specializations." These interdisciplinary tracks enable students to dig more deeply into specific subject areas than traditional degrees allow. For example, students pursuing a Master's in Architecture can also study elements of interior design. Other specialization options are open to graduate students of all disciplines, such as African Studies, Food Studies, and Translation Studies. UO is also a Tier-1 Research Institution which includes 21 research centers and institutes, many of which work within cutting-edge fields like brain injury, cyber security, and neuroinformatics.

  10. University of North Texas

    Denton, TX



    Founded as a teachers' college in 1890, the University of North Texas has maintained a strong graduate program in education while growing well-regarded science and engineering departments that produce cutting-edge research. UNT's College of Education offers prestigious master's and doctoral degrees in a variety of fields, including curriculum and instruction, educational leadership, and educational psychology. The school's close relationships with innovative centers and clinics like the Kristin Farmer Autism Center and the Child and Family Resource Clinic allow students to apply their classroom knowledge to real-world instruction and care.

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U.S. News Education: Grad Schools
Carnegie Classification Definitions
The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education
Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System
American Psychological Association
NBC News: Cloned Cat is No Copy Cat

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