With its stunning beaches, vibrant culture, and laid-back lifestyle, Hawaii is an alluring choice for prospective college students. But is attending university in the Aloha State really all sunsets and shave ice? In this comprehensive guide, we’ll examine the pros and cons of going to college in Hawaii to help you determine if island life is the right fit for your higher education.

The Pros of Studying in Hawaii

Idyllic tropical setting

One of the major attractions of studying in Hawaii is its idyllic tropical setting. Imagine waking up to palm trees swaying in the breeze, golden sandy beaches just a stone’s throw away, and the sound of waves crashing against the shore. The natural beauty of the islands provides a serene and picturesque environment that can greatly enhance your college experience. It’s not just about the stunning landscapes, but also the opportunity to explore unique ecosystems, such as rainforests, volcanic craters, and coral reefs.

Unique local culture and diversity

Hawaii is known for its rich cultural heritage, which is a melting pot of different ethnicities and traditions. By studying in Hawaii, you’ll have the chance to immerse yourself in this vibrant and diverse culture. From hula dancing to traditional Hawaiian cuisine, there are endless opportunities to learn about and appreciate the local customs. Interacting with people from different backgrounds can broaden your perspective and help you develop a greater understanding and appreciation for diversity.

Year-round warm weather and outdoor activities

Who wouldn’t want to study in a place where the sun is always shining? Hawaii’s year-round warm weather allows students to enjoy outdoor activities throughout the year. Whether it’s surfing, hiking, snorkeling, or simply lounging on the beach, there’s always something to do in Hawaii. The pleasant climate also means that you can study or socialize outdoors, taking advantage of the stunning natural surroundings. This combination of academic pursuits and outdoor adventures can create a well-rounded college experience.

Lower in-state tuition if you establish residency

While the cost of living in Hawaii may be higher compared to some mainland states, there is a potential financial advantage for students who establish residency. Hawaii offers lower in-state tuition rates to residents, which can significantly reduce the overall cost of your college education. By taking the necessary steps to establish residency, such as living in Hawaii for a certain period of time, you can potentially save thousands of dollars on tuition fees. This can make studying in Hawaii a more affordable option for students who are willing to commit to residing in the state.

The Cons of Attending College in Hawaii

High cost of living

One of the major drawbacks of attending college in Hawaii is the high cost of living. The cost of housing, groceries, transportation, and other daily expenses can be significantly higher compared to the mainland. According to the Numbeo, a website that provides cost of living data for cities around the world, the cost of living index in Hawaii is above the national average. This means that students may need to budget carefully or rely on financial aid to afford their living expenses.

Geographic isolation from mainland

Another disadvantage of studying in Hawaii is the geographic isolation from the mainland. While this isolation can be appealing for some students seeking a unique experience, it can also make it more difficult to travel back home or visit family and friends during breaks. Flights to and from the mainland can be expensive and time-consuming, which may limit opportunities for students to stay connected with their support networks outside of Hawaii.

Limited college options

Although Hawaii offers a few reputable colleges and universities, the range of options is limited compared to other states. This may be a concern for students who are looking for specific programs or have a preference for a particular institution. Limited college options can also lead to increased competition for admission, making it more challenging for prospective students to secure a spot at their preferred institution.

Few local industry opportunities post-graduation

While Hawaii may be a popular tourist destination, it does not offer as many local industry opportunities post-graduation compared to larger metropolitan areas on the mainland. This can make it more challenging for graduates to find job opportunities within their field of study without having to relocate. It is important for students considering attending college in Hawaii to carefully consider their career goals and the job market before making a decision.

Top Universities and Colleges in Hawaii

University of Hawaii System

The University of Hawaii System is a renowned institution that offers a wide range of academic programs and opportunities. With campuses throughout the Hawaiian islands, it provides students with a unique learning experience in a beautiful tropical setting. The flagship campus, the University of Hawaii at Manoa, is known for its strong programs in fields such as astronomy, marine biology, and Hawaiian studies. The university system also includes community colleges, such as Kapiolani Community College and Windward Community College, which offer affordable options for students looking to start their education or gain vocational skills.

If you are interested in pursuing a degree in a specific field, the University of Hawaii System has a variety of options to choose from. Whether you are interested in business, engineering, arts and sciences, or healthcare, you can find a program that suits your interests and goals. The faculty members are experts in their respective fields and are dedicated to providing students with a quality education. Additionally, the university system has strong ties to the local community and offers opportunities for internships, research, and community service.

Hawaii Pacific University

Hawaii Pacific University (HPU) is a private, non-profit institution located in downtown Honolulu. It offers a wide range of undergraduate and graduate programs in fields such as business, nursing, psychology, and environmental science. HPU is known for its diverse student body, with students from all over the world coming to study in Hawaii. The university provides a supportive and inclusive environment for international students, with resources and programs to help them adjust to life in a new country.

HPU offers small class sizes, allowing for personalized attention from professors and fostering a sense of community among students. The university also emphasizes experiential learning, providing opportunities for internships, research, and study abroad. HPU is committed to preparing students for successful careers and provides career services and networking opportunities to help students connect with professionals in their field.

Brigham Young University – Hawaii

Brigham Young University – Hawaii (BYU-Hawaii) is a private university affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It offers a unique educational experience that combines academic excellence with a strong emphasis on spiritual development and service. Located on the North Shore of Oahu, BYU-Hawaii offers a stunning natural environment for students to study and explore.

BYU-Hawaii offers a variety of undergraduate programs in fields such as business, education, and social work. The university provides a supportive and nurturing environment, with small class sizes and a close-knit community. Students have the opportunity to participate in service projects both locally and abroad, as well as engage in culturally enriching experiences through the Polynesian Cultural Center, which is affiliated with the university.

Chaminade University of Honolulu

Chaminade University of Honolulu is a private Catholic university located in the Kaimuki neighborhood of Honolulu. It offers a range of undergraduate and graduate programs in fields such as biology, criminal justice, and psychology. Chaminade is known for its strong sense of community and personalized education. The university has a low student-to-faculty ratio, allowing for individualized attention and mentoring.

Chaminade offers a variety of resources and support services to help students succeed academically and personally. The university values the development of the whole person and encourages students to engage in service, leadership, and reflection. Chaminade also has strong ties to the local community and offers opportunities for internships, research, and community service.

When considering whether to go to college in Hawaii, it is important to research and visit different universities and colleges to find the best fit for your educational and personal goals. Each institution has its own unique offerings and strengths, so take the time to explore what each has to offer and make an informed decision. Whichever institution you choose, studying in Hawaii can provide a one-of-a-kind experience that combines academic excellence with the beauty and culture of the islands.

Tips for Getting In and Succeeding

Apply for Hawaiian residency

If you are considering attending college in Hawaii, one of the first things you should do is apply for Hawaiian residency. This will not only give you a unique cultural experience but also help you save money on tuition. Many colleges and universities in Hawaii offer reduced tuition rates for residents, so it’s definitely worth exploring this option. To establish residency, you will need to meet certain criteria, such as living in Hawaii for a specific period of time and providing proof of your residency. Be sure to research the requirements and start the application process as early as possible to increase your chances of success.

Look for scholarships unique to Hawaii

When it comes to financing your college education in Hawaii, don’t overlook the numerous scholarships available. Hawaii has a rich cultural heritage and unique opportunities for students, and many organizations offer scholarships specifically for students studying in Hawaii. These scholarships can help offset the cost of tuition, textbooks, and living expenses. Some scholarships may have specific requirements, such as being of Hawaiian descent or majoring in a certain field. Take the time to research and apply for these scholarships to increase your chances of receiving financial aid.

Consider community college then transfer to 4-year school

If you’re unsure about attending a four-year university right away, consider starting your college journey at a community college in Hawaii. Community colleges offer a more affordable option for earning college credits while still providing a quality education. By starting at a community college, you can save money on tuition and living expenses, and then transfer to a four-year school to complete your degree. This can be a great way to ease into college life and explore different academic options before committing to a specific major or university.

Make the most of career services for job prep

Regardless of where you attend college, it’s important to start thinking about your future career early on. Hawaii offers unique job opportunities in fields such as tourism, marine biology, and sustainable agriculture. To make the most of your college experience and prepare for a successful career, take advantage of the career services offered by your college or university. These services can help you with resume writing, job searching, interview preparation, and networking opportunities. By utilizing these resources, you can increase your chances of finding employment in Hawaii or wherever your career takes you.

Fun Things to Do On and Off Campus

Take advantage of water activities and outdoor recreation

One of the biggest perks of going to college in Hawaii is the abundance of water activities and outdoor recreation available to students. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or just enjoy soaking up the sun, Hawaii offers a variety of options. You can try your hand at surfing, snorkeling, or paddleboarding in the crystal-clear waters, or go hiking and explore the lush tropical landscapes. With year-round warm weather, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors.

Attend cultural events and festivals

Hawaii is known for its rich cultural heritage, and students who choose to go to college there have the unique opportunity to immerse themselves in the local culture. From traditional hula performances to Hawaiian music concerts, there are numerous cultural events and festivals that take place throughout the year. These events not only provide a fun and entertaining way to spend your time, but they also offer a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Hawaiian culture.

Savor diverse local cuisine

One of the best parts about attending college in Hawaii is the chance to indulge in the diverse and delicious local cuisine. From fresh seafood to unique Hawaiian dishes like poi and kalua pig, there is something for everyone’s taste buds. Don’t forget to try the famous shave ice, a refreshing treat perfect for those hot summer days. Exploring the local food scene is not only a fun experience but also a way to embrace the Hawaiian culture and its culinary traditions.

Explore Oahu and the Neighbor Islands on breaks

When you’re not busy with classes and studying, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the beautiful islands of Hawaii. Oahu, the most populous island, offers a vibrant city life with world-class shopping and dining options. The Neighbor Islands, including Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island, boast stunning natural landscapes, including volcanoes, waterfalls, and breathtaking beaches. Taking breaks from campus life to explore these islands will give you a chance to create unforgettable memories and truly experience the beauty of Hawaii.


The alluring sparkle of ocean vistas and sandy beaches can certainly be enticing when choosing a college. But like any big life decision, selecting a university in Hawaii requires carefully weighing the pros and cons. While island living evokes fantasies of a perpetual vacation, higher education there also comes with real challenges like limited options and high costs. With ample research and realistic expectations, however, students can make the most of the one-of-a-kind experience of going to college Hawaiian style.

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