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Study in Hawaii

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A paradisiacal Polynesian archipelago 2,000 miles from the southwest coast of the US mainland, Hawaii really feels a world away from the rest of America. Find out what’s it’s like to study in Hawaii, and discover the state’s leading universities…

Inaugurated as an official US state as late as 1959, Hawaii holds on to a distinct culture influenced heavily by its Polynesian roots. And, although only vestiges of the more traditional aspects of Hawaiian culture can be glimpsed in modern day Hawaii, the traditions of Hula and Luau, examples of Hawaiian dance and party, are just two examples of the cultural exports Hawaii is famous for.

The only US state made up entirely of islands, Hawaii’s capital city Honolulu can be found on the island of O‘ahu. The high quality of life here is reflected around all of the state’s islands, with residents enjoying the natural beauty of white sand beaches, vast coral reefs, rainforests and volcanoes. Surfing, whale watching and tropical-fruit eating are all popular activities.

This combination of tropical weather, tranquil beaches and innately beautiful natural surroundings of course makes Hawaii a coveted destination for vacationers and travellers. And the state also has a strong appeal for many students, particularly those keen to explore the region’s unique natural landscapes. 

If you are looking to study in Hawaii, chances are you will first discover the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. This institution enjoys the strongest reputation among universities in Hawaii, and is the state’s sole entry in the 2013/14 QS World University Rankings®.

Universities in Hawaii

The University of Hawaii at Mānoa is ranked joint 327th in the world (72nd in the US) in the latest edition of the QS World University Rankings. It was established in 1907 on a campus of 320 acres in Mānoa valley just outside of downtown Honolulu on the island of O‘ahu. This location means students are just minutes away from the beachfront town of Waikiki and other O‘ahu attractions such as the Ala Moana Center, the largest open-air shopping center in the world.

The University of Hawaii at Mānoa is the flagship institution of the University of Hawaii system, which incorporates three universities and seven community colleges across the Hawaiian islands. The University of Hawaii at Mānoa is both the largest and oldest in the system, offering a comprehensive selection of 293 degree programs and boasting wide diversity among its student body of just over 20,400 (6,000 of which are postgraduates).

The school has a strong research focus, recognized among leading research universities in the US, and identifies its own areas of excellence as environmental law, eastern philosophy, international business, second language studies and athletics. It also boasts the highest percentage of students from minority backgrounds earning postgraduate degrees.

The University of Hawaii at Mānoa isn’t the only option for those wishing to study in Hawaii. As well as the other institutions under the University of Hawaii umbrella – the University of Hawaii at Hilo and the University of Hawaii at West O‘ahu – universities in Hawaii also include a number of community colleges and private universities, including Hawaii Pacific University, which has campuses in Honolulu and Kaneohe.

Student cities


Home to the only royal palace in the US, Honolulu plays host to a mixture of ethnicities, languages and food stuffs. An affluent city and the capital of Hawaii, Honolulu is a popular stopping point for tourists and is home to popular destinations such as Waikiki Beach and Hanauma Bay.

Meaning ‘place of shelter’ in Hawaiian, Honolulu is on the island of O‘ahu, the third-largest Hawaiian island and probably top of the list for those wishing to study in Hawaii, since it’s home to the only state’s only institution to feature in the QS World University Rankings – the University of Hawaii at Mānoa.


Maui is the whale-watching top-spot of all of the Hawaiian islands, due to the sheltered waters surrounding the island. In the winter, humpback whales shelter and mate in the warm channel leading to some of the most amazing sightings of these creatures.

Not only this but Maui is perfect for all water sports, particularly surfing, with a coastline that caters to both seasoned pros and boarding newbies. Inland holds just as active an atmosphere with visitors having the chance to trek along the cratered terrain of the world’s largest dormant volcano or even take a ride down Hawaii’s longest zip wire. Despite not being home to any of the more notable universities in Hawaii, Maui is a great place for students needing a break from the touristy scene of Honolulu. It was also voted the ‘world’s best island’ by Conde Nast Traveler for 19 years in a row, surely an endorsement you can’t overlook.

Hawai’i – ‘The Big Island’

Named ‘The Big Island’ to avoid confusion, Hawai’i is the largest Hawaiian island, almost double the size of any of the others, and the island the state of Hawaii is named after.

The Big Island is home to two active volcanoes, one of which is the most profuse in the world, erupting molten lava since 1983. The presence of the volcanoes means the geography of the island is varied and diverse. One side is occupied by vast, lava-created desert and the other by weathered valleys and rolling grasslands. Its sheer size means the island feels relatively un-touristy and spacious and the majority of towns here have a very laid-back feel, occupied by residents and born-and-bred Hawaiians. 

Although there are no ranked universities on Hawaii’s Big Island, there are a number of immense reserves and parks that students may wish to take time to explore during their study breaks. These include the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, the Kau Forest Reserve and the Upper Waiakea Forest Reserve.

Hawaii facts

  • Located off the south-west coast of the US; the only state composed entirely of islands.
  • Capital and largest city is Honolulu.
  • The eight main islands of Hawaii are Ni’ihau, Kaua’i, O’ahu, Moloka’i, Lana’i, Kaho’olawe, Maui and Hawai’i.
  • Hawaii is the only US state which grows coffee.
  • More than 90% of the native plants and animals living on Hawaiian soil are found only in Hawaii.
  • Hawai’i, ‘The Big Island’, is getting bigger, thanks to active volcanoes Kilauea and Mauna.
  • The earliest written record of surfing is from 1779, describing Hawaiians using wooden boards to ride the waves.
  • Famous people born in Hawaii include current US president Barack Obama, actress Nicole Kidman, and singer-songwriters Bruno Mars and Jack Johnson.
  • Famous British explorer Captain James Cook died on the shores of Kealakekua Bay, Hawai’i, after a fight with Hawaiians in 1779.
Written by Laura Bridgestock

The editor of, Laura oversees the site's editorial content and student forums. She also edits the QS Top Grad School Guide and contributes to market research reports including Students Online: Global Trends.

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I want to apply in the university of Hawaii for undergraduate studies. How can I apply? How much will it cost to study in Hawaii? Is any scholarship for undergraduate studies or part time job available in Hawaii?

Hi Ahsan. Hawaii is part of the US, and the same general application process applies as for other US states. For information about applying to study in the US, check out our country guide:

Hope this helps! Laura.

how do i apply to study in hawaii

I´d love visit Hawaii!!! and study there

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