After graduating from high school in 1965, Bundy attended the University of Puget Sound (UPS) for one year before transferring to the University of Washington (UW) to study Chinese. In 1967, he became romantically involved with a UW classmate who is identified by several pseudonyms in Bundy biographies, most commonly Stephanie Brooks. In early 1968, he dropped out of college and worked at a series of minimum-wage jobs. He also volunteered at the Seattle office of Nelson Rockefeller's presidential campaign and became Arthur Fletcher's driver and bodyguard during Fletcher's campaign for Lieutenant Governor of Washington State.
In August, Bundy attended the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami as a Rockefeller delegate. Shortly thereafter, Brooks ended their relationship and returned to her family home in California, frustrated by what she described as Bundy's immaturity and lack of ambition. Psychiatrist Dorothy Otnow Lewis would later pinpoint this crisis as "probably the pivotal time in his development". Devastated by Brooks's rejection, Bundy traveled to Colorado and then farther east, visiting relatives in Arkansas and Philadelphia and enrolling for one semester at Temple University. It was at this time in early 1969, Rule believed, that Bundy visited the office of birth records in Burlington and confirmed his true parentage.
Bundy was back in Washington by the fall of 1969, when he met Elizabeth Kloepfer (identified in Bundy literature as Meg Anders, Beth Archer, or Liz Kendall), a divorcée from Ogden, Utah, who worked as a secretary at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Their stormy relationship would continue well past his initial incarceration in Utah in 1976.
In mid-1970, Bundy, now focused and goal-oriented, re-enrolled at UW, this time as a psychology major. He became an honor student and was well regarded by his professors. In 1971, he took a job at Seattle's Suicide Hotline Crisis Center. There, he met and worked alongside Ann Rule, a former Seattle police officer and aspiring crime writer who would later write one of the definitive Bundy biographies, The Stranger Beside Me.
Rule saw nothing disturbing in Bundy's personality at the time; she described him as "kind, solicitous, and empathetic".
After graduating from UW in 1972, Bundy joined Governor Daniel J. Evans's re-election campaign. Posing as a college student, he shadowed Evans's opponent, former governor Albert Rosellini, and recorded his stump speeches for analysis by Evans's team. Evans appointed Bundy to the Seattle Crime Prevention Advisory Committee. After Evans was re-elected, Bundy was hired as an assistant to Ross Davis, Chairman of the Washington State Republican Party. Davis thought well of Bundy and described him as "smart, aggressive ... and a believer in the system". In early 1973, despite mediocre LSAT scores, Bundy was accepted into the law schools of UPS and the University of Utah on the strength of letters of recommendation from Evans, Davis, and several UW psychology professors.
During a trip to California on Republican Party business in the summer of 1973, Bundy rekindled his relationship with Brooks. She marveled at his transformation into a serious, dedicated professional, seemingly on the cusp of a significant legal and political career. He continued to date Kloepfer as well; neither woman was aware of the other's existence. In the fall of 1973, Bundy matriculated at UPS Law School, and continued courting Brooks, who flew to Seattle several times to stay with him. They discussed marriage; at one point he introduced her to Davis as his fiancée.
In January 1974, however, he abruptly broke off all contact. Her phone calls and letters went unreturned. Finally reaching him by phone a month later, Brooks demanded to know why Bundy had unilaterally ended their relationship without explanation. In a flat, calm voice, he replied, "Stephanie, I have no idea what you mean", and hung up. She never heard from him again. He later explained, "I just wanted to prove to myself that I could have married her"; but Brooks concluded in retrospect that he had deliberately planned the entire courtship and rejection in advance, as vengeance for the breakup she initiated in 1968.
By then, Bundy had begun skipping classes at law school. By April, he had stopped attending entirely, as young women began to disappear in the Pacific Northwest.