Top 25 Best Public Colleges | 2019 Rankings

A gold star badge that says "College Raptor Top 25 Best Public Colleges 2019."Public colleges and universities are plentiful in the United States. They receive funding from the government, and every state has at least one public school.

Public colleges tend to have lower sticker prices than their private counterparts, and can be just as prestigious and worthwhile. So we wanted to highlight the best public schools.

College Raptor has put together a list of the 25 best public colleges from around the United States.

25. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

  • War Memorial Gym building at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

    Flickr user Christopher Bowns

    Location: Blacksburg, VA

  • Student Enrollment: 33,170
  • College Type: Public

More commonly known as Virginia Tech, or simply Tech to its students, alumni, and faculty, this school was once known as a farming and agricultural school. The beautiful campus has a strong and well-known ROTC Cadet program. Tech’s mascot is a Hokie, and their colors are Chicago maroon and burnt orange. It is the state’s third-largest university.

24. University of California – Davis

  • Institute of Wine and Food Science building at UC Davis.

    Flickr user Prayitno

    Location: Davis, CA

  • Student Enrollment: 36,460
  • College Type: Public

Third largest (in terms of student enrollment) in the University of California system, UC Davis sees nearly 71,000 applications annually. The most popular majors on campus include Research and Experimental Psychology, Business, Economics, and Neurobiology / Anatomy. Their school colors are Aggie blue and gold, and they play as the Aggies.

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23. University of Georgia

  • Candler Hall on the campus of the University of Georgia with yellow flowers.

    Flicker user Patrice M Christian

    Location: Athens, GA

  • Student Enrollment: 36,574
  • College Type: Public

The University of Georgia was chartered in 1785 and is located in historic Athens. The school’s mascot is the Bulldog, and their colors are crimson (also known as “Good Old Georgia Red”) and black. Finance, Psychology, Biology, Marketing, and Management Information Systems are the five most popular majors on campus.

22. University of Wisconsin – Madison

  • University of Wisconsin-Madison's signature building.

    Flickr user Phil Roeder

    Location: Madison, WI

  • Student Enrollment: 42,582
  • College Type: Public

A Public Ivy university, the University of Wisconsin – Madison is a public research university, spending over a billion dollars on its work. Many accepted students go on to study biology, economics, psychology, and computer sciences. The university is also a part of the Big Ten Conference and the Wisconsin Badgers have won 28 national championships.

21. University of Washington – Seattle Campus

  • Students walking into PACCAR Hall at the University of Washington campus.

    Flickr user Curtis Cronn

    Location: Seattle, WA

  • Student Enrollment: 45,591
  • College Type: Public

In addition to Washington being a flagship university, it’s also a space grant and a sea grant school. Of the total students enrolled, 68% of them are undergraduates. Located on Portage and Union Bay, this school has an acceptance rate of 46% and a near even split between undergraduate men and women on campus—47.6% and 52.4% respectively.

20. Ohio State University – Main Campus

  • Ohio State University Library during a fall day.

    Flickr user Mathieu Thouvenin

    Location: Columbus, OH

  • Student Enrollment: 59,482
  • College Type: Public

OSU, or Ohio State, got its start as an agricultural and mechanical school in 1870. Today, it is the third largest campus in the country and extremely well known for its athletics. Part of the Big Ten Conference and with over 1,000 athletes, the Buckeyes have 36 varsity teams and have produced several Olympic medalists.

19. Binghamton University

  • Binghamton University campus with trees and a mountain view.

    Wikimedia Commons user Yb20061462

    Location: Vestal, NY

  • Student Enrollment: 17,292
  • College Type: Public

Though Binghamton has a pegasus on its seal, their official mascot is the Bearcat. Of all the students studying on campus, 79% of them are considered undergraduates. Binghamton’s is located near the Susquehanna River. BU is part of the State University of New York (or SUNY) college system.

18. University of California – San Diego

  • The Geisel Library on the San Diego campus of the University of California.

    Flickr user O Palsson

    Location: San Diego, CA

  • Student Enrollment: 34,979
  • College Type: Public

UCSD is perfect for students who want to attend an undergraduate or graduate research facility that is right along the beach. UCSD is a selective school, with 34% of applicants being accepted. Students can choose from a wide range of exciting majors. UCSD’s colors are navy blue and gold, and their school motto is “Fiat Lux”, which translates to, “Let There Be Light”.

17. The University of Connecticut

  • The University of Connecticut campus entrance with flowers around it.

    Flickr user Jimmy Emerson, DVM

    Location: Storrs, CT

  • Student Enrollment: 27,721
  • College Type: Public

Not only is UConn the flagship school, it’s also a land-grant, sea-grant, and space grant university. Navy blue, white, and grey make up their school colors, and the UConn mascot is a husky. They received over 34,000 applications last year and accepted 48% of the apps. Psychology is the most popular major.

16. The College of New Jersey

  • Outside view of a College of New Jersey campus building.

    Wikimedia Commons user Tomwsulcer

    Location: Ewing, NJ

  • Student Enrollment: 7,396
  • College Type: Public

A lion features on TCNJ’s school seal, and doubles as their mascot known as Roscoe. Students wear blue and gold to cheer on the TCNJ Lions in a multitude of sports, including baseball, basketball, football, lacrosse, and tennis. They have an impressive 94% first year retention rate, and a student-to-faculty ratio of 13:1.

15. University of California – Santa Barbara

  • Aerial view Kohn Hall and Harold Frank Hall at UC - Santa Barbara.

    Flickr user Glenn Beltz

    Location: Santa Barbara, CA

  • Student Enrollment: 24,346
  • College Type: Public

The University of California — Santa Barbara is a highly selective school with a 33% acceptance rate. Accepted students typically have high test scores, with SAT scores ranging from 1,250 – 1,450 and ACT scores ranging from 26 – 32. The campus is located not far from the ocean. They compete in NCAA Division I sports as the Gouchos.

14. University of Florida

  • University of Florida campus main entrance gate.

    Flickr user Todd Van Hoosear

    Location: Gainesville, FL

  • Student Enrollment: 52,367
  • College Type: Public

Located in Gainesville, University of Florida boasts one of the largest and most diverse campuses in the United States, welcoming students from all over the world. Home of the Florida Gators (which is where the sports drink Gatorade gets its name), UF competes in NCAA Division I sports.

13. University of California – Irvine

The University of California — Irvine is a highly selective college with an acceptance rate of about 37%. UCI is a relatively “young” school, having been founded in 1965. 83% of the total students enrolled study at the undergraduate level. Public Health is the most popular major on the UC Irvine campus.

12. University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign

Students in the University of Illinois quad on a sunny day.

Flickr user Vince Smith

  • Location: Champaign, IL
  • Student Enrollment: 46,951
  • College Type: Public


Located at the twin cities of Champaign and Urbana, U of I, also known as “University of Illinois” has earned a reputation as a world-class leader in research, teaching, and public engagement. Each year, they received about 39,000 applications and accept just over 24,000 of them, giving U of I an acceptance rate of 62%.


11. United States Air Force Academy

  • An aircraft parked in Terrazzo square pavilion at the United States Air Force Academy.

    Flickr user Wally Gobetz

    Location: USAFA, CO

  • Student Enrollment: 4,237
  • College Type: Public

The motto of USAFA is “Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence in All We Do,” a fitting phrase for the cadets at this academy. Blue and silver make up the two school colors. With a 12% acceptance rate, only about 1,200 of the 10,000 applications sent in yearly are accepted. For every 9 students, there’s one faculty member.

10. University of Maryland – College Park

  • McKeldin Library on the University of Maryland, College Park campus.

    Flicker user Bgervais

    Location: College Park, MD

  • Student Enrollment: 39,083
  • College Type: Public

“Fatti maschii, parole femine” is the motto of UM College Park, translating to mean “Strong deeds, gentle words.” On average, incoming freshman score between 28 and 33 on the ACT, and between 1310 and 1490 for the SAT. Not only is the University of Maryland a flagship school, it’s also a land grant, space grant, and sea grant university.

9. United States Military Academy

  • Uniformed cadets marching at the US Military Academy.

    Flickr user mikek7890

    Location: West Point, NY

  • Student Enrollment: 4,389
  • College Type: Public

Known colloquially as “West Point” the US Military Academy sports the colors black and gold. To gain entry, students must apply and be nominated–typically by a Congressmen or Delegate, though students can also be nominated by the President or Vice President of the US. The acceptance rate is 10%.

8. United States Coast Guard Academy

  • United States Coast Guard Academy Students tossing their hats in the air.

    Flickr user Coast Guard News

    Location: New London, CT

  • Student Enrollment: 986
  • College Type: Public

The USCGA offers 8 possible majors to their cadets: Business, Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Oceanography, Political Science, Operations Research, Naval Architecture / Marine Engineering, and Electrical Engineering. They have an 84% four year graduation rate and an impressive 97% first year retention rate.

7. College of William and Mary

  • Tucker Hall at the College of William and Mary.

    Flickr user benuski

    Location: Williamsburg, VA

  • Student Enrollment: 8,617
  • College Type: Public

Founded in 1693 by King William III and Queen Mary II, this college also the very first to have a Greek society—Phi Beta Kappa. Business, Political Science, Health and Fitness education, Biology, and Psychology are the five most popular majors on campus. W&M sports the colors green and gold.

6. University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

  • A huge crowd in University of Michigan football stadium.

    Flickr user Ken Lund

    Location: Ann Arbor, MI

  • Student Enrollment: 44,718
  • College Type: Public

In addition to being Michigan’s oldest institute of higher learning, the state’s flagship school, UM is also a space and sea grant college. The University of Michigan was originally located in Detroit, but moved to Ann Arbor in 1837. Almost 60,000 applications are sent in each year, and with an acceptance rate of 27%, over 16,000 are accepted.

5. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  • Location: Chapel Hill, NC

  • Student Enrollment: 29,468
  • College Type: Public

Regarded as a “Public Ivy,” UNC Chapel Hill receives nearly 40,000 applications a year. With an acceptance rate of 24%, around 9,500 students are admitted annually. There’s a total of 890 athletes on campus, with basketball, soccer, and field hockey being some of the most popular sports.

4. University of California – Los Angeles

  • University of California Los Angeles campus building on a sunny day.

    Flickr user Andy Dietler

    Location: Los Angeles, CA

  • Student Enrollment: 43,548
  • College Type: Public

Second oldest of the University of California system, UCLA received a whopping 102,225 applications last year. However, with an acceptance rate of 16%, only 16,356 were accepted. The 4 year graduation rate is 74% but jumps up to 91% at 6 years. 74.96% of UCLA students come from California.

3. University of California – Berkeley

  • Bancroft library building at University of California Berkeley.

    Flickr user K. Oliver

    Location: Berkeley, CA

  • Student Enrollment: 40,154
  • College Type: Public

UC Berkeley sports two unique colors: Berkeley Blue and California Gold. Students and mascot Oski cheer on the Golden Bears during athletic events. Economics, Computer Science, Cell / Molecular Biology, Electrical Engineering, and Business Administration are the five most popular majors on campus.

2. University of Virginia – Main Campus

  • University of Virginia campus lawn and building.

    Flickr user Rex Hammock

    Location: Charlottesville, VA

  • Student Enrollment: 23,898
  • College Type: Public

Founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, this flagship university has been the university of impressive alumni, including 8 NASA astronauts / launch directors, 8 Pulitzer Prize winners, and widely recognizable names like Edgar Allen Poe, Georgia O’Keefe, Robert and Ted Kennedy, and Tina Fey, among others.

1. United States Naval Academy

  • Students walking outside at the United States Naval Academy campus.

    Flickr user Butch Dalisay

    Location: Annapolis, MD

  • Student Enrollment: 4,528
  • College Type: Public

“Ex Scientia Tridens” translated to “From knowledge, seapower” is an apt school motto for this naval academy. Around 1,300 students are admitted each year. Several different engineering fields are popular majors on campus, including System Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Ocean Engineering, and Aerospace / Aeronautical / Astronautical Engineering.

About our methodology

Colleges are ranked based on a combination of factors, including graduation rates, campus diversity, endowment per student, and other data as reported via the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) for the most recently-available enrollment year. Some colleges may have been excluded from rankings based on certain criteria, including specialization and classification. Learn about our full methodology.

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