Public colleges and universities have rich histories, age-old campus traditions, and a sense of camaraderie among their students. Some of the finest colleges in the country are public institutions. These schools are government funded, tend to have larger and more diverse student bodies, and are rife with opportunities—both for campus life and future careers!
We wanted to highlight the best of the best when it came to public schools in America. That’s why we compiled this list. Below you’ll find all types of schools—from colleges to universities, schools in bustling cities and schools in more rural areas. But each one has something in common—quality.
If you’re interested in attending a public college, be sure to check out the list of great contenders below!
Unlike many schools, the U.S. Naval Academy does not possess an admission fee. Instead, prospective students need to be nominated by certain public officials. Students also need to pass a physical exam to gain admittance into the academy. The selectivity of this school may be due to the fact that the U.S. government pays for tuition and room & board.
The concept of the University of Virginia was created by Thomas Jefferson while he was president. It was the only school to stay open during the Civil War. The most popular major is Liberal Arts and Sciences. UVA graduates include politicians, Olympians, astronauts, Pulitzer Prize winners, and more.
Some of the university’s most popular majors include Political Science and Government, Psychology, Sociology, and Biology. UCLA student athletes compete as the Bruins. The Bruins have won over 120 championships. Ongoing renovation projects on campus have led to UCLA’s acronym jokingly being said to mean “Under Construction Like Always.”
Berkeley has a reputation in activism internationally after Berkeley student involvement in the Free Speech Movement of 1964. The public research university’s most popular majors include General Economics, Computer Science, and Cellular / Molecular Biology. Out of just over 89,600 applicants, just above 13,440 students were admitted.
This university is both academically and athletically talented, with many alumni going on to win Nobel Prizes or compete in the Olympics. Going by the Wolverines, their school colors are maize and blue. University of Michigan students most commonly study Business Administration and Management.
With school colors of Carolina blue and white, this university is one of the 17 campuses of the University of North Carolina system. Out of nearly 41,940 applicants, only 9,645 students were admitted into the university. The notable faculty includes Nobel Prize laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, and Rhodes Scholars.
The College of William and Mary is a school of firsts. It was the first to introduce a Greek fraternity, the first to invoke an honor code for students, and was the first law school in America. The three most popular majors are Business Administration and Management, Political Science and Government, and Physical Education.
Applying to the US Military Academy is free. The motto of the school is three words: “Duty, Honor, Country.” Students can be nominated for admission by congressmen, senators, and even the President of the United States, among other officials. Students in the academy are called “cadets” during their time in training.
The United States Merchant Marine Academy is one of the five service academies in the US. Its motto is “Deeds not Words” and the official school colors are blue and gray. There is no undergraduate application fee and the academy is on a trimester calendar. The US Merchant Marine Academy offers six residence halls, and students are required to live on campus.
The most popular majors at the United States Air Force Academy include Business Management and Administration, Economics, and Systems Engineering. Their school motto is reflected in their hard work---“Integrity First, Service Before Self, Excellence in All We Do.” Students commit to serve several years of military service after graduation.
Like the other US military academies, the US Coast Guard Academy does not have an application fee. USCGA has an acceptance rate of 19% and a four year graduation rate of 81%. Many of the first year students come from Virginia, California, and Florida. Their mascot is Objee the Bear, named after a famous Coast Guard ship.
Founded in 1856, the University of Maryland -- College Park was also once known as the Maryland Agricultural University and then as Maryland State College, before becoming a part of the University of Maryland in 1920 and settling on its current name. Around 33,500 students apply to the institution annually, and 47% of them are accepted.
This school’s colors are orange and blue, with Florida students going by the Gators. The University of Florida has an acceptance rate of 39%, accepting around 15,100 students out of about 38,900 applicants. Popular majors at the university includes Biology, Psychology, Finance, and Mechanical Engineering.
Georgia Tech is well regarded throughout the world, known for their focus in technology. Popular majors at the school include Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science, and Industrial Engineering. Class sizes are relatively larger, with 18 students to every 1 faculty member. There is a near-even split between grad and undergrad students.
The University of Connecticut, in addition to being the public flagship school, is also a land-, space-, and sea-grant university. The average ACT and SAT scores of accepted students ranges between 26--31 and 1,210--1,420 respectively. Popular majors at UConn include Psychology, Economics, and Speech Communication and Rhetoric.
The University of Wisconsin -- Madison was founded in 1848. UW Madison is the oldest and largest public university in the state. The school is known for many innovations, including the discovery of vitamins A and B. Its campus is located on Lake Mendota. Almost 73% of the student body studies at the undergraduate level.
One of the more recent University of California campuses, the UC San Diego was founded in 1960. UCSD offers a wide range of majors and programs, the most popular majors being Computer Science, Economics, and Biochemistry. While 77% of the incoming class call California home, many other students come from across the country.
The University California -- Santa Barbara was founded in 1891 and joined the University of California institutes in 1944. The top 3 majors at UCSB include Experimental Psychology, Sociology, and Econometrics and Quantitative Economics. About 92% of freshmen students return to UCSB for their sophomore year.
Known as one of the Public Ivies, the University of Texas at Austin is also known for their Division I sports. There are nearly 600 student athletes at the school. A highly selective university, only 39% of applicants are accepted. The school’s official colors are burnt orange and white.
Established in 1946, Binghamton University is famously known as a Public Ivy. Students who are accepted into the school typically score between 28 to 32 on the composite ACT, and 1,310 to 1,440 on the SAT. The majority of first-year students attending Binghamton University are from New York. Their motto is “From breadth through depth to perspective.”
The school’s colors are scarlet and grey, and students go by the nickname of the Buckeyes. Ohio State’s mascot is named Brutus Buckeye. OSU’s motto, translated in Latin, means “Education for Citizenship.” The most popular majors at this college are Speech Communication and Rhetoric, Psychology, Finance, and Biology.
The College of New Jersey is fairly non-selective, with around 50% of applicants accepted into the college. Accepted students have an ACT composite score between 25 to 30 and between 1,160 and 1,350 on the SAT. TCNJ’s mascot is Roscoe the Lion, and their official school colors are blue and gold.
Students at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign are most likely to major in Research and Experimental Psychology, Accounting, or Economics, as those are the 3 most popular. The school has a six year graduation rate of 84%. Class sizes are relatively large, with 20 students for every 1 faculty member.
The University of Georgia is one of the oldest public universities in America, founded in 1785. The school’s official colors are red and black. UGA has an acceptance rate of 49%. The school is considered a public flagship, as well as a land-grant, sea-grant, and space-grant university. Their mascot, Uga, is portrayed by a real bulldog.
Founded in 1965, the University of California Irvine is also known as a Public Ivy. Their official school colors are UCI blue and UCI gold, and their mascot is Peter the Anteater. The university is selective, with only 29% of all applicants accepted into the school. UCI offers ten varsity sports.
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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