Top 25 Best Public Colleges in the US | 2021 Rankings

Best Public Colleges badgeSome 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 filled with opportunities. Public colleges are known for their student organizations, internship opportunities, intramural sports, and many academic resources.

This rankings list puts the spotlight on the best public colleges in America. Below you’ll find all types of schools—from colleges to universities, schools in bustling cities, and schools in more rural areas.

If you’re interested in going to a public college, check out this list of fantastic options!

Top 25 Best Public Colleges

Unlike many schools, the The United States Naval Academy is the second-oldest service academy. Students who want to attend the academy must be nominated. However, out of the 16,000 students who are nominated each year, only 1,300 are accepted, making the United States Naval Academy extremely selective.
Location Annapolis, MD
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 4,512
The University of Virginia -- Main Campus was founded by Thomas Jefferson with James Madison and James Monroe sitting on the Board of Visitors. The school is also the oldest serving research university in the South. Some popular majors at the University of Virginia -- Main Campus include Liberal Arts and Sciences, Business, and Biology.
Location Charlottesville, VA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 24,639
The University of California -- Los Angeles is considered a Public Ivy and for good reason -- with amazing facilities and resources available to students, as well as hundreds of majors and degree programs, it’s no wonder that there are over 44,000 students currently attending. Every year, the university receives over 113,000 applications, though only 14% of them are accepted.
Location Los Angeles, CA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 44,537
The University of California -- Berkeley is the oldest University of California school, having been founded in 1868. The school also helped found the Association of American Universities with thirteen other schools. Known for its innovation and research, UC Berkeley gets over 89,000 applicants every year. Students attending should expect an average class size of twenty students for every one faculty member.
Location Berkeley, CA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 42,501
The University of Michigan -- Ann Arbor is the oldest university in Michigan and is also known today as a research powerhouse. Almost 65,000 students apply to the university every year, though only 22% of them are accepted. Those who attend the university can expect a class size of around eleven students for every one faculty member.
Location Ann Arbor, MI
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 46,716
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one of the oldest public universities in the US and considered a Public Ivy. Today, over 30,000 students attend the university and almost 42,000 hopeful students apply there every year. Only 22% of them are admitted. The incoming class has an average score between 28 to 33 on the ACT and 1,330 to 1,500 on the SAT.
Location Chapel Hill, NC
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 30,011
The United States Air Force Academy is the newest of the service academies -- students interested in attending must be nominated by a person in Congress. The academy is extremely selective, only accepting 11% of its applicants. Students who are admitted have their tuition and other costs covered by the United States Air Force.
Location USAFA, CO
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 4,336
The United States Coast Guard Academy is the smallest service academy and the only one that doesn’t require a student to have a congressman’s nomination. However, like the others, this academy is highly selective, only accepting 19% of their applicants. Though students only have a few majors to choose from, majors have their own tracks. .
Location New Haven, CT
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,071
The College of William and Mary is the second-oldest university in America and is nicknamed the “Alma Mater of the Nation” because so many important characters in American history graduated from there. The college also established one of the first law and medical schools in the country. Today, almost 9,000 students attend the school, 72% of which are undergraduates.
Location Williamsburg, VA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 8,817
To be admitted into the United States Military Academy, students must first be nominated by officials such as congressmen or even the President. As the oldest US service academy, the United States Military Academy had the first accredited engineering program and had the first class rings. Over 12,000 students try to get into this prestigious academy, though only 1,400 are accepted.
Location West Point, NY
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 4,589
Like the other US service academies, students who want to attend the United States Merchant Marine Academy must be nominated by a congressman. Students at the academy study in fields all related to aspects of the United States Merchant Marine -- thus, there are only three majors: Marine Science, Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, and Systems Engineering.
Location Kings Point, NY
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,015
As the only Floridian school to be a part of the Association of American Universities, the University of Florida is known for its research -- in fact, it’s a land-, sea-, and space-grant school! The University of Florida has a student population of 52,000 and over 80% of the first-year class is from Florida. The school also boasts a 97% first-year retention rate.
Location Gainesville, FL
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 52,218
Because the University of Maryland -- College Park is located close to Washington, DC, the university sees many research partnerships with various departments of the federal government. Additionally, the university is considered a Public Ivy. It’s no surprise then that the school receives over 33,000 applicants annually.
Location College Park, MD
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 41,200
The University of Texas at Austin is home to one of the largest academic libraries, the most extensive Latin American university collection, and the biggest university museum in America. Many students at the university major in either Biology, Economics, and Computer and Information Sciences.
Location Austin, TX
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 51,832
When the Georgia Institute of Technology was first founded, the school only offered Mechanical Engineering. However, the school quickly expanded and now offers over 30 different programs for students to choose from. Some of the more popular majors offered at Georgia Tech include Computer and Information Science, Mechanical Engineering, and Business.
Location Atlanta, GA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 32,723
When it was first established, Ohio State University focused solely on agriculture and mechanics, but with a push from Rutherford Hayes, the university expanded its academic teachings. Today, OSU is the third-largest campus in the US. Some of the most popular majors include Psychology, Finance, and Speech Communication and Rhetoric.
Location Columbus, OH
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 61,170
The University of California -- San Diego is considered a Public Ivy and is well-known for its multiple research facilities. Undergraduates who attend UCSD will align themselves with one of seven residential colleges, all of which have different philosophies, core course requirements, and unique degrees. Currently, the most popular majors include Computer Science, Economics, and Anatomy.
Location San Diego, CA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 37,887
The University of Wisconsin -- Madison is the oldest university in Wisconsin -- it was actually founded when Wisconsin officially became a state. Today, the school has over 43,000 students attending and half of the freshmen class is from Wisconsin. Some of the most popular majors at UW Madison include Biology, Economics, and Computer and Information Science.
Location Madison, WI
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 43,463
As a Public Ivy, the University of Connecticut has the largest public library system in the state. With its prestige, it’s no wonder that the university receives almost 35,000 applications every year. The incoming class had an average ACT score between 25 to 32 and an average SAT score between 1,230 to 1,430.
Location Storrs, CT
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 27,412
The University of California -- Santa Barbara is widely known for its beautiful beach campus, amazing biking system, and its Public Ivy status. Thus, it’s no surprise that the university gets over 92,000 applicants annually, though only around 30,000 of them are admitted. The average class size at UCSB is 22 students to 1 faculty member. The majority of the student body is from California.
Location Santa Barbara, CA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 25,976
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is known for its research facilities and resources, as well as having the second-largest university library system in the US. Technologically-minded students will be especially pleased to hear that the university houses the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and the fastest university supercomputer.
Location Champaign, IL
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 49,702
Beyond being a research university, the University of Georgia is known for its study abroad opportunities -- in fact, they have at least one study abroad program on every continent. While not abroad, students can expect an average class size of 17 students to 1 faculty member and the school boasts a 95% first-year retention rate.
Location Athens, GA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 38,652
Binghamton University is part of the State University of New York system and is one of the four university centers in the group. Binghamton was established in the mid-1940’s -- originally, it was a liberal arts college that grew into a university over the years. Over 17,000 students attend the university and the average class size is 17 students to 1 faculty member.
Location East Vestal, NY
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 17,768
Despite its relatively young age, the University of California -- Irvine has already had a colorful and interesting history. Founded in 1965, the land for UCI was bought for just one dollar. Along with its status as a Public Ivy and amazing academics, it’s no surprise that the university receives 95,000 applications annually. However, only 29% of those applicants are admitted.
Location Irvine, CA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 36,032
Students attending the College of New Jersey can find a plethora of academic resources available to them, from laboratories to studios. Over 7,500 students currently attend the university and the vast majority of them are from New Jersey. Incoming students typically have an ACT score between 24 to 32 and an SAT score between 1,180 to 1,370.
Location Ewing, NJ
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 7,686

Interested in any of these schools? Check out College Raptor’s free match tool to see if they’re a good fit for you!

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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