Top 25 Best Public Colleges in the US (2024)

Some of the top colleges in the country are public schools. Public colleges and universities are often less expensive than private institutions, have large and diverse student populations, and boast a large list of academic programs and student resources. Known for their student organizations, internship opportunities, and intramural sports, public colleges are filled with opportunities galore.

What is a Public College? 

A public college is a school that is partly funded by state government assistance. As a result, tuition tends to be lower compared to private schools. Public colleges usually have larger class sizes, more work-study opportunities, and more major and minor options in comparison to private colleges.

If you’re interested in going to a public college, check out this list of fantastic options! For 2024, these are a cut above the rest.

Top 25 Best Public Colleges | 2024

Thomas Jefferson founded The University of Virginia. The school had a Board of Visitors that included Jefferson, James Monroe, and James Madison. Well known for its secret societies, the school is also known for their sporting accomplishments. The Cavaliers, who wear orange and blue, have over 30 championship wins.
Location Charlottesville, VA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 26,005
A public undergraduate school, the United States Naval Academy’s motto, in Latin, is “Ex Scientia Tridens,” or “From Knowledge, Seapower.” It was established in 1845 and saw disruption and riots during the Civil War that almost caused the government to move the school. Today, it has an 8:1 student to faculty ratio.
Location Annapolis, MD
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 4,528
The University of California – Berkeley was the state’s first land-grant university and the first campus in the school system. The California Golden Bears, competing in the Pac-12 conference, have won over 100 national championships. With a 96% first year retention rate, 79% will go on to graduate within 4 years, 93% within 6.
Location Berkeley, CA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 45,036
The University of North at Chapel Hill goes by several different names including UNC, Chapel Hill, and Carolina. It’s a public research university and the flagship of the school system. Enrolling students in 1795, it’s one of the oldest public schools in the country. UNC became coeducational in 1877 and began admitting African-American graduate students in 1951.
Location Chapel Hill, NC
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 31,641
The two most commonly chosen majors at University of Michigan – Ann Arbor are Computer and Information Sciences and Business Administration. However, Economics, Physiological Psychology/Psychobiology, and Experimental Psychology are also popular. Accepting just 20% of applicants, 45% of students who are accepted decide to attend the following year.
Location Ann Arbor, MI
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 50,278
“Scientiæ Cedit Mare,” or “the sea yields to knowledge,” is the motto of the United States Coast Guard Academy. It was founded in 1876 and is the smallest of the five academies for service in the United States. The most popular major is Business Administration and Management, but Operations Research, Political Science and Government, and Oceanography are also top choices.
Location New London, CT
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,049
The United States Military Academy is also known as West Point or the Academy. Only 11.1% of applicants will receive acceptance letters, but 81% of these students will go on to attend. Their motto is Duty • Honor • Country. The entire site of the school is a national landmark and includes historic sites, a museum, and more.
Location West Point, NY
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 4,594
The University of California in Los Angeles, a public land-grant research university, is the second-oldest branch of the school system. Its motto is “fiat lux,” or “let there be light.” Famous alumni have included Sean Astin, Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Morhaime, Jim Morrison, and Troy Aikman. It has an acceptance rate of 11.1%.
Location Los Angeles, CA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 46,116
The second-oldest institution of higher education in the United States, King William III and Queen Mary II founded the aptly named College of William & Mary in 1693. A public research university, alumni have included Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, John Tyler, James Comey, and Jon Stewart. The mascot is the Griffin.
Location Williamsburg, VA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 9,517
Also referred to as Georgia Tech, this public research university was founded in 1885 as part of the Reconstruction plans post Civil War. At first, it only offered degrees in Mechanical Engineering. In 1901, it would also offer Chemical, Civil, and Electrical Engineering. Today, the top two majors are Computer and Information Sciences and Mechanical Engineering.
Location Atlanta, GA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 43,859
A majority of incoming students attending University of Maryland at College Park are from Maryland, New York, and New Jersey. It’s often called a “Public Ivy,” because of its comparable education to Ivy League schools, and has extremely high research activity. Computer Science is the most popular major.
Location College Park, MD
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 41,272
Part of the Southeastern Conference, the University of Florida has a wide variety of sports from football to gymnastics and has over 500 athletes. The team members are known as the Gators and wear orange and blue uniforms. Just over 30% of students are accepted, 44% of which will go on to attend the following fall.
Location Gainesville, FL
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 55,781
Also known as UT Austin, UT, or Texas, the University of Texas at Austin was founded in 1883, but the first mention of it can be traced back to 1827. Famous alumni include Wes Anderson, James Baker, Matthew McConaughey, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. The two most popular majors at UT are Biological Sciences and Computer Information and Sciences.
Location Austin, TX
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 51,991
The southernmost campus of the University of California system, it is located close to the Pacific Ocean. The school covers over 160 undergraduate programs, 19 organized research units, and boasts the region’s only academic Health System. The school has a 95% first year retention rate. Some alumni of the San Diego school include Angela Davis, Mike Judge, and David J. Peterson.
Location La Jolla, CA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 41,885
Also known as UCI or UC Irvine, this public land-grant research university offers over 85 majors to undergraduates. The UC Irvine Anteaters are part of the Big West Conference. 53 alumni have gone on to compete in the Olympics. Computer Science is the most commonly chosen major at the school, followed by Biology and Business/Managerial Economics.
Location Irvine, CA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 36,505
Part of the University of California system, the Santa Barbara campus is located on the Campus Point State Marine Conservation Area. Econometrics and Quantitative Economics, Communication and Sociology are by far the most commonly chosen majors, but Experimental Psychology and Biology are also top choices.
Location Santa Barbara, CA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 26,124
A land-grant research university, Ohio State is known as a Public Ivy. Getting its start in 1870, it was originally known as the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College. The Buckeyes take part in the Big Ten Conference and are well known for their football program. With over 1,000 athletes, other popular sports at the school include track, baseball, ice hockey, and fencing.
Location Columbus, OH
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 61,677
New Brunswick is one of the regional campuses of Rutgers University, and the oldest of the three. The school has 19 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools, with a high number of undergraduates majoring in Psychology, Computer and Information Sciences, Biology, and Information Science. They have a 68.1% acceptance rate.
Location New Brunswick, NJ
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 50,804
The University of Wisconsin - Madison was the first public university in the state as it was founded when Wisconsin received statehood in 1848. Their motto is “Numen Lumen” or “Divine Light.” It’s also the largest employer in the state as it has over 24,200 faculty and staff. There are more than 140 undergraduate majors available to those attending.
Location Madison, WI
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 47,016
The University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign is a public land-grant research university. It was one of 37 universities that came out of the Morrill Land-Grant Act. When the school opened, there were only 77 students and 2 faculty members. Today, over 47,500 apply each year to Urbana, 60% of which are accepted.
Location Champaign, IL
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 56,607
The University of Georgia has an acceptance rate of just over 40% and many students will go on to major in Finance, Psychology, and Biology. It’s one of the oldest public schools in the United States (founded in 1785). This Public Ivy university has quite a few famous alumni graduates including state governors, football players, scientists, Pulitzer Prize winners, and more.
Location Athens, GA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 40,118
The University of Connecticut campus is 4,400 acres and just 90 minutes from Boston. It was founded in 1881 and originally known as the Storrs Agricultural School. They accept 56% of applicants. UConn is considered a “Public Ivy” and has produced famous scholars, actors, authors, inventors, and entrepreneurs.
Location Storrs, CT
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 26,876
The College of New Jersey, founded in 1855, was originally located in Trenton. It moved to Ewing Township in the 1930s and has gone under several name changes, finally arriving at its current one in 1996. The college has a 62% acceptance rate and a first year retention rate of 92%. Part of the New Jersey Athletic Conference, the school has athletes in football, lacrosse, soccer, and more.
Location Ewing, NJ
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 7,589
The North Carolina State University at Raleigh is part of the largest university system in the Carolinas: the Research Triangle with Duke University and University of North Carolina. Also known as NC State, the school has a 15:1 student to faculty ratio and 94% first year retention rate. A whopping 87% of the incoming class calls North Carolina home.
Location Raleigh, NC
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 36,831
Part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system, Binghamton University sees most of its incoming students come from the home state, though many will also come from New Jersey. The Bearcats compete in sports such as soccer, lacrosse, swimming, and track. Baxter the Bearcat is their mascot.
Location Binghamton, NY
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 18,055

Public vs. Private Colleges

There’s a lot to consider when choosing a college, and the argument of private vs public is one of them!

Class Size

One of the biggest differences between private and public institutions is the fact that public colleges tend to have larger class sizes. This can you make you “one among many”, so paying attention and being proactive with professors is a must. If you find a large class size intimidating, a public college may not be right for you.


Financial aid and cost may also come into play for your college decision. While public colleges may have less in the way of endowment for their students, they do usually have lower tuition rates than their private counterparts making them a more affordable option for some. Public schools also tend to have more work study opportunities, so, if you were approved for the program, you might find you have an easier time getting a job at a public college.

Expanse of Majors

Education opportunities also vary from public to private. Public schools often offer more majors, minors, and programs but don’t have as many research opportunities as private universities. Taking into account your goals, intended major, and education needs for your intended career after graduation is a must. 

Clubs and Extracurriculars

On all other footings, however, public and private colleges are equals. Both can offer a wide range of extracurriculars, sports, and clubs. They can both be found in rural areas and cities. Public and private schools can have small or large campuses. And both types of institutions can offer amazing education and career opportunities to their students.

Understanding the differences between public and private schools though can help you make the best decision for your future, finances, and education.

Is one of these amazing public colleges or universities right for you? Use our College Match Tool today for FREE to see what colleges are a top fit for you.


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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