The 25 Best Public Colleges – 2016 University Rankings

Here's our top 25 public collegesIn the U.S., we have some of the finest public universities in the world.

Although the greatest public colleges can sometimes be overshadowed by the ranks of the Ivy League or other great private colleges, the nation’s best public universities offer top-caliber educations, while also often enrolling tens of thousands of students.

In this ranking, we celebrate the greatest of the public colleges from around the country, including many of the University of California system, which are often dubbed “Public Ivies”, as well as others from the Midwest and the east coast.

All told, these public colleges have much to offer students and are great options for those pursuing a quality education.

Here are the 25 best public colleges in the U.S.:

25. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University - Best Public Colleges

Source: Flickr user vthokiefans.

Blacksburg, VA

Undergraduate enrollment: 24,034

Virginia Tech enrolls 24,000 undergraduate students and is known for leading the way in a number of science and technology fields. The VT Bioinformatics Institute is world-renowned for its industry-leading work on researching vaccines, infectious diseases, and viruses.

Learn more about Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


 

24. Rutgers University-New Brunswick

Rutgers University - Best Public Colleges

Old Queens Rutgers” by Original uploader was Rickyrab at en.wikipedia Later version(s) were uploaded by ChrisRuvolo at en.wikipedia. – Transfered from en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

New Brunswick, NJ

Undergraduate enrollment: 33,901

With more than 30,000 undergrads, Rutgers is a public research university located in eastern New Jersey. Known formally as The State University of New Jersey, Rutgers was one of 9 public colleges chartered prior to the Revolutionary War. With degrees in many science and art fields, the college is nationally-recognized for its programs in Philosophy, Geography, Statistics, Geology, and more.

Learn more about Rutgers University


 

23. University of California-Davis

University of California-Davis - Best Public Colleges

UC Davis Mondavi Center” by Bev Sykes from Davis, CA, USA – #3: “New” (Mondavi Center). Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

Davis, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 26,533

UC-Davis is a sprawling, public research university to the west of Sacramento. Its campus spans 5,300 acres, which makes it the second largest campus in the University of California system. Its graduate studies in Veterinary Medicine programs are touted as the best in the country, and its undergraduate programs in Agricultural and Environmental Sciences are also commonly ranked among tops in the nation.

Learn more about University of California-Davis


 

22. University of Georgia

University of Georgia - Best Public Colleges

Source: Flickr user zlatko.

Athens, GA

Undergraduate enrollment: 26,278

One of the nation’s top research universities, UGA is known for being a leader in a number of fields from Journalism to Ecology. Its campus enrolls 26,000 undergrads and contains over 400 buildings comprising 17 separate schools and colleges. Georgia is the nation’s oldest state-chartered university.

Learn more about University of Georgia


 

21. University of Wisconsin-Madison

University of Wisconsin Madison - Best Public Colleges

Source: Flickr user tabor-roeder.

Madison, WI

Undergraduate enrollment: 30,728

With an enrollment of more than 30,000 undergrads, UW-Madison is regularly regarded as one of the best public institutions in the Midwest. It’s ranked third in the country in research funding, with nearly $1 billion coming in annually. The school is known for many academic pursuits, including many areas of the biological sciences.

Learn more about the University of Wisconsin – Madison


 

20. SUNY at Binghamton

SUNY at Binghamton - Best Public Colleges

Academic A, School of Management, Binghamton University” by Greynol1 (talk) (Uploads) – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Vestal, NY

Undergraduate enrollment: 12,997

With just under 13,000 undergraduate students, SUNY Binghamton (or Binghamton University) is located north of the New York/Pennsylvania border. Founded in 1946, BU has grown from a small liberal arts college to a large research university, which now grants Doctoral degrees.

Learn more about SUNY at Binghamton


 

19. The University of Texas at Austin

University of Texas at Austin - Best Public Colleges

Nhb utexas” by Jr1038Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Austin, TX

Undergraduate enrollment: 39,979

This large research university is located near central Texas in Austin. It’s the flagship campus for the University of Texas system and rated as having “very high” research activity in a number of fields. The campus also boasts a total of 17 libraries and 7 museums, along with an enrollment of nearly 40,000 undergrads.

Learn more about The University of Texas at Austin


 

18. Miami University-Oxford

Miami University-Oxford - Best Public Colleges

Muohioharrison“. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Oxford, OH

Undergraduate enrollment: 15,462

Often known as “Miami of Ohio”, Miami University boasts 7 schools and colleges, including the Farmer’s School of Business, which offers 8 undergraduate majors and is considered to be one of the top undergraduate business schools in the country. This public research university enrolls more than 15,000 undergrads.

Learn more about Miami University – Oxford


 

17. SUNY College at Geneseo

SUNY Geneseo - Best Public Colleges

SUNY Geneseo Integrated Science Center” by Benjamin D. Esham / Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 us via Commons.

Geneseo, NY

Undergraduate enrollment: 5,504

This state university in New York is recognized as being one of the best public colleges in the nation. It’s earned a number of distinctions, often being considered an alternative option for New York students who choose not to attend Ivy League colleges. Education, Business, and Social Sciences are the most popular majors among undergrads.

Learn more about SUNY College at Geneseo


 

16. University of Washington-Seattle Campus

University of Washington-Seattle - Best Public Colleges

University of Washington Quad, Spring 2007” by Punctured BicycleOwn work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Seattle, WA

Undergraduate enrollment: 29,756

With its huge campus, including more than 500 buildings, the University of Washington-Seattle is located just north of downtown Seattle. It enrolls nearly 30,000 undergrads and is often regarded as one of the leading medical research and teaching universities in the world.

Learn more about University of Washington-Seattle


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15. University of California-Irvine

University of California-Irvine - Best Public Colleges

Engineering,UCI” by RoyWrightDavis Wiki. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons.

Irvine, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 23,530

Organic Chemistry, Sociology, Computer Science, and Physics are among the top-ranked programs offered at this public university in the University of California system. Often cited as being a “public Ivy”, UC Irvine is located in the suburbs just south of Los Angeles and offers 80 undergraduate degrees to more than 23,000 students enrolled each year.

Learn more about University of California-Irvine


 

14. St Mary’s College of Maryland

St Marys College of Maryland - Best Public Colleges

Source: Flickr user Rebecca.

St. Mary’s City, MD

Undergraduate enrollment: 1,819

St. Mary’s is known as a “public honors” college, recognized for its academic rigor and selectivity among public institutions. The 1,800 undergrads enrolled at St. Mary’s enjoy waterfront views and a historic setting, as the campus marks the home of Maryland’s first state capital.

Learn more about St Mary’s College of Maryland


 

13. University of Florida

University of Florida - Best Public Colleges

Source: Flickr user necosky.

Gainesville, FL

Undergraduate enrollment: 33,168

With more than 150 research centers and institutes, the University of Florida campus is one of the most active public research universities in the nation. It’s often lauded for excellence in numerous fields, including Audiology, Analytical Chemistry, and Occupational Therapy, just to name a few.

Learn more about University of Florida


 

12. University of California-San Diego

University of California-San Diego - Best Public Colleges

Price Center, UCSD” by Alex HansenDSC00047. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

San Diego, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 23,805

This public research university, situated along the Pacific coast, enrolls more than 23,000 students and offers a unique academic structure, in which students choose to to enroll in 1 of 6 residential colleges. Each of the schools offers different programs/majors and different teaching and learning environments. UCSD is one of the newest colleges in the University of California system and is known for its heavy involvement in Supercomputing, Telecommunications, and Information Technology.

Learn more about University of California-San Diego


 

11. University of California-Santa Barbara

University of California-Santa Barbara - Best Public Colleges

De La Guerra dining common, UCSB” by Carl Jantzen from Santa Barbara, California, United States of America – The DLG. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons.

Santa Barbara, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 19,362

Originally founded as a teacher’s college, UCSB was designated as a Hispanic-serving institution (HSI) in 2015 and currently enrolls nearly 20,000 undergraduate students. The University of California-Santa Barbara campus is located just outside of Los Angeles, overlooking the Pacific. Faculty here currently includes 6 Nobel Prize laureates.

Learn more about the University of California-Santa Barbara


 

10. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

University of Illinois and Urbana-Champaign - Best Public Colleges

Beckman Institute – UIUC – DSC09175” by Daderot – I took this photograph.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

Champaign, IL

Undergraduate enrollment: 32,695

Lauded as one of the most-selective and most rigorous public universities in the country, Illinois boasts accolades in a number of areas, particularly science and engineering. The campus enrolls more than 32,000 undergrads and offers 150 unique majors and programs. Engineering majors–of nearly every type–generally make up the most popular programs at this college.

Learn more about the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign


 

9. University of Connecticut

Storrs, CT

Undergraduate enrollment: 18,032

UConn is a public research university with more than 18,000 undergraduate students. The college offers more than 100 undergraduate majors and boasts an impressive 93% retention rate for first-year students returning their sophomore year.

Learn more about University of Connecticut


8. University of Maryland-College Park

College Park, MD

Undergraduate enrollment: 10,614

Near the U.S. capital, the University of Maryland is a public research university with more than 10,000 undergraduates studying from 127 degrees granted. UMD is known for its work with the U.S. government, including agencies such as NASA and Homeland Security, on many important research projects in a number of fields.

Learn more about University of Maryland-College Park


 

7. The College of New Jersey

The College of New Jersey - Best Public Colleges

The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) 23” by TomwsulcerOwn work. Licensed under CC0 via Commons.

Ewing, NJ

Undergraduate enrollment: 6,653

TCNJ, as it is commonly known, is one of the best public institutions on the east coast. Originally established as a way to keep New Jersey students in state, The College of New Jersey is well-known for having top-ranked Business, Education, Engineering, and other programs.

Learn more about The College of New Jersey


 

6. University of California-Los Angeles

University of California-Los Angles - Best Public Colleges

Royce Hall post rain” by AltonOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Los Angeles, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 28,674

University of California-Los Angeles, or UCLA, is the second-oldest college in the UC system, having been added after Berkeley. UCLA is not only known for top-tier academics as a public research university, but its student athletes are also world-renowned, having amassed 250 total Olympic medals, including at least one gold medal in every Olympics the U.S. has participated in since the year 1932.

Learn more about University of California-Los Angeles


 

5. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill - Best Public Colleges

UNC South Building” by YeungbOwn work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons.

Chapel Hill, NC

Undergraduate enrollment: 18,370

UNC Chapel Hill is a public research university located in north central North Carolina. The college town of Chapel Hill houses an undergraduate population of more than 18,000 students, including students from all 50 states. UNC Chapel Hill offers more than 300 study-abroad programs in 70 different countries.

Learn more about University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


 

4. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor, MI

Undergraduate enrollment: 28,283

Located in southeastern Michigan, U of M is a public research university which enrolls about 28,300 undergraduate students. The university offers many majors for undergraduate students, but its top 3 majors are Experimental Psychology, Business Administration, and Economics.

Learn about University of Michigan-Ann Arbor


 

3. University of California-Berkeley

University of California-Berkeley - Best Public Colleges

UCBerkeleyCampus” by brainchildvn on Flickr – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

Berkeley, CA

Undergraduate enrollment: 25,951

UC Berkeley is a public research university in the San Francisco Bay area. The California flagship educates the most diverse undergraduate student body of any public university in the U.S., made up of about 26,000 students. Common major choices include Economics, Cell and Molecular Biology, and General Biology.

Learn more about University of California-Berkeley


 

2. College of William and Mary

Williamsburg, VA

Undergraduate enrollment: 6,271

W&M is a public research university that enrolls more than 6,200 undergraduate students. It’s recognized as a so-called “public Ivy,” offering an education comparable to the Ivy League at a public institution. Notable alumni include Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler.

Learn more about College of William and Mary


 

1. University of Virginia-Main Campus

University of Virginia Main Campus - Best Public Colleges

Source: Flickr user small_realm.

Charlottesville, VA

Undergraduate enrollment: 16,087

With 16,000 undergrads, UVA is recognized for having the most the highest first-year retention rate of any college in the southeastern U.S. The public research university is located near the Appalachian Mountains and offers many majors and programs, including Business, Liberal Studies, and Biology, the three most popular among students.

Learn more about University of Virginia-Main Campus


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

View all of the 2016 Best Colleges rankings from College Raptor

Kaeli Nieves-Whitmore

4 thoughts on “The 25 Best Public Colleges – 2016 University Rankings”

  1. John Kaiser says:

    What about Georgia Tech?

    1. Mdicamill says:

      Georgia Tech… Not on the list??? Really?

      1. Marc718 says:

        Tech schools are hard to include on general lists because they deal with such specialized disciplines and research; their focus is usually on post-grad rather than undergrad education. Notice MIT and Cal Tech aren’t on here either, and if GA Tech were, you’d surely have to include those also. (Virginia Tech is an exception because it has a more diverse set of traditional undergraduate arts and social science offerings, honors college, etc).

    2. Mike says:

      What about UMass Amherst?

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