In 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.
Top 25 Best Colleges Ranking for Public Schools in the U.S:
25. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
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.
24. Rutgers University-New Brunswick
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.
23. University of California-Davis
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.
22. University of Georgia
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.
21. University of Wisconsin-Madison
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.
20. SUNY at Binghamton
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.
19. The University of Texas at Austin
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.
18. Miami University-Oxford
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.
17. SUNY College at Geneseo
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.
16. University of Washington-Seattle Campus
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.
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15. University of California-Irvine
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.
14. St Mary’s College of Maryland
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.
13. University of Florida
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.
12. University of California-San Diego
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.
11. University of California-Santa Barbara
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.
10. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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.
9. University of Connecticut
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.
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.
7. The College of New Jersey
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.
6. University of California-Los Angeles
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.
5. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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.
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.
3. University of California-Berkeley
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.
2. College of William and Mary
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.
1. University of Virginia-Main Campus
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.
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
Want to see more? View all of the 2016 Best Colleges rankings from College Raptor here!