Top Public Universities in the United States

Learn About the Best State-Funded Universities in the Country

Sproul Hall and Plaza on Campus of University of California.
Sproul Hall and Plaza on Campus of University of California. Rick Gerharter / Getty Images

These top public universities are state-funded schools with excellent facilities, world-renowned faculty, and powerful name recognition. Each represents a great value, especially for in-state students. I've listed the schools alphabetically rather than try to make superficial distinctions between excellent universities.

There are many reasons why you might be drawn to the universities included here. Most are large research institutions made up of multiple colleges and schools. Academic opportunities typically span well over 100 majors. Also, the great majority of the schools also have plenty of school spirit and competitive NCAA Division I athletic programs.

Keep in mind that these universities are all selective, and far more students receive rejection letters than acceptances. If you compare the SAT score and ACT score data for the schools, you'll see that you are likely to need scores that are well above average.

Will You Get In? With a free tool from Cappex, you can calculate your chances of getting into these top public universities.

Binghamton University
Binghamton University. Greynol1 / Wikimedia Commons

Binghamton University, part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system, typically ranks among the very top public universities in the northeast. For its strengths in the liberal arts and sciences, Binghamton University was awarded a chapter of the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. 84% of students come from the top 25% of their high school class. On the athletic front, the university competes in the NCAA Division I America East Conference

More »
Tilman Hall at Clemson University
Tilman Hall at Clemson University. Angie Yates / Flickr

Clemson University is situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains along Lake Hartwell in South Carolina. The university's academic units are divided into five separate colleges with the College of Business and Behavioral Science and the College of Engineering and Science having the highest enrollments. In athletics, the Clemson Tigers compete in the NCAA Division I Atlantic Coast Conference.

  • Enrollment: 23,406 (18,599 undergraduates)
  • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the Clemson profile
More »
College of William & Mary
College of William & Mary. Photo Credit: Amy Jacobson

William & Mary typically ranks at or near the top of small public universities. The college has well-respected programs in business, law, accounting, international relations and history. Founded in 1693, the College of William & Mary is the second oldest institution of higher learning in the country. The campus is located in historic Williamsburg, Virginia, and the school educated three U.S. presidents: Thomas Jefferson, John Tyler and James Monroe. The college not only has a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, but the honor society originated there.

  • Enrollment: 8,617 (6,276 undergraduate) 
  • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the William & Mary profile
More »
UCONN
UCONN. Matthias Rosenkranz / Flickr

The University of Connecticut at Storrs (UConn) is the state's flagship institution of higher learning. It is a Land and Sea Grant University made up of 10 different schools and colleges. UConn's faculty is heavily involved in research, but the university was also awarded a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for its strengths in undergraduate education in the arts and sciences. On the athletic front, the university competes in the NCAA Division I Big East Conference.

  • Enrollment: 27,721 (19,324 undergraduates)
  • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the UConn profile
More »
University of Delaware
University of Delaware. Alan Levine / Flickr

The University of Delaware in Newark is the largest university in the state of Delaware. The university is made up of seven different colleges of which the College of Arts and Sciences is the largest. UD's College of Engineering and its College of Business and Economics often place well on national rankings. In athletics, the university competes in the NCAA Division I Colonial Athletic Association.

  • Enrollment: 23,009 (19,215 undergraduates)
  • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the Delaware profile
More »
Tree-Lined Walk at the University of Florida
Tree-Lined Walk at the University of Florida. Photo Credit: Allen Grove

Florida offers a huge range of undergraduate and graduate programs, but they have most made a name for themselves in pre-professional areas such as business, engineering and the health sciences. The attractive 2,000-acre campus is home to  a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa thanks to the university's many strengths in the liberal arts and sciences. Research strengths earned the school membership in the Association of American Universities. The University of Florida is a member of the NCAA Southeastern Conference

  • Enrollment: 52,367 (34,554 undergraduates)
  • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the Florida profile
More »
University of Georgia Consumer Sciences Building
University of Georgia Consumer Sciences Building. David Torcivia / Flickr

Founded in 1785, UGA has the distinction of being the oldest state-chartered university in the U.S. Georgia's attractive 615-acre campus features everything from historic buildings to contemporary high rises. For the high-achieving student who wants the feel of a liberal arts college education, UGA has a well-respected Honors Program of about 2,500 students. The university competes in the NCAA Division I Southeastern Conference.

  • Enrollment: 36,574 (27,951 undergraduates)
  • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the Georgia profile

      More »

    Georgia Tech
    Georgia Tech. Hector Alejandro / Flickr

    Located on a 400-acre urban campus in Atlanta, Georgia Tech consistently ranks as one of the best public universities in the United States. Georgia Tech's greatest strengths are in the sciences and engineering, and the school frequently appears on rankings of top engineering schools. The institute places heavy emphasis on research. Along with strong academics, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets compete in NCAA Division I intercollegiate athletics as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

    • Enrollment: 26,839 (15,489 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the Georgia Tech profile
    More »
    University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, UIUC
    University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, UIUC. Christopher Schmidt / Flickr

    The large flagship campus of the University of Illinois spans the twin cities of Urbana and Champaign. UIUC consistently ranks among the top public universities and top engineering schools in the country. The attractive campus is home to over 42,000 students and 150 different majors, and it is particularly well known for its outstanding engineering and science programs. Illinois has the largest university library in the United States outside of the Ivy League. Along with strong academics, UIUC is a member of the Big Ten Conference and fields 19 varsity teams.

    • Enrollment: 46,951 (33,932 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the UIUC profile
    More »
    Sample Gates at Indiana University Bloomington
    Sample Gates at Indiana University Bloomington. lynn Dombrowski / Flickr

    Indiana University in Bloomington is the flagship campus of Indiana's state university system. The school has received numerous accolades for its academic programs, its computing infrastructure, and the beauty of its campus. The 2,000-acre campus is defined by its buildings constructed from local limestone and its wide array of flowering plants and trees. On the athletic front, the Indiana Hoosiers compete in the NCAA Division I Big Ten Conference.

    • Enrollment: 49,695 (39,184 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the Indiana University profile
    More »
    James Madison University
    James Madison University. Alma mater / Wikimedia Commons

    James Madison University, JMU, offers 68 undergraduate degree programs with areas in business being the most popular. JMU has a high retention and graduation rate compared to similar public universities, and the school frequently does well on national rankings for both its value and its academic quality. The attractive campus in Harrisonburg, Virginia, features an open quad, a lake, and the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum. Sports teams compete in the NCAA Division I Colonial Athletic Association.

    • Enrollment: 21,270 (19,548 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the James Madison profile
    More »
    University of Maryland McKeldin Library
    University of Maryland McKeldin Library. Daniel Borman / Flickr

    Located just north of Washington, D.C., the University of Maryland is an easy Metro ride into the city and the school has many research partnerships with the federal government. UMD has a strong Greek system, and about 10% of undergrads belong to fraternities or sororities. Maryland's strengths in the liberal arts and sciences earned it a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, and its strong research programs earned it membership in the Association of American Universities. Maryland's athletic teams compete in the NCAA Division I Big Ten Conference

    • Enrollment: 39,083 (28,472 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the Maryland profile
    More »
    University of Michigan Tower
    University of Michigan Tower. jeffwilcox / Flickr

    Located in Ann Arbor Michigan, the University of Michigan consistently ranks as one of the best public institutions in the country. The university has a highly talented undergraduate student body -- about 25% of admitted students had a 4.0 high school GPA. The school also boasts of impressive athletic programs as a member of the Big Ten Conference. With roughly 40,000 students and 200 undergraduate majors, the University of Michigan has strengths in a wide range of academic areas. Michigan made my list of top engineering schools and top business schools.

    • Enrollment: 44,718 (28,983 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the Michigan profile
    More »
    Pillsbury Hall at the University of Minnesota
    Pillsbury Hall at the University of Minnesota. Michael Hicks / Flickr

    The campus occupies both the east and west banks of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, and the agricultural programs are located on the quieter St. Paul campus. U of M has many strong academic programs, especially in economics, the sciences, and engineering. It's liberal arts and sciences earned it a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. For outstanding research, the university gained membership in the Association of American Universities. Most of Minnesota's athletic teams compete in the NCAA Division I Big Ten Conference.

    • Enrollment: 51,579 (34,870 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the Minnesota profile
    More »
    The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
    The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Allen Grove

    UNC Chapel Hill is one of the so-called "Public Ivy" schools. It consistently ranks in the top five among public universities, and its total costs are generally lower than the other top-ranked schools. Chapel Hill's schools of medicine, law, and business all have excellent reputations, and the Kenan-Flagler Business School made my list of top undergraduate business schools. The university's beautiful and historic campus was opened in 1795. UNC Chapel Hill also boasts excellent athletics -- the Tar Heels compete in NCAA Division I Atlantic Coast Conference. Explore the campus in this Chapel Hill photo tour.

    • Enrollment: 29,468 (18,522 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the UNC Chapel Hill profile
    More »
    Ohio Stadium at the Ohio State University
    Ohio Stadium at the Ohio State University. Photo credit: Acererak / Flickr

    Ohio State University (OSU) is one of the largest university in the U.S. (surpassed only by the University of Central Florida and Texas A&M). Founded in 1870, OSU consistently ranks among the top 20 public universities in the country. It has strong schools of business and law, and its political science department is particularly well respected. The school can also boast of an attractive campus. The OSU Buckeyes compete in the NCAA Division I Big Ten Conference.

    • Enrollment: 59,482 (45,831 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the Ohio State profile
    More »

    Penn State at University Park is the flagship campus of the 24 campuses that make up the state university system in Pennsylvania. Penn State's 13 specialized colleges and roughly 160 majors provide a wealth of academic opportunities for students with diverse interests. The undergraduate programs in engineering and business are noteworthy, and general strengths in the liberal arts and sciences won the school a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. Like several other schools on this list, Penn State competes in the NCAA Division I Big Ten Conference.

    • Enrollment: 47,789 (41,359 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the Penn State profile
    More »
    University of Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning
    University of Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning. gam9551 / Flickr

    The 132-acre campus of the University of Pittsburgh is easily recognized by the towering Cathedral of Learning, the tallest educational building in the U.S. On the academic front, Pitt has wide-ranging strengths including Philosophy, Medicine, Engineering and Business. Like several schools on this list, Pitt has a chapter of the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society, and its research strengths earned it membership in the Association of American Universities. Athletic teams compete in the NCAA Division I Big East Conference.

    • Enrollment: 28,664 (19,123 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the Pitt profile
    More »
    Purdue University
    Purdue University. linademartinez / Flickr

    Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, is the main campus of the Purdue University System in Indiana. As the home to over 40,000 students, the campus is a city unto itself that offers over 200 academic programs for undergraduates. Purdue has a chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society, and its strong research programs earned it membership in the Association of American Universities. The Purdue Boilermakers compete in the NCAA Division I Big Ten Conference.

    • Enrollment: 41,513 (31,105 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the Purdue profile
    More »
    Rutgers University Football
    Rutgers University Football. Ted Kerwin / Flickr

    Located in New Jersey between New York City and Philadelphia, Rutgers gives its students easy train access to two major metropolitan centers. Rutgers is home to 17 degree-granting schools and over 175 research centers. Strong and motivated students should check out the school's Honors College. The Rutgers Scarlet Knights compete in the NCAA Division I Big Ten Conference

    • Enrollment: 50,146 (36,168 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the Rutgers profile
    More »
    University of Texas at Austin
    University of Texas at Austin. Amy Jacobson

    Academically, UT Austin frequently ranks as one of the top public universities in the U.S., and the McCombs School of Business is especially strong. Other strengths include education, engineering and law. Strong research earned the University of Texas membership in the Association of American Universities, and its excellent programs in the liberal arts and sciences earned the school a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. In athletics, the Texas Longhorns compete in the NCAA Division I Big 12 Conference.

    • Enrollment: 51,331 (40,168 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the UT Austin profile
    More »
    Texas A&M Academic Building at the heart of the main campus in College Station
    Texas A&M Academic Building at the heart of the main campus in College Station. Denise Mattox / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

    Texas A&M is far more than an agricultural and mechanical college these days. It is a huge, comprehensive university where business, humanities, engineering, social science and the sciences are all extremely popular with undergraduates. Texas A&M is a Senior Military College with a visible military presence on campus. In athletics, the Texas A&M Aggies compete in the NCAA Division I Big 12 Conference.

    • Enrollment: 65,632 (50,735 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the Texas A&M profile
    More »
    The University of California Berkeley
    The University of California Berkeley. Charlie Nguyen / Flickr

    Berkeley, a member of the University of California system, consistently ranks as the best public university in the country. It offers students a bustling and beautiful campus in the San Francisco Bay area, and it is home to one of the country's top engineering schools and top business schools. Well known for its liberal and activist personality, Berkeley provides its students with a rich and vibrant social environment. In athletics, Berkeley competes in the NCAA Division I Pacific 10 Conference.

    • Enrollment: 40,154 (29,310 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the UC Berkeley profile
    More »
    UC Davis Performing Arts Center
    UC Davis Performing Arts Center. TEDxUCDavis / Flickr

    Like so many of the top-ranked public universities, the University of California at Davis has a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for its strengths in the liberal arts and sciences, and it is a member of the Association of American Universities for its research strengths. The school's 5,300-acre campus, located west of Sacramento, is the largest in the UC system. UC Davis offers over 100 undergraduate majors. The UC Davis Aggies compete in the NCAA Division I Big West Conference.

    • Enrollment: 36,460 (29,379 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the UC Davis profile
    More »
    Frederick Reines Hall at UC Irvine
    Frederick Reines Hall at UC Irvine. Photo Credit: Marisa Benjamin

    The University of California at Irvine is located in the heart of Orange County. The attractive 1,500-acre campus has an interesting circular design with Aldrich Park in the center. The park features a network of paths running through the gardens and trees. Like the other top University of California schools, Davis has a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and membership in the Association of American Universities. The UC Irvine Anteaters compete in the NCAA Division I Big West Conference.

    • Enrollment: 32,754 (27,331 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the UC Irvine profile
    More »
    Royce Hall at UCLA
    Royce Hall at UCLA. Photo Credit: Marisa Benjamin

    Located on an attractive 419 acre campus in Los Angeles' Westwood Village just 8 miles from the Pacific Ocean, UCLA sits on a piece of prime real estate. With over 4,000 teaching faculty and 30,000 undergraduates, the university provides a bustling and vibrant academic environment. UCLA is part of the University of California system and stands as one of the top-ranked public schools in the country.

    • Enrollment: 43,548 (30,873 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the UCLA profile
    More »
    Geisel Library at UCSD
    Geisel Library at UCSD. Photo Credit: Marisa Benjamin

    One of the "Public Ivies" and a member of the University of California system, UCSD consistently ranks in top ten of best public universities and best engineering schools. The school is particularly strong in the sciences, social sciences and engineering. With its coastal campus in La Jolla, California, and with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, UCSD gets top marks for oceanography and the biological sciences. The school has a system of six undergraduate residential colleges modeled after Oxford and Cambridge, and each college has its own curricular focus.

    • Enrollment: 34,979 (28,127 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the UCSD profile
    More »
    UCSB, University of California Santa Barbara
    UCSB, University of California Santa Barbara. Carl Jantzen / Flickr

    UCSB has wide-ranging strengths in the sciences, social sciences, humanities, and engineering that have earned it membership in the selective Association of American Universities and a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. The attractive 1,000-acre campus is also a draw for many students, for the university's location earned it a place among the best colleges for beach lovers.   The UCSB Gauchos compete in the NCAA Division I Big West Conference.

    • Enrollment: 24,346 (21,574 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the UCSB profile
    More »
    lawn-uva.jpg
    The Lawn at the University of Virginia (click image to enlarge). Photo Credit: Allen Grove

    Established about 200 years ago by Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia has one of the most beautiful and historic campuses in the U.S. The school also consistently ranks among the top public universities, and with an endowment now over $5 billion it is the wealthiest of the state schools. UVA is part of the Atlantic Coast Conference and fields numerous Division I teams. Located in Charlottesville, Virginia, the university is near Jefferson's home at Monticello. The school has strengths in a wide range of academic areas from the humanities to engineering, and the McIntire School of Commerce made my list of top undergraduate business schools.

    • Enrollment: 23,898 (16,331 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the UVA profile
    More »
    Campbell Hall at Virginia Tech
    Campbell Hall at Virginia Tech. Photo Credit: Allen Grove

    Established in 1872 as a military institute, Virginia Tech still maintains a corps of cadets and is classified as a senior military college. Virginia Tech's engineering programs typically rank in the top 10 among public universities, and the university also gets high marks for its business and architecture programs. Strengths in the liberal arts and sciences earned the school a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, and many students are drawn to the campus's striking stone architecture. The Virginia Tech Hokies compete in the NCAA Division I Atlantic Coast Conference.

    • Enrollment: 33,170 (25,791 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the Virginia Tech profile
    More »
    The University of Washington
    The University of Washington. Joe Mabel / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    The University of Washington's attractive campus looks off to Portage and Union Bays in one direction and Mount Rainier in another. With over 40,000 students, Washington is the largest university on the West Coast. Washington earned membership in the Association of American Universities for its research strengths, and like most universities on this list, it was awarded a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa for strong liberal arts and sciences. Athletic teams compete in the NCAA Division I Pac 10 Conference.

    • Enrollment: 40,218 (28,570 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the Washington profile
    More »
    University of Wisconsin Madison
    University of Wisconsin Madison. Richard Hurd / Flickr

    The University of Wisconsin at Madison is the flagship campus of the Wisconsin university system. The waterfront main campus occupies over 900 acres between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona. Wisconsin has a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, and it is well respected for the research conducted in its nearly 100 research centers. The school also frequently finds itself high on lists of top party schools. In athletics, most of the Wisconsin Badger teams compete in the NCAA's Division 1-A as a member of the Big Ten Conference.

    • Enrollment: 42,482 (30,958 undergraduates)
    • For acceptance rates, test scores and other admissions data, see the Wisconsin profile
    More »
    Format
    mla apa chicago
    Your Citation
    Grove, Allen. "Top Public Universities in the United States." ThoughtCo, Feb. 2, 2018, thoughtco.com/top-public-universities-788337. Grove, Allen. (2018, February 2). Top Public Universities in the United States. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/top-public-universities-788337 Grove, Allen. "Top Public Universities in the United States." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/top-public-universities-788337 (accessed April 25, 2018).