Top 30 Public Universities in the U.S.
- Should You Apply to a Public University?
- 30 Best Public Universities
- What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?
Just like private universities and colleges, public universities offer their own unique experience. Our list of the 30 best public universities includes a few of the largest undergraduate schools in the country.
Should You Apply to a Public University?
A large school experience may be just what you are looking for. While it generally means larger class sizes, it also means a wider variety of courses, extracurricular activities, and a diversity of people and perspectives. Public universities have large alumni networks for internship opportunities and connections for jobs after graduation. These institutions have graduated astronauts, Academy Award winners, extraordinary entrepreneurs and business leaders.
By their nature, public universities are research institutions and many have teaching hospitals. They are on the cutting edge of extraordinary discoveries. If you are interested in research, look at the opportunities offered for undergraduates. Most of these opportunities are for graduate students, however, some of the schools on our list are promoting out-of-class, hands-on research for undergraduates. If research is really important to you, take a look at private undergraduate colleges. It’s not uncommon for students to be authors on articles or papers at smaller private colleges. This can open many doors for graduate school.
Large public universities are known for their athletic programs. For these schools, sports play a large role in student life as an athlete or spectator. Division I athletic teams in basketball and football are often the most well-known for their success, history, and game day traditions. There’s something special about being a part of a university in this way.
As far as cost is concerned, public universities are most competitive if you apply to schools in your state. After all, they are largely supported by your state government and being a resident has its privileges. This means that public universities will charge much higher tuition costs to students who do not live in their state. Most of the schools on this list receive thousands more applications than they can admit and getting accepted is often more competitive.
Private colleges and universities may also have special scholarships for students in-state, but residency does not play the same role as it does for public universities. Private schools can lower that sticker price dramatically due to generous financial aid packages that can make the cost to attend lower than a public university.
Because both public and private universities have their pros and cons, you’ll want to consider fit when deciding which colleges to apply to—that is how a school aligns with your needs overall – academically, socially, and financially.
30 Best Public Universities
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Acceptance Rate: 20%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1340-1520/30-34
Undergraduate Enrollment: 32,695
The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor is one of the nation’s finest public universities by any measure. From academics to student life, athletics to world-class research, their alumni go onto some of the best companies and graduate schools in the nation—no wonder they keep singing Hail to the Victors. The Wolverines have a rich athletic tradition and are consistently among the top sports teams in the country as members of the Big Ten (B1G).
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
Acceptance Rate: 20%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1140-1380/22-33
Undergraduate Enrollment: 19,743
Chartered in 1789, the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill has the distinction of being the first public university in the United States and remains an outstanding institution of higher education. From the beautiful campus to the town of Chapel Hill, UNC – Chapel Hill offers students an extraordinary educational experience. The UNC Tar Heels are a powerhouse in men’s Division I college basketball.
Location: Charlottesville, VA
Acceptance Rate: 21%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1380-1500/32-25
Undergraduate Enrollment: 17,299
The University of Virginia was founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 and this rich history is evident today. It is often ranked as the most beautiful campus in the U.S. as well as one of the nation’s major public research universities. From the arts to advances in medicine, UVA lives up to its reputation of excellence.
Location: Berkeley, CA
Acceptance Rate: 14%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1310-1530/31-35
Undergraduate Enrollment: 31,800
The University of California at Berkeley is arguably one of the finest public universities in the world. Its faculty have won 25 Nobel Prizes in fields ranging from physics to literature. It is well-known for its rigorous academic standards, diversity, and accessibility for students from wide-ranging backgrounds.
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Acceptance Rate: 11%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1290-1520/30-34
Undergraduate Enrollment: 32,100
Located near the California coast and in one of the world’s most recognizable cities, it’s no wonder that UCLA receives more applications than any other college in the country. UCLA is part of the UC System, a collection of ten campuses offering undergraduate and graduate classes across the state of California with more than 280,000 students enrolled, employing more than 227,000 faculty and staff, and with two million alumni living and working around the world.
Location: Williamsburg, VA
Acceptance Rate: 37%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1360-1520/31-34
Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,500
Founded by King William III and Queen Mary II of England in 1693, William & Mary is the second-oldest college in the U.S. and the first (and only) American institution of higher education to receive a coat of arms from the College of Heralds. William & Mary is one of the 15 colleges known as a “public Ivy,” and a leading research university offering more than 40 graduate and professional programs.
Location: Gainesville, FL
Acceptance Rate: 30%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1300-1470/29-33
Undergraduate Enrollment: 34,800
A top-rated public research university with a total enrollment of more than 50,000 students, University of Florida offers a rigorous academic program with a strong athletic tradition. Engineering, business, law, and medicine are among the most popular Gator majors. Florida has an impressive student athletics program with more than 40 national championships in men’s and women’s sports.
Location: Atlanta, GA
Acceptance Rate: 16%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1310-1500/30-34
Undergraduate Enrollment: 17.400
While Georgia Tech offers a wide variety of majors—from analytics to urban design—the school is best known for its engineering program. Students graduate in five-years earning their bachelor’s and master’s degree in their field of specialty. Located in the heart of Atlanta, Georgia Tech is an integral part of the city, actively involved in research and consulting.
Location: Austin, TX
Acceptance Rate: 29%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1230-1500/27-33
Undergraduate Enrollment: 40,900
The saying goes “everything is big in Texas,” and that’s true at UT Austin—it has the tenth-largest undergraduate enrollment in the U.S.; it’s home to the seventh-largest library in the country (it holds almost 10 million volumes); and its eight-foot, 44-inch wide, 500-pound, near-century-old Big Bertha drum (dubbed “the world’s largest drum”) features prominently at home football games.
Location: Athens, GA
Acceptance Rate: 40%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1270-1450/29-33
Undergraduate Enrollment: 30,100
Founded in 1785, the University of Georgia is one of the oldest public schools in the nation and the country’s first state-chartered university. Athens is considered one of the best university towns in the U.S. UGA is a “public ivy” – a public university with academics on par with private universities. The Bulldogs compete in the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and are well-known for excellent baseball, basketball, football, track and field teams.
Location: Seattle, WA
Acceptance Rate: 53%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1200-1450/27-32
Undergraduate Enrollment: 36,200
One of the oldest public universities on the west coast, the University of Washington is a top research university. With Seattle/Redmond as the headquarters of Microsoft, it’s no surprise that computer science is one of the most popular undergraduate majors. Men’s soccer, women’s volleyball, and football teams have long histories of post-season honors.
Location: Raleigh, NC
Acceptance Rate: 47%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1270-1440/27-32
Undergraduate Enrollment: 26,500
NC State, along with University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University, make up the Research Triangle of North Carolina. STEM majors are strong at NC State, but so are the humanities, arts, and social sciences. More than 100 majors and 120 minor programs are on offer for undergrads in Raleigh and courses at the NC State European Center in Prague, Czech Republic.
Location: Madison, WI
Acceptance Rate: 60%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1260-1460/27-32
Undergraduate Enrollment: 34,500
Located in one of America’s great university towns, the University of Wisconsin at Madison has it all, from rigorous academics and world-class research to athletics, student life, and tradition. UW-Madison has produced 20 Nobel Prize winners, 41 Pulitzer Prizes, and 10 Academy Award winners. The Badgers also excel at athletics and are well-known for track and field, cross-country, volleyball, basketball, and football. Students have made “Jump Around” a fourth-quarter tradition at Camp Randall Stadium.
Location: La Jolla, CA
Acceptance Rate: 34%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1270-1480/27-33
Undergraduate Enrollment: 33,300
UCSD is one of the best STEM universities in the U.S., with extraordinary research facilities. It’s home to the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, the largest geological and marine science institute in the world. Beyond campus, the city of San Diego is known for its perfect weather, recreation opportunities, the arts, culture, and nightlife.
Location: College Park, MD
Acceptance Rate: 52%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1330-1510/30-34
Undergraduate Enrollment: 30,900
The University of Maryland at College Park is less than ten miles from Washington, D.C. and has access to all that the city has to offer. First-year students have the opportunity to participate in FIRE – a first-year mentored research experience in more than 15 different fields. While UMD is a research-intensive school, the performing arts and architecture programs are outstanding as well.
Location: Irvine, CA
Acceptance Rate: 29%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1230-1430/25-33
Undergraduate Enrollment: 29,400
The University of California—Irvine (UCI) offers 222 degree programs in a wide variety of disciplines. UCI is home to the Claire Trevor School of the Arts that focuses on art, dance, drama, and music and the innovative Beall Center for Art + Technology. UCI offered the first earth sciences program in the country, and the campus is famous for sustainable, eco-friendly living. Its southern California location in Orange County is close to some of the most well-known beaches in the world.
Location: Tallahassee, FL
Acceptance Rate: 37%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1180-1340/26-30
Undergraduate Enrollment: 33,500
Florida State University boasts a strong international education program with centers located in Italy, England, Spain, and Panama. More than one-quarter of undergraduate students are heavily involved in research opportunities outside the classroom as research assistants. FSU is well-known for their football and baseball programs as well as its beautiful campus with perfect weather year-round.
Location: Columbus, OH
Acceptance Rate: 57%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1250-1440/26-32
Undergraduate Enrollment: 47,100
Ohio State University is one of the largest universities in the country with more than 61,000 students in total. With more than 200 majors on offer, undecided first-year students are encouraged to enroll in University Exploration – a program that matches undecided students with a major. Athletics are a big part of student life and university traditions as a Big Ten (B1G) Division I institution.
Location: Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
Acceptance Rate: 73%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1310-1490/27-32
Undergraduate Enrollment: 36,200
The University of Minnesota takes advantage of all that its urban location has to offer. Agriculture, developmental psychology, business and management are just a few of the outstanding academic programs. With more than 4,000 students learning abroad in 60 countries every year, UNM has one of the largest global study programs in the U.S. As a member of the Big Ten (B1G), sports are a big part of campus life throughout the year.
Location: West Lafayette, IN
Acceptance Rate: 69%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1190-1430 SAT; 26-33 ACT
Undergraduate Enrollment: 37,800
While Purdue has one of the premier colleges of engineering in the country, it also boasts excellent programs in ag sciences and veterinary sciences. Interested in aeronautics? Purdue is famous for educating future astronauts. A dominant member of the Big Ten (B1G), the Purdue Boilermakers consistently rank high in basketball, football, and wrestling.
Location: Clemson, SC
Acceptance Rate: 49%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1220-1420/27-32
Undergraduate Enrollment: 21,600
As a large-scale public university, Clemson offers many unique opportunities for students across just about any major or area of interest. With a dedicated campus to automotive engineering, CU-ICAR, an Institute for packaging design and graphics, the massive Creative Inquiry program that guides most of the hands-on research on campus, and an “Experimental Forest” that spans over 17,500 acres for students to engage in ecological and environmental studies, Clemson is devoted to programs that push the boundaries of higher education. Couple that with unparalleled school pride and top-notch D1 academics, and it’s easy to understand why Clemson remains a top public university.
Location: Davis, CA
Acceptance Rate: 49%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1160-1400/24-32
Undergraduate Enrollment: 31,600
Located in inland California, UC Davis may not be at the doorstep of the ocean like some other California schools, but it offers students some of the most unique attributes of a college experience. The campus, known for its beauty and scenery, is an outdoor paradise and is known as one of the most bikeable campuses in the US.
Similarly, UC Davis’ philosophy echoes the campus’ connection with the environment. Known as the “One Health” approach, UC Davis recognizes the interconnectedness of human, animal, and environmental health, which then informs the areas of studies most emphasized. The school is world-renowned for its programs in fields such as Agricultural Sciences, Veterinary Medicine, and even Wine and Viticulture, which may come in handy for those looking to remain in California.
Location: San Luis Obispo, CA
Acceptance Rate: 33%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1220-1410/26-32
Undergraduate Enrollment: 21,100
Cal Poly is classified as a polytechnic university, meaning it offers an education that centers on combining theoretical knowledge with practical skills, and offers far more project-based curricula as a result. This “learn by doing” approach carries over to the Business school, the College of Engineering, and many attributes showcased on campus, such as the Poly Canyon Village, a sustainable housing community that features student-built structures. Also worth mentioning is the picturesque city of San Luis Obispo, which provides students with easy access to outdoor activities, hiking trails, beaches, and a vibrant local community.
Location: Champaign, IL
Acceptance Rate: 60%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1320-1510/29-34
Undergraduate Enrollment: 34,700
The University of Illinois is one of the best public colleges in the Midwest. Featuring groundbreaking renowned programs in engineering, computer science, agriculture, and more. The school’s Supercomputing program is responsible for creating one of the world’s earliest web browsers, so it’s no wonder students in these programs will often participate in Hackathons and Coding events.
Students outside of these fields are certainly not overshadowed, however. As one of the biggest schools in the Midwest, programs across all majors will give students a comprehensive and exciting education. From cultural events to film festivals to a strong performing arts program, the University of Illinois has something for every student.
Location: University Park, PA
Acceptance Rate: 54%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1150-1340/25-30
Undergraduate Enrollment: 40,300
It’s hard not to mention Penn State without mentioning the school’s unfathomable and unmatched school spirit and pride, not just for the school’s top-notch sports teams, but for being a student at Penn State. With many strong programs across popular fields and even unique offerings such as those within the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, Penn State is a great place to get an education, but also a great place to live as a student.
Events such as “Thon”, where students participate in fundraising efforts culminating in a 46-hour dance marathon in the largest student-run philanthropy event in the world, and the infamous “White Out” football games, cement Penn State as one of the most unique college experiences a student can receive. The school is known for its friendly and inclusive atmosphere, made easy with over 1,000 student organizations possible to join.
Location: Storrs, CT
Acceptance Rate: 56%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1230-1430/27-33
Undergraduate Enrollment: 18,500
There’s not a program at UConn you won’t be able to find. From Design, to Agriculture, to Marine Sciences, to a program in Puppetry, UConn is devoted to enhancing the student experience at every corner. Home to the most renowned women’s basketball team in history, school pride runs deep, down to Jonathan the Husky, the school’s adorable live mascot.
Campus is chock full of amazing surprises for students as well, including a Dairy Bar with ice cream made from milk produced by the university’s own cows. Combine that with the natural New England beauty of Storrs and the woods around it, and students who attend UConn are in for an unforgettable college experience.
Location: College Station, TX
Acceptance Rate: 64%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1140-1380/25-31
Undergraduate Enrollment: 56,700
By a wide margin, Texas A&M University is the largest school on this list, and as such, offers some of the widest number of opportunities for students, as well as a massive alumni network. Engineering, agricultural sciences, and veterinary medicine make up some of the school’s top offerings, as well as a Corps of Cadets program, which centralizes a military-based education for students and is one of the only universities in the country to offer such a program.
Football is undoubtedly a massive part of the school’s culture, with “Yell Leaders” championing the school’s fan sections at each and every game. Students at Texas A&M are dedicated to their school and their studies, and it’s hard to find an experience like it anywhere else.
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Acceptance Rate: 67%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1250-1470/28-33
Undergraduate Enrollment: 23,800
Located right in the city of Pittsburgh, Pitt students have access to the resources of the school and the city, both in educational and pre-professional settings. The school is known for its medical and health sciences programs, with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center being of the largest integrated healthcare systems in the United States. Beyond that, Pitt is home to other unique offerings like the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, Transplantation Research programs, and aging research.
Location: New Brunswick, NJ
Acceptance Rate: 68%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1240-1470/27-33
Undergraduate Enrollment: 36,100
As one of the oldest universities in the United States and the flagship university in New Jersey, Rutgers is recognized for its global reach and research programs, all while having several programs and centers for students to expand their worldviews and perspectives.
Among these is the Douglass Residential College and institute for Women’s Leadership centered on and for women and women’s empowerment, the on-campus Zimmerli Art Museum, and the Rutgers Gardens, a beautiful botanical garden located on campus. Unique programs include those at the Rutgers Energy Institute, the Center for Vector Biology, and the Global Health Institute.
30. Virginia Tech
Location: Blacksburg, VA
Acceptance Rate: 56%
Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1210-1410/26-32
Undergraduate Enrollment: 29,700
Nestled in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia Tech has some of the most unique programs for students interested in technology and sciences. Programs like FutureHAUS, a pioneering project that explores sustainable and innovative housing solutions, the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology, which combines disciplines to encourage creative innovation and expression, and a Livability Lab, which gears students to address enhancing communities through research, design, and planning.
Top that with the school spirit brought from Virginia Tech’s athletics, and being a Hokie is a fulfilling and challenging experience you won’t get anywhere else.
What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?
Wondering if you have what it takes to get into one of the best public universities in the U.S.? We can help! To better understand your chances at these schools, we recommend using our free admissions calculator. Using your grades, test scores, and extracurriculars, we’ll estimate your odds of acceptance, and give you tips on improving your profile.
You can also search for best-fit schools based on your chances, and on other factors like size, location, majors and more. This tool will make it a lot easier to create a strategy for your college application process.