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Top 20 Public Universities in the U.S.

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Just like private universities and colleges, public universities offer their own unique experience. Our list of the 20 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. 


20 Best Public Universities


1. University of Michigan 


Location: Ann Arbor, MI

Acceptance Rate: 23%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1400-1500/32-35

Undergraduate Enrollment: 31,329


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).  


Learn more about the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor and see your chances of acceptance.


2. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Location: Chapel Hill, NC

Acceptance Rate: 23%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1350-1500/29-34

Undergraduate Enrollment: 19,395


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 Tarheels are a powerhouse in men’s Division I college basketball. 


Learn more about the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill and see your chances of acceptance. 


3. University of Virginia


Location: Charlottesville, VA

Acceptance Rate: 24%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: UVA is test-optional for the upcoming enrollment cycle

Undergraduate Enrollment: 18,066


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. 


Learn more about the University of Virginia (UVA) and see your chances of acceptance. 


4. University of California, Berkeley


Location: Berkeley, CA

Acceptance Rate: 16%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1330-1530/29-35

Undergraduate Enrollment: 31,780


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. 


Learn more about the University of California, Berkeley and see your chances for acceptance. 


5. University of California, Los Angeles


Location: Los Angeles, CA

Acceptance Rate: 12%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1360-1550/29-32

Undergraduate Enrollment: 31,636


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.


Learn more about UCLA and see your chances for acceptance. 


6. College of William & Mary


Location: Williamsburg, VA

Acceptance Rate: 38%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1300-1490/30-34

Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,256


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. 


Learn more about College of William and Mary and see your chances for acceptance. 


7. University of Florida


Location: Gainesville, FL

Acceptance Rate: 37%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1330-1470/30-34

Undergraduate Enrollment: 34,931 


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. 


Learn more about the University of Florida and see your chances for acceptance. 



8. Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech)


Location: Atlanta, GA

Acceptance Rate: 21%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1370-1530/31-35

Undergraduate Enrollment: 16,551


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. 


Learn more about Georgia Tech and your chances for acceptance. 


9. University of Texas at Austin


Location: Austin, TX

Acceptance Rate: 32%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1210-1470/26-33

Undergraduate Enrollment: 40,048


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. 


Learn more about the University of Texas at Austin and your chances for acceptance. 


10. University of Georgia


Location: Athens, GA

Acceptance Rate: 48%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1220-1400/27-32

Undergraduate Enrollment: 26,765


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. 


Learn more about the University of Georgia and your chances for acceptance. 


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11.  University of Washington


Location: Seattle, WA

Acceptance Rate: 52%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1200-1457/27-33

Undergraduate Enrollment:  32,244


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. 


Learn more about the University of Washington and see your chances for acceptance. 


12. North Carolina State University


Location:  Raleigh, NC

Acceptance Rate: 45%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1230-1410/27-32

Undergraduate Enrollment: 26,150


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. 


Learn more about North Carolina State University and see your chances for acceptance. 


13. University of Wisconsin – Madison 


Location: Madison, WI

Acceptance Rate: 54%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1260-1460/27-32

Undergraduate Enrollment: 31,650


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.


Learn more about the University of Wisconsin – Madison and see your chances for acceptance. 



14. University of California, San Diego


Location: La Jolla, CA

Acceptance Rate: 31%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1260-1480/26-33

Undergraduate Enrollment: 31,842


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. 


Learn more about the University of California, San Diego and see your chances of acceptance. 


15. University of Maryland-College Park


Location: College Park, MD

Acceptance Rate: 44% 

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1270-1480/29-34

Undergraduate Enrollment: 30,875


The University of Maryland at College Park is less than ten miles from Washington, D.C. and 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. 


Learn more about the University of Maryland at College Park and see your chances for acceptance. 


16. University of California, Irvine 


Location: Irvine, CA 

Acceptance Rate: 27% 

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1215-1450/24-31

Undergraduate Enrollment: 29,638


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. 


Learn more about University of California, Irvine and see your chances for acceptance. 


17. Florida State University


Location: Tallahassee, FL

Acceptance Rate: 27% 

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1220-1350/27-31

Undergraduate Enrollment: 32,543


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.


Learn more about Florida State University and see your chances for acceptance.


18. Ohio State University


Location: Columbus, OH

Acceptance Rate:  68%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1210-1430/26-32

Undergraduate Enrollment:  46,984


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. 


Learn more about Ohio State University and see your chances of acceptance. 


19. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities


Location: Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN

Acceptance Rate:  70%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1260-1430/26-31

Undergraduate Enrollment:  26,697


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.


Learn more about the University of Minnesota and see your chances of acceptance


20. Purdue University


Location:  West Lafayette, IN

Acceptance Rate:  58%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1190-1430 SAT; 25-33 ACT

Undergraduate Enrollment:  37,101


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.


Learn more about Purdue University and see your chances of acceptance. 


What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?


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Short Bio
An alum of the University of Iowa, Laura majored in political science with a related field of psychology. She's worked in the non-profit sector throughout her career. She writes from her home in Iowa surrounded by cornfields and prairies.