Best public universities in the United States 2018

Find the best public universities in the US using Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education’s US College Rankings data

October 24 2017
best public universities in the united states

When many people think of the best universities in the US, they think of the "Ivy League" - a group of eight highly ranked private universities. 

However, while the resources available to the country's top private institutions can mean that they dominate the upper echelons of university and college rankings, that does not mean you should overlook the best public universities in the US. Most public universities in the US are state universities, operated by the state government, and are often grouped together into "systems". 

Every US state is required to have at least one public university, however some of the larger states may have many public universities. Such institutions will often offer discounted tuition for in-state students.

Based on data collected by The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education US College Rankings, we’ve put together a list of the top 100 public universities in the US. 

The best public universities can be found across the US, but there are clusters of high-ranking institutions in California and New York. Just over 20 of the best public universities are present in the top 100 of the overall US College Rankings.

The WSJ/THE US College ranking is a more student-centred ranking due to the emphasis on student outcomes and student engagement. The results of the THE US Student Survey of more than 200,000 students is incorporated into the results. The full methodology can be found here. 


Explore more top universities in the US

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Top 5 public universities in the US

1. University of California, Los Angeles

Located in the Westwood district of Los Angeles, the University of California, Los Angeles is part of the University of California system. 

The university offers more than 125 majors and 80 minors for undergraduates and nearly 150 graduate degree programmes. 

The most popular undergraduate majors are business, economics, biology, psychology, political science, economics and psychobiology. 

The university is also affiliated with 13 Nobel laureates, 12 MacArthur fellows, 113 National Collegiate Athletic Association titles, while 261 Olympic medals have been won by alumni or students. Additionally more than 140 companies have been created based on technology developed at UCLA. 

Notable alumni include NFL Super Bowl quarterback Troy Aikman, the first African American mayor of Los Angeles Tom Bradley, actor James Franco and Taylor Wang, the first Chinese-born astronaut. 

2. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

The University of Michigan was founded in 1817 with just seven students taught by two professors. By 1866, there were 1,205 students and the first women were admitted to the university in 1870. 

The university was also the first in the US to hold seminars as a method of study. 

The Michigan Daily is the student-run newspaper that was founded in 1890. It is published five days a week during the academic year.

Other student publications include The Michigan Review and the Michigan Independent. Students also run the humour publications, Gargoyle and The Every Three Weekly. There are also several academic journals published at the institution. 

3. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one of 17 campuses that are part of the University of North Carolina system.

It was chartered in 1789 and the university first started enrolling students in 1795, meaning that it is one of the oldest public universities in the US. 

The university offers 71 bachelor’s, 107 master’s and 74 doctoral degree programmes. 

Students are able to participate in more than 550 student organisations and the student-run newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, has won national awards for collegiate media. 

4. University of California, Berkeley

The University of California, Berkeley is one of 10 research universities affiliated with the University of California system. 

There are 94 Nobel laureates, 20 Academy Awards, 14 Pulitzer Prizes, 117 Olympic gold medals and 13 Fields Medals affiliated with alumni, faculty and researchers. 

The university is split into 14 colleges and schools covering chemistry, engineering, business, natural resources and optometry among others. 

5. Purdue University

Purdue University West Lafayette is the main campus of the Purdue University system. 

There are more than 200 undergraduate majors and 69 master’s and doctoral programmes available at the main campus. 

Students can choose from more than 900 student associations to get involved with and the university has the second-largest student body in Indiana. 

The university was named after businessman John Purdue, who donated both land and money to establish the university, with a focus on science, technology and agriculture. 


Top 100 public universities in the US

Click each institution to view its World University Rankings 2018 profile

Public university rank 2018 WSJ/THE US College rank 2018 University City State
1 25 University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles California
2 27 University of Michigan-Ann Arbor Ann Arbor Michigan
3 33 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill North Carolina
4 =40 University of California, Berkeley Berkeley California
5 43 Purdue University West Lafayette Indiana
6 46 University of California, Davis Davis California
7 47 University of California, San Diego La Jolla California
8 48 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Champaign Illinois
9 53 Georgia Institute of Technology Atlanta Georgia
=10 =56 University of Texas at Austin Austin Texas
=10 =56 University of Virginia Charlottesville Virginia
12 58 University of Florida Gainesville Florida
13 69 Ohio State University Columbus Ohio
14 =71 University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison Wisconsin
15 =75 University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh campus Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
16 80 Michigan State University East Lansing Michigan
17 82 University of Maryland, College Park College Park Maryland
18 =89 University of Washington-Seattle Seattle Washington
19 =93 Texas A&M University-College Station College Station Texas
20 99 University of California, Santa Barbara Santa Barbara California
21 100 William & Mary Williamsburg Virginia
22 =105 University of Connecticut Storrs Connecticut
23 =111 University of Illinois at Chicago Chicago Illinois
24 =117 University at Buffalo Buffalo New York
25 122 University of Minnesota Twin Cities Minneapolis Minneapolis
26 =123 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Blacksburg Virginia
27 =125 Pennsylvania State University University Park Pennsylvania
28 137 North Carolina State University at Raleigh Raleigh North Carolina
29 138 Indiana University Bloomington Bloomington Indiana
30 139 University of California, Irvine Irvine California
31 =141 Arizona State University Tempe Arizona
32 =145 University of Iowa Iowa City Iowa
=33 =147 Rutgers University-New Brunswick New Brunswick New Jersey
=33 =147 Stony Brook University Stony Brook New York
35 149 University of Delaware Newark Delware
=36 =155 University of Massachusetts Amherst Amherst Massachusetts
=36 =155 Michigan Technological University Houghton Michigan
38 =160 Temple University Philadelphia Pennsylvania
39 =174 University of Colorado Boulder Boulder Colorado
40 =179 University of Arizona Tucson Arizona
41 =184 Missouri University of Science and Technology Rolla Missouri
42 =188 Clemson University Clemson South Carolina
43 =191 Colorado School of Mines Golden Colorado
44 =194 Virginia Military Institute Lexington Virginia
45 =196 SUNY Binghamton University Vestal New York
46 =198 Rutgers University-Newark Newark New Jersey
47 =224 St Mary's College of Maryland St. Mary's City Maryland
=48 =228 California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo San Luis Obispo California
=48 =228 Washington State University Pullman Washington
49 =233 The College of New Jersey Ewing New Jersey
50 =241 University of Colorado Denver Denver Colorado
51 =247 University of Vermont Burlington Vermont
=52 =255 Florida State University Tallahassee Florida
=52 =255 University of Oklahoma Norman Oklahoma
54 =257 SUNY University at Albany Albany New York
55 261 University of Georgia Athens Georgia
56 =262 University of Kansas Lawrence Kansas
=57 =268 University of Alabama at Birmingham Birmingham Alabama
=57 =268 University of South Carolina-Columbia Columbia South Carolina
59 271 CUNY Bernard M. Baruch College New York New York
=60 =272 CUNY City College of New York New York New York
=60 =272 University of California, Riverside Riverside California
62 =274 George Mason University Fairfax Virginia
=63 =286 University of California, Santa Cruz Santa Cruz California
=63 =286 University of Oregon Eugene Oregon
65 =289 Rutgers University-Camden Camden New Jersey
66 =292 Iowa State University Ames Iowa
67 =301 Wayne State University Detroit Michigan
=68 =306 Auburn University Auburn Alabama
=68 =306 CUNY Hunter College New York New York
=68 =306 Oregon State University Corvallis Oregon
=71 =312 Miami University Oxford Ohio
=71 =312 The University of Tennessee-Knoxville Knoxville Tennessee
=71 =312 University of Utah Salt Lake City Utah
=71 =312 University of Washington-Tacoma Tacoma Washington
=75 =319 Colorado State University-Fort Collins Fort Collins Colorado
=75 =319 University of Hawai'i at Manoa Honolulu Hawaii
77 =322 Rowan University Glassboro New Jersey
=78 =328 University of Cincinnati-Uptown Cincinnati Ohio
=78 =328 University of Mississippi University Mississippi
=80 =330 University of Missouri-Columbia Columbia Missouri
=80 =330 University of Nevada, Reno Reno Nevada
=80 =338 CUNY Brooklyn College Brooklyn New York
=80 =338 Southern Illinois University Carbondale Carbondale Illinois
84 =348 University of Washington-Bothell Bothell Washington
85 =355 Kansas State University Manhattan Kansas
86 =357 University of Maryland, Baltimore County Baltimore Maryland
87 =360 University of Kentucky Lexington Kentucky
88 366 SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Syracuse New York
89 =367 CUNY Queens College Queens New York
=90 =371 New Jersey Institute of Technology Newark New Jersey
=90 =371 University of Wyoming Laramie Wyoming
=92 =377 California State University Maritime Academy Vallejo California
=92 =377 The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina Charleston South Carolina
=92 =377 San Diego State University San Diego California
=92 =377 West Virginia University Morgantown West Virginia
96 =390 University of Houston Houston Texas
97 =393 Illinois State University Normal Illinois
98 =401 University of Missouri-Kansas City Kansas City Missouri
=99 =406 University of Louisville Louisville Kentucky
=99 =406 University of Michigan-Dearborn Dearborn Michigan
=99 406 Virginia Commonwealth University Richmond Virginia

Read more: hoping to apply to a US university as a foreign student?

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