Best public universities in the United States 2020

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

September 25 2019
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, the best public universities in the US should not be overlooked. Most public universities in the US are state universities, operated by the state government, and are often grouped into “systems”. 

Every US state is required to have at least one public university, although 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. Some 25 of the best public universities are present in the top 100 of the overall US College Rankings.

The WSJ/THE US College Rankings is a more student-centred ranking because of its emphasis on student outcomes and engagement. The results of the THE US Student Survey of more than 170,000 students are incorporated into the results. The full methodology can be found here


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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 and economics. 

The university is also affiliated with 13 Nobel laureates, 12 MacArthur fellows and 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-Ann Arbor 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. 

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

Other student publications include The Michigan Review and the Michigan Independent. Students also run humour publications Gargoyle and The Every Three Weekly. Several academic journals are also 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. 

Alumni, faculty and researchers include 94 Nobel laureates, 20 Academy Award winners, 14 Pulitzer winners, 117 Olympic gold medallists and 13 Fields Medal winners.

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

5. University of California, Davis

The University of California, Davis is the third campus of the University of California system to feature in the top five of the US College Ranking. 

It was founded primarily as an agricultural campus but has since expanded over the past century to cover medicine, law, education, nursing, veterinary medicine and business management.

The university is well known for its commitment to sustainability, with 29 per cent of the food bought for the dining rooms being sustainably grown. An on-campus biodigester, which was invented at the university, has the daily capacity to turn 50 tons of waste into energy for the campus.


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Top 100 public universities in the US

Public university rank 2020 US College Ranking 2020 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 34 University of California, Berkeley Berkeley California
5 36 University of California, Davis Davis California
6 37 University of California, San Diego La Jolla California
7 42 University of Washington-Seattle Seattle Washington
8 46 Purdue University West Lafayette West Lafayette Indiana
9 47 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Champaign Illinois
10 50 University of Virginia (Main campus) Charlottesville Virginia
11 =61 University of Texas at Austin Austin Texas
12 =63 University of Florida Gainesville Florida
13 67 University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison Wisconsin
14 =68 Georgia Institute of Technology Atlanta Georgia
15 71 University of California, Santa Barbara Santa Barbara California
16 73 University of California, Irvine Irvine California
17 =75 University of Maryland, College Park College Park Maryland
18 78 Texas A&M University-College Station College Station Texas
19 79 William & Mary Williamsburg Virginia
20 80 United States Naval Academy Annapolis Maryland
=21 =81 University of Illinois at Chicago Chicago Illinois
=21 =81 Michigan State University East Lansing Michigan
23 86 Ohio State University (Main campus) Columbus Ohio
24 95 University of Minnesota Twin Cities Minneapolis Minnesota
25 =96 University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh campus Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
26 104 North Carolina State University Raleigh North Carolina
=27 =105 University of Connecticut Storrs Connecticut
=27 =105 Penn State (Main campus) University Park Pennsylvania
=27 =105 Stony Brook University Stony Brook New York
=27 =105 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Blacksburg Virginia
31 110 University at Buffalo Buffalo New York
32 =123 Indiana University Bloomington Bloomington Indiana
33 126 University of Utah Salt Lake City Utah
34 130 Rutgers University-New Brunswick New Brunswick New Jersey
35 136 University of Arizona Tucson Arizona
36 147 University of Georgia Athens Georgia
37 =148 University of Delaware Newark Delaware
38 =150 University of Iowa Iowa City Iowa
39 =153 Binghamton University, State University of New York Vestal New York
40 =158 University of Colorado Boulder Boulder Colorado
41 =160 University of Massachusetts Amherst Amherst Massachusetts
42 169 Colorado School of Mines Golden Colorado
=43 =176 Virginia Military Institute Lexington Virginia
=43 =176 Washington State University Pullman Washington
45 183 University of Colorado Denver Denver Colorado
46 184 George Mason University Fairfax Virginia
47 =185 Temple University Philadelphia Pennsylvania
48 188 Clemson University Clemson South Carolina
49 =189 University of California, Riverside Riverside California
50 =193 California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo San Luis Obispo California
51 196 State University of New York Albany Albany New York
=52 =199 Michigan Technological University Houghton Michigan
=52 =199 Missouri University of Science and Technology Rolla Missouri
=54 =205 CUNY City College of New York New York New York
=54 =205 University of Oklahoma Norman Oklahoma
=56 =208 CUNY Hunter College New York New York
=56 =208 Florida State University Tallahassee Florida
58 219 Miami University Oxford Ohio
59 =224 Arizona State University! (Tempe) Tempe Arizona
60 =232 CUNY Bernard M. Baruch College New York New York
61 238 University of Kansas Lawrence Kansas
=62 =239 University of Oregon Eugene Oregon
=62 =239 Southern Illinois University Carbondale Carbondale Illinois
=64 =245 New Jersey Institute of Technology Newark New Jersey
=64 =245 University of Wyoming Laramie Wyoming
66 =249 Auburn University Auburn Alabama
=67 =251 University of California, Santa Cruz Santa Cruz California
=67 =251 Rutgers University-Newark Newark New Jersey
69 =256 University of Alabama at Birmingham Birmingham Alabama
70 260 University of Hawai’i at Mānoa Honolulu Hawai’i
71 =266 The College of New Jersey Ewing New Jersey
=72 =270 San Diego State University San Diego California
=72 =270 The University of Tennessee-Knoxville Knoxville Tennessee
=74 =276 University of Nevada, Reno Reno Nevada
=74 =276 Rutgers University-Camden Camden New Jersey
=74 =276 University of South Florida (Tampa) Tampa Florida
=74 =279 James Madison University Harrisonburg Virginia
=78 =283 University of Maryland, Baltimore County Baltimore Maryland
=78 =283 University of Vermont Burlington Vermont
=80 =287 Iowa State University Ames Iowa
=80 =287 San Jose State University San Jose California
=82 =292 CUNY Queens College Queens New York
=82 =292 Oregon State University Corvallis Oregon
84 =295 Louisiana State University Baton Rouge Louisiana
=85 =297 Illinois State University Normal Illinois
=85 =297 University of Washington-Bothell  Bothell Washington
87 =299 SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Syracuse New York
88 =299 Wayne State University Detroit Michigan
=89 =311 University of Central Florida Orlando Florida
=89 =311 University of Mississippi University Mississippi
=89 =311 Rowan University Glassboro New Jersey
=89 =311 University of Texas at Dallas Richardson Texas
93 =319 California State University, Long Beach Long Beach California
=94 =323 CUNY Brooklyn College Brooklyn New York
=94 =323 University of Kentucky Lexington Kentucky
=94 =323 University of Toledo Toledo Ohio
=97 =328 University of Cincinnati-Uptown Cincinnati Ohio
98 =332 University of Missouri-Kansas City Kansas City Missouri
=99 =337 University of Minnesota Morris Morris Minnesota
=99 =337 SUNY New Paltz New Paltz New York

Read more: Best private universities in the US

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