When many people think of the best universities in the US, they call to mind 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 fees for students who are residents of the state.
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. While previously we have used results from the US Student Survey for the ranking, we were unable to conduct a survey in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, we have used data from the 2019 survey to inform this year’s ranking. The full methodology can be found here.
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Top 5 public universities in the US
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 the humour publications Gargoyle and The Every Three Weekly. Several academic journals are also published at the institution.
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, as well as almost 150 graduate degree programmes.
The most popular undergraduate majors are business, economics, biology, psychology, political science and economics.
The university is 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.
3. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
It was chartered in 1789 and the university 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.
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.
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 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 2021||US College Rank 2021||University||City||State|
|1||23||University of Michigan-Ann Arbor||Ann Arbor||Michigan|
|2||26||University of California, Los Angeles||Los Angeles||California|
|3||33||University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||Chapel Hill||North Carolina|
|4||34||University of California, Berkeley||Berkeley||California|
|5||38||University of California, Davis||Davis||California|
|6||39||University of California, San Diego||La Jolla||California|
|7||=43||University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign||Champaign||Illinois|
|8||45||University of Washington-Seattle||Seattle||Washington|
|9||47||Purdue University West Lafayette||West Lafayette||Indiana|
|10||51||University of Virginia (Main campus)||Charlottesville||Virginia|
|11||=56||University of Florida||Gainesville||Florida|
|12||61||University of Texas at Austin||Austin||Texas|
|13||65||University of Wisconsin-Madison||Madison||Wisconsin|
|14||=71||Georgia Institute of Technology||Atlanta||Georgia|
|15||73||William & Mary||Williamsburg||Virginia|
|16||=74||University of California, Santa Barbara||Santa Barbara||California|
|17||=77||University of Maryland, College Park||College Park||Maryland|
|18||=80||University of California, Irvine||Irvine||California|
|19||82||Michigan State University||East Lansing||Michigan|
|=20||=83||Texas A&M University-College Station||College Station||Texas|
|=20||=83||United States Naval Academy||Annapolis||Maryland|
|22||=89||University of Illinois at Chicago||Chicago||Illinois|
|23||91||University of Minnesota Twin Cities||Minneapolis||Minnesota|
|24||97||University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh campus||Pittsburgh||Pennsylvania|
|25||=100||Ohio State University (Main campus)||Columbus||Ohio|
|=26||=104||University of Connecticut||Storrs||Connecticut|
|=26||=104||Indiana University Bloomington||Bloomington||Indiana|
|=28||=109||Penn State (Main campus)||University Park||Pennsylvania|
|=28||=109||Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University||Blacksburg||Virginia|
|30||112||North Carolina State University||Raleigh||North Carolina|
|31||=121||University at Buffalo||Buffalo||New York|
|32||=124||Stony Brook University||Stony Brook||New York|
|33||=133||University of Utah||Salt Lake City||Utah|
|34||=135||University of Arizona||Tucson||Arizona|
|35||=147||Rutgers University-New Brunswick||New Brunswick||New Jersey|
|36||=149||University of Georgia||Athens||Georgia|
|=37||=151||University of Delaware||Newark||Delaware|
|=37||=151||University of Massachusetts Amherst||Amherst||Massachusetts|
|=37||=151||Virginia Military Institute||Lexington||Virginia|
|40||=158||Binghamton University, State University of New York||Vestal||New York|
|41||=162||University of Iowa||Iowa City||Iowa|
|42||173||University of Colorado Boulder||Boulder||Colorado|
|44||=178||George Mason University||Fairfax||Virginia|
|45||=183||Colorado School of Mines||Golden||Colorado|
|46||=187||Florida State University||Tallahassee||Florida|
|47||=189||Clemson University||Clemson||South Carolina|
|48||192||University of California, Riverside||Riverside||California|
|=49||=193||New Jersey Institute of Technology||Newark||New Jersey|
|=49||=193||State University of New York Albany||Albany||New York|
|51||=196||Arizona State University (Tempe)||Tempe||Arizona|
|52||=198||University of Colorado Denver||Denver||Colorado|
|53||=201||California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo||San Luis Obispo||California|
|=54||=203||Michigan Technological University||Houghton||Michigan|
|=54||=203||Washington State University||Pullman||Washington|
|56||=215||Missouri University of Science and Technology||Rolla||Missouri|
|57||224||Southern Illinois University Carbondale||Carbondale||Illinois|
|58||=225||University of Oregon||Eugene||Oregon|
|=59||=229||CUNY City College of New York||New York||New York|
|61||=235||Rutgers University-Newark||Newark||New Jersey|
|62||239||University of Kansas||Lawrence||Kansas|
|63||242||University of Oklahoma||Norman||Oklahoma|
|=64||=243||University of Hawai’i at Mānoa||Honolulu||Hawai'i|
|66||=248||CUNY Bernard M. Baruch College||New York||New York|
|67||=252||University of Wyoming||Laramie||Wyoming|
|68||=255||University of California, Santa Cruz||Santa Cruz||California|
|69||=262||The College of New Jersey||Ewing||New Jersey|
|=70||=264||Iowa State University||Ames||Iowa|
|=70||=264||Louisiana State University||Baton Rouge||Louisiana|
|=70||=264||Rutgers University-Camden||Camden||New Jersey|
|73||=270||University of Maryland, Baltimore County||Baltimore||Maryland|
|74||275||San Diego State University||San Diego||California|
|=75||=276||CUNY Hunter College||New York||New York|
|=75||=276||University of South Florida (Tampa)||Tampa||Florida|
|77||280||San Jose State University||San Jose||California|
|78||=281||James Madison University||Harrisonburg||Virginia|
|79||283||University of Minnesota Morris||Morris||Minnesota|
|80||284||University of Alabama at Birmingham||Birmingham||Alabama|
|=81||=289||University of South Carolina-Columbia||Columbia||South Carolina|
|=81||=289||Wayne State University||Detroit||Michigan|
|=83||=291||University of Cincinnati-Uptown||Cincinnati||Ohio|
|=83||=291||The University of Tennessee-Knoxville||Knoxville||Tennessee|
|=85||=298||University of Mississippi||University||Mississippi|
|=85||=298||SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry||Syracuse||New York|
|=85||=298||University of Vermont||Burlington||Vermont|
|88||=303||Mizzou - University of Missouri||Columbia||Missouri|
|89||=310||University of Washington-Bothell||Bothell||Washington|
|90||=313||California State University, Long Beach||Long Beach||California|
|91||=315||University of Kentucky||Lexington||Kentucky|
|92||=318||Oregon State University||Corvallis||Oregon|
|=93||=323||University of Central Florida||Orlando||Florida|
|=93||=323||University of Missouri-Kansas City||Kansas City||Missouri|
|=93||=323||Oklahoma State University||Stillwater||Oklahoma|
|96||327||CUNY Queens College||Queens||New York|
|=97||=330||Illinois State University||Normal||Illinois|
|=97||=330||University of Nevada, Las Vegas||Las Vegas||Nevada|
|=99||=336||California State University, Chico||Chico||California|
|=99||=336||University of Nebraska-Lincoln||Lincoln||Nebraska|
Read more: Best private universities in the US