Best public universities in the United States 2019

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

September 20 2018
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. 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 because of its emphasis on student outcomes and student engagement. The results of the THE US Student Survey of more than 200,000 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, economics and psychobiology. 

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 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 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. 

4. 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. 

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 and an on-campus biodigester, which was invented at the university, with 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 2019 WSJ/THE US College Rank 2019 University City State
1 25 University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles California
2 28 University of Michigan Ann Arbor Michigan
3 =33 University of California, Berkeley Berkeley California
4 =37 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill North Carolina
5 =41 University of California, Davis Davis California
6 43 Purdue University West Lafayette Indiana
7 45 University of California, San Diego La Jolla California
8 =48 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Champaign Illinois
9 =51 University of Virginia Charlottesville Virginia
10 58 United States Military Academy West  Point New York
=11 =60 Georgia Institute of Technology Atlanta Georgia
=11 =60 University of Washington Seattle Washington
13 =62 University of Texas at Austin Austin Texas
14 66 University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison Wisconsin
15 73 University of Florida Gainesville Florida
16 80 University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
17 81 University of Maryland, College Park College Park Maryland
18 =83 University of California, Santa Barbara Santa Barbara California
19 =87 William & Mary Williamsburg Virginia
20 =89 Michigan State University East Lansing Michigan
=21 =94 Ohio State University Columbus Ohio
=21 =94 Texas A&M University College Station Texas
23 97 University of Connecticut Storrs Connecticut
24 99 University of California, Irvine Irvine California
25 =104 Pennsylvania State University University Park Pennsylvania
26 =106 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Blacksburg Virginia
27 =114 University of Minnesota Twin Cities Minneapolis Minnesota
28 =120 University at Buffalo Buffalo New York
29 =132 University of Illinois at Chicago Chicago Illinois
=30 =135 North Carolina State University Raleigh North Carolina
=30 =135 Stony Brook University Stony Brook New York
=32 =145 University of Delaware Newark Delware
=32 =145 Indiana University (Bloomington) Bloomington Indiana
34 155 University of Iowa Iowa City Iowa
35 158 Michigan Technological University Houghton Michigan
36 =162 Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey New Brunswick New Jersey
37 164 University of Massachusetts Amherst Amherst Massachusetts
=38 =168 Temple University Philadelphia Pennsylvania
=38 =168 Virginia Military Institute Lexington Virginia
40 =174 Binghamton University, State University of New York Vestal New York
41 =178 Colorado School of Mines Golden Colorado
42 =189 University of Utah Salt Lake City Utah
43 206 University of Oklahoma Norman Oklahoma
=44 =212 California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo San Luis Obispo California
=44 =212 University of California, Riverside Riverside California
=46 =217 University of Arizona Tucson Arizona
=46 =217 Clemson University Clemson South Carolina
48 =223 Washington State University Pullman Washington
49 =226 Arizona State University Tempe Arizona
50 228 University of Colorado Boulder Boulder Colorado
=51 =231 George Mason University Fairfax Virginia
=51 =231 Rutgers University-Newark Newark New Jersey
53 =237 Missouri University of Science and Technology Rolla Missouri
54 =240 University of Georgia Athens Georgia
55 =248 University of Colorado Denver Denver Colorado
=56 =257 The College of New Jersey Ewing New Jersey
=56 =257 University of Washington Bothell  Bothell Washington
58 =263 University of Washington-Tacoma Tacoma Washington
59 =266 Florida State University Tallahassee Florida
60 =268 State University of New York Albany Albany New York
61 =271 University of Oregon Eugene Oregon
62 =274 University of Alabama at Birmingham Birmingham Alabama
=63 =276 Iowa State University Ames Iowa
=63 =276 Oregon State University Corvallis Oregon
65 =285 University of California, Santa Cruz Santa Cruz California
66 =287 CUNY Bernard M Baruch College New York New York
67 =293 CUNY City College New York New York
=68 =297 Auburn University Auburn Alabama
=68 =297 University of Kansas Lawrence Kansa
70 =303 Rutgers University-Camden Camden New Jersey
71 305 University of South Carolina Columbia South Carolina
72 =306 University of Vermont Burlington Vermont
73 =313 University of Tennessee, Knoxville Knoxville Tennessee
74 =316 University of Wyoming Laramie Wyoming
75 =320 CUNY Hunter College New York New York
76 =324 San Diego State University San Diego California
77 =326 University of Maryland, Baltimore County Baltimore Maryland
=78 =328 James Madison University Harrisonburg Virginia
=78 =328 Miami University Oxford Ohio
=78 =328 New Jersey Institute of Technology Newark New Jersey
=81 =334 Rowan University Glassboro New Jersey
=81 =334 SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Syracuse New York
83 =339 Wayne State University Detroit Michigan
84 =347 CUNY Queens College Queens New York
85 =352 Louisiana State University Baton Rouge Louisiana
=86 =358 University of Nevada-Reno Reno Nevada
=86 =358 Virginia Commonwealth University Richmond Virginia
88 =367 Oklahoma State University Stillwater Oklahoma
=89 =372 Illinois State University Normal Illinois
=89 =372 University of Kentucky Lexington Kentucky
91 =380 University of Hawai'i at Mānoa Honolulu Hawaii
92 389 Southern Illinois University Carbondale Carbondale Illinois
93 =390 University of Mississippi University Mississippi
94 =396 University of Houston Houston Texas
95 =403 University of Minnesota-Morris Morris Minnesota
96 =406 University of Cincinnati Cincinnati Ohio
97 =412 Massachusetts College of Art and Design Boston Massachusetts
98 =414 University of Missouri Columbia Missouri
=99 =418 University of Alabama in Huntsville Huntsville Alabama
=99 =418 University of Michigan-Dearborn Dearborn Michigan
=99 =418 SUNY New Paltz New Paltz New York
=99 =418 Stockton University Galloway New Jersey

Read more: Best private universities in the US

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