The Top 10 Public Universities in the United States

November 3, 2022
By AdmissionSight

The Top 10 Public Universities in the United States

With the rising cost of higher education, many students are coming to the realization that attending a private college or university may not make financial sense. Many private colleges charge upwards of $50,000—and sometimes $60,000—per year. And this doesn’t even include room and board or books. In this post, we’re going to highlight the 10 best public universities in the United States.

This means that students who don’t come from super-wealthy families will have to take out student loans in order to pay for school. Instead of being saddled with tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, many students are looking to public universities because they often offer an excellent education at a dramatically lower cost.

So, how do public universities differ from private schools? The main difference is that public universities receive money from their state government to cover many of their operating costs. This means that the schools can offer excellent academics, athletics, and facilities while keeping tuition as low as possible.

The cost from school to school still varies, and out-of-state students will be charged far more than in-state students, but we’re also going to break down the cost for each school. So, let’s take a look at our list of the 10 best-ranked public universities.

1. University of California—Berkeley

The University of California—Berkeley is just one of ten schools that make up the University of California system. It is also generally ranked as the best of these schools, with UCLA close behind. Located in Berkeley, California, they were founded in 1868 and currently have an undergraduate enrollment of 32,143 students.

UC Berkeley is also the most selective of the UC schools with a 15% acceptance rate. As such, Berkeley has very demanding admission requirements. Typically, accepted students have an SAT score above 1500 and a GPA over 4.0. However, since the pandemic began in 2020, the UC system no longer requires applicants to submit standardized test scores.

View of University of Berkeley campus at daytime.

Currently, Berkeley has a student-teacher ratio of 20:1, which means 50.5% of its classes have fewer than 20 students. The student-teacher ratio for their graduate programs is lower. Popular majors at Berkeley include social sciences, computer science, engineering, and biological and biomedical sciences. However, they are also known for having excellent liberal arts majors as well

Cost of attending Berkeley: (in-state) $14,226 (out of-state) $43,980

2. University of California—Los Angeles

Located in the posh Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, UCLA is typically considered the second-best UC school after Berkeley, however, at this point, they are basically tied when it comes to academic reputation and selectiveness. The university itself is broken up into different schools depending on your field of study. The most populace school is the School of Arts and Letters, which offers students a general college education encompassing both liberal arts and sciences.

View of a university building surrounded by trees and bush.

UCLA is also home to a number of world-renowned graduate schools including the Anderson School of Management and the Geffen School of Medicine. Currently, UCLA has an even lower acceptance rate than Berkeley with only 11% of applicants accepted. Applicants typically have SAT scores over 1500 and GPAs over 4.0. Their student-teacher ratio for undergraduate classes is 18:1, which means 47.8% of their classes have fewer than 20 students.

Popular majors at UCLA include social sciences, biological and biomedical sciences, psychology, engineering, and math. But they also have excellent performing arts programs and visual arts programs.

Cost of attending UCLA: (in-state) $13,804 (out of state) $44,830

3. University of Michigan—Ann Arbor

Located about 45 minutes from Detroit, the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor was founded in 1817 and has an undergraduate enrollment of 32,283 students. One of the things that stands out immediately about U of M is its massive campus which is spread over 3,207 acres. Rather than a semester or quarter-based system, U of Michigan uses a trimester schedule. Freshmen are guaranteed to house, but unlike many schools U of M does not require that freshmen live on campus.

In addition to their undergraduate school, U of M also has a number of highly ranked graduate schools including the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, Law School, College of Engineering, Medical School, and the Taubman School of Architecture and Urban Planning. Typically, accepted student have SAT scores between 1360 and 1530 and GPAs above 3.5.

Aerial view of Ann Arbor University at day time.

The student-teacher ratio at the University of Michigan is 15:1, which means that 53.9% of classes have fewer than 20 students. Currently the gender distribution at U of M is nearly equal, and 39% of students receive some sort of financial aid.

Cost of attending the University of Michigan: (in-state) $17,786 (out of state) $57,273

4. University of Virginia

Founded in 1816 by former US President Thomas Jefferson, UVA is one of the country’s oldest and most respected public universities. Their campus encompasses 1,683 acres in a suburban setting. Their total undergraduate enrollment is 17,299, and they use a semester system. At UVA freshmen are required to live on campus, but many upperclassmen choose to live off campus in fairly affordable nearby apartments.

In addition to their excellent undergraduate college, UVA is home to a number of prestigious graduate schools including the Darden Graduate School of Business, Curry School of Education, The School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, School of Law, and School of Medicine. With an undergraduate acceptance rate of 21%, UVA is considered to be among the most selective public universities.

View of University of Virginia.

The student-teacher ratio at UVA is 15:1, which means that 51.9% of classes have 20 students or fewer. Popular majors at UVA include liberal arts and sciences, general studies, social sciences, engineering, business, and biological and biomedical sciences.

Cost of attending the University of Virginia: (in-state) $21,381 (out of state) $56,837

5. University of Florida

Coming in at #5 on our list of best state schools, the University of Florida was founded in 1853 on a 2000-acre campus in suburban Gainesville, Florida. They use a semester-based system, and their current undergraduate enrollment is 34,881. U of Florida is known in the NCAA division I for having one of the top ranked football teams in the nation: the Florida Gators. Fun fact: Gatorade was invented at the University of Florida specifically to hydrate their football players.

In addition to their well-regarded undergraduate academics, U of F is also known for a number of graduate schools including the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, the Warrington College of Business, the Levin College of Law, and their medical school. Popular undergraduate majors include engineering, business, management, marketing, and biological sciences.

View of a school building painted in red and white.

The student-teacher ratio of the University of Florida is 17:1, which translates into 54.6% of classes having fewer than 20 students. Currently, the undergraduate acceptance rate is 30% with applicants typically scoring between 1300 and 1470 on the SATs.

Cost of attending the University of Florida: (in-state) $6,380 (out of state) $28,658

6. University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill

Founded all the way back in 1789, the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill is one of the country’s oldest universities, and they rank #6 on our list of best public universities. UNC has a total undergraduate enrollment of 19,897 on their campus which spans 729 acres in suburban Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

In addition to excellent academics, UNC is known for being an NCAA Division I contender, and their basketball team was the launching pad for a young Michael Jordan. The school has many other activities as well. From a wide variety of different student groups and clubs, to the Daily Tarheel newspaper and WXYC student radio station. Students at UNC—Chapel Hill have near endless possibilities for their time outside of class.

View of University of California - Chapel hill campus surrounded by greenery.

For public universities UNC is quite selective, with an acceptance rate of 19%. Students who are accepted to UNC typically have SAT scores between 1320 and 1510, and GPAs close to or above 4.0. UNC also has a student-teacher ratio of 16:1, which means 40.7% of their classes have fewer than 20 students. This contributes to a student satisfaction rating of 96%.

Cost of attending University of North Carolina (in state) $8,998 (out of state) $37,558

7. University of California—Santa Barbara

Technically located in Goleta, California, the UC Santa Barbara overlooks the Pacific Ocean in one of the most beautiful parts of the United States. Their total undergraduate enrollment is 23,091, and their campus covers 989 beautiful square acres. Like most other schools in the UC system, UCSB uses a quarter-based system rather than semesters.

UCSB is split into five different schools, but like UCLA, the largest of the colleges is the College of Letters and Sciences. With an acceptance rate of 29%, UCSB isn’t quite as selective as UCLA or UC Berkeley, but it is still one of the more selective schools in the UC system.

View of University of Santa Barbara school.

UCSB boasts an impressive student-teacher ratio of 17:1, which means that 55.9% of their classes have fewer than 20 students. Popular majors at UCSB include, social sciences, biological and biomedical sciences, mathematics, communication, and journalism. However, UCSB is also well-known for their performing arts and visual arts programs as well.

Cost of attending UC Santa Barbara: (in-state) $14,450 (out of state) $44,204

8. University of California—Irvine

It looks like the University of California is going to round out the last four spots on our list, and this is just a testament to how good the University of California system has become. UC– Irvine, was founded in 1965, and is located in Irvine, California, just south of Los Angeles. Like most of the UC schools, UC– Irvine uses a quarter-based system for their academic calendar, and their total undergraduate enrollment is 29,449.

Because the UC—Irvine Medical Center is so well-regarded, it comes as no surprise that pre-med is a popular major at UC—Irvine. But they also are known for their graduate programs at the Paul Merage School of Business and the Henry Samueli School of Engineering. In terms of their location, UC—Irvine is located just five miles from the Pacific Ocean, and while on-campus housing is available, it is not guaranteed. As a result, many students choose to live off-campus.

View of University building metal structure.

UC—Irvine has a student-teacher ratio of 18:1, which translates into 55.4% of their classes having fewer than 20 students. Popular majors include, health-related knowledge and skills, psychology, business, marketing, and management.

Cost of attending UC—Irvine: (in-state) $13,985 (out of state) $43,739

9. University of California—San Diego

Technically located in beautiful La Jolla, California, the setting of the University of California—San Diego almost resembles a resort. But don’t be fooled. This is one of the best public universities in the country. With a heavy focus on the sciences, UC- San Diego is more than just good looks and perfect weather. Their total undergraduate enrollment is 33,343 with a campus that covers 1,976 acres of beachfront property. Students can literally walk from class to the beach in a few minutes.

View of a modern University library.

UCSD has a student-teacher ratio of 19:1, which means 46.9% of their classes have fewer than 20 students. Popular majors include, cognitive sciences, general studies, computer science, anatomy, international studies, and economics. With an acceptance rate of 34%, UCSD is still one of the most selective public universities in the country, but it is somewhat less selective than some other UC schools.

Cost of attending UCSD: (in state) $15,348 (out of state) $46,374

10. University of California—Davis

As we said, this list will be rounded out with schools from the excellent University of California system. UC—Davis is located in central California and has a total undergraduate enrollment of 31,657 students. In total, the UC—Davis campus stretches over 5,300 acres, making it one of the largest UC schools.

UC—Davis features over 700 student organizations and clubs, and freshmen are guaranteed on-campus housing, however, they are not required to live on campus. There are also plenty of off-campus apartment buildings which are reasonably priced for students. Beyond their undergraduate academics, UC—Davis is well-known for many of their graduate programs including the Graduate School or Management, School of Law, School of Medicine, College of Engineering, and their world-renowned School of Veterinary Medicine.

View of UC Davis building surrounded by trees.

The student-teacher ratio at UC—Irvine is 21:1, which means that 31.2% of their classes have fewer than 20 students. Popular majors at UC—Irvine include, health studies, business, management, and general studies.

Cost of attending UC—Irvine: (in state) $14,740 (out of state) $44,494

So, there you have it. AdmissionSight’s list of the 10 best public universities in the US. If you’ve been wondering about the top public universities, hopefully this post has helped. If you want to discuss your college plans with experts who specialize in tailoring a college admissions plan specifically for you, contact AdmissionSight today and schedule your free consultation.


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