What are the Top Public Schools in the US?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A male student raising his hand while other students listen intently

What are the top public schools in the US?

While private colleges often take the spotlight, it’s essential not to overlook the exceptional offerings of top public schools in the US. These publicly supported institutions, often mentioned alongside their private counterparts on various lists, hold immense potential to help you achieve your goals, no matter your chosen degree program or career aspirations.

Group of students studying in a room.

In this article, we’ll delve into what defines a public school and present our comprehensive ranking of the finest state institutions nationwide.

What is a public school?

What is a public school? Commonly managed by state governments, public colleges and universities receive funding in part from state taxation and financial aid. As a result, educational institutions frequently give inhabitants of respective states tuition discounts. Public universities range from tiny liberal arts colleges to enormous research universities.

In comparison to the smaller student bodies of private institutions, many students favour the huge, diverse student populations of the top state colleges. Public institutions also frequently offer a huge number of academic departments, student organisations, and powerful athletics programs.

In addition to the collegiate experience, public schools frequently have employment relationships with nearby businesses and offer on-campus jobs. You can think about finding out whether the companies you’re interested in have a large number of graduates from surrounding public institutions if landing a job at a local business is important to you.

What are the top public schools in the US?

What are the top public schools in the US? It’s challenging to rank the top public universities. Every website has its standards; some value precise statistics, while others value student testimonials. We gave schools with above-average graduation rates and financial assistance packages special attention when compiling our ranking of the finest public schools.

In addition to the numerical rankings, each of these top public colleges includes a summary of data about the institution gleaned from student reviews to give you a better idea of what it’s like to attend that institution. The 20 top public schools in the US are mentioned below.

1. University of California – Los Angeles

  • Acceptance Rate: 11%
  • Graduation Rate: 91%
  • In-State Tuition: $13,804
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $44,830

University of California signage

On practically all ranking lists, the University of California – Los Angeles is a top-tier university. This is due in part to its high standards of admissions, as well as the fact that it has developed a reputation for helping students find rewarding professions after graduation. The student-faculty ratio at UCLA is 18:1, making the classes there smaller than those at many other public universities. UCLA is renowned for its sporting accomplishments in addition to its academic standing. It also has a lovely campus with mild year-round weather and easy access to the coast.

2. University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

  • Acceptance Rate: 20%
  • Graduation Rate: 93%
  • In-State Tuition: $17,786
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $57,273

Front view of the University of Michigan with an empty yard filled with different varieties of trees

The University of Michigan – Ann Arbor is renowned for having a sizable student body and a staggering number of programs, internships, and groups on campus, similar to many other public colleges. Students who appreciate their undergraduate experience could be interested in taking advantage of the graduate programs offered by the university, which is ranked among the top 20 research universities in the country.

3. University of California – Berkeley

  • Acceptance Rate: 15%
  • Graduation Rate: 91%
  • In-State Tuition: $8,998
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $37,558

Students playing music in the school grounds.

The University of California – Berkeley has a long history of having a politically engaged student body, but they are also renowned for having a large number of faculty members who have won the Nobel Prize, as well as for having several highly regarded programs. There are many resources available at Berkeley, including a wide range of academic programs. It is now regarded as the second-best college in the US, public or private, by Forbes.

4. University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

  • Acceptance Rate: 19%
  • Graduation Rate: 91%
  • In-State Tuition: $8,998
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $37,558

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is among the top public schools in the US. It is well renowned for having a student body made up of ambitious individuals looking for a challenging academic environment. The college has competitive sports teams and programs in a variety of disciplines. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 16:1, it is also smaller than many other public schools, giving it a cozy atmosphere.

5. University of Virginia

  • Acceptance Rate: 21%
  • Graduation Rate: 94%
  • In-State Tuition: $21,381
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $56,837

Aerial view of University of Virginia

The University of Virginia is renowned for both its robust and vibrant athletic program and its intense sense of student pride. Although University of Virginia students named their school’s intellectual community as a major reason why they love attending college, the sense of pleasure doesn’t overshadow academics.

6. College of William and Mary

  • Acceptance Rate: 37%
  • Graduation Rate: 91%
  • In-State Tuition: $23,970
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $46,625

View of a woman painting on a room.

The surrounding environment of the College of William & Mary is more reminiscent of a small town than some other campuses because it is smaller than many public colleges. The College of William & Mary features the longest honor code in the US, a diverse student body, and numerous on-campus events despite its size. William and Mary, like many other schools on this list, is frequently referred to as a “public Ivy,” which means that it draws bright students and outstanding staff and offers a comparable education to that of an Ivy League institution.

7. Georgia Institute of Technology

  • Acceptance Rate: 18%
  • Graduation Rate: 91%
  • In-State Tuition: $11,764
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $32,876

Front view of Georgia Institute of Technology

The Georgia Institute of Technology (also known as Georgia Tech) is ranked highly as one of the top public schools in the US. Georgia Tech is renowned for being a research university with rigorous academic standards. Students cherish the college’s long-standing traditions and are very proud of their school. Students like the freedom of being a member of a large student population and the friendships made in their programs. Their vast campus and metropolitan environment don’t conflict with their smaller, close-knit internal communities. The university is well-regarded in competitive subjects like engineering, and its graduates earn above-average wages.

8. University of Texas – Austin

  • Acceptance Rate: 29%
  • Graduation Rate: 88%
  • In-State Tuition: $11,752
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $40,996

Front view of a building in the University of Texas with a male statue at the very front

Many pleasant students make up the distinctive student body of the University of Texas at Austin. The region around Austin has a lot to offer, including festivals like South by Southwest and a wide variety of dining establishments. The University of Texas is renowned for its students’ sense of pride; many of them claim to have a strong sense of kinship with and pride for their school and fellow students.

The top 7% of Texas high school graduates are automatically admitted to the University of Texas, and over 90% of their students are from the state of Texas. Due to this guideline, it may be more challenging for out-of-state students to enroll at UT Austin; if this describes you, make sure your GPA and test results are excellent!

9. University of California – Santa Barbara

  • Acceptance Rate: 29%
  • Graduation Rate: 84%
  • In-State Tuition: $14,450
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $44,204

The University of California – Santa Barbara’s proximity to the seaside is one of its most notable characteristics. UC Santa Barbara has a reputation as a party school and is well-known for both its picturesque setting and vibrant social scene. Students contend that the school’s reputation is somewhat exaggerated and that its excellent academic programs, particularly those in engineering, biology, and marine biology, are as crucial to their college experience.

10. University of Florida

  • Acceptance Rate: 30%
  • Graduation Rate: 89%
  • In-State Tuition: $6,380
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $28,658

University of Florida metal signage attached to a huge brick wall

Because of its restricted tuition, the University of Florida is regarded as one of the most economical universities. Despite having a sizable student body, the campus is renowned for its community and sense of camaraderie, which is accentuated by a strong sense of school pride.

11. University of Georgia

  • Acceptance Rate: 40%
  • Graduation Rate: 87%
  • In-State Tuition: $11,180
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $30,220

Female teacher teaching something to a male student.

Although the University of Georgia is known for its successful football program, there is much more the school can do for its students. It is among the top public schools in the US. Due to the diversity of attitudes and opinions present on the big campus, there is a lively student culture. The University of Georgia’s music scene is less well known; to honor the city’s long musical tradition, Athfest, a three-day music festival, is held every year in Athens.

12. University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign

  • Acceptance Rate: 60%
  • Graduation Rate: 86%
  • In-State Tuition: $17,138
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $35,110

Young man smiling while on a hallway.

Another institution frequently praised as a public Ivy is the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Students from all over the world and at various stages of their lives are drawn to the university by its strong engineering, computer science, physics, civil engineering, business, and history programs. The student body is made up of both recent high school graduates and more experienced individuals looking to learn a new subject. Numerous activities are available on its lovely, historic campus, and the institution is home to the biggest public university library in the country.

13. University of Wisconsin – Madison

  • Acceptance Rate: 60%
  • Graduation Rate: 88%
  • In-State Tuition: $10,796
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $39,427

University of Wisconsin front view

The National Science Foundation has classified the University of Wisconsin – Madison as the eighth-best research university in the world for its scientific output. The biochemistry and genetics departments of the undergraduate program, as well as the atmosphere of the parties, are particularly well-known. Although there are many diverse interests and smaller groups among the greater student body at the University of Wisconsin, students there are also academically motivated.

14. University of Washington

  • Acceptance Rate: 53%
  • Graduation Rate: 82%
  • In-State Tuition: $12,242
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $40,740

Front yard of Washington University in St. Louis that shows it's front building

The University of Washington is renowned for its top-notch engineering, computer science, and medical schools. The expansive campus, which is in Seattle, has many study spaces and is close to attractions, stores, and excellent eateries.

The University of Washington is renowned for being an intellectually demanding institution that draws outstanding students from all over the world with a variety of interests. UW has a sizable student body, yet there are numerous tiny communities to be a part of, giving it a more intimate atmosphere. Additionally, there are two satellite campuses in Tacoma and Bothell that provide an identical education for less money.

15. United States Military Academy

  • Acceptance Rate: 11%
  • Graduation Rate: 85%
  • In-State Tuition: $0
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $0

The United States Military Academy front building while a platoon of student cadets pile up in the front yard

Compared to the other places on our list, the United States Military Academy is a highly distinctive experience. In addition to its demanding academic curriculum, the Academy compels students to take part in military drills and marches to prepare future military commanders.

As a result, it is more specialized than many institutions, but for individuals who are drawn to military discipline and training, it is a good choice. Despite the low acceptance rate, there is no tuition because it is funded by military service rather than financial aid. The university is highly regarded academically and can lead to a long-term military career.

16. Virginia Tech

  • Acceptance Rate: 56%
  • Graduation Rate: 86%
  • In-State Tuition: $15,208
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $34,838

Virginia Tech signage on a brick wall

Particularly in its engineering and business divisions, Virginia Tech is renowned for its academic excellence. It ranks among the top 50 research universities in the country! Virginia Tech does, however, possess several noteworthy qualities outside of academia, such as fantastic food. Numerous students cited the school’s cuisine as a major lure, and Niche ranked it as the second-best college for food.

17. Pennsylvania State University – University Park

  • Acceptance Rate: 58%
  • Graduation Rate: 85%
  • In-State Tuition: $18,898
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $36,746

Engineering departments at Pennsylvania State are well-known, as are those in agriculture, education, and even musical theater. The Schreyer Honors College, which enrolls about 300 students a year and offers Schreyer scholars more than $7.9 million in grants and scholarships annually, is one of its most appealing features.

pennsylvania state university front view

Students in this program live in a separate dorm and have access to financing for study abroad programs, early registration for classes, and more than 200 honors courses that allow them to simultaneously earn an undergraduate and a master’s degree. For those who are interested in collegiate athletics, Penn State also has a top-20 football team!

18. University of California – Davis

  • Acceptance Rate: 49%
  • Graduation Rate: 86%
  • In-State Tuition: $14,740
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $44,494

Included on the list of top public schools in the US is the University of California-Davis. Given that the university is situated in a smaller town with adjacent cities, it has a strong academic concentration that is combined with enjoyment.

UC Davis signage propped to a red brick wall while a school building is at the back

The campus itself is lovely, and the surrounding arboretum offers students a chance to get away to a more natural setting if they so choose. For interested students, numerous internship possibilities can help them get a head start in their future employment.

19. Purdue University – West Lafayette

  • Acceptance Rate: 69%
  • Graduation Rate: 83%
  • In-State Tuition: $9,992
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $28,794

Even though Purdue University – West Lafayette is located in a smaller town, there are still plenty of things to do there. Although the campus is big, the neighborhood and close-knit community give it a more small-town feel than some of the other big universities on this list.

Purdue University archway

Additionally, Purdue provides free bus transportation for students so that even those without automobiles can explore the greater West Lafayette region. The institution is renowned for the strength of its engineering curriculum, and there are many job and research possibilities available on campus.

20. University of California – Irvine

  • Acceptance Rate: 29%
  • Graduation Rate: 85%
  • In-State Tuition: $13,985
  • Out-of-State Tuition: $43,739

The University of California – Irvine is occasionally disregarded in favor of California’s other illustrious universities, yet it is still a top university because it is a part of the UC system. This school is renowned for its academic excellence as well as its stunning setting and proximity to the ocean. Although it has a more laid-back vibe than some other institutions, it is also renowned for being more academic than social.

States with the best public schools

Based on metrics such as high school graduation rates among low-income students, math and reading scores, median SAT and ACT scores, pupil-to-teach ratio, and more, we ranked each state’s public schools for “Quality” and “Safety” and used relevant metrics. Based on these metrics, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey have the best public schools in the US.

States with the best public schools:

  • Massachusetts
  • Connecticut
  • New Jersey
  • Virginia
  • Vermont
  • New Hampshire
  • Minnesota
  • Wisconsin
  • Delaware
  • Maryland

Tips for applying to the top public schools in the US

Even though public colleges typically have better acceptance rates than private colleges, this does not necessarily mean that it will be simple to enroll in one of these schools. You need to devote the same amount of time and energy to selecting the best public institutions for you as you do to selecting the colleges that are on your list. Keep in mind these tips for applying to the top public schools in the US:

Don’t only use them as fallbacks.

Even though many students have their sights set on Ivy League schools, you shouldn’t view public colleges as anything more than a last resort. Even if a public college isn’t your top choice, keep in mind that these institutions still offer excellent educational opportunities and fantastic career opportunities for motivated students.

Young woman walking in the school campus.

Don’t feel like a public college is settling since it doesn’t have to be; instead, approach each one as if it were your dream school, put effort into learning about what makes it unique, and get genuinely enthusiastic about the prospect of attending.

Conduct research

As you’re making a college list, consider what each school has to offer: what students say about attending; is the campus small or large; are there many nearby activities, or is it located in a small town. Public schools share many features—large student bodies, diversity of programs, lower tuition—but each one is unique.

Does the college meet your expectations? Do students in your intended program finish up in places you would want to end up? Pay attention to things like class size, graduation rates, and average beginning income, too.

It takes time, but the research will help you choose the right schools to apply to.

Consider a range of considerations.

Think about factors like class size, what clubs are offered, whether the universities you’re applying to are in tiny towns or huge cities, and even what kind of architecture they feature. These things might sound like they won’t be relevant, but when you’re spending four or more years there, they are!

There are so many potential schools out there that it is worth researching to find the ones that suit you best, even if those factors sound less important to others. If you want to go to college on the beach, look for colleges on the beach! If you want small class sizes, look for colleges with low student-faculty ratios.

After gathering information about top public schools in the US, the next step is to gain admission. We at AdmissionSight have more than ten years of expertise assisting students in navigating the tough admissions process to the greatest colleges in the globe. Consult with AdmissionSight and see what we can offer to make sure that you are well-prepared and knowledgeable enough to enter your choice of school.




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