These Are the 10 Best Public Universities in the US

Too often, people believe they must attend an Ivy league school to be successful.

We all know the Ivies are fine schools, but they are also expensive and situated entirely in one geographic region of the country, the northeast.

Public universities, on the other hand, are all over the country and are significantly less expensive – especially for in-state students of a particular university. 

Best of all, public universities offer an education that, in many ways, can be superior to that of an ivy league school for some students.

However, with literally hundreds of public universities to choose from, it can be difficult to determine which schools are the very best in the country to choose from.

Today, we present you with our list of 10 of the best public universities in the US.

University of Connecticut (Mansfield, CT)

University of Connecticut
Daderot, University of Connecticut, CC0 1.0

A mere 20 minutes from the capital of Hartford and a 90-minute drive from Boston, The University of Connecticut’s flagship campus was founded in 1881 in Storrs, Connecticut – a vibrant section of the town of Mansfield (population 25,817).

With almost 20,000 undergraduates at the main campus (and 32,000+ total students across 8 campuses) there is no shortage of activities, academic clubs, athletics and social opportunities to engage in.

You better have good grades if you want to go to school here, though, as it is quite selective in the students it admits.

UConn is deemed a “Public Ivy,” as its robust research and high-quality academics make it comparable to the Ivy League, according to a book by Richard Moll written in 1985 titled Public Ivies: A Guide to America’s Best Public Undergraduate Colleges and Universities.

Moll believes that universities in this group can give students an Ivy League-like experience at a much more affordable price as they are public, state institutions but often provide rigorous academic standards, attract “superstar” faculty and students as well as having exceptional facilities.

If you like basketball, “Go Huskies!” will become a familiar sound as you walk to class as they have won 21 NCAA national championships.

University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA)

University of Virginia
Karen Blaha, Pavilion VIII at the Lawn, CC BY-SA 2.0

Anything founded by a renowned American president and founding father of the USA adds a powerful boost of credibility and honor, and that is the case with the University of Virginia (UVA).

Started in 1819 by a brilliant renaissance man, primary author of the Declaration of Independence, and 3rd president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1846), UVA is an iconic public university with a very historic ethos but modern purpose and positive reputation.

Named one of the top five public universities in the country in 2020 by US News and World Report, UVA’s original structures were designed by Jefferson as well as the nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site, Monticello.

Originally built as Jefferson’s 5,000-acre plantation made possible by slave labor, it is famous for its neoclassical style inspired by Jefferson’s love of Italy and classical culture.

If you’ve looked on the back of a U.S. nickel, you will notice an image of Monticello (meaning “little mountain”) and the reverse side of the U.S. two-dollar bill.

UVA has something for almost every student and includes a law, medical and architecture school along with a large undergraduate population that flood the streets of Charlottesville on the weekends to enjoy its lively music and nightlife scene.

Dave Matthews Band, a rock group that has sold millions of albums and packs football stadium concerts, got their start here in the 90’s playing in small student dive bars.

University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA)

Crazypaco, PittCampus, CC BY-SA 4.0

The University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) is a large urban research university founded in 1787 originally as a private college and sits in the Oakland section of the city and hosts 28,391 students from all over the globe on its sprawling campus that abuts Carnegie Mellon University a few miles from downtown.

These two institutes of learning actually share some buildings and libraries. From a distance, it’s hard not to see and be amazed at Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning, a 42-story building of the late Gothic style that acts as the center of the main campus.

It is 535 feet tall and is the tallest educational building in the Western world and the second-tallest university structure devoted to learning on the planet.

The building was completed in 1934, but classes were being held there as early as 1931.

With several regional campuses, Pitt has 23,466 undergraduates and 7280 graduate/ doctoral students. Its research has led to many achievements and scientific contributions, the most famous of which is probably the development of the polio vaccine by Dr. Jonas Salk and his team at the university’s Virus Research Lab in 1955.

As a result of Salk’s vaccine, 95 percent of this horrible pandemic in the United States was eradicated by 1962!

For professional football fans, Dan Marino got his start playing for Pitt’s Panthers from 1979-82.

Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA)

Georgia Tech
Disavian, Georgia Tech CRC Front, CC BY 2.5

If you like an urban setting in the South and a place to pursue post-secondary education, particularly in the STEM subjects, this is your place! Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta – or Hotlanta as many locals refer to it, is better known today as Georgia Tech.

Along with rigorous academics in the science, math and engineering areas, Georgia Tech also boasts a robust athletic program and is famous for its NCAA-Division 1 and primarily ACC Yellow Jackets football team.

The school has many other sports teams and organizations, if your interests are outside football.

Georgia Tech has world-renowned engineering (ranked #4 by US News and World Report) and computer science programs, and these programs attract many talented applicants from all over the world – especially as the metro Atlanta area continues to grow and boasts the busiest international airport in the world (ATL).

With several campuses and centers in different locations around the city, the more than 30,000 students at Georgia Tech have a plethora of options. With the city’s notorious traffic congestion, those who aren’t lucky enough to live on or near campus will need to plan their commute to class carefully.     

University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)

University of Florida
WillMcC, UF Cancer Genetics Complex, CC BY-SA 3.0

For aspiring college students interested in a large, first-class, state research university in the Sunshine State, The University of Florida’s flagship campus in Gainesville is an excellent choice.

It is ranked highly by most of the credible sources for a variety of factors, and the city of Gainesville is the quintessential college town. writes, “With great weather and beautiful scenery, it’s easy to understand why more than 55,000 students choose to attend the University of Florida in Gainesville. … Downtown Gainesville is also great for shopping, eating, drinking, live theater and nightlife.”

For lovers of football, you have the huge fan base surrounding the Florida Gators and proximity to the circus of tailgating and armchair quarterbacking and constant analysis by countless “experts” throughout the Fall season.

For those that have other interests, there are great fishing spots, wetlands, plenty of parks and museums and even a butterfly sanctuary, according to Trip Advisor. Great beaches are less than two hours away.

The University of Florida has a strong academic reputation and along with a robust liberal arts division, has strong engineering, health programs and medical studies and even a Lightning Study Institute as Florida experiences more lightning than any other state.

Be prepared to have a solid academic record to get accepted, as the school doesn’t just let any Gators fan or beach bum to join the fray. According to the Independent Florida Alligator, 49,401 people applied for the class of 2024 and only 14,561 were accepted for summer and Fall admission.

Applicants who were accepted had an average GPA of 4.45 out of 5.0 and SAT scores of 1388 of 1600 possible.

University of California, Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA)

Alton, Royce Hall, CC BY-SA 3.0

One of 10 campuses in the University of California system, UCLA is nestled in America’s 2nd largest city in the “village” of Westwood.

This enclave provides a bit of calm and equanimity for the 45,742 students who come from all over the world to this nearly always sunny — but sometimes chaotic, sprawling, urban megalopolis that translates from its Spanish moniker as the “City of Angels.”

Just 8 miles from the beautiful Pacific Ocean, Westwood is teeming with restaurants, shops and cinemas (of course), so there is plenty to do when students aren’t in class or studying. UCLA is as famous for its academics and research output as some of Los Angeles’ superstar residents.

In a world that blindly worships celebrity culture, UCLA’s focus is on learning, research, innovation and creativity. Optimism is a key theme of the university and UCLA encourages its students to persevere “through impossibility” and “turn the futile into the attainable.

The university claims that it is this optimistic and can-do attitude that has helped it produce 14 Nobel Prize winners, 14 faculty MacArthur Fellows, 18 NCAA titles and “more Olympic medals than most nations.”

UCLA has contributed greatly to technological advances and even played a role in the creation of the modern Internet and World Wide Web. The first internet-based electronic message was sent in 1969 from UCLA to Stanford.

It’s not surprising that continued research in technology here has led to the creation of more than 140 companies that depend on it. The university is competitive and receives 100,000 applications every year, more than any other institution.

University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, CA)

brainchildvn, UCBerkeleyCampus, CC BY 2.0

“If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one around to hear it, does it still make a sound?” This famous philosophical question was posed by the Enlightenment Irish philosopher George Berkeley (1685-1753), and this is where Berkeley, California gets its name.

The University California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) is famous for its many scientific contributions as well as its students’ involvement in the often-turbulent anti-Vietnam War and Free Speech movements of the 60’s.

With San Francisco just a short drive over the Bay Bridge, it isn’t surprising that local students were heavily influenced by all of the political, cultural, and musical innovations, shifts and conflicts of that colorful and important milieu of American history.

Today, the college is more associated with its technological research and its proximity to Silicon Valley provides students with a fast track to some of the largest technology and software companies on the planet.

Google’s world headquarters is less than 50 miles away in Mountain View and Facebook’s main offices are in the Palo Alto area. 

University of Wisconsin, Madison (Madison, Wisconsin)

Madmaxmarchhare, Musichall, CC BY-SA 2.5

Founded in 1848, The University of Wisconsin in Madison is one of the best public research universities in the country.

We’re not the only ones who think so – Madison is currently ranked in the top 15 universities nationwide by both US News and

Scientific advances, economic and diplomacy studies, modern nutrition science and conservatism are all highlights of its illustrious history.  Several faculty members at the school are among the top names in their respective fields.

Voted as the best college town in America by The Thrillist in 2014, Madison ranks high in many media outlets as a great place to live.

Accepting only about 1/2 of all students, admission to this particular university is quite selective.

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (Champaign, IL)

Pwojdacz, Memorial Stadium Illinois, CC BY-SA 4.0

South of Chicagoland in the twin cities of Champaign and Urbana, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) is the flagship of the state university system and had a whopping 51,196 students in 2019.

The campus is huge: 6,370 acres across an urban landscape with 651 buildings! With 16 colleges and various schools, along with an enormous student population between two cities and just 135 miles south of Chicago, UIUC needs a lot of space.

Among the university’s many achievements and a robust liberal arts program, its economic, entrepreneurship, computer and applied sciences are all thriving areas of study and innovation.

UIUC even has its own Research Park which hosts numerous Fortune 500 companies for students to have easy internship access and other facilities to foster new ideas and startup companies.

University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI)

AndrewHorne, University of Michigan Diag, CC BY 3.0

The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (UMich or Michigan) is ranked regularly as the top public research university in America.

It was originally established in Detroit 20 years before Michigan’s statehood, but it was moved to Ann Arbor in 1837.

This isn’t just your everyday state university: this school has produced 25 Nobel Prize winners and enjoyed about every academic and research accolade there is.

For those with above-average smarts that also love sports, Michigan’s Wolverines are in Division 1 of the NCAA and are established members of the Big Ten Conference.

Obviously, these sports fans also know how to crack a book or two, as Michigan is one of the top producers of doctoral degrees in the country in everything from British Literature to business, medicine, law, pharmacy and, of course, all things STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

Enrollment consistently rises above 40,000 students at this intellectual mecca and Ann Arbor ranks highly as a great college town and an overall incredible city to live in … just don’t forget your warm jacket!

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