SEP 28, 2020 • 15 min read
Put simply, public colleges and universities in the United States are those owned or operated by state governments, and may be funded, in part, by tax revenue from the state. This is in contrast to private colleges and universities (including the Ivy League), which are not owned or operated by governments, and instead function much more alike an independent, not-for-profit organisation.
As many of you would know, some of the most esteemed and prestigious universities in the US are public universities. Some of these top public universities are colloquially considered “Public Ivies”, as many of them have a similar age, look and quality of education as Ivy League schools, while having the benefits of a public university.
Probably the big advantage of attending a public school is their relatively lower cost as compared to private universities of similar standing. Many therefore have a higher ‘return on investment’ or ROI, and paying less for a public university and getting an equally valuable degree could be regarded as a better investment.
Additionally, public schools give a significant discount on fees to residents of the state, and attending a public school as a state resident means that your return on investment could be even higher. Also, most Ivy League universities are located in the North-East of the country, which can get very cold in winter. Thus, another enticing feature of some of these top public universities on the West Coast or in the South might be their warmer climates.
So, what are the best public colleges and universities in the United States? To obtain the rankings, U.S. News and World Report used the same methodologies as they did for their National Universities rankings. Check out the top-5 below:
Claiming USNews’ title for the best public college in the US is the University of California - Los Angeles, otherwise known as UCLA.
UCLA’s sunny campus welcomes a massive 31,543 undergraduate student body onto it’s lush playing fields and top notch science labs and classrooms - producing experts in everything from medicine and technology to environmental science and film-making. There are a total of 125 undergraduate academic fields to study
Located in Westwood, Los Angeles, in close proximity to Hollywood, UCLA provides an array of internship and job opportunities at film studios. Amongst UCLA’s star-studded alumni include Academy Award winning film director, Francis Ford Coppola, Lord of the Rings actor, Sean Austin and Big Bang Theory actress, Mayim Bialik.
UCLA students are also known for being very active in the life of the university, as well as making an impact on the broader community. There are more than 1,000 student organizations for students to join, including acting groups, media organisations and more than 65 Greek chapters. Check out what a day in the life of a UCLA student looks like here.
While not only being ranked the top public university by USNews this year, it is also the most competitive public university, with an admission rate of around 12.3%.
US News estimates fees at UCLA to be around $42,980 USD for out-of-state students and $13,226 USD for in-state students.
Coming a close second to their University of California rival is the University of California - Berkeley, located in San Francisco’s Bay Area. As noted, UC Berkeley is also part of the University of California group, and was the first in the group to be founded. It’s creation in 1868 aligned with the California gold rush and symbolised a desire to provide opportunity to following generations.
Currently, it is home to about 27,000 undergraduate students and 10,000 postgraduate students. It is best known for its STEM courses, in particular its computer science degree, and provides its students with outstanding proximity and internship opportunities to some of the world’s leading tech companies. In recent years it has even become a fierce competitor with Stanford for ‘most Silicon Valley hires and internships’. Their undergraduate acceptance rate is around 16.8%.
The university also has a long history of activism and social movements. From the Free Speech Movement to various rallies to help minorities, UC Berkeley students love to make their voices heard and make a difference in their community. Check out what a day in the life of a UC Berkeley student looks like here.
US News estimates fees at UC Berkeley to be around $43,980 USD for out-of-state students and $14,226 USD for in-state students.
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The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor is one of the most well-known universities in the US, with a reputation beyond academic excellence.
Ann Arbor is the flagship campus of the University of Michigan school system, which includes satellite campuses such as University of Michigan - Dearborn and University of Michigan - Flint. The university offers 275 degree programs, enrolls 31,266 undergraduate students, and is known for its business administration and computer science programs. Their undergraduate acceptance rate is 22.8%.
The University of Michigan is renowned for its athletics program, especially football. The Michigan Wolverines have the most wins in college football history and play at Michigan Stadium, which is the largest college football stadium in the nation.
Just east of Detroit, Ann-Arbor is also known as one of the USA’s most thriving college towns, home to the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, as well as three other colleges. Students in the town have a reputation for a “work hard, play hard” attitude.
US News estimates fees at the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor to be around $52,226 USD for out-of-state students and $15,980 USD for in-state students.
Located in Charlottesville, Virginia, the University of Virginia, or UVA was founded as a public university in 1819 by US President Thomas Jefferson. As such, it has the nickname of “Mr. Jefferson’s University” or simply “The University”. It has an undergraduate student population of 17,011, with an undergraduate acceptance rate of 26.4%.
The University offers 121 majors across the eight undergraduate and three professional schools. The university is perhaps most renowned for its science programs and scientific research. For many decades the UVA School of Medicine has been at the forefront of groundbreaking medical discoveries. The school also has strong ties to NASA and the US Air Force through its mechanical and aeronautical engineering research.
Virginia student athletes are known as the Cavaliers, and are dominant over a range of sports. In particular, Virginia has won many recent NCAA Championships in sports such as basketball, lacrosse and tennis.
US News estimates fees to be around $52,957 USD for out-of-state students and $18,876 USD for in-state students.
Founded in 1789, UNC is the oldest university on our list today, and is even older than Cornell University in the Ivy League. Like the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, UNC-Chapel Hill is the flagship of its state’s public university system. In total, there are 17 UNC campuses across North Carolina, educating over 180,000 undergraduate students.
UNC Chapel-Hill offers degrees in over 70 courses of study, with a strong focus on its professional schools. After their second year, students either study under the College of Arts and Sciences, or choose an undergraduate professional school program within the schools of medicine, nursing, business, education, pharmacy, information and library science, public health, or media and journalism. Their undergraduate acceptance rate is 22.7%.
Beyond academics, UNC has a strong basketball program. Students enjoy the fun rivalry with nearby Duke University, and the annual UNC-Duke game is one of the college sports spectacles of the year. Also, Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time played three seasons for UNC prior to entering the NBA. Take a glimpse into the love and basketball and school spirit at UNC-Chapel Hill on our youtube channel here.
US News estimates fees to be around $36,200 USD for out-of-state students and $9,021 USD for in-state students.
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