The best public universities in the USA are also among the top-ranked universities in the country. While there are definite advantages and disadvantages to choosing a public university over a private university in the US, the two are comparable where it matters the most. Which college you choose to include on your university list will come down to your own preferences and values in a school. However, getting into these best public universities can be just as competitive as the most elite private schools, so it’s a good idea to get some professional college application help. In this article, we’ve listed some of the best public universities in the US, how to get into these institutions and how they compare to private colleges. 

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List of Best Public Universities in the USA How Competitive are the Best Public Universities in the USA? How to Get Into the Best Public Universities in the USA? Best Public Universities vs. Best Private Universities in the US FAQs

List of Best Public Universities in the USA

Below we’ve listed some of the best public universities in the US, including their college acceptance rates.

University of California, Berkeley

·      Acceptance rate: 7%

University of California, Los Angeles

·      Acceptance rate: 6%

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

·      Acceptance rate: 12%

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

·      Acceptance rate: 13%

University of Virginia

·      Acceptance rate: 12%

University of California, Davis

·      Acceptance rate:

University of California, San Diego

·      Acceptance rate: 34.2%

University of Florida

·      Acceptance rate: 30.1%

University of Texas at Austin

·      Acceptance rate: 28.7%

Georgia Institute of Technology

·      Acceptance rate: 11%

University of California, Irvine

·      Acceptance rate: 28.8%

University of California, Santa Barbara

·      Acceptance rate: 6%

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

·      Acceptance rate: 59.7%

University of Wisconsin-Madison

·      Acceptance rate: 60.4%

Rutgers University-New Brunswick

·      Acceptance rate: 68.2%

University of Washington

·      Acceptance rate: 53.5%

The Ohio State University

·      Acceptance rate: 57.2%

Purdue University

·      Acceptance rate: 68.8%

University of Maryland, College Park

·      Acceptance rate: 34.3%

Texas A&M University

·      Acceptance rate: 64.3%

University of Georgia

·      Acceptance rate: 40%

Virginia Tech

·      Acceptance rate: 56.5%

Florida State University

·      Acceptance rate: 37.1%

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

·      Acceptance rate: 73.2%

College of William & Mary

·      Acceptance rate: 36.5%

Stony Brook University

·      Acceptance rate: 48.1%

University of Connecticut

·      Acceptance rate: 55.6%

Michigan State University

·      Acceptance rate: 83.3%

North Carolina State University

·      Acceptance rate: 47.5%

Pennsylvania State University

·      Acceptance rate: 12.6%

How Competitive are the Best Public Universities in the USA?

As we can see from the acceptance rates above, the competitiveness of the public universities in the US can vary. Some of these schools, based on their admissions data, could be considered the easiest colleges to get into while others might be some of the toughest, on par with easiest Ivy League school to get into. Compared to the average college acceptance rate in the US, which hovers around 68%, many of these schools have below average acceptance rates. Of course, acceptance rates and admission data are only a snapshot of what it takes to get into these top public universities.

Average college acceptance rate in the US

Public universities tend to be much larger than private institutions. They may have tens of thousands of students while a private university will average 8,000-10,000 students. Public universities also receive funding from government, whereas private schools don’t. Public colleges receive funding from state governments and receive fewer endowments. Private universities receive money through tuition and donations or endowments from individuals, corporations and foundations.

What this means in terms of competitiveness is that public universities are more inclined to admit in-state students and offer lower in-state tuition as an incentive. To keep their funding, they must often admit a certain percentage of in-state students per year. However, it also means they have large class sizes, more academic programs available and are less competitive for in-state students. Of course, it means it’s harder for international students and out-of-state students to get into some public universities.

When comparing how competitive public schools are vs private ones, it’s hard to make an exact determination of which one is harder to get into. But in general, they are comparable, although they certainly have their pros and cons depending on a few factors, from your resident state, applicant profile, budget and grades.

Next, we’ll look at how to get into the best public universities in the US, whether you’re in-state, out-of-state, or an international student.

Check out these college essay examples!

How to Get Into the Best Public Universities in the USA?

To get into any of these top public universities, you need to use the right strategies and college application prep. We’ll go over some of the key steps next.

1. Research school preferences

Each institution may have unique programs and priorities. For example, many public schools have a strong interest in research, or community service, or innovation. Researching the potential public schools on your list to find out what they value and appreciate in college applicants. With this information, you can craft a more personalized application tailored to the schools you’re applying to.

Researching schools is also vital to determining whether a specific university is the best match for you, your goals and interests. Furthermore, you can decide whether you are a strong candidate for that school and whether you have a good chance of being accepted.

2. Get familiar with the application system

Many of the best public universities are a part of the UC rankings, or University of California system of schools. So, rather than using the Common App or Coalition App, as many of the public colleges in the US do, they may use the UC application system.

The UC application has a similar structure and sections, such as the UC personal statement and UC activities and awards sections, it’s important to get to know the right application system. Or both, if you’re applying to schools in and outside of California.

International students might want to get expert advice from a college counseling for international students service, who will be more familiar with the college application journey in the US and can provide useful tips and feedback.

3. Meet the academic requirements

Academic requirements are the first thing college admissions committees look at in applicants. This means your GPA and your standardized test scores, if required.

Note that some colleges don’t require the SAT or ACT and have gone test optional. Some colleges do not accept test scores at all and won’t consider them. In this case, you should not submit any scores. If you do choose to submit high SAT or ACT scores to boost your application, they should be above the average accepted scores of students who currently attend that school. Knowing what is a good SAT score will help you know what to aim for when studying for the test.

As far as your GPA, it’s in your best interest to maintain as high as GPA as possible. A higher GPA makes you more competitive at all universities, and means you’ll have more options when it comes to where you can apply. If you’re struggling to keep your grades up, there are strategies you can learn for how to get into college with a low GPA or how to bump up your grades before graduation.

4. Craft a strong application

Of course, good academics are not enough. Your college application will include your college essays, your college recommendation letters, extracurriculars for college and your supplemental essays. Depending on the school and specific program you apply to, you may be asked to submit additional sections or documents as part of your application. If you’re not sure where to start, you can read some Common app essay examples or Common app activities section, which will give you an overview of what’s included in college applications.

Most students begin preparing for this part of college applications in high school. To fill out your activities and extracurriculars, you can find internships for high school students, volunteer, find paid employment, apply to summer programs for high school students and join school clubs.

For recommendation letters, you’ll most likely ask your high school teachers, guidance counselor, volunteer supervisors or even your employer. Choose your referees wisely and give them plenty of time to write your letter of recommendation. It’s best to ask your referees early and ask the teachers or counselors that you have a strong, positive relationship with.

Lastly, your college essay is one of the most important parts of your entire application. Give yourself plenty of time to brainstorm ideas, draft and rewrite your essay to make it shine. Ask someone else to review your essay for you, and don’t forget to proofread! If you’re not sure how to start a college essay, check out some college essay introduction examples for how to craft a killer opening sentence.

5. Practice for college interviews

Your college interviews are the final step before you hear back about admissions decisions. College interview prep is very important, since many of the top public universities offer interviews to competitive candidates. Generally, being invited to a college interview is a positive sign that a university is interested in accepting you and wants to learn more about you.

If you haven’t attended many interviews, for jobs or otherwise, it’s an excellent idea to practice ahead of time using mock interviews. This way, you can get comfortable with the interview process and learn how to give strong, confident answers to questions.

Review some of the most common college admissions interview questions, like “tell me about yourself” and learn how to provide strong answers so you can ace your interview. International applicants can review some international student interview questions and answers to help them prep.

Best Public Universities vs. Best Private Universities in the US

So, which is better: public universities or private ones? In terms of how competitive they are, there isn’t a huge difference. When it comes to the quality of education you’ll receive at public universities in the US vs private colleges, again there is not much difference when it comes to the top-ranked institutions.

Some of the best public universities in the USA are even called the “Public Ivies”, since they are comparable to the Ivy League schools in academic rigor and educational value. Similarly, there are the “Little Ivies”, private colleges that enjoy a reputation on par with the Ivy League schools, and are among some of the top non-Ivy League schools.

So, the key differences between public and private schools in the US comes down to, essentially, how they are funded and what the college experience is like.

How do you choose which one is better for you? Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of public universities.


1. What is the #1 public university in the US?

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has been named the #1 public university in the US for the last several years running.

2. What state has the best public colleges?

California has the most top-ranked public universities in the US. It also has the most universities of any state in the US, including many top and well-renowned institutions such as Stanford University, the California Institute of Technology and the University of Southern California.

3. How much does it cost to attend public universities in the US?

On average, it costs just over $100,000 over 4 years to attend a public university in the US. While the overall cost of tuition is cheaper than a private university, there tend to be fewer financial aid options for students at public universities.

4. Can I attend a public university in the US if I’m not a citizen?

Yes. Many public universities accept international students and applicants who are not US citizens. There are no federal or state laws prohibiting public universities, or private universities, from accepting undocumented immigrants or individuals with DACA status.

5. Is it better to go to a public or private university in the US?

The choice of whether to go to a public university or a private one will depend on each individual student. Students choose which college to attend based on their applicant profiles, the college’s available programs and opportunities, tuition, financial aid and the campus culture.

6. Are public universities in the US easier to get into than private ones?

Not necessarily. The top public universities in the USA have comparable acceptance rates to the top private colleges, and overall they can be just as selective and competitive to get into. The best colleges in the US, regardless of whether they are private or public, are competitive.

7. Are Ivy League schools public or private?

All of the Ivy League schools are private, for-profit institutions.

8. What GPA do I need to get into the best public universities in the US?

To get into the best public universities in the US, a good GPA is an advantage. Some schools will list a minimum GPA required for admissions, others won’t. For the best chance of acceptance, maintain a GPA at or above the average accepted GPA of current students.

9. What SAT or ACT score do I need to get into the best public universities in the US?

Some public universities will set a minimum SAT or ACT score for admission, but most won’t. Admissions committees will usually admit students based on how well they scored compared to currently accepted students, so it’s best to achieve a score above the average accepted score for a better chance of getting in.

To your success,

Your friends at

BeMo Academic Consulting

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