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Courtesy of Texas A+M

The 15 Best Public Colleges in the U.S.

Aug 01, 2016

State colleges and universities are usually the most affordable option for in-state students and sometimes for out-of-staters as well. Many now have reciprocal arrangements with nearby states to provide discounted tuition rates to their residents.

Due in part to their affordability, public colleges have become increasingly popular—and sometimes harder to get into—in recent years. They have also substantially improved their graduation rates on average, a statistic experts use as a key measure of educational quality.

In MONEY magazine's recently released rankings of the 705 best-value colleges in the U.S., more state schools than ever before landed near the top. The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ranked No. 2 (second only to Princeton), the highest ranking ever for a public university. In fact, public colleges took 11 of the top 20 spots on this year's list.

These 15 state schools ranked the highest on MONEY’s overall Best Colleges list.

To view MONEY's full "Top 50" list of public colleges, click here.

Sources: U.S. Department of Education, Peterson's, PayScale.com, MONEY/College Measures calculations.

Raftermen Photography—Georgia Institute of Technology
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15. Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus, GA

Overall MONEY rank: 35

  • Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $25,700
  • Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $17,700
  • Early career earnings: $63,800
  • Average SAT/AVT score: 1360/30

For in-state students, Georgia Tech is one of the lowest-cost technology-focused colleges in MONEY’s top 50. The typical student has SAT scores in the 700s, and undergraduate classes are known to be demanding. Georgia Tech students have ample opportunities to assist in faculty research, and they do well on the job market, reporting average annual earnings of $63,800 within five years of graduation.

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Mary Levin—University of Washington
2

14. University of Washington-Seattle Campus, WA

Overall MONEY rank: 30

  • Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $27,800
  • Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $19,700
  • Early career earnings: $54,000
  • Average SAT/AVT score: 1230/28

The flagship Seattle campus of the University of Washington has emerged as one of the world’s leading research universities. UW is known for strong social science, business, medical, and engineering programs. Because of its proximity to Boeing’s manufacturing facilities, the school has a particular expertise in aeronautics and counts many astronauts among its alums.

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L. Brian Stauffer—University of Illinois
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13. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, IL

Overall MONEY rank: 22

  • Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $30,800
  • Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $22,100
  • Early career earnings: $56,800
  • Average SAT/AVT score: 1355/29

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is steadily building its reputation as a stellar research institution. The university is among the top 15 public schools on the National Science Foundation’s list of high research spenders and students have access to the country’s second largest university library system. (Only Harvard’s is larger.)

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Courtesy of Clemson University
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12. Clemson University, SC

Overall MONEY rank: 21

  • Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $30,300
  • Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $22,700
  • Early career earnings: $53,100
  • Average SAT/AVT score: 1245/29

Clemson dates its history to 1889, when it was founded as an agricultural college. Today, it’s a major public research university, and while agricultural science continues to be one of the school’s specialties, agricultural students are outnumbered by those studying engineering or business.

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Stephanie Diani
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11. University of California-Los Angeles, CA

Overall MONEY rank: 20

  • Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $34,300
  • Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $23,400
  • Early career earnings: $52,200
  • Average SAT/AVT score: 1300/28

There’s a lot of star power at UCLA. The Theater, Film and Television school, among the best in the country, boasts scores of alumni in movies and on television, including Mayim Bialik, George Takei, Jack Black, and Ben Stiller.

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University of Maryland College Park
John T. Consoli— University of Maryland College Park
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10. University of Maryland-College Park, MD

Overall MONEY rank: 19

  • Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $25,300
  • Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $17,600
  • Early career earnings: $54,500
  • Average SAT/AVT score: 1310/NA

The University of Maryland, College Park is the state’s flagship university, and with some all-star faculty power, it’s also one of the nation’s top public research universities. The faculty roster boasts three Nobel laureates, two Pulitzer Prize winners and, thanks to the campus’s proximity to the District of Columbia, leaders in major positions at federal agencies such as NASA and the National Institutes of Health.

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John McCormick
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9. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, VA

Overall MONEY rank: 18

  • Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $26,900
  • Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $22,600
  • Early career earnings: $55,300
  • Average SAT/AVT score: 1220/NA

Virginia Polytechnic and State University, or Virginia Tech, is a leader in using technology to teach—and have fun. The campus Math Emporium is a former department store that houses hundreds of computers programmed with math tutoring lessons that have boosted students’ math success rates.

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Gregory Urquiaga
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8. University of California-Davis, CA

Overall MONEY rank: 17

  • Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $35,100
  • Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $26,900
  • Early career earnings: $51,000
  • Average SAT/AVT score: 1195/26

One of several highly ranked public universities in California, the University of California–Davis has made a name for itself as an affordable school that produces results. About 43% of the student body is considered low-income, but the university still has a six-year graduation rate of 83%, well above the average for schools with a comparable population of students.

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Daniel A. Anderson—UC Irvine
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7. University of California-Irvine, CA

Overall MONEY rank: 16

  • Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $32,900
  • Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $25,500
  • Early career earnings: $50,600
  • Average SAT/AVT score: 1130/24

One of the youngest campuses (51 years old) in the state’s public university system, Irvine is already among the world’s most respected research institutions, with three former faculty members who’ve received Nobel Prizes. Undergraduates also thrive: Although more than 40% of students come from low-income families, 86% of freshmen go on to graduate—an impressive 41% more than the average for schools with a similar student body.

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Kristen Bartlett Grace—University of Florida
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6. University of Florida, FL

Overall MONEY rank: 15

  • Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $21,400
  • Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $15,500
  • Early career earnings: $49,700
  • Average SAT/AVT score: 1265/29

The University of Florida is one of the best bargains in higher education. Tuition is just $6,300 a year for Floridians, and 89% of undergraduates get state or other grants. Those numbers pay real dividends, as well: About 32% of students come from low-income families, but 87% graduate within six years, nearly 26% higher than is typical for schools with similar student bodies.

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John Durant
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5. University of California-San Diego, CA

Overall MONEY rank: 14

  • Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $32,500
  • Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $24,700
  • Early career earnings: $53,700
  • Average SAT/AVT score: 1280/28

One of the top research universities in the world, the University of California–San Diego is renowned for its science programs and its great teachers. Lin Chao, who teaches evolution and ecology, gets top student marks (and teaching awards) for describing complex science concepts through stories.

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160719_col_texasam_01
Courtesy of Texas A+M—Texas A&M 2014
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4. Texas A & M University-College Station, TX

Overall MONEY rank: 13

  • Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $23,900
  • Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $15,900
  • Early career earnings: $55,100
  • Average SAT/AVT score: 1180/26

With some 46,000 undergraduates, Texas A&M is the largest school in MONEY’s top 50. It’s also one of the most affordable for in-state students. Almost a quarter of students come from low-income families, and Texas A&M accepts 71% of applicants. Best known for its business, agriculture, and engineering programs, TAMU also has one of the country’s largest programs in recreation, park, and tourism management.

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160807_50state_university_virginia_VA
Cole Geddy—U.Va. Public Affairs
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3. University of Virginia-Main Campus, VA

Overall MONEY rank: 9

  • Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $28,100
  • Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $12,000
  • Early career earnings: $55,400
  • Average SAT/AVT score: 1355/31

Known as a “public Ivy,” the University of Virginia offers in-staters a top-notch education with one of the country’s lowest total college costs. What’s more, students live and study inside a UNESCO World Heritage Site (the only U.S. college to have that designation), featuring a spectacularly beautiful campus designed by university founder Thomas Jefferson.

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Virginia Yeh
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2. University of California-Berkeley, CA

Overall MONEY rank: 5

  • Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $35,700
  • Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $25,300
  • Early career earnings: $60,300
  • Average SAT/AVT score: 1355/30

UC-Berkeley, or Cal for short, is one of the most selective public colleges in the country, and 91% of freshman graduate within six years, well above even other elite public schools. A respected research institution, Cal gives students access to a faculty that includes numerous MacArthur “geniuses,” Pulitzer Prize winners, and Nobel laureates.

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Austin Thomason—UM Photography, A. Thomason
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1. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, MI

Overall MONEY rank: 2

  • Estimated price 2016-17 without aid: $28,100
  • Estimated price 2016-17 with average aid: $14,300
  • Early career earnings: $59,000
  • Average SAT/AVT score: 1380/30

Who wouldn’t want to be a part of an alumni association that has a chapter on the moon? The crew of Apollo 15, all U-M grads, actually left a club charter behind on the lunar surface. One of the country’s most affordable elite schools, the University of Michigan accepts less than a third of the nearly 50,000 students who apply annually.

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