Top US Universities in 2018: Public v Private | Top Universities

Top US Universities in 2018: Public v Private

By Craig O

Updated March 21, 2021 Updated March 21, 2021

When it comes to picking a top US university to apply to, you’re unlikely to give much consideration initially to whether a particular institution is privately or publicly funded. Let’s face it: where a university gets its funding is nowhere near as interesting as what the course is like, what the university’s reputation is, how close it is to home and what the campus culture is like. Even so, the private/public debate is worth paying attention to, especially as public universities typically offer lower tuition fees to in-state students.

The case for public universities

Pictured: The University of Washington (ranked 22nd in the US this year)

Yes, that’s right, public universities normally offer lower tuition fees than their private counterparts. As you may already know, this is because some funding for public universities comes from state governments instead of solely from student fees.

Public universities also typically offer a wide choice of majors and are less likely to be specialist institutions. While this isn’t a positive for anyone who already knows the exact field they wish to study in, it might appeal to you if you’re still undecided or just like the idea of studying somewhere that’s academically diverse.

The case for private universities

Pictured: Yale University (ranked eighth in the US this year)

If private universities cost more, why would anyone choose to attend them? Well, the simple answer is that they’re better. Private universities out-perform public universities in ranking tables and enjoy a much stronger reputation academically. Class sizes are also usually smaller, ensuring you’ll have more time to interact with your tutors on a one-on-one basis. The student demographic is potentially also much more varied than at public universities where in-state students make up a considerable majority. Where you live won’t affect your chances of getting into a private university.

Even the argument that public universities will save you money isn’t necessarily true. Many private universities will offer financial support packages to prospective students and will judge application on a needs-blind basis. This means applications are picked on academic merit and students are offered as much financial support as they require.

So where should I study?

Ultimately, this is a decision that’s up to you. Like we said at the start, the distinction between private and public is unlikely to be enough to swing it entirely, but it has an impact on several other key factors. Both types of university have a different type of atmosphere and campus culture, both will offer a slightly different academic experience and both will cost considerably different amounts.

Here's a rundown of the top public and private universities in the US, according to the QS World University Rankings® 2018. As you can see, the top private universities are also the top universities in the world. There are, however, several high-performing public universities that shouldn’t be overlooked, particularly if they’re based in your state.

Top US public universities

 

University

World ranking

US ranking

1

University of Michigan

=21st

=12th

2

University of California, Berkeley (UCB)

27th

14th

3

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

33rd

16th

4

University of California, San Diego (UCSD)

=38th

17th

5

University of Wisconsin-Madison

55th

21st

6

University of Washington

61st

22nd

7

University of Texas at Austin

67th

23rd

8

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

69th

24th

9

Georgia Institute of Technology

70th

25th

10

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

80th

26th

Top US private universities

 

University

World ranking

US ranking

1

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

1st

1st

2

Stanford University

2nd

2nd

3

Harvard University

3rd

3rd

4

California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

4th

4th

5

University of Chicago

9th

5th

6

Princeton University

13th

6th

7

Cornell University

14th

7th

8

Yale University

16th

8th

9

Johns Hopkins University

17th

9th

10

Columbia University

18th

10th

This article was originally published in June 2017 . It was last updated in March 2021

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Written by

As Head of Content, Craig is responsible for all articles and guides published across TopUniversities and TopMBA. He has nearly 10 years of experience writing for a student audience and extensive knowledge of universities and study programs around the world.

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