(Stacker) – The weight of student loan debt in the U.S. has become a genuine crisis—millions of Americans now cumulatively owe $1.75 trillion in student debt as of 2022, an amount second only to mortgage debt in terms of individual indebtedness. And the debt crisis is only one issue impacting prospective college students; the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on college enrollment, with over a million fewer students deciding to attend school since the pandemic began in 2020. The rising cost of college, combined with economic and physical hardship brought on by the pandemic, has contributed to a growing belief that college is not worth the cost.
The cost of public school depends on state residency. Some public universities have remained relatively affordable options for both in-state residents and out-of-state students. Others, however, have become more expensive on both fronts, or have had to hike up out-of-state tuition costs to keep in-state prices low. Here, Stacker has ranked the 50 best public universities in the country in order, from most to least expensive.
To compile this list, Stacker scoured data from Niche, a site that reviews and ranks schools according to factors like acceptance rates, the average student loan amount, diversity, quality of professors, and more. In 2022, the weight of ACT/SAT scores was reduced, as colleges put less emphasis on test scores as part of the admissions process.
This list comprises Niche’s 50 top public colleges of 2022, and has been ranked in terms of the average cost per year after financial aid for students receiving grants or scholarship aid, as reported by the college.
Read on to find out which entirely free university will leave more money in the bank, and which pricey school still has some of the happiest students in the country, as well as which affordable university held an honorary graduation in space.
1 / 50Charles Knowles // Shutterstock
#50. Colorado School of Mines
Location: Golden, Colorado
Net price: $27,675
Acceptance rate: 53%
SAT Range: 1270-1440
The Colorado School of Mines, known to most simply as “Mines,” is a school devoted to preparing its graduates for careers in engineering and applied science, with a focus on technical skills and hands-on training. The school is one of the smallest on this list, with a student body of about 6,000—including both graduate students and undergrads.
Both in-state and out-of-state tuition at the Colorado School of Mines are relatively expensive. But the school also has the numbers to prove it’s a worthwhile choice: Mines boasts the biggest collegiate section of the Society of Women Engineers in the country, a retention rate of over 90%, and an average starting salary for graduates of $73,418.
2 / 50Kristopher Kettner // Shutterstock
#49. Penn State
Location: University Park, Pennsylvania
Net price: $26,151
Acceptance rate: 56%
SAT Range: 1160-1360
Penn State comprises several campuses throughout the state, the largest and most prominent of these being the University Park location. In addition to the tens of thousands of undergraduates who call Penn State home—thousands of whom live on campus—an additional 6,000 graduate students spend their days at University Park. During the fall 2021 semester, nearly 60% of Penn State students were Pennsylvania residents.
3 / 50Rob Hainer // Shutterstock
#48. Auburn University
Location: Auburn, Alabama
Net price: $24,028
Acceptance rate: 85%
SAT Range: 1150-1320
The vast majority of Auburn University’s 31,526 students come from the state of Alabama, with Georgia and Florida supplying the second and third greatest numbers of students to the school in fall 2017. For undergraduates, the colleges of Business, Engineering, and Liberal Arts were popular choices. In June 2018, Auburn University’s Board of Trustees voted to approve raising tuition by 2%; however, that followed several years of a 3% annual hike.
4 / 50Rob Hainer // Shutterstock
#47. Clemson University
Location: Clemson, South Carolina
Net price: $22,935
Acceptance rate: 62%
SAT Range: 1210-1390
Clemson University is home to about 20,195 undergraduates students, as well as 5,627 graduate and professional students as of fall 2019. About 60% of the student body comes from within South Carolina. Though Clemson is fairly expensive for both in-state and out-of-state students, the school created hundreds of new scholarship opportunities available to students transferring in from South Carolina technical colleges.
5 / 50Feng Cheng // Shutterstock
#46. University of Massachusetts – Amherst
Location: Amherst, Massachusetts
Net price: $22,505
Acceptance rate: 65%
SAT Range: 1200-1390
The University of Massachusetts – Amherst has almost more students than it knows what to do with. In fact, to accommodate a growing student body, UMass Amherst is offering some incoming freshmen discounted student housing in the future in exchange for commuting from off campus this academic year. In 2019, Massachusetts officials proposed a tuition freeze intended to maintain affordability, but UMass officials responded with concern that freezing tuition could cause damaging cuts elsewhere in the university.
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#45. University of Pittsburgh
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Net price: $22,346
Acceptance rate: 64%
SAT Range: 1250-1420
Pell Grants are federal aid usually awarded to incoming undergraduates who express great financial need and rarely have to be repaid. The only downside to this generous package is that sometimes seeing that a student has received a Pell Grant stops colleges from offering that student additional aid, even when it may be needed.
For this reason, the University of Pittsburgh instituted a revolutionary Pell Grant matching program in 2019. Through the program, the school offers each Pell Grant recipient the same amount as the grant in additional financial aid, which officials believe will bring the total amount up to a much more impactful level.
7 / 50University of College // Shutterstock
#44. University of Oklahoma
Location: Norman, Oklahoma
Net price: $21,836
Acceptance rate: 83%
SAT Range: 1100-1300
Despite its large student population, the University of Oklahoma keeps class sizes small—4% of classes on the OU campus have 100 or more students, which may be a factor in the high retention rate. OU, which came under fire in 2019 for allegedly misreporting some information to U.S. News & World Report, boasts impressive financial numbers. The Princeton Review named OU one of the “best value colleges” in the country in 2021.
8 / 50Ken Wolter // Shutterstock
#43. University of South Carolina
Location: Columbia, South Carolina
Net price: $21,784
Acceptance rate: 68%
SAT Range: 1140-1340
The Columbia institution has been around since 1801, and today freshmen enjoy one of the best introductory years of any college in America: U.S. News & World Report ranked South Carolina #3 among “First-Year Experiences” due in part to its lauded “University 101″—a unique adjustment program to campus life.
The Gamecocks compete in the vaunted SEC with heavyweights like Auburn and Alabama, one of the reasons over 25% of students highlighted the “school spirit” to Niche. Prior to the 2019-20 academic year, SC increased tuition by the smallest percentage since 1998: $76 or 0.6%.
9 / 50Claudine Van Massenhove // Shutterstock
#42. California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo
Location: San Luis Obispo, California
Net price: $20,491
Acceptance rate: 28%
SAT Range: 1240-1440
With a selective admissions rate, California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo (often shortened to the much pithier Cal Poly SLO) is an academically revered college, especially for those interested in computer science and aerospace studies. In 2018, students were concerned by a proposal to hike tuition at all Cal State campuses by 4%, but the plan was ultimately rejected by the Board of Trustees after sufficient backlash. Officials insist the CSU system needs increased funding to thrive, but will seek this money from the state instead.
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#41. Virginia Tech
Location: Blacksburg, Virginia
Net price: $20,247
Acceptance rate: 66%
SAT Range: 1170-1370
Virginia Tech—home to nearly 30,000 undergraduates—is almost too popular for its own good: The school accepted more students than it could handle for its incoming freshman class in 2019, and has taken measures to bring the class size down by 1,000. All who end up at Virginia Tech will participate in the Engineering and Architecture programs for which the school is known. Oh, and they’ll be able to eat the best-rated college food in the country.
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#40. Texas A&M University
Location: College Station, Texas
Net price: $19,906
Acceptance rate: 63%
SAT Range: 1160-1380
Texas A&M University, once an all-male college known as the Agricultural and Mechanical College, is today a sprawling university known for its engineering and accounting programs. In November 2019, Texas A&M approved tuition hikes that would raise the cost of attendance by 2.6%, thereby generating funding for enhancing classroom technology, adding faculty members, and more.
12 / 50Luiz F Castro // Wikimedia Commons
#39. University of Delaware
Location: Newark, Delaware
Net price: $19,747
Acceptance rate: 71%
SAT Range: 1150-1330
Who doesn’t love a good college love story? President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden first met in 1975, when Jill was a student at the University of Delaware. Joe had received his college degree from the same university and was by that point serving as a U.S. Senator for Delaware.
Besides serving as a plot point in the Biden romance, the University of Delaware has also established itself as a respected choice for those interested in chemical engineering, and the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics is ranked amongst the best undergraduate business programs in the nation. In 2019, the university announced it would increase tuition for in- and out-of-state students, by $600 and $1400 respectively, as well as adding fee increases for some specific programs.
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#38. University of California – Berkeley
Location: Berkeley, California
Net price: $19,329
Acceptance rate: 17%
SAT Range: 1310-1530
A roster of Cal Berkeley alumni reads like a list of Silicon Valley greatest hits: the CEO of Intel, an inventor of PowerPoint, and perhaps most notably, Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple. For Cal students who may not go on to become tech billionaires, rising costs are a concern: hikes for out-of-state students have many worried that UC campuses are becoming an option only for the wealthy. According to Niche, 74% of University of California – Berkeley students came from within California, while 13% came from other states, and the remaining 13% were international.
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#37. University of Virginia
Location: Charlottesville, Virginia
Net price: $19,043
Acceptance rate: 23%
SAT Range: 1320-1510
At the University of Virginia, in-state residents make up 67% of the total student body, and graduate students comprise just under a third of the population. Many of UVA’s graduate programs rank among the best in the nation: The schools of Business, Nursing, and Education are particularly well regarded, and for undergrads, English and Economics are popular majors. In the year 2000, tuition and required fees for out-of-state students amounted to just over $17,000; in 2021, the cost reached nearly $54,000.
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#36. Virginia Military Institute
Location: Lexington, Virginia
Net price: $18,969
Acceptance rate: 60%
SAT Range: 1070-1260
Virginia Military Institute was founded in 1839 and is the oldest state-supported military college in the U.S. In 1997, the school was the last senior military college to admit women, following a Supreme Court decision that required coeducation in order to continue to receive federal funding. The small undergraduate college has a student body of around 1,700 cadets, and requires all attendees to participate in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), though students are not required to serve in the military post-graduation. VMI prides itself on offering an education suited for “citizen-soldiers,” which includes both military and liberal arts training.
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#35. The Ohio State University
Location: Columbus, Ohio
Net price: $18,884
Acceptance rate: 68%
SAT Range: 1210-1430
The Ohio State University in Columbus is home to 42,000 full-time undergraduates, who describe their school as “spirited”, “awesome”, and “diverse.” About 71% of the student body has a primary residence in Ohio, with 25% of students coming from out of state and the remainder coming from outside the country. The university openly prioritizes affordability, and since the late 2010s has instituted an “Ohio State Tuition Guarantee.” This means that incoming freshmen are guaranteed steady tuition prices for their four years at school.
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#34. James Madison University
Location: Harrisonburg, Virginia
Net price: $18,592
Acceptance rate: 80%
SAT Range: 1120-1280
James Madison University, founded in 1908 and named after the fourth President of the United States—who was, in all likelihood, not as vocally gifted as the musical “Hamilton” would have you believe—is located in Harrisonburg, Virginia. JMU’s tuition increased annually for many years in a row in the late 2010s. In 2018, it was announced that out-of-state tuition would rise by $684, and in-state tuition would rise by $370. However, in 2019, the Board of Visitors at JMU excited many by voting not to hike in-state tuition prices for the first time in nearly two decades—instead, more than $50 million additional state dollars were pledged towards the university.
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#33. College of William & Mary
Location: Williamsburg, Virginia
Net price: $18,588
Acceptance rate: 42%
SAT Range: 1300-1490
The College of William & Mary is one of the more expensive state school options for both in-state and out-of-state students. It’s a far cry from the good old days of the early 1970s, when the total cost of attending the school (room and board included) sat at a modest $1,590 for Virginia residents and $2,524 for out-of-state students. The College of William and Mary goes back much further than the 1970s, however: the school was founded in 1693 and is named for King William III and Queen Mary II. It also has a lengthy list of “firsts” under its belt, including being the first American college to institute an honor system in 1779.
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#32. Rutgers University – New Brunswick
Location: New Brunswick, New Jersey
Net price: $17,835
Acceptance rate: 67%
SAT Range: 1180-1410
Rutgers University – New Brunswick is no stranger to higher education—the New Jersey school, founded in 1766, is one of the 10 oldest collegiate institutions in the United States. As is to be expected, in the past 200 and some years, tuition prices have risen just a touch. For the 2022-23 school year, Rutgers—which encompasses three locations in addition to the New Brunswick campus—and its Board of Governors instituted a 2.9% increase in tuition and fees.
20 / 50Ken Wolter // Shutterstock
#31. University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan
Net price: $17,832
Acceptance rate: 26%
SAT Range: 1340-1520
The University of Michigan – Ann Arbor has been ranked the #1 public research university in the country, and offers some of the top business, engineering, and psychology programs in the nation. Of course, for out-of-state students, that prestige comes with a high price tag: The Board of Regents approved a 3.7% tuition increase for out-of-state students prior to the 2019-20 academic year. However, the cost of tuition seemingly doesn’t bear too much of a burden: Niche still ranks Michigan as the #5 best college for student life in America.
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21 / 50Ken Wolter // Shutterstock
#30. University of Minnesota Twin Cities
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Net price: $17,729
Acceptance rate: 70%
SAT Range: 1240-1460
With an enrollment of over 52,000 students in the 2021-22 school year, the University of Minnesota Twin Cities has one of the largest student bodies in the country. Duluth native Bob Dylan famously attended the university from 1959 to 1960, before he dropped out to move to New York and start his music career. Many of the school’s most popular majors are in STEM and social science-related fields, including biological and biomedical sciences and engineering.
22 / 50Bryan Pollard // Shutterstock
#29. University of Maryland – College Park
Location: College Park, Maryland
Net price: $17,643
Acceptance rate: 44%
SAT Range: 1270-1480
The University of Maryland is doing good work: In 2019, the public research university was awarded $175 million by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to be put towards research about Earth’s atmosphere. The University of Maryland in College Park is strong in areas of study such as Criminal Justice, Architecture, and Agricultural Sciences, and boasts a diverse array of alums such as Larry David and Gayle King. Though the school is fairly mid-level in terms of price for out-of-state students, it’s one of the most affordable options on this list in terms of in-state tuition.
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#28. University of Iowa
Location: Iowa City, Iowa
Net price: $17,452
Acceptance rate: 84%
SAT Range: 1110-1310
The University of Iowa looks pretty good considering it’s over 160 years old. Since its founding in 1847, the University of Iowa has established itself as a strong academic choice and is regarded as one of the best schools for creative writing in the country. UI’s graduate programs are well respected, and graduate students make up about one-sixth of the student body presence on campus. In 2019, officials approved a proposed 3.9% tuition hike at both the University of Iowa and Iowa State. Prior to that, the UI student president responded by noting that raising tuition by even $300 would mean many students having to work an additional 30 hours to pay that extra cost.
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#27. Georgia Institute of Technology
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Net price: $17,410
Acceptance rate: 21%
SAT Range: 1370-1530
You’re not alone if the term “SlothBot” makes you think of an extremely adorable sloth robot, but in reality, the SlothBot is a Georgia Tech creation that looks nothing like a sloth. Instead, it’s a robot that will sit in a forest canopy and monitor environmental changes, moving only when absolutely necessary—hence its name. Around 88% of students who attend Georgia Tech—which is known for its computer science and engineering programs—come from the United States, with 53% and 35% coming from in-state and out-of-state, respectively.
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#26. Michigan Technological University
Location: Houghton, Michigan
Net price: $17,356
Acceptance rate: 70%
SAT Range: 1160-1350
Michigan Technological University, founded in 1885, is home to a little over 5,000 undergraduate students, as well as around 1,400 graduate students. Across the nation, men are actually becoming the new college minority, but Michigan Technological University has not experienced the same trend; the school is predominantly male, with the gender breakdown falling at 71% male and 29% female. Nearly all students at the university are on some form of financial aid, and the school is ranked well in terms of salaries students receive soon after graduation.
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26 / 50Claudine Van Massenhove // Shutterstock
#25. University of California – Santa Barbara
Location: Santa Barbara, California
Net price: $17,223
Acceptance rate: 37%
SAT Range: 1230-1460
The University of California – Santa Barbara in 2022 ranked as #75 on a list of best schools in the country, and #15 for best public schools in the country. As of the same year, 83% of all undergraduates who attended UCSB were California residents. Though the school is much cheaper for these students than those coming from other states, many still require loans to attend.
27 / 50Jim Feliciano // Shutterstock
#24. University of California – Davis
Location: Davis, California
Net price: $17,026
Acceptance rate: 46%
SAT Range: 1160-1400
The student population at UC Davis is around 30,000, but would be much higher if another popular group were taken into account—that would be the cows, plenty of whom call this campus their home, and who often serve as a basis for university research. Besides bovine cuteness, UC Davis also provides excellent programs in agriculture and managerial economics. As a member of the UC system, Davis has been impacted by the same tuition hikes as many others on this list, and is one of a few UCs to institute a cap on out-of-state undergraduates at 18% of the student body.
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#23. University of Texas – Austin
Location: Austin, Texas
Net price: $16,892
Acceptance rate: 32%
SAT Range: 1210-1470
Yes, the University of Texas – Austin is a revered university, but it’s also the final note in a truly heartwarming story: In 2019, a homeless man who dropped out of the school decades prior and was later diagnosed with schizophrenia returned to UT Austin to finally finish his degree. Best of all, his tuition was paid in full to finish up a degree in studio art. UT Austin also offers free tuition to students—90% of whom come from within Texas—from households in which the gross adjusted income is less than $30,000.
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#22. Michigan State University
Location: East Lansing, Michigan
Net price: $16,655
Acceptance rate: 76%
SAT Range: 1100-1300
Michigan State University isn’t just renowned for its undergraduate engineering programs; it’s also one of the earliest American prototypes of a land grant university, which is a university that receives federally granted land for the purposes of improving agriculture, science, and more.
In the many years since its founding in 1855, Michigan State University’s tuition rates have certainly seen a few changes: In 1979, tuition per credit sat at just $24.50, and by fall 2021, that figure had hit $491.75. A part of this large increase can be attributed to the fact that in 1992, MSU switched from a four-quarter system to a three-semester system, thereby increasing the cost of each individual credit.
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#21. University of Georgia
Location: Athens, Georgia
Net price: $16,580
Acceptance rate: 48%
SAT Range: 1250-1460
Fraternity houses tend to be full of college boys and warm beer, but not necessarily Ponzi schemes—that is, until the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2019 accused a University of Georgia graduate of operating a Ponzi scheme while a student and fraternity brother.
For most UGA students, however, time on campus is spent participating in well-regarded programs like Communications and Criminal Justice. About 86% of the student body comes from within the state, and 58% of undergrads identify as female.
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31 / 50Ken Wolter // Shutterstock
#20. University of California – Los Angeles
Location: Los Angeles, California
Net price: $16,474
Acceptance rate: 14%
SAT Range: 1300-1530
The University of California – Los Angeles has long been considered a “Public Ivy,” and is especially revered for its graduate programs in fine arts and public health. With an acceptance rate of just 14%, the school is a competitive choice. The most popular majors include biology, political science, psychology, economics, and sociology. In early 2019, the UC Board of Regents voted to increase out-of-state tuition by $762, while in-state tuition would remain steady.
32 / 50University of College // Shutterstock
#19. Mississippi State University
Location: Mississippi State, Mississippi
Net price: $16,402
Acceptance rate: 80%
SAT Range: 1050-1270
Originally an agricultural school and now the largest university in the state, Mississippi State University is made up of nine colleges. These include the College of Veterinary Medicine, which is one of the top ranked in the country, as well as the College of Architecture, Art, and Design and the College of Forest Resources. The library at MSU Mitchell Memorial Library is the official home of Ulysses S. Grant’s Presidential Library, which contains the Civil War general’s letters, photographs, scrapbooks, and personal research.
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#18. Iowa State University
Location: Ames, Iowa
Net price: $16,105
Acceptance rate: 92%
SAT Range: 1010-1310
Iowa State University offers the traditional spectrum of majors, but students tend to gravitate towards a particular few: in the fall of 2018, 20% of students were studying mechanical engineering, kinesiology, aerospace engineering, animal science, or computer engineering. Gender also plays a role in this breakdown: female students, who comprise 44% of the student body, are also largely interested in elementary education, biology, and psychology. About 3 out of every 5 students at Iowa State are native Iowans.
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#17. University of California – San Diego
Location: La Jolla, California
Net price: $15,222
Acceptance rate: 37%
SAT Range: 1270-1480
The University of California – San Diego is an institution widely regarded for its strength in the sciences—particularly biology, biochemistry, and neuroscience—but the school was also ranked by U.S. News & World Report in the top 30 universities globally for Arts and Humanities. With a student body of over 30,000 students, less than half of whom live on campus, UCSD has struggled to meet housing demands; the school in 2019 announced plans to raise rent by at least 3% in order to pay for new residential housing. This comes hand in hand with rising costs for out-of-state UC students.
35 / 50Ken Wolter // Shutterstock
#16. Oklahoma State University
Location: Stillwater, Oklahoma
Net price: $14,763
Acceptance rate: 70%
SAT Range: 1020-1250
Oklahoma State University offers 87 majors for undergraduate students, including options in aerospace and aviation, plant biology, and a pre-veterinary track. Before aid, the school costs $24,920 for in-state residents, and $40,440 for out-of-state students. According to the admissions office, more than half of students graduate without any student loan debt. Famous alums include Anita Hill, the country singer Garth Brooks, and actor James Marsden.
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36 / 50Ken Wolter // Shutterstock
#15. Arizona State University
Location: Tempe, Arizona
Net price: $14,653
Acceptance rate: 88%
SAT Range: 1100-1320
While tuition for out-of-state students at Arizona State University hovers just under $30,000 annually, 94% of ASU students receive some form of financial aid. The school has been ranked fifth in the nation as a recruitment source, meaning employers favor graduates of the school when seeking new hires. As of 2019, ASU is working on a new plan for structuring its fees and tuition costs that would include only four broad fee categories, as opposed to lengthy lists of fees that are entirely specific to each major and degree type.
37 / 50John Patota // Shutterstock
#14. North Carolina State University
Location: Raleigh, North Carolina
Net price: $14,600
Acceptance rate: 46%
SAT Range: 1230-1410
With Business, Biology, and Engineering as some of its strongest and most popular majors, North Carolina State University was ranked by U.S. News & World Report as #32 on the list of Top Public Schools in America. As of 2022, there were nearly 23,000 undergraduates on campus, and 87% of students came from in-state. Fun fact: NC State students often take part in the annual “Krispy Kreme Challenge,” which involves racing to a local Krispy Kreme and then attempting to scarf down a dozen doughnuts.
38 / 50Ken Wolter // Shutterstock
#13. University of Wisconsin
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Net price: $14,030
Acceptance rate: 57%
SAT Range: 1260-1460
The University of Wisconsin in Madison is a highly regarded university and often considered one of the “Public Ivies”—a term coined in the 1980s to refer to public colleges whose academics are at an Ivy League standard. Notable alumni include architect Frank Lloyd Wright, writer Joyce Carol Oates, and former U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, the founder of Earth Day. The university is devoted to maintaining access and affordability for its in-state students; “Bucky’s Tuition Promise” means Wisconsin residents whose household income falls below $56,000 can attend for free—but out-of-state students are looking at rising tuition costs.
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#12. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Location: Urbana, Illinois
Net price: $13,517
Acceptance rate: 63%
SAT Range: 1200-1460
The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has produced 27 Pulitzer Prize winners, including noted film critic Roger Ebert and novelist Richard Powers. The school also has one of the biggest Greek systems in the U.S., with nearly a quarter of all students participating. The university has 16 colleges, which include the College of Media and the School of Social Work. The library also boasts one of the biggest collections of any public university in the world, with over 24 million items.
40 / 50Ken Wolter // Shutterstock
#11. Indiana University – Bloomington
Location: Bloomington, Indiana
Net price: $13,191
Acceptance rate: 80%
SAT Range: 1120-1350
In 2018, Indiana University – Bloomington was recognized by the Academic Ranking of World Universities for the strength of its programs in business management and administration, education, psychology, and more. Bloomington is the oldest of all of IU’s campuses, and out of the 2019 freshman class of around 8,000, more than 4,500 students were from Indiana. IU Bloomington’s tuition structure is based around banded tuition, which means that students taking anywhere between 12 and 18 credits will pay a single fixed tuition price, allowing students more predictability in terms of tuition cost and on-time graduation.
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#10. University of California – Irvine
Location: Irvine, California
Net price: $13,106
Acceptance rate: 30%
SAT Range: 1230-1430
Once upon a time, all California residents could attend the University of California schools for free. But alas, all good things must end, and beginning in the 1920s, small “fees” were introduced for both in- and out-of-state residents. By the 1970s, tuition and fees amounted to just over $1,000 for residents, and by 2012, the UC system received more money from student tuition and fees—a whopping $3 billion—than from from the state at $2.3 billion. At Irvine, a school revered for both criminal justice and performing arts programs, the total cost of living is still a bit lower than that of most of the other UC system campuses.
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#9. University of Utah
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
Net price: $12,881
Acceptance rate: 79%
SAT Range: 1130-1350
The Salt Lake City institution has been around since 1850 and is renowned for its School of Medicine and primary care program. Besides other high-ranking grad programs, its undergraduates enjoy a 17-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio as well as a geographically diverse population, as 36% attend from out of state or internationally. A member of the Power 5 conference Pac-12, the Utes were one of the top college football teams in the nation in 2019.
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#8. Florida State University
Location: Tallahassee, Florida
Net price: $12,815
Acceptance rate: 36%
SAT Range: 1220-1350
Founded in 1851, Florida State University is both a space-grant and sea-grant university, meaning it participates in cutting-edge space and sea research on a national level. About 87% of FSU students are Floridians, meaning they get to attend one of Florida’s designated “preeminent universities” at the relatively low tuition cost of $5,656 annually. There are more than 29,000 undergraduates at FSU, with women making up more than half of total enrollment.
44 / 50Jonathan Weiss // Shutterstock
#7. Purdue University
Location: West Lafayette, Indiana
Net price: $12,294
Acceptance rate: 67%
SAT Range: 1170-1420
Over the years, Purdue University and NASA have developed quite the friendship. Many future astronauts—including Jerry Ross, John Casper, and the inimitable Neil Armstrong—spent their college days at Purdue. In fact, in 2018, Purdue even granted an honorary doctoral degree via live stream to an astronaut still aboard the International Space Station. Purdue has held a tuition freeze since the 2012–2013 school year (through at least the 2019–20 academic year), which both garnered positive press and raised whether such an act was a real solution or a publicity stunt.
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#6. University of Central Florida
Location: Orlando, Florida
Net price: $11,108
Acceptance rate: 44%
SAT Range: 1160-1340
Located in Orlando, the University of Central Florida boasts a full-time undergraduate student body of over 43,000. Popular majors include psychology, health sciences, and nursing. The school is known for its robust research programming, with researchers attracting more than $200 million each year in grants and sponsored awards.
The university was originally founded to support the burgeoning U.S. space program, and its proximity to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center has made space research a particularly interesting facet of UCF’s offerings. Currently, the school is home to the Florida Space Institute, which collaborates on space missions.
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#5. University of Florida
Location: Gainesville, Florida
Net price: $10,075
Acceptance rate: 31%
SAT Range: 1290-1460
The University of Florida, which comprises just over 30,000 full-time undergraduate students, has particularly strong Accounting and Engineering courses, and was rated by U.S. News & World Report as #5 in Top Public Schools. The school also offers unique courses, such as its seven-year Medical Honors Program, which allows students to spend their first two years of school as typical undergrads, then graduate from medical school five years later with a dual degree in science and medicine.
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#4. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Location: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Net price: $10,038
Acceptance rate: 25%
SAT Range: 1280-1490
While UNC Chapel Hill has many renowned undergraduate programs, including creative writing, its graduate programs are the ones receiving buzz: In 2018, U.S. News & World Report ranked the School of Medicine’s Primary Care course #1 in the nation, with Social Work and Nursing programs also faring extremely well. Like many other public universities, UNC at Chapel Hill has had to confront the issue of rising tuition prices; while keeping in-state tuition prices fairly low has been a high priority, rising out-of-state tuition prices and fees have been a concern for out-of-state families.
48 / 50Patrick Tr // Shutterstock
#3. University of South Florida
Location: Tampa, Florida
Net price: $10,004
Acceptance rate: 49%
SAT Range: 1160-1320
The University of South Florida has been lauded for its graduate programs, with grad students comprising more than 10,000 spots on campus, and ranks well for undergraduate studies in nursing, technology, and criminal justice. Both the in-state and out-of-state tuition for this university make it a relatively affordable option, though out-of-state students make up a small portion of the student body at 9%.
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#2. University of Washington
Location: Seattle, Washington
Net price: $9,661
Acceptance rate: 56%
SAT Range: 1200-1470
Applying to college is an undeniably stressful process, but some students certainly have particular advantages or hardships along the way that impact their academic performance. That’s why the University of Washington, along with a handful of other schools, has helped the College Board develop a tool called the Environmental Context Dashboard; the goal is to provide more context to a UW student’s application through data sets that highlight, for instance, how many adults in a student’s community attended college. A few fast facts: 64% of undergrad students at UW come from Washington state, 64% of the school’s revenue comes from tuition, and nearly half of all declared STEM majors are women.
50 / 50Cadet Samantha Price // Army Photo
#1. United States Military Academy at West Point
Location: West Point, New York
Net price: $0
Acceptance rate: 12%
SAT Range: 1210-1440
In a world where college prices are rising and student debt is at an all-time high, the United States Military Academy at West Point stands apart as a completely free option for a four-year education. It’s not just classes that are covered, either: students at this military academy receive room, board, and health care entirely free of cost. Most West Point students—about 93% of them—come from outside of New York state, but getting into USMA is no cakewalk for anyone, as the acceptance rate is about 12%.
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