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Table Source: U.S. News, Public University Rankings, 2020

Notes: a.) Acceptance Rate is calculated from the total of in-state, out-of-state and intl' freshman applications in 2018, b) Student count excludes graduate students, c.) Annual cost is in US$ and includes tuition, room and board.

Considerations for Public Schools


1. Wider range of academic programs. Elite public universities, such as Berkeley or Michigan, have the widest breadth and, arguably, depth of academic programs than any Ivy League university in the United States. Moreover, most 25 public university boast a wealth of academic programs and faculty research to rival any of their private counterparts. Having a wider menu of academic options is extremely useful incoming underclassmen that do not know when they want to do study.

2. Can graduate faster. Public schools typically accept a wider range of AP and IB credit, have less stringent residency requirements (i.e. can graduate in as little as two years), and maintain a wider availability of courses on-demand. These factors can translate to an ambitious student completing university in 3 years or less.

3. Less expensive. While tuition at elite public schools can be as expensive as private universities, those of most public universities are typically 10 to 20% less expensive. It is not unusual for families to spend less than $150,000 for a turnkey 4-year college education.


4. Acceptance rates. The published acceptance rates are for all freshman applicants in 2018. While insightful for assessing cross-sectional and year-on-year trends, such data should not be overly relied on due to the complexity of variables at hand. Acceptance rates can vary dramatically from year to year due to factors beyond individual academic performance such as prevailing demographic, state budgetary, and political tends.


That said, in any given year, international students' acceptance rates are almost always less than the total acceptance rate, and, in some cases, less than half or more. This discrepancy is a function of, inter alia, a.) number of international applicants, b.) school openness to international students, and c.) the number of admitted in- and out-of-state students that elect to matriculate.


UC Berkeley

Total Admit 15%

Intl' Admit 8.3%

2018 Application Season


Texas, Austin

Total Admit 39%

Intl' Admit <20%

2018 Application Season



Total Admit 23%

Intl' Admit <15%

2018 Application Season

Competitive schools like UC Berkeley had an overall admit rate of 15% but accepted only 8.3% of intl' applicants in 2018. This can be attributed in part to a high  volume of international applicants (over 16,000 in 2019) and generally high matriculation rate of domestic applicants.

5. Cultural & Environmental Fit. Public schools are most suitable for ambitious, self-starting and goal-oriented students; or for those students with a tight network of family and friend support close by. For international students studying alone, the sheer size and namelessness at public universities can at times be overwhelming.

While public universities invest considerable sums into academic and personal counseling, and career planning services, less ambitious students typically have a harder time. Such students, requiring smaller student-teacher ratios, might find smaller universities or Liberal Arts colleges more rewarding.

Finally, as with any university, the environment (e.g. weather, local community, etc.) are important factors that students and their families must consider. Public schools tend to be in smaller municipalities known as "college towns" that primarily serve the needs of the university. Generally located in the suburbs or rural communities, college towns tend to be student-focused bubbles.


Alternatively, a few public schools, such as UC Berkeley, UCLA, the University of Washington and the University of Illinois, Chicago, are situated in urban environments. These schools have the advantage of proximity to the hustle and bustle of a large American city. With the convenience of city life, however, can come the risks of crime and personal safety.


Use Google Maps to explore college towns and orientate yourself with the environments of these top national universities. Zoom out to see a macro view of the United States, zoom in to find specific universities, or use Street View (the yellow man) to explore the neighborhood. But, above all, have fun!

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