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Relying on college rankings – of which there are many – may appear to be an efficient way to make decisions. And because there are 2,000 colleges in the US, knowing where to begin can be overwhelming. Many public universities inevitably end up on “the best of” lists, which increases their applicant pools and drives their admission rates down. Of course, there are many admirable qualities at UCLA, the University of California – Berkeley, the University of Michigan, the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina! But just because the U.S. News and World Report lists them as the best five public national universities, does that mean they are also the best fit for you?

Instead, we encourage you to consider specific programs and opportunities to uncover more top public universities that might just be the perfect fit for your unique needs and interests.

Academic Programs

If you’re laser-focused on a specific academic area of study, rankings for your program may drive your college search and enrollment decisions. Here are a few examples. Indiana University – Bloomington is one of the best public universities for entrepreneurship. The University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign and University of Washington – Seattle are tops in computer science, while Purdue University has the third best civil engineering program, tied with MIT. For the arts, look no further than the public schools: Virginia Commonwealth University for art and design; California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo for architecture; Western Michigan University for music; and the University of Utah for dance.

Impactful First-Year Experience Programs

Research shows that students are more likely to return for their sophomore year and eventually graduate if they feel connected to their college community. All colleges offer dynamic orientation programs and activities for the first week of the fall semester, but others have taken connection-making to another level. The University of South Carolina, for example, has a first-year experience program, “University 101,” that is consistently ranked among the most effective in the nation.

Education Abroad

If taking courses, conducting research or completing an internship in a foreign country sounds appealing, consider adding an education abroad experience to your undergraduate (or graduate) degree. Texas A&M University sends more students abroad than any other college. It’s important to keep in mind that some majors are more conducive to foreign travel than others and working closely with your college’s education abroad office from your first year will be important.

Career Connections through Co-op Programs

You can expect all colleges to offer career advising, which many students don’t capitalize on until their senior year. If you’d like exceptional networking and real-world experiences, you may want to research cooperative education, or “co-op.” If this type of experience piques your interest, the University of Cincinnati should be on your list, as it was the first to offer co-op in the early 1900s.

About the author
Amanda San Román

Amanda earned a BA in rhetoric from Bates College, where she was a Senior Admissions Fellow, responsible for interviewing applicants and leading information sessions. She continues to conduct alumni interviews both in-person and virtually. Amanda manages communication and partnership efforts for AcceptU by facilitating webinars, events, email marketing and technology management.

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