Top 20 Universities in the United States

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Madeleine Karydes
Madeleine Karydes

Madeleine attended UC Berkeley and double-majored in English and Media Studies. She is now an integral part of the Empowerly team.

First of all, let’s start with Empowerly’s “Best Fit Philosophy.” Have you heard of it? We believe that each individual student has different schools that are the best fit for them, regardless of perceived prestige. Since students excel where they are happy and fulfilled, our mutual goal is to find your best-fit place to launch your career! That’s important to remember at every opportunity.

However, unique doesn’t have to mean unsupported. Empowerly design superhero, Sophia Minhas, has researched and produced a Top 20 Universities graphic for us. We also have some additional information on the key differences between public and private schools. We’ll help you make the biggest decisions of your life path so far, with information you can understand. Ultimately, you call the play.

So… we gotta ask. Have you made a college list yet?

When creating your college list, we recommend that you apply to both public and private universities. When determining public versus private schools, there is no ultimate winner because every student has different preferences. These different factors include: geographic location, college size, academic departments, and general school culture. 

Whether you choose to attend a public or private college, the college you choose should be the right fit for you. 

Now, let’s look at the Top 20 Universities according to recent research… 

Above, you can download the graphic if you’d like to read more closely, annotate, and do your own research on this list to see if any of these programs could make it onto your final college list.

As you work through the list, let’s discuss another major decision for families during the college-list building phase: public or private?

Choosing to attend a private or public college can be difficult. Here are some important differences to consider. 

Differences Between Public and Private Colleges


Public universities are funded by state governments, whereas private universities are funded by college tuition and private contributions (donors, endowment, etc). Therefore, public schools on average offer lower tuition; especially for in-state students. Attending a public university in your own state means that you will get a break on tuition costs. It may also be easier for you to get admitted. 

However, if you attend a public university in another state, you may be paying a similar tuition rate as a private university. In addition, many pricer private universities offer good financial aid. 

Class Size & Demographic:

Public universities are generally larger than private universities. For example, UC Berkeley is a public college and has around 27,000 undergraduates enrolled. Stanford University, on the other hand, is a private college that has around 7,000 undergraduates enrolled. 

Private colleges tend to have smaller classes, although public colleges also offer small classes in addition to larger ones. The largest lectures (especially lower-division courses) at public universities may comprise of hundreds of students. Students at private schools tend to have easier access to professors and resources. 

Due to lower tuition rates and proximity to home, public schools tend to have higher percentages of in-state students. The majority of UC Berkeley’s undergraduates are California residents. Compared to UC Berkeley, Stanford’s student body has a higher percentage of students who come from outside of California and greater geographical diversity. 

Selection of College Majors:

Public schools generally offer more degrees and academic programs, and may be a better fit for students who are undecided and desire a wide selection of majors. These majors can range from liberal arts to sciences/engineering to more obscure specialized majors. Private schools may offer a smaller range of majors, although many private schools offer a wide selection of majors as well. For example, some private schools may focus on engineering (ex: MIT, CalTech), whereas other private schools may focus more on liberal arts (ex: Brown, Wake Forest). 

Should you attend a public or private college? 

Well, now you’ve followed the foundational guide to some top examples of each. This guide is relatively generalized, so we focus on information that will help all students. It doesn’t mean that any one of these schools is a definitive yes or no. A one-on-one counseling session will help you explain your goals to a mentor and they will be able to work with you to decide what makes most sense for you. 

Call us today. We will be happy to answer your questions about how to get started and set you up with a complimentary consultation session to share more information about our program and approach. Your road to college admissions and beyond should be as individualized as you are. We are here to help you fall in love with your true best-fit schools, and hopefully, to make the process valuable.

Questions? Let us know!