Best Value Colleges and Universities Ranked for Students in 2023

Best Value Colleges and Universities Ranked for Students in 2023

The best value colleges and universities are schools that offer both affordability and academic excellence. Each of the colleges and universities ranked here does an effective job at controlling college costs while still achieving academic outcomes in league with the best colleges and universities.

In many cases, the best value university is likely to be a public institution in your state. That’s because public universities offer in-state tuition discounts.

Some of the best universities in the nation enjoy public university status and, can therefore, offer lower tuition rates to state residents. For a look at the most affordable colleges near you, check out our by-state guide to affordable colleges.

What does best value colleges and universities mean?

The best value colleges and universities are those that offer a high quality education at an affordable price. While there are many schools that qualify as affordable colleges and many schools that perform well in the college rankings, value implies a combination of both factors. Best value colleges will not only be affordable, but will also demonstrate a clear return on investment.

Colleges and universities that deliver value will meet a high standard of academic quality, will be well regarded, will offer a robust array of quality degree programs, and will generally achieve positive educational and professional outcomes for undergraduate students and graduate students alike.

Best value colleges are also those with strong financial aid and scholarship programs as well as good track records for graduating students with most student debt and excellent career prospects in a competitive job market.

Prospective students looking for the best value out of a college education must target schools that prioritize both academic excellence and affordability.

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Using Financial Aid to Get Your Best ROI on a College Education

High value colleges aren’t just those that offer the most affordable tuition rates. Many of the schools ranked here offer generous financial aid packages, need-based grants, and scholarships. One of the keys to maximizing the value of your degree program is to make sure you’re receiving all the financial aid support for which you are eligible.

The first step is to ensure that you are attending a college or university which is properly accredited. Only students attending colleges and universities which are accredited by agencies with Department of Education recognition will qualify to receive federal financial aid.

It’s also important to fill out your FAFSA, which uses your family income to determine what type of financial aid you qualify for. Students who qualify for need-based financial aid grants may be able to minimize student loan debt. Anything you can do to reduce the student debt burden you face after graduation would significantly improve the value return on your degree.

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Tips for Avoiding Student Debt

The best way to minimize your student debt burden is to choose a public university or land grant institution in your state. Undergraduate students and graduate students alike can receive in-state tuition rate discounts as well as access to federal and state-based financial aid.

Fortunately, public universities are typically distinguished by their extremely broad set of offerings at both the college and graduate school levels. And whether you’re interested in a research intensive public university or a liberal arts experience, there is a public university in your state with a compatible education program.

International students won’t always have access to the same financial aid or tuition discount opportunities. But attending a public university or research institution is still a more affordable path that a private college in most cases.

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Because the best value colleges on our list are largely public universities, most specialize in offering an extremely wide range of degree programs and higher education disciplines. Prospective students can generally choose from affordable business programs, professional programs, and political science degrees.

Students with an interest in STEM subjects can pursue applied science degrees in areas like mechanical engineering, marine science, biological sciences, computer science, and more.

Other popular degree areas at best value schools include social sciences, health sciences, public health, and much more.

Many public university systems are also designed to include both undergraduate schools and graduate schools. If you attend a public research university and anticipate pursuing an advanced degree, you may be able to merge your undergraduate and graduate school into a single extended degree program. This can be a great way to get the most value out of your pursuit of both degrees.

How do we determine which colleges and universities provide the best value?

As mentioned above, the best value colleges and universities offer a combination of a high quality education at an affordable price. What makes a high quality education? The people affiliated with a school are ultimately what make it great. That is why we rank the best colleges and universities based on what we call “Concentrated Influence”. Concentrated Influence takes the combined influence score of a college or university’s top academic influencers—faculty and alums—and divides it by the school’s total number of undergraduates.

We then looked at public universities with the lowest tuition rates and the strongest financial aid and scholarship offerings. Those three factors, influence, tuition, and financial aid, are what determined our list of the best value colleges and universities.

Using concentrated influence gives small and mid-sized schools an opportunity to shine by taking away the size advantage of larger universities. A small school with proportionately more influential faculty than a large school, will score higher in a concentrated influence ranking. Our approach highlights undergraduate schools that truly rank for excellence, regardless of size.

If you are serious about finding the best colleges and universities for a bachelor’s degree, you should be asking where the most influential professors are teaching and whether their graduates are themselves advancing the school’s reputation for academic excellence.

Most ranking sites rely on an opaque combination of reputation surveys and arbitrary performance metrics. Concentrated Influence provides a ranking that is freer from bias, insulated from manipulation, and reflective of real-world educational outcomes.

To rank the influence of schools, we first determine the influence of scholars and professionals based on the number of citations and publications they have had over the past 10 years. In addition to publications and citations, we consider the web links to and from these sources, and the page views of those sources. We then match the influential people to their alma maters and institutions of employment, so that their influence is attributed to the schools. Our machine-learning Influence Ranking algorithm produces a numerical score of academic achievements, merits, and citations across Wikipedia, wikidata, Crossref, Semantic Scholar and an ever-growing body of data. If you are interested in exploring how and why we rank by influence, explore our methodology in more depth.

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The 15 Best Value Colleges and Universities

  1. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $14K

    Acceptance

    14%

    Graduation

    93%

    Student body

    43K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1420/32

    What do we love about the University of California, Berkeley?

    University of California, Berkeley is the flagship campus in the University of California system. With fourteen colleges, undergraduate and graduate students can choose from more than 350 unique degree programs.

    The University of California, Berkeley is also renowned for its state of the art research facilities. This means that Berkeley continues to draw highly influential professors in areas like science, math, and engineering.

    • The University of California, Berkeley is great for students who:

      Enjoy the experience of a sprawling campus with a large student body and a full spectrum of course offerings.

    • The University of California, Berkeley might not be the best fit for students who:

      Prefer an intimate environment or small class sizes.

  2. #2

    University of Michigan

    Ann Arbor , MI
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $17K

    Acceptance

    20%

    Graduation

    94%

    Student body

    44K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1430/32

    What do we love about the University of Michigan?

    University of Michigan was founded in 1817, which is actually about 20 years before the territory of Michigan became a state. Roughly half of the students at the University of Michigan are from the state of Michigan, which means they enjoy discounted in state tuition rates.

    The University of Michigan draws students from all over the world. International students make up about 15% of the school’s population.

    • The University of Michigan is great for students who:

      Enjoy a vaunted athletics program and a large student body-roughly 32,000 undergrads and 16,000 grad students.

    • The University of Michigan might not be the best fit for students who:

      Prefer a small campus. The Ann Arbor is divided into four distinct campus sections, all connected by bus service.

  3. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Acceptance

    11%

    Graduation

    92%

    Student body

    46K

  4. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    29%

    Graduation

    88%

    Student body

    45K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1340/29

    What do we love about the University of California, Los Angeles?

    UCLA is often referred to as a “Public Ivy,” a state university that frequently ranks among the best universities in the world. In addition to producing 27 Nobel laureates, UCLA has contributed at least one gold medalist to every U.S. Olympics team since 1932.

    With more than 168,000 undergraduate applicants for Fall 2021 semester, the University of California, Los Angeles was the most applied to university in the U.S. last year. Clearly, prospective students view UCLA as a desirable destination.

    • The University of California, Los Angeles is great for students who:

      Like the idea of living on a campus where Hollywood film crews are constantly working. Movies as diverse as Legally Blonde, Erin Brockovich, and National Lampoon’s Van Wilder have been filmed on the UCLA campus.

    • The University of California, Los Angeles might not be the best fit for students who:

      Prefer affordable housing. UCLA is noteworthy for having beautiful, state of the art residential facilities, but you will pay for them.

  5. #5

    University of Virginia

    Charlottesville , VA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $20K

    Acceptance

    21%

    Graduation

    94%

    Student body

    25K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1415/32

    What do we love about the University of Virginia?

    University of Virginia is a public university with an extremely prestigious history. In fact, the original governing board for this “Public Ivy” included Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. At the time of its founding, Monroe was the President of the United States.

    Among the many prominent graduates of UVA are the founders of Reddit and CNET.

    • University of Virginia is great for students who:

      Enjoy the prestige of an Ivy League school with the affordability of a public university. In-state students enjoy tuition discounts while joining a tradition that has produced 55 Rhodes Scholars.

    • University of Virginia might not be the best fit for students who:

      Prefer a more personalized experience. UVA students will often take introductory courses in large lecture halls with scores of other students.

  6. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $9K

    Acceptance

    20%

    Graduation

    90%

    Student body

    25K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1385/30

    What is University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill known for?

    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    Most Influential Alumni

    What do we love about the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill?

    University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill is considered a “Public Ivy,” a school with state funding that offers the prestige and educational experience akin to those at a private Ivy League school.

    The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill is the flagship campus for the broader University of North Carolina system and began enrolling students in 1795. This makes UNC the only public school in the U.S. to both teach and graduate students in the 18th Century!

    • The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill is great for students who:

      Desire a well-rounded education. All students are required to complete a liberal arts education on the way to their chosen major. Popular majors include biology, business administration, and psychology.

    • The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill might not be the best fit for students who:

      Prefer a more conservative environment. Many students at UNC notes that the campus culture tends to lean to the liberal side of the political spectrum.

  7. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    53%

    Graduation

    84%

    Student body

    44K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1326/30

    What do we love about the University of Washington?

    The University of Washington was founded in 1861, just ten years after the birth of its home town of Seattle, Washington. This makes the public research university one of the oldest schools on the American West Coast.

    With campuses in Seattle, Tacoma and Bothell, the University of Washington covers a sprawling 20 million square feet of space in the state of Washington.

    • The University of Washington is great for students who:

      Love reading. With 26 libraries, art centers, museums, labs, and lecture halls, UW boasts one of the largest library systems in the world.

    • The University of Washington might not be the best fit for students who:

      Prefer sunny skies. The Pacific Northwest is famous for its cloudy climate.

  8. #8

    University of Florida

    Gainesville , FL
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $6K

    Acceptance

    30%

    Graduation

    91%

    Student body

    48K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1375/31

    What do we love about the University of Florida?

    University of Florida is public university with strong appeal for students with an interest in research. The University of Florida is classified among R1 Doctoral Universities, those institutions noted for a very high level or research activity.

    The University of Florida also holds the distinction of being the only Florida college with members in the Association of American Universities.

    • The University of Florida is great for students who:

      Enjoy an excellent athletics program. The UF Gators varsity sports teams have claimed 45 national championships for the school.

    • The University of Florida might not be the best fit for students who:

      Prefer a more intimate experience. With more than 57,800 students enrolled during the 2020-21 academic year, the University of Florida is the fifth largest school in the United States.

  9. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $15K

    Acceptance

    34%

    Graduation

    89%

    Student body

    41K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1375/31

    What do we love about the University of California, San Diego?

    University of California, San Diego is characterized as a “Public Ivy,” a state funded school with a topflight reputation and academic experience. UCSD has produced 27 Nobel Prize winners.

    The University of California, San Diego drew more than 140,000 undergraduate applications for the Fall 2021 semester. This makes it the second most applied to school in the country just behind UC’s flagship campus in Los Angeles.

    • The University of California, San Diego is great for students who:

      Enjoy sunny weather and nearby beaches. The universities 2,178 acres are situated just off the coast of the Pacific Ocean.

    • The University of California, San Diego might not be the best fit for students who:

      Need a large amount of personal support. Students often describe UCSD as a school where you must be proactive to find the right activities, groups, and opportunities for you.

  10. #10

    Georgia Tech

    Atlanta , GA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $13K

    Acceptance

    16%

    Graduation

    92%

    Student body

    34K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1450/33

    What do we love about the Georgia Institute of Technology?

    Georgia Institute of Technology, or Georgia Tech, is a public research university located in Atlanta. As one of the top ranking engineering schools in the nation, Georgia Tech is a popular destination for in-state students.

    As a public school that provides in-state tuition discounts, 50-55% of Georgia Tech’s students are from the state of Georgia.

    • The Georgia Institute of Technology is great for students who:

      Enjoy subjects like engineering, computer science, and environmental science and more. Moreover, most of Georgia Tech’s engineering sub-disciplines-like chemical engineering and biomedical engineering-are highly ranked.

    • The Georgia Institute of Technology might not be the best fit for students who:

      Prefer a more intimate college experience. Georgia Tech’s student body includes more than 40,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

  11. #11

    Ohio State University

    Columbus , OH
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    57%

    Graduation

    88%

    Student body

    56K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1320/29

    What do we love about Ohio State University?

    Ohio State University is a public research university based in Columbus, Ohio. Founded in 1870, it was actually stewarded into existence by then Ohio governor and later President of the U.S., Rutherford B. Hayes.

    Fun fact: Ohio State University is literally the only institution in North America where you can earn an ABET-accredited undergraduate degree in welding engineering.

    • Ohio State University is great for students who:

      Enjoy a good time. Ohio State often ranks high on the list of best party schools and best spectator sports tradition.

    • Ohio State University might not be the best fit for students who:

      Prefer a smaller school experience. With more than 50,000 undergrads and 15,000 grad students, Ohio State is the third largest school in the nation.

  12. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $11K

    Acceptance

    60%

    Graduation

    89%

    Student body

    38K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1360/29

    What do we love about the University of Wisconsin-Madison?

    University of Wisconsin-Madison is the flagship university of the University of Wisconsin state school system. Founded simultaneous to Wisconsin’s statehood in 1848, the “Public Ivy” is the oldest public school in Wisconsin.

    With more than 33,000 undergraduate students, The University of Wisconsin-Madison is also the largest school in the state of Wisconsin.

    • The University of Wisconsin-Madison is great for students who:

      Enjoy access to nature. The main campus is located on the shore of Lake Mendota, and the University owns and operates the 1200 acre Madison Arboretum, just 4 miles south of campus.

    • The University of Wisconsin-Madison might not be the best fit for students who:

      Prefer a quiet college experience. Students characterize the Madison campus as a highly social atmosphere that encouraged students activity and engagement.

  13. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $18K

    Acceptance

    60%

    Graduation

    85%

    Student body

    55K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1330/30

    What do we love about the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign?

    The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is a public research university that was founded in 1867. The Urbana-Champaign campus is the flagship campus in the University of Illinois system .

    The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign also happens to own and maintain the fastest supercomputer based on a university campus.

    • The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is great for students who:

      Enjoy access to great literature and research. The library system at the University of Illinois Ubrana-Champaign is second only to Harvard’s in size and scale.

    • The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign might not be the best fit for students who:

      Aren’t interested in “Greek” life. Fraternities play a big part in shaping campus culture, which students describe as very party-friendly.

  14. #14

    University of Georgia

    Athens , GA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    40%

    Graduation

    88%

    Student body

    39K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1355/31

    What do we love about the University of Georgia?

    University of Georgia is a public university that was founded in 1785 in the cultural hub of Athens, Georgia. As the flagship university in the state school system, the Athens campus is the oldest pulibc university in Georgia.

    The University of Georgia is notable for the excellence of its research tradition and facilities, earning classification was an R1 Doctoral University.

    • The University of Georgia is great for students who:

      Enjoy a lively culture scene. In fact, Rolling Stone magazine once ranked Georgia in the top ten among “Schools that Rock” for producing prominent musicians including members of R.E.M., the B-52s, and producer Danger Mouse.

    • The University of Georgia might not be the best fit for:

      Non-traditional students. The University of Georgia caters more directly to recent high school graduates and may not always offer the most flexible course options for working adults.

    University of Georgia’s Online Degrees

    BS in Education
    Degree Concentrations
    • Special Education
    • Required Credits: 120
    • Completion Time: None Reported
    • Format: Online
  15. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $11K

    Acceptance

    52%

    Graduation

    88%

    Student body

    36K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1375/32

    What do we love about the University of Maryland?

    University of Maryland is the flagship school in the state university system. Recognized as a “Public Ivy,” UMD is classified as an R1 Doctoral University for the excellence of its research tradition.

    If fact, because of its proximity to the nation’s capital, the University of Maryland enjoys several major research partnerships with the federal government. This provides students with pathways to research, internship and employment through major agencies like NASA, the FDA, and the NIH.

    • The University of Maryland is great for students who:

      Enjoy an excellent athletics tradition. The UMD Terps compete in the NCAA’s vaunted Big Ten Conference.

    • The University of Maryland might not be the best fit for students who:

      Prefer a small campus. With more than 41,000 students, UMD is the largest school in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.