This is a ranking of the top 20 public universities in the United States ranked relative to each other by average world rank for the year 2020-2021. 

The ranking was created by using metadata sourced from the four prominent rankings of world universities (each ranking released in 2020): Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), Times Higher Education (THE), and U.S. News & World Report (USNWR).

Rank was checked on each list for every public university in the United States ranked on all the lists. Then for each university all its rank placements were averaged across lists to create the new list of average ranking for each university. The universities were then ranked according to their average ranking. The university with the highest average is thus ranked 1st, the one with the second highest average 2nd, and so on. 

Finally, the results were tabled, and are shown below (Table 1.). The leftmost column shows the final relative placement (relative placement based on average rank, i.e.), the “institution” column shows the institution ranked, the next four rightward columns (ARWU, QS, THE, USNWR) show the rank for each given institution in each of those selected world rankings, and the rightmost column (“Average World Rank”) averages the four ranking lists’ rank placement for each university.

Some observations —

  • The original ranking which best predicts the summed average is THE.
  • The original ranking which most poorly predicts the summed average is QS.
  • The worst prediction is QS’s UC Irvine at 210 — 96.25 places greater than its 113.75 average.
  • 30% of the top 20 public universities in the United States are California universities.
  • The two states which have the highest percentage of top 20 public universities in the United States (at 2 universities each; i.e., 10% each) after California are Michigan (Michigan, Michigan State) and Pennsylvania (Penn State, Pittsburgh).
  • All but 3 universities of the top 20 public universities in the United States average in the top 100 universities — public or private — in the world.

If anything appears to be in error, please email me at

Ranking of Public Universities in the United States, 2020-21

RankInstitutionARWUQSTHEUSNWRAverage World Rank
1Berkeley 5307411.5
2UCLA 1336151319.25
3Michigan 2221221720.5
4University of Washington 167229831.25
5UC San Diego 1854332131.5
6Wisconsin – Madison 3265494146.75
7Texas at Austin 4171443848.5
8North Carolina at Chapel Hill 3095563654.25
9Illinois at Urbana-Champaign4582486058.75
10Georgia Tech10180386671.25
11UC Santa Barbara 49152685681.25
12UC Davis 91112646683.25
13Ohio State 101108804583.5
15Maryland, College Park53152906088.75
16Penn State 1011011147597.75
18Pittsburgh 9615613343107
19UC Irvine 692109878113.75
20Michigan State 101157105100115.75
Table 1.

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*The cover image used in this article (depicting UC Berkeley) is under the Creative Commons license. All efforts were made to give appropriate credit. If someone determines authorship, this information will be updated accordingly. The image was cropped slightly for this header. Link to license:

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