Best Colleges in Illinois

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What are the Best Colleges in Illinois?

Welcome to the Land of Lincoln. Honest Abe, who lived here when he was elected president, isn’t the only former Commander-in-Chief with connections to the state: Barack Obama lived here, as did Ronald Reagan and Ulysses S. Grant.

And the name “Illinois” even comes from the Algonquin for “tribe of superior men.” Coincidence? Well, come check out the variety of colleges in the state, and you can decide. Because right now, Illinois is educating thousands of superior men and women in its small liberal arts schools, religiously-affiliated colleges, and large research universities.

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Top 10 Best Colleges in Illinois

Rank School Location
1 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Champaign, IL
2 Northwestern University Evanston, IL
3 University of Chicago Chicago, IL
4 Wheaton College Wheaton, IL
5 Illinois Wesleyan University Bloomington, IL
6 Bradley University Peoria, IL
7 University of Illinois at Chicago Chicago, IL
8 Eureka College Eureka, IL
9 Northern Illinois University Dekalb, IL
10 Illinois State University Normal, IL

What kind of College in Illinois should you attend?

It shouldn’t be any wonder why Illinois has emerged as a leader in higher education. The state is considered to be a microcosm of the whole United States, with everything from rural countryside, to small towns and cities, to the metropolis of Chicago, nestled up against Lake Michigan, a lake big enough to make you think it’s an ocean. So if you’re looking for something particular in your college search, you’re likely to find it in Illinois.

That’s especially true if you are considering going to school in Chicago. The Windy City boasts iconic sports teams, world-class museums, landmark buildings, a dizzying diversity of cultures and people, and even two separate zoos. Perhaps this will begin to help you understand why Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is one of the busiest in the world. Or, if you have your eye on a college in Illinois, but you’re from out of state, consider one of the Top Online Schools in Illinois.

How much money can you make with a degree from a College in Illinois?

As a state, residents of Illinois make higher salaries than the U.S. average. Part of that is due to to the thriving metropolis of Chicago. But another factor is Illinois’ commitment to higher education. In the end, education is what pays the big bucks! Let the statistics prove the point.

According to Payscale.com, Illinois residents who have their Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degrees earn on average between $58k and $66k per year. Folks who have gone on to earn a Master of Science degree jump to an average annual salary of $73k.

What can you do with a degree from a College in Illinois?

Close your eyes. Imagine your dream job. Guess what? There’s a degree for that at a college in Illinois. Truly, your options are endless. Are you hoping to become a lawyer? An anesthesiologist? A special education teacher? You’ll find some of the top programs in the country in Illinois.

If you’re still on the fence about what kind of degree to pursue, perhaps consider a more strategic path. Over at Zippia.com, they’ve narrowed in on the top 10 fastest growing professions in Illinois. Maybe the time is right for you to jump in on one of these careers. Here’s a quick look:

  • Web Developer
  • Home Health Aide
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Nurse Practitioner

What are the Best Colleges in Illinois?

If you’re thinking about coming here for college, or if you’re native to the state and you want to stay, how are you supposed to decide which school to go to? Well, we’ve put together a ranking of the best colleges and universities in the state, a ranking based on both academic quality (acceptance rates, endowment size, and other statistics) as well as on return on investment (how much you’ll end up paying for college versus what you can expect to earn once you’ve graduated). That way, you can choose based on what interests you, as well as what you’ll be able to afford.

With that, we present the Best Colleges in Illinois!

Rankings

See our rankings methodology page.

  1. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    Location

    Champaign, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, known as UIUC, is a public, land-grant, sea-grant, space-grant research university that serves as the flagship institution for the University of Illinois System. It is a founding member of the Big Ten Conference and is a member of the Association of American Universities. This university, which is located in Urbana and Champaign, Illinois, and holds regional accreditation by the NCACS THLC.

    Features

    This school confers more than 150 degrees at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels. UIUC is comprised of 17 colleges that deliver these degrees in both traditional and online pathways. It is best known for being one of the top five engineering schools in the world. The three most popular degrees are:

    • Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education
    • Master of Business Administration
    • Doctorate of Aerospace Engineering

    Notables

    UIUC hosts more than 44,000 students and so offers over 1,000 registered student organizations to cater to all of its students, many of whom represent over 100 different countries and all 50 states. Students can also participate in Greek life, student government, and the school’s student-run media.

  2. Northwestern University
    Location

    Evanston, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Northwestern University is a private research institution that is best known for housing a comprehensive doctoral program and being a founding member of the Big Ten Conference. It was founded in 1851 and is located in Evanston, Illinois; it also maintains campuses in California and Qatar. This school is regionally accredited by the NCACS THLC.

    Features

    This university confers nearly 300 degrees at all levels of education, including postgraduate and specialist degrees. In fact, the school is primarily known as a graduate university, one that maintains over $500 million in sponsored research annually from companies and organizations worldwide. For this reason, it is also one of the most selective schools in the country. The top three degrees here are:

    • Master of Business Administration
    • Juris Doctor
    • Doctor of Medicine

    Notables

    There are over a dozen traditions that take place on Northwestern’s campus every year, including two drama shows, the Dance Marathon, Dillo Day, Primal Scream, and more. Students can also participate in community service every year for possible college credit or even register their own student organization through the student government. There are also positions available for ambitious students through student-run media, such as the school’s newspaper and radio station.

  3. University of Chicago
    Location

    Chicago, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The University of Chicago is a private, non-denominational institution. It is the most ranked school on this list, continuously earning top-ten rankings nationally and internationally for a variety of its programs. This school, which is located in Chicago, Illinois, holds regional accreditation by the NCACS THLC.

    Features

    This school currently confers over 200 programs at the undergraduate, graduate, postgraduate, and specialist levels. Degrees are divided in between the undergraduate college, five graduate schools, six professional schools, and the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies. Students may also take courses online or in the evening in addition to taking traditional courses at the school. You’ll find that the top degree programs are:

    • Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering
    • Master of Science in Nursing
    • Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology

    Notables

    There are more than 400 clubs, organizations, and associations that are represented on campus, including 22 fraternities and sororities as well as the student government. Students will also have the chance to take part in traditions, such as the Doc Films Festival, the Summer Breeze Concert, and the University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt. There are also health and counseling services on campus for resident students.

  4. Wheaton College
    Location

    Wheaton, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Wheaton College is a private, nonprofit, Christian, Evangelical Protestant institution that is located in Wheaton, Illinois. It is best known for being a stop on the Underground Railroad. This school is regionally accredited by the NCACS THLC; it is affiliated with the Consortium of Liberal Arts College.

    Features

    This school confers 40 degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels in liberal arts and business areas of studies. It is currently ranked in the top ten “Best Undergraduate Teaching” ranking by U.S. News and World Report. The school is also ranked by the Princeton Review and Forbes for its outstanding academic programs. Some of those include:

    • Dual Degree Engineering Program (3-2)
    • Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
    • Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology

    Notables

    Wheaton has a large array of facilities for students to use, including a gym, a health center, a library, and intramural sports fields. There is also student-run media, a student government, and over 50 student organizations that students can join while at Wheaton.

  5. Illinois Wesleyan University
    Location

    Bloomington, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Illinois Wesleyan University is a private, independent liberal arts colleges that can be found in Bloomington, Illinois. It is a small university, with a student body totaling less than 2,000 students per year, and has been named one of the best values in the country by U.S. News and World Report. This school holds regional accreditation by the NCACS THLC.

    Features

    This university has a focus on liberal arts, but it offers more than 90 degree programs at the undergraduate level, including nursing, business, and educational programs. Courses are also available online. Additionally, students may benefit from May Term, a program that allows full course load students to take part in a special term that leads to specialized credit in their field of study. Three of the top degree programs include:

    • Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science in Accounting
    • Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with concentrations
    • Bachelor of Arts in Educational Studies

    Notables

    Illinois Wesleyan University is known for hosting lectures, speakers, comedians, and other social events for students all year around. It also hosts its own radio and tv stations, plus a newspaper that is completely student-run. There are also intramural sports, political and activist organizations, and more for students to enjoy while at school.

  6. Bradley University
    Location

    Peoria, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Bradley University is a private, independent institution that offers students a mid-sized campus feel with a world-class faculty. This school is located in Peoria, Illinois, and currently hosts a 5,400-strong student body. This school is regionally accredited by the NCACS THLC.

    Features

    Bradley is one of the best universities in Illinois, owing to the fact that it currently confers over 130 programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels across five colleges. Students will also benefit from the small class sizes where the student-ratio rarely exceeds 12:1 as well as the fact that none of the courses at Bradley are taught by teaching assistants; only full-fledged professors teach here. Here’s a glance at some of the top programs:

    • Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering
    • Master of Science in Accounting
    • Master of Business Administration

    Notables

    Students will no doubt enjoy the fact that there are over 240 registered student organizations on campus, over 30 Greek fraternities and sororities, student-run media, and more. Students can also try out for the national speech team champions, the Forensics or take the time to learn about diversity at Common Ground, a group that was built to support the school’s LGBTQ students.

  7. University of Illinois at Chicago
    Location

    Chicago, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The University of Illinois at Chicago is a public research university that is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. It is the second-oldest institution of the University of Illinois System. It is also the largest university in Chicago and currently hosts over 29,000 students. This school is regionally accredited by the NCACS THLC.

    Features

    UIC, as the school is known to faculty and students, is home to the largest medical school in the nation; it is currently ranked as one of the top 50 institutions for research in the United States. The school offers over 125 degrees at all levels of education across 15 colleges and schools. There is also the option to study for a dual degree as well as online pathways to a selection of undergraduate and graduate degrees. Here are a few of the most popular degrees:

    • Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management
    • Master of Bioengineering
    • Doctor of Medicine, Professional Program

    Notables

    UIC is uniquely located for students; apart from the over 100 student organizations that take place on campus, not to mention Greek life or media opportunities, students have the option to explore Chicago and all of its entertainment and business aspects. Because the school is located in the heart of the city, most students find it to be one of the best schools in Illinois for internship and volunteer opportunities.

  8. Eureka College
    Location

    Eureka, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Eureka College is a private, Christian, liberal arts institution that is affiliated with the Disciples of Christ Christian Church. It is one of the smallest schools in Illinois, with a student body of fewer than 800 students each year. This school, which is located in Eureka, Illinois, is regionally accredited by the NCACS THLC.

    Features

    Eureka offers a Christian education, one that is supported by the mandate of teaching all students about service and leadership. The courses here are taught in the classic liberals arts tradition, one that includes a Christian worldview. There are over 30 major areas of study and 20 minor areas, including philosophy, religion, English, and education. Some of the top ones are:

    • Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education
    • Bachelor of Science in Nursing
    • Pre-Medicine Professional Program

    Notables

    The school is home to just more than an education, however. Students can take part in any of the over 60 student organizations and Greek life societies found on campus, help run student media, or even take up an elected seat in student government. The school is also home to the Ronald Reagan museum and a vast art collection, all of which is free to students.

  9. Northern Illinois University
    Location

    Dekalb, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Northern Illinois University has a great reputation among students for a high rate of satisfaction. This is a public research university that is located in DeKalb, Illinois, and was founded in 1895. The school, known as NIU, is regionally accredited by the NCACS THLC with most programs being independently accredited by national associations.

    Features

    This university confers more than 150 degrees at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels. The programs are some of the best in the country and have led many graduates on to high-level posts all over the country. This school also has a growing online portal of degrees for students who need a little more flexibility when it comes to their education. Here’s a look at a few of the top programs:

    • Bachelor of Arts in Teaching, Special Education
    • Master of Science in Engineering Management
    • Doctorate of Philosophy in Literacy and Elementary Education

    Notables

    NIU is known for trying to welcome its freshmen and sophomores with specialized programs. This is known as the First and Second Year Experience, known as FSYE, which provides college credit for students who are transitioning from high school to college. There are also various resource centers that help students of difference backgrounds, including the Counseling and Student Development Center, the Health Enhancement Center, and the Academic Advising Center.

  10. Illinois State University
    Location

    Normal, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Illinois State University is known for being the oldest public university in Illinois. It was established in 1857 and is located in Normal, Illinois. This is a public university that is regionally accredited by the NCACS THLC.

    Features

    This school was founded as a teacher’s college, so it will come as no surprise that it had a reputation for producing some of the finest teachers in the country. Additionally, the school offers over 40 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels across six colleges, including the Mennonite College of Nursing, the College of Applied Science and Technology, and the College of Arts and Sciences. You’ll find top programs such as:

    • Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education
    • Master of Arts of Teaching, Educational Administration and Foundations – P-12 Educational Administration
    • Master of Science in Teaching and Learning

    Notables

    This is one of the best universities in Illinois in the public sector and is recognized for being a compact school with a variety of campus life activities that are open to all students. The Quad, which is the center of the campus, is a highlight of this campus and hosts many traditional events every year, particularly in the spring.

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