25 Best Colleges in Iowa

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The Hawkeye State is moving from strength to strength.

With the best high school graduation rate of any other state in the country, Iowa clearly takes education seriously. And recently, their economy has really begun to take off. Iowa’s unemployment rate traditionally tracks lower than the national average—at the beginning of the year, it was a full 1.5 percent lower (3.3 percent versus the national 4.8 percent).

In addition, the average amount of money each family brings in is much higher than in the rest of the country. While the U.S. median household income still hasn’t recovered fully from the Great Recession, Iowa’s median household income has bounced back and then some, posting a gain of over $6,000 per family!

So clearly, Iowa is a good place to look for a job. But what about going to college? Well, the two are closely connected. Where you go to college will affect where your networks will be, which will make it easier to find a job later on. Iowa, then, might be a strong option for where you want to connect with classmates, professors, and alumni who can help you boost your career.

And for the schools themselves—Iowa can boast some top-notch public institutions, as well as a very wide array of private colleges and universities. Additionally, you can find the Top Online Schools in Iowa listed here. While we will discuss many of them at length in the rankings below, it has to be mentioned that Iowa City was named by UNESCO as an official “City of Literature” (the first-ever American city to receive the distinction) because it is home to the University of Iowa, where the renowned Iowa Writers’ Workshop is based. But creative writing isn’t the only relevant field for college students in Iowa. While the economy does include agriculture, manufacturing, biotech, finance, and insurance are all thriving sectors. There are lots of ways to get plugged in.

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Top 10 Best Colleges in Iowa

Rank School Location
1 Grinnell College Grinnell, IA
2 Coe College Cedar Rapids, IA
3 University of Iowa Iowa City, IA
4 Drake University Des Moines, IA
5 Cornell College Mount Vernon, IA
6 Luther College New Ulm, MN
7 Iowa State University Ames, IA
8 Central College Pella, IA
9 Wartburg College Waverly, IA
10 Graceland University-Lamoni Lamoni, IA
Best Colleges in Iowa Badge

What are the best colleges in Iowa?

Now a word about methodology. Our rankings are based on academic quality, return on investment, and student body diversity. That way, you can know that not only will you be getting a quality education in a place where you can thrive, but also that your college education will likely be able to pay for itself in short order. All three of these factors are themselves comprised of numerous data points, including the average test scores for entering freshmen, institutional endowment size, tuition, and graduates’ expected early career salary. This data all comes from the National Center for Education Statistics and their IPEDS data set.

Rankings

See our rankings methodology page.

  1. Grinnell College
    Location

    Grinnell, IA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Grinnell College was founded in 1846 located in Grinnell, Iowa. The State of Iowa joined the Union just a few short months afterwards. It also has the honor of being one of the first schools to play intercollegiate football and baseball west of the Mississippi. In terms of location, you can find this school between Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. You have the best of both small-town atmosphere and the large city commerce opportunities when attending classes at one of their three campuses.

    Features

    Grinnell has about 1,700 students. While the school is small, it boasts of a 9:1 student-faculty ratio and almost 70% of its classes have less than 20 students. There is a student group for everyone here with over 200 possible places to join or you can enjoy the NCAA Division III athletics. Popular majors include:

    Social Sciences Biological and Biomedical Sciences Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics Psychology English Language and Literature

    Notables

    Grinnell is known for its strong social activism and their goal to pursue the highest economic diversity. This school makes sure that all students are served, including the low-income students. They are known for their high standards for education and their social responsibility. As such, it is one of the top feeder schools for the Peace Corps.

  2. Coe College
    Location

    Cedar Rapids, IA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Coe College opened its doors in 1851 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This private 4-year liberal arts college is affiliated with the Presbyterian church. Coe College started with about 65 acres but they are expanding their programs, real estate programs and commitment to the community. Their commitment to the community and their students mean that almost 100% of report finding work or entering grad school within 6 months.

    Features

    Coe College operates on a 4-4-1 academic calendar. It has about 1,400 students. Student faculty ratio is 11:1. 80 student organizations including almost 10 different Greek life opportunities. However most of their Greek life is academic focused. They are one of the five Iowa schools that have a Phi Beta Kappa Chapter honor society. Their popular majors include:

    Business: Management and Marketing Biological and Biomedical Sciences Psychology Visual and Performing Arts

    Notables

    Cedar Rapids is known for its 300 different manufacturing plants, dozen or so Fortune 500 companies. This provides many prospects for students to find internships or post-graduate work in the area. For those still in school or wanting to enjoy the community. Cedar Rapids also provides opportunities for shopping, the arts, and extreme sports for the area.

  3. University of Iowa
    Location

    Iowa City, IA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The University of Iowa is the oldest higher education organization in Iowa, 1847. Located in Iowa City, Iowa, it has become the flagship public research university that has 11 individual internal schools offering over 200 areas of study and 7 professional degrees. With many buildings on the historical register, UI has also committed to becoming green and a smoke-free campus. This opens students to alternative energies and future employment globally. Most people in the US know the university as a Big 10 conference within the NCAA Division I athletics.

    Features

    With over 500+ student organizations, including over 60 different Greek life groups, the University of Iowa always has something going on to support the 23,000 + undergraduate students studying on their 1880+ acres. Classes run on a semester schedule. Top majors include:

    Business Parks Recreation Leisure Fitness Social Sciences Engineering

    Notables

    The University of Iowa is also known for several other items. Their graduate programs are very highly ranked nationally. Many undergraduates continue their graduate education at this school. The University of Iowa also is the first to develop the Master of Arts degree, the first state university to recognize the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Allied Union (in 1970).

  4. Drake University
    Location

    Des Moines, IA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Drake University is in Iowas Capital city, Des Moines. If you are looking for the University, be sure to ask locals for the area of Dogtown. It was founded in 1881 by the Disciples of Christ and a Civil War General Francis Marion Drake. The school took on the Generals name but the Disciples of Christ influence has faded since then. Since Drakes founding, it has become a world class art and architecture location and their NCAA Division I sports teams.

    Features

    Drake offers 70 majors and 20 graduate degrees from 6 internal colleges. Over 3300 undergrads and 1,700 graduate students call this place home with a huge majority living on campus. Drake answered the call by supporting over 150 student organizations and over a dozen Greek life groups. This school is well attended on their 150 acres. Drake is known for the following majors:

    Business Biological and Biomedical Sciences Social Sciences Education

    Notables

    Drakes educational programs and student life continually interact with the community. Its students and community service organizations contribute at legal clinics, local hospitals and various areas of need. This school might sound large, but it has a rich tradition around their Kissing Rock and Beautiful Bulldog Contests, and rich sports history.

  5. Cornell College
    Location

    Mount Vernon, IA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Cornell College was established in Mount Vernon, Iowa, in 1853 by William W. Cornell (an iron tycoon). It has United Methodist Church affiliations but welcomes all faiths. In 1978, this institution began a learning system called One Course at a Time: a student takes one class (or block) for 18 days (3.5 weeks) that meets for up to 6 hours per day. At the end of those 18 days, the students gain a 4 day break to explore the area of Mount Vernon. This semester style has earned Cornell the right to have the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society on campus.

    Features

    Roughly 1,100 students attend Cornell and nearly 92 percent live on campus. They pursue over 30 undergrad programs and 10 pre-professional areas of study. The block system allows for a 11:1 student/faculty ratio and high levels of interaction with the faculty. Some popular majors include:

    Psychology Biological Biomedical Sciences Social Sciences

    Notables

    Cornell College has over 129 acres that include interesting buildings and traditions such as King Chapel, Old Sem, a 5,000-pound boulder and disc golf. King Chapel has a large 3,000 pipe organ that is still in use. Old Sem is one of the oldest buildings on campus and used for administrative purposes. I could elaborate on the 5,000-pound boulder and disc golf; however, it is something you must experience on your own.

  6. Luther College
    Location

    New Ulm, MN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Luther College was founded in 1861 by Norwegian immigrants in Decorah, Iowa near the northeastern Iowa limestone bluffs. Luther College is named after Martin Luther, the person who started the Lutheran Church. Luther College is known for its academics and their 11:1 student faculty ratio. It is one of five Iowa schools that have a Phi Beta Kappa Institution. However, students are also very involved in the performing arts and in sports.

    Features

    Over 2,200 students call Luther College their educational home in the 200 acres of limestone bluffs and over 800 acres of natural areas for recreation and outdoor laboratories. Classes are pursued in a 4-1-4 academic term. Popular majors are:

    Biological Sciences Psychology Music Business Elementary Education Teaching

    Notables

    While Luther College might not have the most popular engineering program, it does have a wind turbine on campus that provides over 27% of the schools electricity. As for the rest of the area, Decorah, Iowa is a small town that has integrated with the college and has a proud Norwegian heritage that it celebrates regularly. But there are plenty of activities to do in the area including visiting a meteor crash site.

  7. Iowa State University
    Location

    Ames, IA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Founded in 1858 on 648 acres, Iowa State University has a long tradition of supporting rural Ames, Iowa, and larger area communities. In 1869, the first class started. In 1879, the world renown veterinary program began. In 1959, the focus began to include modern technology in addition to the strong sciences that shaped its earlier history. Iowa State University is proud of its contribution to society in introducing the first binary computer (ABC), a round hay baler, and the first tornado simulator. It is also well known for this NCAA Division I sports.

    Features

    There are over 36,000 undergraduate and graduates in attendance on a campus that has grown from 648 acres to well over 1900 acres that supports over 100 buildings and research labs. Classes have a 19:1 student faculty ratio but only 31% of the classes have less than 20 students. There are over 100 majors and 800 student organizations. Top majors include:

    Business Engineering Biological biomedical sciences Education

    Notables

    Iowa state might be in the rural Ames, Iowa. However, Ames has all the benefits of both small and large towns. Plenty of activities in the arts, sports, and scientific pursuits occur indoors and outdoors. It is called the third healthiest city in America.

  8. Central College
    Location

    Pella, IA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Central College is in Pella, Iowa. A rural campus located approximately 40 minutes from Des Moines. It was originally founded as a Baptist institution in 1853. However, in 1916, the affiliation transferred to the Reformed Church of America. For four uninterrupted years, Central has earned the President Higher Education Community Service Honor roll with distinction for their investment in volunteering, service learning and civic engagement. Outside of academics and volunteering, the school is also known for its NCAA Division III athletics.

    Features

    Central has about 1,400 undergraduates on 169 acres. Students can join over 100 different student organizations and learn in 73 different programs. Class sizes are small with an average 20 students per class and a student faculty ratio of 12:1. Top programs include:

    Biological and Biomedical sciences Business Social Sciences Education Psychology

    Notables

    Central Colleges current slogan is Curiosity is Encouraged. The school has a long-standing relationship with rural Pella, Iowa. Over 76% of students complete an internship based on those connections that uphold that curiosity. So, while the area might not be as big as the neighbor, Des Moines, students still have a way to positively engage the community towards a better tomorrow.

  9. Wartburg College
    Location

    Waverly, IA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    In 1852, the Evangelical Lutheran Church founded Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. Wartburg is named after the Wartburg Castle located in Eisenach, German that was built in 1067. Why a castle? Martin Luther lived in this castle while he translated the New Testament into German and nailed the 95 Theses to the door. Like their name sake, Wartburg college looks to be a place where students can live, think and change the world.

    Features

    The campus has grown considerably since 1852. But educational pursuits continue with fervor. 1,400 students study on its 118 acres during the 4-4-1 academic calendar. Wartburg College prides itself over the 11:1 student faculty-ratio and the average class size of 18. The popular programs at this school are:

    Business Administration Biology Journalism and Communication Elementary Education Music Education

    Notables

    Just like their namesake, Wartburg has become a crucible for students to experience the world through student organizations and programs. The academic programs in social work (oldest program in Iowa) and music therapy (only private college in Iowa offering it) and the student organization The Wartburg Alliance (LGBTQIA) organization that is one of the most active on campus, are just examples of the college commitment to serve the community.

  10. Graceland University-Lamoni
    Location

    Lamoni, IA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Graceland University is a private 4-year university in Lamoni, Iowa just a short one hour drive from Des Moines in southern Iowa. It was founded in 1895 by the Community of Christ for educational purposes. Today, it is situated on 170 acres with an Olympic quality outdoor track, fantastic soccer complex and a massive performing arts center called Shaw Center. Princeton Review has called this school the Best in the Midwest since 2012.

    Features

    Graceland University has over 950 students in attendance in Lamoni. Another 900 students attend its various undergraduate and graduate programs via online or satellite locations. There are over 40 academic programs to choose from with over 40 student clubs and organizations to get involved in. Popular majors include:

    Health Professions Education Business Parks, Recreation, Leisure and Fitness Studies Psychology

    Notables

    The nursing program began at this school in 1910. In 1917, the school was recognized as a junior college. In 1960, Graceland developed into a 4-year institution. In 2000, The school became Graceland University as we know it today. This commitment to education assisted the school to develop into Graceland University. When you are onsite, you need to see the Shaw center. It holds a 625-seat auditorium, 100-seat recital hall, a customizable black box theater, and an outdoor amphitheatre.

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