Best Colleges in Iowa

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Though less intimidating than more populated states, Iowa nevertheless has more than 60 colleges and universities, having some of the most competitive programs in the nation. Choosing the right school can be challenging. Prospective students must choose between two and four-year colleges, taking into account location and reputation. These are not the only factors to consider. Acceptance, retention, graduation and enrollment rates are also vital to choosing the right school.

Fortunately, we have applied our rigorous methodology to the latest education data to rank the best colleges in Iowa, including the top four-year and two-year schools. Our rankings also include student loan default percentages, our way of recognizing the importance of being able to pay off your debt after graduation. The list below details the top two-year and four-year colleges in Iowa.

Iowa has many highly-competitive four-year programs in both public and private schools. The state is facing an aging and more diverse population, forcing the state’s schools to adapt to the changing environment. Despite having many very good schools and nationally ranked programs, Iowa has one of the highest rates of student loan debt after graduation in the nation. The Board of Regents has recently initiated a program to give more funding to resident Iowa students in an attempt to mitigate the large quantity of non-resident students in public universities. This makes financial aid and scholarships more accessible to native Iowans.

Nevertheless, Iowa receives a relatively large influx of uneducated students who come to Iowa to study, attracted to the nationally ranked universities, low cost of living, and opportunities within the state. Whether in-state or out, Iowa is a great place to get a four-year degree. We’ve compiled a list of the state’s very best colleges to help you decide.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description
1Grinnell College 5/589.39%Grinnell, IA

Grinnell is a private liberal arts college known for its small class sizes and high student satisfaction. Students can pursue 26 majors and 12 concentrations, including a classics major that explores the ancient cultures of Greece and Rome through a variety of subjects. Grinnell has a rich tradition of global service, providing a variety of off-campus study programs that place students in service roles around the world. On-campus opportunities are also available through a few popular organizations, including the Social Justice Action Group and Save the Planet.

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2Cornell College 5/565.69%Mount Vernon, IA

Cornell College provides an innovative and student-centered learning experiences. Students at Cornell take one class at a time, allowing them to focus on one subject for a few weeks before moving on to a new course. The academic year is broken into eight blocks, with each lasting three and a half weeks. Students take one course per block, providing an intense and focused course of study. Cornell is located in Mount Vernon, a historic small town renowned for its creativity and culture.

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3Drake University 5/577.8%Des Moines, IA

Drake offers a range of academic programs, and the school offers a unique Areas of Inquiry curriculum, which introduces students to a variety of disciplines and lines of thought. Through this curriculum, students develop critical thinking skills, global and cultural understanding, artistic experience, and quantitative literacy by studying several different subjects. Students are also offered opportunities to further develop their skills through independent research, internships, and study abroad programs.

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4University of Northern Iowa 2/563.95%Cedar Falls, IA

Offering over 90 majors spanning an array of fields ranging from the arts to politics and government, Northern Iowa provides the variety of programs students can find at a large university while maintaining the community and class sizes of a smaller school. UNI is renowned for its education programs, and the school also provides several service learning opportunities to students.

With over 300 clubs and organizations and 17 NCAA Division I sports teams, students will find a vibrant community with diverse interests right on campus.

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5University of Iowa 2/570.04%Iowa City, IA

The University of Iowa offers over 200 programs, taught by distinguished faculty across disciplines. The school has educated over 40 Pulitzer Prize winners and six U.S. Poet Laureates, including Tennessee Williams and Philip Roth. Its highly regarded writers’ residency program, the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, was the first creative writing degree program in the United States, and the department continues to cultivate award winning talent.

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6Iowa State University 2/568.93%Ames, IA

Iowa State is renowned for its international reach and award winning faculty, including 2011 Nobel Prize winning chemist Dan Shechtman. With a campus population drawing from over 100 countries, students receive a global education in a diverse atmosphere only 30 minutes from Des Moines. Engagement with fellow students is elevated by on-campus learning communities, which draw over 70% of incoming freshman, allowing for a rich sense of community and shared interests during their first year on campus.

ISU also boasts several impressive facilities, including the world’s highest resolution virtual reality lab and the nation’s first demonstration farm for biomass production and processing.

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7Luther College 5/581.59%Decorah, IA

Founded in 1861 by Norwegian immigrants, Luther College is a small school that provides tiny classes and global opportunities. Classes are capped at an average of 19 students, providing a close-knit community of faculty and staff where discussion and connection are valued. Despite having just under 2,500 enrollees, Luther’s students can be found all over in study abroad programs and faculty-led courses. LC supports its students academically and financially, awarding both need-based and merit based scholarships to 98% of its student body.

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8Mount Mercy University 4/571.51%Cedar Rapids, IA

A private Catholic school, Mount Mercy offers its students a rich education, both academically and spiritually. The campus was founded by the Sisters of Mercy with five critical concerns at its focus: earth, immigration, nonviolence, racism, and women. Today, students explore these concerns through both the curriculum and a variety of service learning and volunteer opportunities. Working professionals and other students with long-term obligations can benefit from the university’s accelerated program, which offers courses in five or 10-week increments.

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9Central College 5/568.07%Pella, IA

Central College offers students an academically rigorous education while also exploring larger issues of civic and environmental responsibility. With a dual focus on civic engagement and environmental stewardship, Central includes a service learning component in a number of its courses, and the school also requires all students to take a global sustainability core credit prior to graduation.

Keeping with its environmental focus, the campus has also received silver, gold, and platinum LEED ratings for many of its buildings. Central has also committed to following LEED guidelines for all future construction.

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10Coe College 5/570.38%Cedar Rapids, IA

Located in Cedar Rapids, Coe College is famous for its selectivity and standards of academic excellence. Students receive a highly personalized education across 40 programs of study through a low, 11:1 student-faculty ratio and an average class size of 16. Coe is one of the state’s most selective colleges, and the vast majority of accepted applicants placed in the top 10% of their high school graduating class.

Nearly all of Coe’s graduates either find work or enroll in a graduate program within one year of graduation. The college has also been designated as a top producer of U.S. Fulbright Scholars.

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11Shiloh University 1/5N/AKalona, IA

Shiloh University offers an innovative delivery format and a variety of academic programs. As a fully online university, students are able to complete their degrees from anywhere in the world and engage in virtual discussions with a diverse community of peers. All undergraduate majors reflect the university’s Christian mission; popular programs include biblical and pastoral studies, interdisciplinary studies, and New Testament studies.

Shiloh offers students the same support services they would find at a traditional university. These include academic advising, a virtual writing center and library, and individualized instructor feedback.

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12Loras College 4/563.73%Dubuque, IA

Located in the historic city of Dubuque, Loras College is a private Catholic college. Offering over 50 undergraduate and pre-professional programs, including Catholic studies and Irish studies programs, Loras provides students with a wealth of academic options. The school maintains a 12:1 student-faculty ratio.There are over 80 organizations and clubs on campus. Students can also explore the outdoors in the surrounding area, which includes nature trails and ski resorts.

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13Northwestern College 4/563.14%Orange City, IA

Northwestern College is a Christian school in Orange City. Northwestern offers over 40 majors in a variety of disciplines as well as over 50 student clubs and organizations. Students are also encouraged to serve their global communities and to explore their faith through short-term missions, spring service projects, and summers of service that take them to destinations around the world. Northwestern has been nationally recognized as a Groundwater Guardian Green Site, one of only eight colleges in the nation to receive such a designation.

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14Simpson College 5/572.54%Indianola, IA

Just 12 miles south of Iowa’s capitol, Simpson College provides students with a close-knit academic community in a traditional liberal arts setting. The school’s proximity to Des Moines also offers students a variety professional opportunities unique to its neighboring city. Aside from these local learning opportunities, Simpson also features several study abroad opportunities, which allow students to travel to London, Australia, Argentina, and Thailand.

Simpson’s engaged cItizen curriculum helps students develop their scientific reasoning skills, while imparting the importance of civic engagement and a global perspective; the curriculum requires students to take courses in a variety of disciplines to enhance their worldview.

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15Dordt College 4/565.58%Sioux Center, IA

Offering 90 academic degrees, including 12 pre-professional offerings, Dordt College provides something for every student. Rooted in a Reformed Christian perspective, students are supported academically and spiritually through both a Christian-based curriculum and campus ministry and service outreach programs. Students are also supported financially, with over 98% receiving some form of financial aid.

For students who are interested in exploring their own academic path, Dordt allows students to combine courses from multiple majors into their own tailored program that reflects their individual interests and goals.

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16Graceland University – Lamoni 4/554.08%Lamoni, IA

Graceland is a private liberal arts university in Lamoni. With just over 1,000 undergraduates, most classes have fewer than 20 students, and the student-faculty ratio is 15:1. Graceland also provides over 98% of its students some form of financial aid. The school includes a scholarship calculator on their financial aid webpage to help students determine the types of merit and need-based aid they will be eligible for before applying.

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17Morningside College 4/553.64%Sioux City, IA

At Morningside, all freshman students receive a laptop to use throughout their time at school. This allows all students to fully immerse themselves in one of over 40 majors and 12 pre-professional programs. Students can also engage in research and highlight their accomplishments through the annual Palmer Student Research Symposium.

In class, students are encouraged to develop their skills in leadership and community involvement through their choice of residence halls, including an upperclassmen hall which houses the campus Leadership Academy.

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18Wartburg College  5/571.04%Waverly, IA

With an average class size of 17 and a 98% graduate placement rate, Wartburg shines for its student-centered approach to education. Faculty members value their interactions with students in class, and also serve as advisors, allowing for one-on-one discussions and mentoring opportunities. Community engagement is also important at Wartburg: students are encouraged to volunteer in the local community and to study and serve abroad in a variety of capacities. Wartburg is the only private school in the state to offer a music therapy major, and was the first Iowa college to offer a program in social work.

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19Buena Vista University 4/545.79%Storm Lake, IA

Blending a premier liberal arts education with professional preparation, Buena Vista is a popular school for students from all backgrounds. Students at BVU enjoy the individual attention they get from professors and a student faculty-ratio of 9:1, one of the smallest figures in Iowa. One of every three students plays on one of the Beavers’ 19 intercollegiate sports teams.

Each spring, BVU cancels classes for one day and invites all members of the campus community to engage in local service projects led by student committees. This tradition of civic engagement is called Buenafication Day.

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20Clarke University 4/574.1%Dubuque, IA

Clarke is a private Catholic school guided by four core values: freedom, education, charity, and justice. With just over 1,000 students and a student-faculty ratio of 11:1, students can expect small classes and an intimate campus feel. Students also have the opportunity to grow spiritually by participating in the campus ministry, which offers mission trips and a variety of other service activities.

Adult students looking to balance class with their busy schedules can benefit from the TimeSaver program, which consists of eight week-long hybrid sessions designed around career-focused majors, such as business and information technology.

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21Saint Ambrose University 4/557.09%Davenport, IA

Saint Ambrose offers students over 60 undergraduate majors to choose from, including innovative programs in strategic communication and human performance and fitness. Seven interdisciplinary minors are also available; these allow students to creatively combine their majors with a focus in the environment, peace and justice, German studies, classical studies, or Catholicism.

Those looking to live on campus will be happy to learn that SAU offers a variety of highly-regarded residence halls. Students can live in traditional dorms, suites, townhouses, and standalone homes.

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22William Penn University 4/535.15%Oskaloosa, IA

William Penn offers a student-focused academic experience built through a robust 16:1 student-faculty ratio. All undergraduates engage in a leadership core curriculum, providing them with the self awareness and critical thinking skills needed to become value-driven leaders in their fields. Outside of class, students can get involved in over 40 campus-run student clubs and organizations.

The university’s College for Working Adults offers both fully online and blended programs of study that that consist of eight-week course sessions. Undergraduate business management, human resources management, and psychology degrees are available entirely online.

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23Upper Iowa University 4/538.3%Fayette, IA

Founded in 1857, Upper Iowa has several campus locations, and the school’s online programs give the curriculum a global reach. While its main campus is located in the small city of Fayette, UIU maintains campuses in Malaysia and Hong Kong, offering students an ideal way to customize their study abroad experience. Almost 70% of students are nontraditional, taking courses either online or at night at one of 25 campus locations

Transfer students benefit from articulation agreements with schools in almost 20 different states. The educational needs of military members and veterans are also served through online programs, along with military learning centers.

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24Grand View University 4/546.65%Des Moines, IA

Located in Des Moines, Grand View offers students a close-knit and vibrant campus community while also connecting them to the many cultural and professional opportunities inherently available at an urban campus. Through the university's’ summer internship program, students can work with a variety of organizations throughout the city. Those interested in expanding their horizons can also pursue national service learning opportunities during breaks.

Undergraduates can integrate the campus’s Viking Leadership Credential into any of the school’s 40 programs of study, blending classwork with on-campus leadership opportunities that culminate in a personal leadership portfolio.

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25Iowa Wesleyan College 4/532.21%Mount Pleasant, IA

Founded in 1842, Iowa Wesleyan is one of the most historic colleges in Iowa. The school’s rich tradition of service learning continues today, through a curriculum that blends academics with experiential learning, including a service learning core component that pairs students with local and global organization each year.

IWC offers 16 majors and several pre-professional programs. Classes are typically capped at 10 students, and the school maintains a 9:1 student-faculty ratio, allowing for a highly individualized and interactive learning environment. Non-traditional students benefit from a variety of class formats that suit busy schedules, including evening and online courses.

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Over 32,000 students in Iowa choose to study in a two-year program. Many of these students go on to study at a four-year university, saving money or getting necessary prerequisites. Other students get a two-year degree to take advantage of opportunities in the workplace. Currently, less than 36% of Iowa’s working-age residents hold a two-year degree or higher, but it is projected that 62% of all jobs will require some form of higher education by the year 2018. The majority of Iowans with an associate degree stay in Iowa, as opposed to those who get a four-year degree. Whether you need a higher salary or plan to transfer to a four-year university, the best two-year schools in the state are highlighted below.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description
1Northwest Iowa Community College 2/553.91%Sheldon, IA

Located in Sheldon, NWICC offers students full access to the Lifelong Learning & Recreation Center (LLRC), which is fully equipped with fitness classes like yoga and boot camp, personal training sessions, and sports tournaments.

The college offers a wide array of half- and full- tuition scholarships broken down in their comprehensive scholarship guide. Besides studying business, construction, or manufacturing, students can also pursue health careers in healthcare management, wellness, nursing, or online degrees in programs like health coding and health information technology.

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2Southwestern Community College 1/540.13%Creston, IA

Students who study at Southwestern Community College earn more than just an education -- they get an experience. Student organizations -- including disc golf club, computer club, and student senate -- combined with sports teams and other on-campus activities makes SWCC an engaging place to learn. The annual Pay it Forward Week comprises multiple activities daily, encouraging students to give back with clean-ups, blood drives, 5k fundraisers, and packaging meals for the hungry.

Beyond exciting clubs, SCC offers a wide range of academic programs. Their adult and continuing education programs help working students advance their careers in topics like cosmetology, first aid, or health education.

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3North Iowa Area Community College 1/540.91%Mason City, IA

NIACC makes earning a high-quality degree affordable and simple with its open door admissions process. The college’s transfer agreements likewise make it easy to transfer to more than 40 participating four-year institutions.

Started in 1918 as Mason City Junior College, NIACC is Iowa’s oldest two-year college and is nationally ranked. The campus is 500 acres in the countryside and has high quality facilities, new student housing, and lakeside apartments. NIACC’s Career in A Year and NIACC @ Night programs help students graduate sooner.

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4Northeast Iowa Community College-Calmar 2/533.54%Calmar, IA

At Northeast Iowa Community College-Calmar, students can choose from more than 85 academic programs, including online and short-term certifications. The college is a popular choice among students in the state, and has served one in seven northeast Iowa adults in the 2013-2014 school year.

Around 79% of eligible students receive financial aid, including scholarships offered by NICC. The college offers unique technical programs to help students jumpstart their careers, like the John Deere TECH program, which allows students the opportunity to work at a John Deere dealership.

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5Eastern Iowa Community College District 1/527.61%Davenport, IA

EICC collaborates with the Iowa Community College Online Consortium (ICCOC), which offers courses from several universities and allows students to earn an associate degree 100% online. Many students also choose to earn a business degree through the evening associate degree program, giving them the chance to earn an associate in four years by taking one course at a time, one day per week.

EICC offers hybrid courses that combine the best elements of online and in-classroom instruction. With more than 10,000 students enrolled per year and a dozen satellite locations, the school is now celebrating its 50th anniversary.

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6Southeastern Community College 1/528.7%West Burlington, IA

Southeastern Community College is engaged in helping the communities of West Burlington and Keokuk. Kidtek U has more than 30 summer camp courses for 7-9 graders, and its VA-certified officials help veterans earn tuition benefits for serving their country. The Small Business Development Center offers free counseling and opportunities for connecting, learning, and working with other businesses in Iowa.

The school’s degree programs range from respiratory care to auto collision repair to criminal justice, and clubs like agriculture, African American heritage, and Blackhawk athletics all encourage students to get involved.

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7Emmaus Bible College 3/581.97%Dubuque, IA

Emmaus Bible College is unique because every graduate earns a degree in Bible/Theology, combined with their program of choice such as computer studies or music. Around 98% of Emmaus students receive some form of financial aid for factors like academic achievement and Christian character.

Non-local students can still enjoy the school’s excellent educational benefits through distance learning, with three sessions per year. A total of 63% of students said that they would enroll at Emmaus again, compared to only 38% at competing colleges.

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8Iowa Central Community College 1/537.09%Fort Dodge, IA

Iowa Central Community College is a career-focused institution. Their recently launched career coach program helps students narrow down career choices based on local data on wages, job growth and openings, and required training. The school’s career services manager also provides quick resume formats, career and job fair information, job and internship openings, and workshops for mock interviews and other skill-building activities.

Iowa Central athletics are six-time recipients of the NATYCCA cup, which recognizes success in two-year college athletics. Famous alumni include Amari Spievey of the Detroit Lions and Drew McFedries, a professional MMA fighter.

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9St Luke’s College 3/5100%Sioux City, IA

St. Luke’s College is a UnityPoint Health institution. Degrees are focused on health, and include a bachelor’s in nursing, an associate in radiologic technology, a certificate in phlebotomy, and others. Courses include classroom instruction, job shadowing, and clinical practice.

St. Luke’s offers courses in traditional, online, and hybrid educational formats, with a campus located in Sioux City. The college is passionate about community service, with an annual all-college community service day and other service opportunities.

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10Mercy College of Health Sciences 3/541.3%Des Moines, IA

Mercy College of Health Sciences has more than 150 health partners across the state and beyond. Whether students plan on pursuing careers as an EMT, nurse, paramedic, surgical technician, or another career path, Mercy College students gain real-world clinical experience.

The school stresses values such as knowledge, reverence, integrity, compassion, and excellence. As a Catholic institution, it also follows the heritage of the Sisters of Mercy and has daily prayer and pastoral counseling available. All students earning a bachelor’s degree must document at least 15 hours of service learning through Catholic charities or foundations like the Central Iowa Shelter.

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11Marshalltown Community College 1/518.16%Marshalltown, IA

Marshalltown Community College was named on the 2015 STEM Jobs-approved colleges list, along with the 2016 Military Friendly Schools list and the 2016 Military Advanced Education “Top Schools” list, with a Collegiate Veterans Association club on campus. MCC also has clubs for Phi Theta Kappa, a multicultural club, and a GLBTQ alliance.

Academic programs at MCC include everything from animal sciences to pre-law to dental assisting to mortuary science. MCC has high quality facilities on campus; the Orpheum Theater hosts theater and music performances as well as movies.

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12Des Moines Area Community College 1/520.34%Ankeny, IA

Des Moines Area Community College offers some of the lowest tuition in the state, and gives students a choice from 153 academic programs and certificates, including agribusiness, criminal justice, and horticulture.

CityView readers voted DMACC the “Best Place to Continue Your Education”. The college’s programs focus on helping students graduate. The school offers Signature Series online classes, which puts them on a solid career path, and the University-College Transfer Program, which helps students transfer to more than 925 colleges and universities around the country.

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13Iowa Western Community College 1/518.38%Council Bluffs, IA

Continuing Education is one of Iowa Western Community College’s strongest programs, with more than 42,795 enrollments annually. Besides its continuing education programs, IWCC also helps students who are looking to transfer out of Iowa colleges. One-on-one individualized transfer programs and articulation programs with many four-year universities make it easy to continue learning outside of Iowa Western.

IWCC offers more than 100 academic programs, 60 career programs, 50 transfer programs, and is known for its flight school with different emphases within aviation tech. The college’s culinary arts program also has give emphases like baking and pastry art and food service.

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14Iowa Lakes Community College 2/547.51%Estherville, IA

Iowa Lakes Community College offers a wide variety of academic programs, including several programs that are 100% online. Whether students enjoy music, sports, or photography, Iowa Lakes offers different clubs at each of their three campuses to involve students in learning and friendships outside of the classroom. Additionally, the school offers athletic scholarships for those in sports like baseball, golf, wrestling, dance, volleyball, and everything in between.

Iowa Lakes offers excellent benefits for veterans, including in-state tuition, veteran’s mentors on each campus, veteran’s scholarships, veterans’ Clubs, and complimentary services at the Wellness Center.

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15Western Iowa Tech Community College 1/518.34%Sioux City, IA

Western Iowa Tech Community College offers resources including a career interest survey and a list of their programs grouped by industry. Online students choose between 8- 12- and 16-week courses that are completed either completely online or in hybrid form.

WITCC’s campus fosters engagement among students, who can study at the recently remodeled Overlook Cafe, workout at the free gym and indoor track, or take aerobics classes at the Dunker Student Center. Beyond the typical clubs, WITCC offers workshops and events on campus to help students with test anxiety, proofreading, and academic skills.

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16Ellsworth Community College 1/5N/AIA

Preparing students for their future is the focus of Ellsworth Community College, as shown by the 100% pass rate on the NCLEX exam by 2015 practical nursing graduates. ECC’s excellent facilities offer many unique opportunities for students. The state-of-the-art equestrian center makes many animal-focused majors available for students, including equine management, veterinary medicine, and swine management.

Take a virtual tour of the beautiful Ellsworth campus to look at the main campus, student housing, athletic and activity facilities, and equestrian center from home.

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17Indian Hills Community College 1/524.44%Ottumwa, IA

With four start dates per year, enrolling at Indian Hills is flexible and easy year-round. Programs offered by the school include topics in advanced technologies, health sciences, and the arts.

Indian Hills has a strong program for international students looking for colleges in Iowa, and it has welcomed students from six of the seven continents. Its robust online learning program serves those away from campus with 250 online courses and several online degrees and diplomas available. Students learn at the four Indian Hills campuses located in Ottumwa (main campus), Centerville, the North Campus, and County Service Centers.

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18Hawkeye Community College 1/528.09%Waterloo, IA

Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo has six locations within 35 miles of main campus. Hawkeye offers a variety of learning opportunities, from night courses towards an associate, to continuing education, to specialized training for specific industries. There are more than 45 one- and two-year programs for students seeking Iowa colleges.

The Hawkeye mascot is the RedTail, with five new sports programs coming by 2019. Its academic programs are also growing, adding construction simulator through a collaboration with Iowa Works, a STEM trailer that is bringing virtual learning to local schools, and a tiny house building project with the construction program.

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19Kirkwood Community College 1/521.73%Cedar Rapids, IA

Kirkwood Community College is known for its excellent facilities. It sits on a 680-acre campus, with a 400-acre farm also featured on the grounds. The Hotel at Kirkwood is a professional hotel, with operations assisted by the hospitality arts students. The $3.6 million medicine simulation lab, 30,000 feet education center, and horticulture and equestrian centers all give this campus the look and feel of a four-year university.

Kirkwood’s newest regional center partnered with the University of Iowa, welcoming the two-year college to add a building and teach on its campus.

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If you’re thinking about applying to one of the best colleges in Iowa, continuing reading to learn more about living in the Hawkeye State.

In the middle of the “American Heartland,” Iowa is a Midwestern state of mostly rolling hills. It has 56,276 square miles and is bordered by three rivers: the Des Moines River to the south, the Mississippi to the east and the Big Sioux to the west. Iowa has a humid continental climate across all its regions. Summer is hot and humid and winters are cold and harsh. Snowfall and tornados are both common in the state. Iowa is in the heart of the Corn Belt, but though agriculture plays an important part, the state has a diverse economy, with manufacturing, finance, biotechnology and insurance. The capital and largest city is Des Moines.

The cost of living in Iowa is much lower than many states. Des Moines is 8% below the national average. Iowa City has been named the first U.S. “City of Literature” by UNESCO. Throughout the state, there are art museums, music festivals, the Iowa Speedway and natural sites like Driftless area and the Iowa Great Lakes to enjoy. Below we go into greater detail about each region.


Central Iowa

  • Major Cities: Des Moines, Ames, Boone
  • Attractions: Des Moines Art Center, Iowa State Fair, Downtown Farmer’s Market, Des Moines Botanical Garden
  • Cost of Living: Des Moines’ Numbeo Cost of Living
  • Popular Schools: Iowa State University, Drake University, Des Moines Community College, Des Moines University

Eastern Iowa

  • Major Cities: Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Davenport
  • Attractions: Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, Amana Colonies
  • Cost of Living: Cedar Rapids
  • Popular Schools: University of Iowa, Kirkwood Community College, Mount Mercy University

Western Iowa

  • Major Cities: Sioux City, Council Bluffs
  • Attractions: Grotto of the Redemption, the Iowa Great Lakes, Union Pacific Railroad Museum
  • Cost of Living: Sioux City
  • Popular Schools: Western Iowa Tech Community College, Iowa Western Community College

Northeast and Northern Iowa

  • Major Cities: Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Dubuque, Dyersville
  • Attractions: National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, Pike’s Peak State Park, Effigy Mounds National Monument, Maquoketa Caves State Park
  • Cost of Living: Waterloo
  • Popular Schools: University of Northern Iowa, Hawkeye Community College, University of Dubuque


Iowa has many exceptional colleges and acclaimed programs, as well as a low cost of living, relaxed atmosphere, and vibrant cultural events. Out-of-state students wishing to take advantage of low tuition and financial aid should establish residency as soon as possible. The following guidelines apply:

  • Live and work in Iowa for 12 months before the time you plan to enroll as a resident
  • Obtain your own Iowa Driver’s License (or ID card), Iowa Voter Registration, and register your vehicle(s) in the state of Iowa
  • Be enrolled no more than half time for the 12 months you are working
  • Pay Iowa income taxes
  • Cease to be claimed as a depended by your parents in any other state


A student is considered a resident if they are dependent on a parent who is a resident of Iowa. If the student’s parents have moved from Iowa, the student is still considered a resident if they maintains continuous enrollment. A high school student whose parents move from the state their senior year will still be considered a resident if the student has not established domicile in another state. If one of the student’s parents lives in Iowa but the student lives with the other parent in a different state, it is possible to claim residency in Iowa, depending on which parent provides the majority of financial support and which claims the student as a dependent on state income taxes.