The Illinois Department of Employment Security projects that employment in the state will grow by 5.76% from 2016-2026, which is somewhat slower than the projected rate of growth for the country as a whole. Still, certain industries in the state should see strong expansion over this period. For example, the healthcare and social assistance fields are projected to add roughly 78,000 new jobs in the coming years, while the computer industry should add nearly 25,000 new positions.
To take advantage of these professional opportunities — especially those with the greatest earning potential — you will likely need a college degree. To become a nuclear medicine technologist, for instance, you must hold an associate degree. These technologists earn a median salary of about $77,000 per year — roughly $38,000 more than the median pay for all other occupations. Database administrators, who earned a median salary of just over $90,000 in 2018, typically need to earn a bachelor's degree.
Best Colleges in Illinois
|1||Northwestern University||Evanston, IL|
|2||University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign||Champaign, IL|
|3||University of Chicago||Chicago, IL|
|4||University of Illinois at Springfield||Springfield, IL|
|5||Illinois Institute of Technology||Chicago, IL|
|6||University of St Francis||Joliet, IL|
|7||Wheaton College||Wheaton, IL|
|8||University of Illinois at Chicago||Chicago, IL|
|9||Illinois Wesleyan University||Bloomington, IL|
|10||Lewis University||Romeoville, IL|
Our ranking of the best colleges in Illinois can help you decide where to continue your education. For each of the schools profiled below, we provide information about admission requirements, online learning opportunities, available majors, and financial aid programs. In addition, all of the colleges on this list hold regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.
Ranking Accredited Colleges in Illinois
|Evanston, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 94%||
As one of the finest institutions of higher education in the country, Northwestern University tops our list of the best colleges in Illinois. The university serves roughly 21,000 students through bachelor's, master's, and doctoral programs in nearly every field of study. In addition, many of Northwestern's graduate and executive education programs -- including several offered at the School of Management -- are available entirely online.
More than 90% of undergraduate students at the university ranked within the top 10% of their high school classes. Northwestern faculty boast Nobel Prizes, Tony Awards, Guggenheim Fellowships, and MacArthur "Genius Grants."
First-year applicants to the university must submit high school transcripts, ACT or SAT scores, and at least one academic letter of recommendation. Programs may also require interviews, auditions, or additional tests. To enter a graduate program, you typically must hold a bachelor's degree and take an entrance exam like the GRE.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
|Champaign, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 85%||
Since its founding in 1867, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has worked to provide transformative learning experiences that allow its students to change society for the better. For example, 29 alumni hold the Pulitzer Prize for achievement in journalism or literature, and research conducted by students and faculty at the university has contributed to breakthroughs in fields like special education, information technology, and molecular biology.
Each year, more than 47,000 Illinois students pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in fields like aerospace engineering, quantitative economics, linguistics, and operations management. The university also hosts fully online programs, including tracks in business administration, crop sciences, and health communication.
To apply to the university as an undergraduate student, you must possess a high school diploma or GED certificate. You must also submit scores from the ACT or SAT. During the admissions process, you can apply to a variety of institutional scholarships, including merit- and need-based programs that cover all tuition and fees.
University of Chicago
|Chicago, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 93%||
The University of Chicago works to prepare future leaders in business, academia, and public service. Undergraduate students at the university can choose from more than 52 majors and 41 minors in fields like astrophysics, human rights, public policy, and statistics. Five graduate divisions and six professional schools provide advanced training in subjects such as molecular engineering, medicine, and the law.
While you must hold a high school diploma or GED certificate to apply to an undergraduate program at UChicago, the university does provide a test-optional admission path for prospective students who do not believe that ACT or SAT scores adequately reflect their academic ability or potential. In lieu of these exams, applicants must submit two teacher recommendations; applicants are also encouraged to also share supplemental materials, like an art or research project.
The university guarantees free tuition for all accepted students who come from families making less than $125,000 per year. Students from families earning less than $60,000 per year receive free tuition, fees, and room and board.
University of Illinois at Springfield
|Springfield, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 50%||
Out of its total enrollment of roughly 5,000 students, the University of Illinois Springfield serves approximately 1,000 online learners every year. More than 50 fully online programs -- taught by the same faculty who lead on-campus courses -- give working professionals the flexibility to explore subjects like business administration, computer science, healthcare informatics, and teacher education. Regardless of where they live, distance learners at UIS also pay significantly less in tuition than traditional out-of-state students.
Additional programs of study available at the university's 746-acre campus in Springfield include business intelligence, human development counseling, and public health. UIS also boasts an undergraduate honors program, 21 graduate programs, and integrated internship experiences that give students the chance to apply their learning to practical challenges.
To seek a bachelor's degree at UIS, you must hold a high school diploma or the equivalent and submit ACT or SAT scores. Applicants must also share a personal statement outlining their personal background, academic interests, and professional aspirations.
Illinois Institute of Technology
|Chicago, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 72%||
Students at the Illinois Institute of Technology develop the skills and knowledge they need to begin careers in fields related to engineering, science, design, and applied technology. Alongside traditional undergraduate and graduate programs, students at the institute can also pursue an accelerated course of study and earn both a bachelor's and master's degree in just five years. Distance education programs also allow students to earn fully online degrees in chemical engineering, intellectual property, and health physics.
Through its Elevate program, IIT connects students with experiential learning opportunities like internships, research assistantships, community service, and study abroad trips. Students who participate in Elevate may also apply for a $5,000 annual scholarship.
Undergraduate admission requires a high school diploma or GED certificate. Applicants must also submit ACT or SAT scores and a letter of recommendation from a teacher or counselor. Graduate application requirements vary by program, but most require a bachelor's degree, letters of recommendation, and results from an entrance exam.
University of St Francis
|Joliet, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 63%||
A Catholic university, the University of St. Francis embodies the Franciscan values of faith, wisdom, and justice. The school offers bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in areas like biology, data visualization, forensics, and small business finance. To help students who need to balance their education with other personal and professional obligations, USF also makes more than 120 of its classes available online.
The university's academic resource center serves the needs of on-campus and online learners. Staff at the center provide tutoring, exam preparation assistance, and enrollment advice. They also lead skill development workshops and help students better manage their time or understand their unique learning styles.
All incoming first-year students must possess a high school diploma with at least a 2.5 GPA. In addition, undergraduate applicants must hold an ACT score of at least 20 or an SAT score of at least 1020. Prospective students who do not meet these academic requirements may qualify for provisional admission on the basis of professional experience, community service, and/or other extenuating circumstances.
|Wheaton, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 89%||
Wheaton College offers a liberal arts education through a Christian lens. In addition to programs in theological studies and ministry, the college prepares students for careers in fields like business, computer science, engineering, and nursing. Online and accelerated master's programs in church leadership, higher education, and disaster response give students the freedom to earn an advanced degree on their own terms.
Regardless of their major, students at Wheaton can supplement their classroom learning through research and experiential learning opportunities at one of the college's many centers. For example, the Center for Urban Engagement hosts activities and events related to creating sustainable communities, while the Marion Wade Center sponsors programming related to Christian literature.
While undergraduate applicants must hold a high school diploma and take specific courses in English, math, and science, the college does not require prospective students to submit results from the ACT or SAT. To transfer credits from another college or university, you must hold at least a 2.0 GPA in those courses.
University of Illinois at Chicago
|Chicago, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 57%||
With more than 80 bachelor's programs, the University of Illinois at Chicago helps students chart a path into a variety of careers and academic pursuits. The university also boasts a student-to-teacher ratio of 19-to-1, meaning learners benefit from the personalized attention of expert faculty and the opportunity to develop close relationships with their classmates.
Undergraduate students at UIC can major in subjects like health information management, civil engineering, economics, and public administration. Learners can also choose from 100+ master's tracks and 60+ doctoral programs in business, education, social work, and urban planning. Students may choose to earn a degree online or supplement classroom instruction with a "stackable" online certificate.
UIC strives to create affordable educational experiences for its students. For example, the university's Aim High scholarship program provides $10,000 in annual aid to Illinois high school valedictorians. UIC also waives tuition for qualifying children of military veterans and low-income senior citizens.
Illinois Wesleyan University
|Bloomington, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 78%||
Thanks in large part to a suite of services and extensive personal attention from faculty and staff, 93% of students who begin an undergraduate program at Illinois Wesleyan return after their first year. In addition, more than 90% of students who earn a bachelor's degree from the university do so within four years.
Illinois Wesleyan offers more than 80 majors in graphic design, accounting and finance, literature, and data science. The university also emphasizes the importance of experiential learning, with more than 70% of the student body participating in at least one internship. Additionally, more than half of learners join a study abroad trip. Online programs are not currently available at the school.
Admission to the university requires a high school diploma or GED certificate. Applicants must also submit results from the ACT or SAT, though Illinois Wesleyan does not set a minimum score for these exams. Certain art programs may also require an interview, audition, or portfolio of work.
|Romeoville, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 67%||
Located in the suburbs of Chicago, Lewis University educates roughly 6,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. While it is a Roman Catholic institution, the university welcomes learners from all backgrounds and faiths. International students at Lewis represent about 50 countries from around the world, and students of color make up more than 30% of the total student body.
Undergraduate programs at the university introduce students to subjects like aviation administration, dental health, human resources management, and the philosophy of law. Graduate students can deepen their learning in fields such as computer science, organizational leadership, and clinical mental health counseling. More than 20 fully online programs serve the needs of students who cannot commute to campus.
To apply, you must submit high school transcripts and ACT or SAT scores. About 97% of incoming first-year students at Lewis receive some sort of financial aid, including institutional scholarships. For example, the St. John Baptist DeLaSalle Scholarship covers four years of tuition for students with exceptional academic ability.
|Rock Island, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 75%||
Although it does not offer online programs, Augustana College maintains a beautiful residential campus on the banks of the Mississippi River in northwestern Illinois. The college exclusively serves undergraduate students, with bachelor's degrees available in subjects such as art history, data analytics, environmental management and forestry, and psychology.
Through the college's Careers, Opportunities, Research, Exploration (CORE) program, students at Augustana can work with dedicated career coaches and engage with alumni mentors. CORE also administers the Augie Choice funding opportunity, which gives qualifying students $2,000 to join a study abroad trip, participate in an unpaid internship or volunteer experience, or conduct research with a faculty member.
Applicants must hold a high school diploma or GED certificate. Augustana waives its ACT or SAT requirement for prospective students who maintained a high school GPA of 3.0 or higher. Letters of recommendation and interviews are optional but encouraged. The college offers scholarships on the basis of academic merit, artistic achievement, and financial need. Augustana also administers a scholarship program specifically for transfer students.
Governors State University
|University Park, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 77%||
Governors State University prides itself on providing the lowest undergraduate tuition rate in Illinois. To make its programs even more affordable, the university also administers a variety of scholarship programs. For example, the GSU Promise Scholarship provides up to the total cost of tuition and fees for certain low-income students who maintain a GPA of 2.75 or higher. Similarly, the Freshman Presidential Scholarship covers tuition, fees, and room and board, as well as a $500 stipend for books and course materials.
Students can pursue bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in fields such as community health, manufacturing management, criminal justice, and counselor education and supervision. The university also offers 120 online classes and seven fully online certificate and degree programs. Through degree completion programs, GSU also provides a clear path to a bachelor's degree for community college students in the state.
Applicants must hold a high school diploma with a minimum 2.75 GPA or a GED certificate. The university also requires prospective students to take the ACT or SAT, though it waives this requirement for applicants over the age of 21.
Lincoln Christian University
|Lincoln, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 67%||
Originally founded as a Bible institute, Lincoln Christian University continues to educate students through a Christ-centered curriculum. While many of the university's graduates take on careers in church leadership after graduation, LCU also provides professional training related to business administration, elementary education, and counseling. Students can also choose from six online associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees.
High school juniors and seniors can participate in the university's LEAP program, taking up to 12 college-level credits at a 75% tuition discount. Students who maintain at least a 3.0 GPA throughout the program receive guaranteed admission into a full undergraduate program at LCU.
Traditional applicants must hold a high school diploma or GED certificate, share results from the ACT or SAT, and submit a character reference form completed by a church or ministry leader. Most admitted students boast a high school GPA of at least 3.0 or a composite GED score of at least 580.
Illinois State University
|Normal, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 69%||
Illinois State University gives its students the support they need to remain enrolled and earn their degree on time; for example, the university's graduation rate of almost 70% is 23 percentage points higher than the national average. ISU graduates also boast a student loan default rate significantly lower than the national average.
The university offers undergraduate programs in fields like agriculture and the environment, business and economics, and science and mathematics. Interdisciplinary programs allow students to take coursework from more than one major, and pre-professional pathways help ready students for graduate-level study related to medicine and law. To help students navigate their academic options, ISU matches each incoming first-year student with a dedicated advisor.
To enter a bachelor's program at ISU, you must possess a high school diploma or GED certificate. You also need to submit ACT or SAT scores. The average admitted student holds a high school GPA between 3.18 and 3.8. Students with a lower average may need to submit an optional personal essay.
Eastern Illinois University
|Charleston, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 56%||
One year after graduation, 98% of Eastern Illinois University alumni recently reported being satisfied with the education they received. The university's network includes more than 115,000 alumni, and students at the school can earn bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in fields like biochemistry, special education, health promotion, and management information systems. In addition, students who choose to pursue a degree online pay the equivalent of in-state tuition, no matter where they live.
At EIU's student success center, learners can work one-on-one with academic advisors to design a customized course of study. The school's writing center provides personalized feedback on essays, research papers, and creative pieces. In addition, the university's women's resource center gives referrals to a variety of mental and physical health services.
Undergraduate applicants must submit high school or GED transcripts and ACT or SAT scores. EIU restricts admission to those who maintained a high school GPA of 2.5 or above. In addition, prospective students must score above 18 on the ACT or 960 on the SAT.
Lake Forest College
|Lake Forest, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 72%||
Within six months of graduation, more than 90% of students who earned a degree at Lake Forest College found a job or enrolled in graduate school. This high placement rate can be partially attributed to the school's Foresters Helping Foresters program, where roughly 13,000 alumni mentor recent graduates and connect them with professional opportunities in their chosen field.
Undergraduate students at the college can explore topics like African-American studies, entrepreneurship and innovation, international relations, and museum studies. LFC also allows students to declare two majors, meaning you can customize a course of study that aligns with your academic interests and professional aspirations. The college currently does not offer online programs.
Aspiring first-year students need a high school diploma or GED certificate. They must also submit a letter of recommendation, and the college strongly encourages participating in an interview. While LFC is a test-optional institution, ACT or SAT scores may be required for some scholarship programs.
North Central College
|Naperville, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 69%||
Since its founding in 1861, North Central College has grown to serve more than 3,000 students each year through 65 undergraduate and graduate programs. Students seeking a bachelor's degree can choose to major in fields like conflict resolution or marketing, while graduate programs offer even deeper instruction in areas such as human resource management and occupational therapy.
The college currently offers a single master's degree in nonprofit management online. On-campus learners enjoy access to recreation and wellness facilities, arts and cultural activities, and experiential learning opportunities. For example, the Center for Social Impact sponsors an annual social venture pitch competition where students can win seed funding to launch a business venture, nonprofit organization, or community service project.
First-year applicants must hold a high school diploma or the equivalent and submit ACT or SAT scores. During the admissions process, prospective students can apply for a variety of scholarships. For example, the Montaigne Scholarship provides $6,000 to the winner of an essay contest.
|Galesburg, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 76%||
Of the 120 faculty who teach at Knox College, approximately 95% hold either a Ph.D. or a terminal degree in their field. In addition, the average class at the college contains just 14 students, giving learners ample opportunity to take advantage of their instructor's experience and expertise.
Just over 90 undergraduate majors are available at Knox, covering subjects like archaeology, earth science, Greek and Roman culture, and peace and justice studies. Immersive experiences allow students to learn outside of the classroom, as well. For example, a clinical psychology immersion places participating students in an internship at a local health clinic, while a biological fieldwork program is available to students interested in ecology and sustainability.
First-year applicants must submit high school or GED transcripts and a letter of recommendation from a teacher. While encouraged, ACT or SAT scores are not required. Merit-based scholarships provide up to $34,000 in annual aid to incoming students who demonstrate exceptional academic promise.
Olivet Nazarene University
|Bourbonnais, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 66%||
The mission of Olivet Nazarene University is to provide a Christian-based education. Students at the university can pursue associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in areas of study like actuarial science, corporate communication, the teaching of mathematics, and pastoral ministry. After graduating, ONU students join a network of more than 40,000 alumni working around the world.
The university also offers fully online programs in business, education, nursing, and the liberal arts. Many of these distance programs feature a self-paced format, meaning students can earn their degree as quickly as they can demonstrate mastery of core concepts and skills.
To apply to ONU as an undergraduate student, you must hold a high school diploma or GED certificate. The university also requires applicants to share results from the ACT, SAT, or Classic Learning Test. Students with exemplary grades and test scores can apply for academic scholarships worth up to $22,000 each year.
|Peoria, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 73%||
At Bradley University, students can choose from more than 185 undergraduate and graduate programs in subjects like technology and the law, theatre arts, family and consumer sciences, and computer information systems. Fully online and asynchronous classes give students even greater control over how, when, and where they learn.
In Bradley's honors program, students with strong records of academic achievement come together to co-construct their learning in small, interdisciplinary seminars. Honors students also enjoy access to special cultural and social events, faculty mentors, and professional networking opportunities.
While honors applicants must meet special academic requirements, regular admission to the university requires only a high school diploma or GED certificate. Students may optionally submit results from the ACT or SAT to bolster their application materials. Academic scholarships offer up to $14,500 in annual financial assistance to undergraduate students, while a legacy scholarship program provides $1,500 each year to the children of Bradley graduates.
Loyola University Chicago
|Chicago, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 77%||
Along with its online programs, Loyola University of Chicago maintains campuses in downtown Chicago and Rome, Italy. The school reaches more than 17,000 students every year. As a Jesuit institution, the university is also deeply committed to service, with students logging many volunteer hours while enrolled.
Undergraduate and graduate programs give students the opportunity to delve into subjects like cybersecurity, environmental engineering, multimedia journalism, and theology. Students can also earn fully online degrees in fields such as business, education, law, and social work. Loyola faculty who teach online classes possess specific training in creating and delivering distance education courses.
Undergraduate applicants must hold a high school diploma or GED certificate. They must also share results from the ACT or SAT and submit one letter of recommendation from a teacher. Incoming students can also apply to a host of scholarship opportunities. For example, the Freshman Merit Scholarship provides up to $22,000 per year to students with exceptional academic records.
|Jacksonville, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 60%||
Illinois College was the first college in the state to award bachelor's degrees. Over the course of its 180-year history, the college has expanded to offer more than 45 undergraduate programs in fields like actuarial science, editing and publishing, finance, and sport management. Students can also pursue online degrees in agribusiness management, business, and nursing.
Each student at IC works with an advisor to create a personalized academic plan. Through these "BLUEprints," students develop the skills and competencies needed to succeed in their field.
To apply to IC, you must possess a high school diploma, though the college does not require ACT or SAT scores for prospective students who plan to study on campus. Online and home-schooled students, however, must submit standardized test scores. IC also expects all applicants to demonstrate a strong record of school and community involvement.
Saint Augustine College
|Chicago, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 39%||
Saint Augustine College offers two-year associate programs in disciplines like business administration, computer information systems, and the culinary arts. Students interested in a four-year degree can also elect to major in fields like psychology, hospitality management, and social work. Though the college maintains five campuses in the greater Chicago area, it does not currently host any online programs.
Through its career and transfer center, SAC helps students and alumni find work and/or continue their education. For example, counselors at the center administer career assessments and place students in internships and apprenticeships. Students hoping to transfer to a four-year college or university can also receive personalized guidance on navigating the enrollment process and applying for scholarships that specifically serve transfer students.
Although you need a high school diploma or the equivalent to apply, SAC does not require standardized test scores. The school's Bridge Award provides aid to incoming students with financial need, while the Presidential Scholarship covers up to 50% of tuition and fees for students who excel academically.
|River Forest, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 62%||
Dominican University provides a flexible educational experience. Students can choose from one of 50 undergraduate degree options or more than 25 graduate programs. Learners at the university may also elect to study in person or online, on a part-time or full-time basis. The school also hosts evening programs designed for working professionals. Dominican offers several accelerated programs that allow students to earn their bachelor's and master's degrees in just five years.
Programs of study cover topics like American studies, fashion merchandising, mathematics, and political science. Online programs in accounting and library science provide access to students around the world, while hybrid offerings in conflict resolution and software development serve learners who want to enjoy the convenience of distance education and the structure of classroom learning.
First-year applicants must possess at least a 2.75 high school GPA. They must also score at least 21 on the ACT or 1060 on the SAT. Graduate applicants must hold a bachelor's degree.
|Elgin, IL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 54%||
As an evangelical Christian school, Judson University prepares students to succeed professionally and act as effective ambassadors for Christ. Roughly 1,250 students at Judson are currently enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs in areas like architecture, secondary education, pastoral leadership, and worship arts. The university also offers four online bachelor's degrees and four online master's degrees.
A commitment to service and social justice serves as a central component of Judson's mission. Service learning trips to places like Belize, the Dominican Republic, and Scotland give students the opportunity to help others while honing skills in project management, construction, and community development. Students can also pursue domestic volunteer opportunities in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs.
Judson requires applicants to hold a high school diploma or GED certificate, submit ACT or SAT scores, and sign a lifestyle statement. Although the university conducts a holistic review of prospective students, the average incoming first-year student possesses a 3.3 GPA and a composite ACT score of 23.