Earning a college degree provides graduates with a number of benefits. Higher education promotes critical thinking, enhances communication skills, and often exposes students to diverse communities and perspectives they might not otherwise encounter. Perhaps most significantly, data suggests that earning a college degree can dramatically increase employability and earning potential over the course of your lifetime.
Top 10 Colleges in Iowa
- Grinnell College - Grinnell, IA
- Iowa State University - Ames, IA
- Allen College - Waterloo, IA
- University of Northern Iowa - Cedar Falls, IA
- University of Iowa - Iowa City, IA
- St Luke's College - Sioux City, IA
- Coe College - Cedar Rapids, IA
- Luther College - Decorah, IA
- Drake University - Des Moines, IA
- Cornell College - Mount Vernon, IA
Generally, low unemployment rates make it easier for job seekers to find work. This is good news for college graduates in the Hawkeye State. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Iowa boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation -- 2.6% as of October 2019. According to the state agency Iowa Workforce Development, occupational fields with particularly high projected growth rates between 2016 and 2026 include office and administrative support, sales, management, and education/library services.
If you're ready to begin your college journey, the following list of the 25 top colleges in Iowa is a great place to start. Our ranking provides you with notable information about several key elements of the college experience, such as admissions, academic offerings, student life, and campus culture.
2020 Best Colleges in Iowa
|Grinnell, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 87%||
Located in the town of the same name, Grinnell College is a private liberal arts college known for flexible curriculum pathways and a commitment to social responsibility and justice. This coeducational, residential college serves approximately 1,700 students each year. Grinnell participates in NCAA athletics, features over 150 student groups, and hosts hundreds of lectures, performances, and events each year.
Grinnell offers a diverse catalog of 27 majors and 16 concentrations. Areas of study include biological chemistry, classics (ancient Greece and Rome), Russian, statistics, and technology studies. Students receive individual advising to help them craft their own ideal curriculum. Major selection isn't required until the second half of a learner's sophomore year. Grinnell emphasizes experiential learning and mentorship, providing students with extensive opportunities for internships, externships, service learning, and study abroad.
Admission to Grinnel is highly selective. Prospective students must submit official high school transcripts, ACT or SAT scores, two teacher evaluations, and a counselor recommendation.
Iowa State University
|Ames, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 73%||
Iowa State University is a public land- and space-grant research university located in Ames. With a campus of 1,900 acres, the institution is the third-largest university in the state as well as in the NCAA's Big 12 athletic conference. Notably, Iowa State belongs to the invitation-only Association of American Universities, along with 61 other top research universities in the U.S. and Canada.
Approximately 35,000 students attend Iowa State each year, pursuing diverse academic options from a catalog of 104 bachelor's degrees, 117 master's programs, and 83 Ph.D. degrees. The university delivers these programs through eight colleges: agriculture and life sciences, business, design, engineering, human sciences, liberal arts and sciences, veterinary medicine, and the graduate college. Students can also access select courses and programs through online and hybrid learning.
Prospective undergraduate students must provide high school transcripts and ACT or SAT scores.
|Waterloo, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 100%||
A private nonprofit institution, Allen College offers outstanding healthcare education to more than 650 students each year. The campus is located in Waterloo, and student housing options are available in nearby Cedar Point through a mutual partnership with the University of Northern Iowa.
Allen College offers associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in a variety of healthcare fields including nursing, radiography, occupational therapy, healthcare leadership, and education. Students can complete an accelerated BSN in 15-16 months. Allen also delivers several hybrid and fully online degrees including undergraduate programs in public health and medical imaging. All nursing degrees at Allen College hold accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
Admission requirements, including minimum GPA and ACT scores, vary according to student status and program choice. Undergraduates must fulfill their general education requirements at another institution prior to degree completion.
University of Northern Iowa
|Cedar Falls, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 68%||
The University of Northern Iowa is a public liberal arts university located in Cedar Falls. Serving more than 10,000 students each year, UNI offers on-site housing, Greek life, a state-of-the-art wellness and recreation facility, NCAA athletics, study abroad opportunities, and a rich tradition in art, music, and theater performance.
UNI offers more than 90 undergraduate majors and 50 graduate programs in disciplines including business, art, healthcare, literature, and technology. UNI's well-respected teacher education program produces more than 450 new educators each year and features majors and minors in more than 30 disciplines including earth science, music education, and literacy. Students interested in distance education can take advantage of dozens of web-based courses, 16 fully online programs, and 19 hybrid programs.
UNI bases freshman admission decisions partially on the Regent Admission Index, which is calculated by ACT/SAT scores, class rank, GPA, and number of completed high school core courses.
University of Iowa
|Iowa City, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 74%||
Founded in 1847, the University of Iowa is the oldest and second-largest university in the state. Located on a 1,880-acre campus in Iowa City, this public research university serves more than 32,000 students each year. UI boasts a proud athletic tradition, the largest library system in the state, and many notable alumni and faculty, including 43 Pulitzer Prize winners.
Eleven colleges provide more than 200 majors, minors, certificate programs, and graduate degrees in disciplines such as business, dentistry, education, liberal arts, and public health. UI features well-respected programs in healthcare, law, and fine arts. The school also hosts a nationally ranked public teaching hospital and the celebrated Iowa Writer's Workshop, which offers MFA degrees in creative writing. The school also delivers 29 programs online.
Prospective students must provide a completed application, official high school transcripts, and ACT or SAT scores. Some colleges and programs require additional admission qualifications.
St Luke's College
|Sioux City, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 100%||
The region's smallest institution of higher learning, St. Luke's College is a medical-center-based health sciences college located in Sioux City. Students receive a health system education in a dynamic setting with facilities that include practice laboratories, conference rooms, student lounges, a library, and a bookstore.
St. Luke's College offers certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor's degrees in nursing, health science, radiology, phlebotomy, respiratory care, and medical lab science. A clinical pastoral education pathway offers students the opportunity to gain experience as a hospital chaplain. Additionally, distance learners can access the RN-to-BSN program and health sciences bachelor's program entirely online. Many of St. Luke's College programs hold accreditation from associations including the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.
Admission to St. Luke's College is competitive. The school evaluates prospective students based on high school academics, ACT or SAT results, any prior college academics, and application essays.
|Cedar Rapids, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 69%||
Founded in 1851, Coe College is a private liberal arts university historically affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. The 70-acre campus in Cedar Rapids attracts an annual enrollment of more than 1,400. Coe students engage in weekly activities, on-site housing communities, NCAA athletics, Greek life, and the nation's largest undergraduate, student-run writing center.
Undergraduate students can choose from more than 60 areas of study, including African American studies, biology, creative writing, environmental science, organizational science, and religion. Coe also offer pre-professional programs in 13 fields such as pre-actuarial science, pre-law, and pre-veterinary medicine. The school ensures small class sizes and personal attention from knowledgeable professors with an 11-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. Learners can also access a wealth of resources including tutoring, career assistance, and public speaking consultations.
Prospective students must supply a completed application, ACT or SAT scores, official high school transcripts, an admission recommendation, and a personal essay.
|Decorah, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 80%||
Originally founded as a seminary in 1861, Luther College later became a private liberal arts institution affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church. More than 2,000 students enroll at Luther each year. The 175-acre campus in Decorah hosts over 100 student organizations and a variety of athletic facilities.
Luther offers more than 40 majors, 46 minors, and nine pre-professional programs including pre-dentistry, pre-law, and pre-ministry. Every undergraduate program at Luther features a broad liberal arts curriculum that prepares students for complexity, diversity, and change. Available majors include anthropology, environmental science, international studies, Nordic studies, and visual communication. Students seeking a more individualized education can develop a customizable, interdisciplinary major that combines two or more related disciplines.
Prospective students must supply a completed application, an educator or counselor reference, an essay, official high school transcripts, and ACT or SAT scores.
|Des Moines, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 79%||
Drake University is a private university located on a 105-acre, urban campus in Des Moines. Drake enrolls more than 3,000 undergraduate students and 1,800 graduate students. Students benefit from on-campus housing, dining, 160 clubs and organizations, intramural sports, and leadership and service-learning opportunities. Nearby state parks provide year-round outdoor recreation.
Drake students can choose from more than 100 undergraduate majors, minors, and concentrations and more than 35 graduate degrees. The school organizes academic offerings into six colleges, including one of the oldest law schools in the country. Undergraduates can pursue programs of study in art history, information science, magazine media, neuroscience, and writing. Drake also provides six graduate degrees and two certificates in an asynchronous online format.
Admission to Drake is competitive. Prospective freshmen can choose a standard application process or a test-flexible application process, which requires an interview in lieu of ACT or SAT scores. All applicants must provide official high school transcripts.
|Mount Vernon, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 71%||
Cornell College is a private liberal arts college located in Mount Vernon and affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Cornell values spiritual diversity and welcomes students from all religious and nonreligious perspectives. More than 1,000 students attend classes at Cornell each year, 92% of whom live on campus.
Cornell offers more than 40 undergraduate majors and pre-professional programs in areas such as economics, history, and psychology. Students can also work with an academic advisor to customize a major according to specific career goals. Cornell's notable "One Course at a Time" curriculum structure allows students to immerse themselves in a single academic discipline during each three- to four-week block.
Cornell's centers its selective admissions process on academic ability and preparedness, personal character, and extracurricular involvement. All prospective students must supply a completed application, high school transcripts, writing samples, and either ACT/SAT scores or a portfolio.
|Sioux Center, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 65%||
Dordt University is a private liberal arts institution affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church. Situated on 115 acres in Sioux Center, the school enrolls approximately 1,500 students each year.
Dordt offers an extensive undergraduate catalog of associate degrees, bachelor's degrees, and pre-professional programs. Graduate students can also pursue master's degrees in education or public administration. The school features several religious-focused majors, including theology and worship arts, but all Dordt students complete a core curriculum featuring courses on Christian philosophy and biblical study. Other program options include journalism, digital media production, statistics, and biology. Students can take online courses during the summer.
Dordt requires prospective undergraduates to possess a minimum 2.5 high school GPA. Applicants must provide a completed application, ACT or SAT scores, and official transcripts.
|Orange City, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 68%||
A private liberal arts institution, Northwestern College affiliates with the Reformed Church. Approximately 85% of NWC's 1,200 students live in on-site residence halls and apartment complexes. The 100-acre campus in Orange City also offers state-of-the-art facilities for academics, athletics, physical fitness, theater performance, and worship. Dozens of student clubs and organizations provide additional engagement opportunities.
NWC students can customize their education through dozens of undergraduate majors, minors, career concentrations, pre-professional programs, and certificates. Available disciplines include criminal justice, public relations, art therapy, and education. Undergraduates who need additional flexibility to achieve their goals can craft a unique, student-initiated major. Learners can complete several programs entirely online, including an RN-to-BSN degree, five master of education options, and seven education endorsements.
Prospective undergraduates must supply a completed application, either online or through the mail, along with official high school transcripts and ACT, SAT, or CLT test scores.
Maharishi University of Management
|Fairfield, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 64%||
Maharishi University of Management is a private nonprofit university located on a 370-acre campus in Fairfield. The school's on-site and online programs attract approximately 300 undergraduates and 1,400 graduate students each year. MUM utilizes consciousness-based education, which applies transcendental meditation techniques to academic learning and exploration.
Undergraduate students can pursue a variety of majors -- including creative and professional writing, computer science, and art -- or design their own individualized program. MUM is the first university in the U.S. to offer bachelor's degrees in sustainable living, regenerative organic agriculture, and consciousness and human potential. MUM also offers 16 master's programs and three doctoral degrees. A month-by-month block system allows students to immerse themselves in one course at a time.
MUM accepts applications year-round. Prospective students should possess a GPA of at least 2.5 for undergraduate degrees or 3.0 for graduate degrees, but those with lower GPAs may be considered depending on additional qualifications. A $20 processing fee applies for all applicants.
|Dubuque, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 68%||
Established in 1839, Loras College is the oldest postsecondary institution in the state. Surrounded by some of Dubuque's most historic residential neighborhoods, the 65-acre campus welcomes approximately 1,600 students each year. Loras offers a private, Catholic liberal arts education; on-site residence halls; daily Mass; NCAA athletics; and a wealth of leadership and service opportunities.
Loras offers more than 40 undergraduate majors, pre-professional programs, and graduate degrees. Students can choose from a diverse catalog of disciplines including chemistry, finance, rhetoric and public writing, and sport management. The school delivers master's degrees in counseling, general psychology, school counseling, and athletic training. Learners can enhance their education with academic internships, service-learning projects, and study abroad.
Admission to Loras is selective. Prospective students must supply high school transcripts, ACT or SAT scores, and a $25 application fee. All Loras undergraduates receive financial aid through scholarships, grants, and special awards.
Mount Mercy University
|Cedar Rapids, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 58%||
Mount Mercy University is a private Catholic liberal arts university located on a small 40-acre campus in the heart of Cedar Rapids. Founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1928, MMU is committed to five critical concerns: Earth, immigration, nonviolence, racism, and women. MMU encourages its 1,800 students to explore the possibilities of a more just, equal, and peaceful world.
The school's diverse catalog encompasses dozens of undergraduate and graduate degrees in arts, business, healthcare, humanities, and science disciplines. MMU also provides one of the largest selections of flexible degree pathways in the state. Students can earn eight bachelor's degrees and two master's degrees entirely online. An accelerated program offers 11 undergraduate majors, block scheduling, and convenient evening classes.
MMU accepts applications on a rolling basis. Prospective freshmen can complete a free application online or on paper. All applicants must provide high school transcripts and standardized test scores.
|Indianola, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 68%||
A private liberal arts college, Simpson College affiliates with the United Methodist Church. The school's 75-acre, tree-lined campus in Indianola blends tradition with modernity and features historic architecture alongside state-of-the-art facilities for athletics, performance, and student housing. Simspon offers Greek life, ministry and community service opportunities, and dozens of clubs and organizations.
More than 1,300 students attend Simpson each year. Twenty individual departments offer more than 80 majors, minors, and pre-professional programs for undergraduates. Available majors include economics, graphic design, marketing communication, and political science. All students participate in seven "Areas of Engagement" courses that use various perspectives to address issues of citizenship, including diversity and power, ethics and value inquiry, and Western culture historical perspectives. Simpson also offers several evening and fully online programs for learners who require additional flexibility.
Prospective first-year students must provide a completed application, high school transcripts, and ACT or SAT scores. Applicants can also submit an optional educator recommendation form.
|Pella, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 69%||
Central College is a private liberal arts college affiliated with the Reformed Church. The campus is located just two minutes from Iowa's largest lake, 40 minutes from Des Moines, and a few blocks away from the downtown square of Pella. The 130-acre residential campus offers NCAA athletics, hundreds of involvement opportunities, and several buildings with environmental design recognition from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Approximately 1,100 undergraduates attend Central each year and pursue a variety of academic and pre-professional programs in disciplines including art, education, environmental studies, religion, and STEM. Central also offers a customizable, self-designed program option for students whose goals are best met by an interdisciplinary combination of more than one major or minor. More than half of all students study abroad prior to graduation.
Central does not charge an application fee. Prospective freshmen must supply a completed application, ACT or SAT scores, and high school transcripts. All students receive automatic scholarship consideration.
Buena Vista University
|Storm Lake, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 60%||
Buena Vista University is a private liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. Located in Storm Lake, the 60-acre campus sits on the shores of the town's namesake. More than 1,800 students enroll in on-site and online programs each year. BVU provides on-site housing, small class sizes, extensive internship opportunities, and NCAA athletics programs.
Undergraduates can choose from more than 45 programs of study, including agricultural business, animation, mathematics, music production, and scientific illustration. A flexible exploratory program option allows students to pursue various interests before choosing a preferred major. Opportunities for study abroad, voluntourism, and travel courses promote global awareness and academic enrichment. Students with difficulty attending traditional classes can pursue one of over 30 online degrees at the undergraduate or graduate level.
Prospective first-time students should supply a completed application, high school transcripts, and ACT or SAT scores. BVU gives admission preference to individuals with GPAs of 3.0 or above.
|Sioux City, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 56%||
Morningside College is a private four-year college affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Approximately 1,300 students attend classes on the 68-acre campus in Sioux City each year. Morningside offers on-site housing, NAIA varsity sports, Greek life, and more than 50 student organizations and clubs.
The Morningside academic catalog boasts over 65 undergraduate majors, pre-professional programs, and flexible online and hybrid graduate degrees in education and nursing. Available undergraduate disciplines include agriculture, biology, business, mass communication, and religious studies. The flexible "X Path" program provides undecided students up to two years of guided exploration of career options while maintaining a guaranteed four-year timeline to graduation. Students can enhance their academics through study abroad, experience-learning, and cocurricular activities.
Prospective freshmen must provide high school transcripts and ACT or SAT test scores. Morningside charges no application fee. All undergraduate students receive some type of financial aid.
Saint Ambrose University
|Davenport, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 63%||
Saint Ambrose University is a private, Roman Catholic liberal arts university located in Davenport. The small, urban campus features a fine arts center, a recently renovated chapel, a wellness and recreation center, and residence halls with 24/7 security and weekly housekeeping. SAU welcomes approximately 3,000 students each year.
Students can choose from more than 60 academic programs at SAU, including bachelor's degrees, pre-professional tracks, and graduate programs in 12 diverse areas of study. SAU also offers four accelerated degree options -- in applied management studies, nursing, and business administration -- as well as six asynchronous online programs. Motivated students can challenge themselves in SAU's honors program or apply for a spot in the intensive, six-week undergraduate summer research institute organized by the College of Arts and Sciences.
Admission requirements vary by student status and program. First-year applicants must provide a completed application, high school transcripts, and ACT or SAT scores.
|Dubuque, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 63%||
Clarke University is a private Catholic liberal arts university. The 55-acre campus sits atop a prominent hill overlooking downtown Dubuque and the Mississippi River. In the spirit of founder Mary Frances Clarke, the university community lives by four core values: education, charity, justice, and freedom.
Clarke boasts an annual enrollment of approximately 1,000 students from 39 states and 10 countries. The school's diverse undergraduate offerings include 26 majors, 25 minors, and 10 pre-professional programs. Clarke also offers four master's degrees and two doctoral programs. An undergraduate advising program -- known as the Clarke Compass -- tracks every students' academics and activities to produce a personalized and all-inclusive resume of their Clarke experience.
Prospective freshmen must possess a minimum 2.5 GPA and either a composite ACT score of at least 18 or a combined score of 960-980 on the reading and math sections of the SAT. Applicants must provide a complete application and official high school transcripts.
Grand View University
|Des Moines, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 50%||
Grand View University is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Annual enrollment typically exceeds 1,800 students, more than 800 of whom live on-site at the 50-acre campus in the Union Park neighborhood of Des Moines. The campus features a wellness center, business center, communication center, and library.
GV's diverse academic offerings include bachelor's degrees, graduate programs, teaching endorsements, and pre-professional preparation. Undergraduates can choose from over 40 majors, 28 minors, and 4 certificates in disciplines like art and design, biotechnology, foreign languages, and organizational studies. GV offers full-time day courses, evening courses, online courses, and hybrid courses to meet a variety of scheduling needs. Students can enhance their college experience with study abroad opportunities, NAIA Vikings athletics, and campus events.
To be considered for admission, prospective freshmen must complete a free online application, provide official high school transcripts, and submit ACT or SAT scores.
|Lamoni, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 50%||
Graceland University-Lamoni is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Community of Christ. GU's main residential campus is located in Lamoni, with a second site in Independence, Missouri. The Lamoni campus serves nearly 900 undergraduate students each year. GU offers varsity sports, more than 40 clubs and organizations, and performing arts activities.
Undergraduates can choose from approximately 35 academic programs, including a variety of majors and pre-professional programs. Learners can also add a focus area in topics such as Hispanic studies, health and movement science, social media marketing, and psychology. Additionally, the university offers a dozen fully online programs, including bachelor's and master's degrees, graduate certificates, and a doctor of nursing practice.
Prospective GU students must meet at least two of the following admission criteria: ranked within the upper 50% of high school class, minimum 2.50 GPA, and minimum ACT or SAT score of 21 or 1060, respectively.
William Penn University
|Oskaloosa, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 35%||
William Penn University is a private liberal arts university located in Oskaloosa with an annual enrollment of approximately 1,000 students. Facilities within the almost 14-acre campus include residence halls in addition to a fine arts center, technology center, activity center, and chapel. Guided by its Quaker heritage, WPU encourages students to engage in interdenominational religious life programming.
WPU offers 29 undergraduate majors, 27 minors, and master's degrees in eight broad interest areas including applied technology, business administration, humanities, and social and behavioral sciences. The university serves students' flexible scheduling needs with eight programs offered entirely online and seven programs with on-site evening and weekend classes. Outside of class, students can participate in recreational activities, fine arts opportunities, intramurals, and NAIA athletics.
General admission requirements for undergraduates include a minimum 2.0 GPA and a composite score of 18 or higher on the ACT (or the SAT equivalent). Applicants must also supply a completed application and official transcripts.
|Waverly, IA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 65%||
Wartburg College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church. The college has relocated more than five times since its founding in 1852 and settled in Waverly in 1870. Wartburg offers on-site residence halls, dozens of clubs and organizations, arts and culture events, and study abroad opportunities. The Knights compete in NCAA's Division III.
Approximately 1,500 students attend Wartburg each year. Undergraduates can choose from more than 50 majors, including business administration, biology, elementary education, psychology, and music therapy -- the last of which is the only degree of its kind offered by a private college in Iowa. Wartburg also offers a diverse catalog of minors, concentrations, pre-professional programs, and graduate programs in leadership and music therapy.
Wartburg practices selective admissions. All prospective freshmen must submit a high school transcripts, ACT or SAT scores, and a writing sample with their completed application.