Best Colleges in Illinois + Full List of Schools

You'll find many top-tier colleges in Illinois, from large research universities to liberal arts schools. Here, we rank the best colleges in Illinois.
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Ellery Weil, Ph.D., is a historian and education writer. When she's not writing about education for BestColleges, she specializes in turn-of-the-twentieth-century women's history. Her writing has been published on three continents. She holds degrees ...
Updated on October 13, 2023
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Tyler Epps is an editor for BestColleges. He writes and edits content about higher education, specializing in degree planning and college rankings. He is passionate about helping students prepare for college and navigate their educational journey. He...
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From the beauty of the Great Lakes to the vibrant cultural landscape of Chicago, there's lots to love about the Prairie State. Whether you're local to the Land of Lincoln or simply interested in studying there, Illinois has a variety of top-quality colleges and universities.

Whatever field you want to study, Illinois has something to offer you. Here are some of the best colleges in Illinois and what studying there might mean for you.

Featured Online Programs

10 Best Colleges in Illinois

Methodology

In a state with dozens of colleges, what makes these schools stand out as the best colleges in Illinois? Our methodology emphasizes academic quality, institutional reputation, and student experience.

We look for institutions with strong retention and graduation numbers, along with prioritizing a variety of student body sizes, tuition rates, and degree options. This approach helps you find the best fit for your unique needs.

These rankings were compiled by our BestColleges Ranking Team and include BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site. from our partners. We use publicly available provisional datasets from Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) to inform the data for these schools. All data is current as of the date this article was published. Program-specific information may vary.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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#1 Best Colleges in Illinois + Full List of Schools

University of Chicago

  • Chicago, IL
  • 4 years
  • Campus

Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood on the South Side is home to the state's best college. The University of Chicago offers historic architecture, lofty trees, and views of Lake Michigan. Undergrads can choose from over 50 majors and complete a core curriculum that strengthens critical and analytical skills. 

The private university offers extensive financial aid opportunities. The UChicago Empower initiative guarantees free tuition for families reporting under $125,000 in income. You'll also benefit from academic advising, research opportunities, and career support as a UChicago student.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$57,642
Out-of-state
$57,642
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$60,300
Out-of-state
$60,300
ROI Score

ROI Value Score: Medium

We’ve reviewed hundreds of schools to find the ones that give you the best bang for your buck.

We compared how much you could earn in 10 years with a degree from this school versus only having a high school diploma. Then we compared that amount against school costs and financial aid opportunities. A higher return for your investment results in a higher score for this school.

Our Methodology
Medium
Retention Rate
100%
Admission Rate
7%
Students Enrolled
17,834
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
Not provided
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#2 Best Colleges in Illinois + Full List of Schools

Northwestern University

  • Evanston, IL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

On its picturesque campus on the shores of Lake Michigan, Northwestern University enrolls 21,000 students. Evanston's coffee shops and beaches offer a college-town feel just miles from the hustle and bustle of Chicago. In addition to its Evanston campus, Northwestern has a downtown Chicago campus and a campus in Doha, Qatar. 

Around half of Northwestern undergrads participate in study abroad or another global learning experience. And 64% of undergrads receive financial aid. The university awarded over $200 million in scholarships for the 2021-22 year. 

Once accepted, Northwestern commits to meeting 100% of your demonstrated financial need without loans. But the private university also reports a competitive 7% acceptance rate. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$58,227
Out-of-state
$58,227
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$56,067
Out-of-state
$56,067
ROI Score

ROI Value Score: Medium

We’ve reviewed hundreds of schools to find the ones that give you the best bang for your buck.

We compared how much you could earn in 10 years with a degree from this school versus only having a high school diploma. Then we compared that amount against school costs and financial aid opportunities. A higher return for your investment results in a higher score for this school.

Our Methodology
Medium
Retention Rate
97%
Admission Rate
9%
Students Enrolled
22,603
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
1% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#3 Best Colleges in Illinois + Full List of Schools Best Value

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

  • Champaign, IL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Over 55,000 students attend the flagship campus of the University of Illinois system. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a public research institution located in one of America's top college towns. And Illinois offers around 5,000 different courses in over 150 disciplines. 

Want to take a break from Downstate Illinois? Choose from over 300 study-abroad programs in 70 countries. Or travel to an away game for one of Illinois's 21 Big Ten sports. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$14,317
Out-of-state
$33,824
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$15,016
Out-of-state
$27,187
ROI Score

ROI Value Score: High

We’ve reviewed hundreds of schools to find the ones that give you the best bang for your buck.

We compared how much you could earn in 10 years with a degree from this school versus only having a high school diploma. Then we compared that amount against school costs and financial aid opportunities. A higher return for your investment results in a higher score for this school.

Our Methodology
High
Retention Rate
94%
Admission Rate
63%
Students Enrolled
52,679
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
96% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#4 Best Colleges in Illinois + Full List of Schools Best Value

University of Illinois Chicago

  • Chicago, IL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

It's Chicago's largest university. And the University of Illinois at Chicago also offers a more affordable tuition rate than most of the city's other four-year institutions. At UIC, you can join nearly 34,000 undergraduate students and choose from 95 majors. Or, as a graduate student, choose from over 160 master's and doctoral programs.

UIC aims to transform the world through shared knowledge. The public university is one of the largest educators of health science professionals in the state, demonstrating its commitment to public service fields. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$12,105
Out-of-state
$26,726
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$13,799
Out-of-state
$23,714
ROI Score

ROI Value Score: High

We’ve reviewed hundreds of schools to find the ones that give you the best bang for your buck.

We compared how much you could earn in 10 years with a degree from this school versus only having a high school diploma. Then we compared that amount against school costs and financial aid opportunities. A higher return for your investment results in a higher score for this school.

Our Methodology
High
Retention Rate
82%
Admission Rate
73%
Students Enrolled
33,518
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
98% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#5 Best Colleges in Illinois + Full List of Schools

Wheaton College

  • Wheaton, IL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Illinois's top-ranked liberal arts college incorporates a Christian worldview into its curriculum. Wheaton College offers over 40 majors, including six majors in its conservatory of music. 

Thanks to a low student-to-faculty ratio, the college offers many opportunities for undergrads to connect with professors. Wheaton also prioritizes collaborative learning. You might participate in a research project at the school's Black Hills Science Station or gain hands-on skills in the unique outdoor and adventure leadership master's program.

Many Wheaton students use financial aid to cover costs. The school's average financial aid package for first-year students is $29,000. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$39,100
Out-of-state
$39,100
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$17,424
Out-of-state
$17,424
ROI Score

ROI Value Score: Low

We’ve reviewed hundreds of schools to find the ones that give you the best bang for your buck.

We compared how much you could earn in 10 years with a degree from this school versus only having a high school diploma. Then we compared that amount against school costs and financial aid opportunities. A higher return for your investment results in a higher score for this school.

Our Methodology
Low
Retention Rate
90%
Admission Rate
87%
Students Enrolled
2,908
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
40% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#6 Best Colleges in Illinois + Full List of Schools

Illinois Institute of Technology

  • Chicago, IL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Chicago's only technology-focused university dates back to 1890. Illinois Institute of Technology offers more than 40 undergraduate degrees focused on science, engineering, business, and applied technology. You can also enroll in accelerated master's programs to earn a bachelor's and master's degree in five years.

At the graduate level, you can choose from over 60 programs, including options in law and architecture. Illinois Tech reports that 98% of undergrads use financial aid to cover costs. The financial aid office works with students and their families to make the private institution more affordable. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$48,610
Out-of-state
$48,610
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$29,075
Out-of-state
$29,075
ROI Score

ROI Value Score: Medium

We’ve reviewed hundreds of schools to find the ones that give you the best bang for your buck.

We compared how much you could earn in 10 years with a degree from this school versus only having a high school diploma. Then we compared that amount against school costs and financial aid opportunities. A higher return for your investment results in a higher score for this school.

Our Methodology
Medium
Retention Rate
87%
Admission Rate
61%
Students Enrolled
6,325
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
37% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#7 Best Colleges in Illinois + Full List of Schools

Loyola University Chicago

  • Chicago, IL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Chicago has its share of lakefront campuses. Loyola University Chicago stands out for its Rogers Park location on the far north of the city. With over 17,000 students, the private Jesuit university incorporates service into its mission. Loyola students have logged over 100,000 volunteer hours in Chicago. 

Undergrads can choose from over 80 majors. And the core curriculum encourages critical thinking through its interdisciplinary approach. At the graduate level, you have more than 140 options. 

Plus, through Loyola Online, you can choose from over 35 graduate degrees online or add online classes to your degree to create a customized hybrid option. Loyola also reports that 98% of first-year students receive grants or scholarships.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$45,500
Out-of-state
$45,500
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$18,594
Out-of-state
$18,594
ROI Score

ROI Value Score: Medium

We’ve reviewed hundreds of schools to find the ones that give you the best bang for your buck.

We compared how much you could earn in 10 years with a degree from this school versus only having a high school diploma. Then we compared that amount against school costs and financial aid opportunities. A higher return for your investment results in a higher score for this school.

Our Methodology
Medium
Retention Rate
85%
Admission Rate
71%
Students Enrolled
16,893
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
96% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#8 Best Colleges in Illinois + Full List of Schools

Illinois State University

  • Normal, IL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Illinois's oldest public university sits in Normal, halfway between Chicago and St. Louis. Illinois State University dates back to 1857. Founded as a teacher training school, Illinois maintains its commitment to education and learning. Today, the public university enrolls over 18,000 undergrads and offers more than 200 degrees. 

Illinois State inspires loyalty in students. That's one reason that the university ranks in the top 10% nationally for its retention and graduation rates. In addition to affordable tuition rates, Illinois State reports that four in five students receive financial aid. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$10,741
Out-of-state
$19,904
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$7,892
Out-of-state
$9,504
ROI Score

ROI Value Score: Medium

We’ve reviewed hundreds of schools to find the ones that give you the best bang for your buck.

We compared how much you could earn in 10 years with a degree from this school versus only having a high school diploma. Then we compared that amount against school costs and financial aid opportunities. A higher return for your investment results in a higher score for this school.

Our Methodology
Medium
Retention Rate
84%
Admission Rate
81%
Students Enrolled
20,720
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
96% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#9 Best Colleges in Illinois + Full List of Schools

DePaul University

  • Chicago, IL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

It's the largest Catholic university in the country. More than 20,000 students are enrolled at Chicago's DePaul University. With over 130 majors and 170 graduate programs, you can choose a degree that suits your interests at DePaul. The private university also reports that 60% of students complete an internship. 

The private university's two campuses sit in Chicago's downtown loop and in the scenic neighborhood of Lincoln Park. DePaul also offers many online courses and programs. You can earn a master's in nursing or a bachelor's in psychology online, along with dozens of other options.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$40,551
Out-of-state
$40,551
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$19,370
Out-of-state
$19,370
ROI Score

ROI Value Score: Medium

We’ve reviewed hundreds of schools to find the ones that give you the best bang for your buck.

We compared how much you could earn in 10 years with a degree from this school versus only having a high school diploma. Then we compared that amount against school costs and financial aid opportunities. A higher return for your investment results in a higher score for this school.

Our Methodology
Medium
Retention Rate
83%
Admission Rate
70%
Students Enrolled
21,922
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
99% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#10 Best Colleges in Illinois + Full List of Schools

Illinois Wesleyan University

  • Bloomington, IL
  • 4 years
  • Campus

Looking for a small college? Then check out Illinois Wesleyan University, a liberal arts university that dates back to 1850. With 1,600 undergrads, Illinois Wesleyan prioritizes personal attention from faculty. 

Over two-thirds of students participate in experiential learning opportunities by completing an internship and conducting research. During the May term, students spend a month focusing on an experiential learning topic, which can include participating in one of over 700 study abroad programs.

Illinois Wesleyan does not charge an application fee, and 93% of students graduate on time in four years.  

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$51,132
Out-of-state
$51,132
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
Not provided
Out-of-state
Not provided
ROI Score

ROI Value Score: Medium

We’ve reviewed hundreds of schools to find the ones that give you the best bang for your buck.

We compared how much you could earn in 10 years with a degree from this school versus only having a high school diploma. Then we compared that amount against school costs and financial aid opportunities. A higher return for your investment results in a higher score for this school.

Our Methodology
Medium
Retention Rate
87%
Admission Rate
57%
Students Enrolled
1,636
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
Not provided
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

List of All Colleges in Illinois

We've compiled a full list of all four-year nonprofit schools in Illinois. You can search for specific colleges in Illinois and view information on student enrollment, average net cost, and more.

Note that schools that do not admit full-time first-time degree-seeking students or had a total undergraduate enrollment of fewer than 500 were not considered for this list. All data below comes from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

All Colleges in Illinois
School Total Student Enrollment Avg. Annual Net Price Acceptance Rate Number of Applicants
Augustana College 2,349 $24,660 61% 6,965
Aurora University 5,918 $19,350 82% 2,922
Benedictine University 3,123 $25,658 93% 2,746
Bradley University 5,552 $24,053 75% 11,352
Chicago State University 2,317 $6,446 49% 7,404
Columbia College Chicago 6,646 $28,387 95% 7,701
Concordia University-Chicago 5,354 $18,832 93% 4,296
DePaul University 20,917 $32,151 70% 31,785
Dominican University 3,196 $18,162 90% 5,117
East-West University 529 $19,792 100% N/A
Eastern Illinois University 8,857 $13,380 68% 11,584
Elmhurst University 3,731 $24,108 76% 5,731
Eureka College 559 $19,443 87% 934
Governors State University 4,427 $9,833 57% 1,865
Greenville University 1,088 $20,718 94% 1,275
Illinois College 1,029 $16,296 77% 3,243
Illinois Institute of Technology 6,943 $28,702 61% 7,243
Illinois State University 20,683 $20,551 86% 19,596
Illinois Wesleyan University 1,527 $30,096 42% 4,408
Judson University 973 $19,268 58% 1,153
Knox College 1,058 $26,882 73% 2,987
Lake Forest College 1,753 $27,839 60% 4,665
Lewis University 6,513 $19,184 74% 4,746
Loyola University Chicago 16,899 $37,511 79% 40,909
McKendree University 1,960 $22,431 68% 2,332
Millikin University 1,807 $10,492 75% 2,902
Monmouth College 767 $20,237 91% 1,818
Moody Bible Institute 2,410 $21,368 94% 324
National Louis University 7,525 $14,769 92% 3,181
North Central College 2,695 $25,285 61% 5,099
North Park University 2,660 $19,029 68% 5,039
Northeastern Illinois University 5,756 $14,262 63% 4,603
Northern Illinois University 15,649 $13,884 71% 25,961
Northwestern University 23,161 $22,095 7% 51,261
Olivet Nazarene University 3,255 $20,059 58% 6,196
Quincy University 1,307 $11,985 62% 1,760
Rockford University 1,181 $25,047 55% 2,779
Roosevelt University 3,725 $22,117 88% 2,997
Saint Xavier University 3,523 $11,302 84% 7,833
School of the Art Institute of Chicago 3,532 $53,923 79% 6,075
Southern Illinois University-Carbondale 11,107 $16,990 91% 9,771
Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville 12,519 $13,586 98% 9,325
Trinity Christian College 908 $18,822 71% 706
University of Chicago 18,339 $36,991 5% 37,522
University of Illinois Chicago 33,747 $10,384 79% 23,562
University of Illinois Springfield 4,198 $11,733 82% 3,634
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign 56,916 $14,544 45% 63,257
University of St. Francis 3,297 $18,560 58% 2,198
Western Illinois University 7,643 $11,213 75% 9,219
Wheaton College 2,885 $29,961 88% 1,893
Source: NCES

How Much Does It Cost to Attend College in Illinois?

Given how expensive a college education can be, it's important to figure out how much it will cost you to study in Illinois. Studying in state is usually the cheapest option; however, some online programs charge the same tuition rate regardless of your state residency.

If you plan to study at an online college in Illinois, be sure to check your prospective schools' online tuition policies to see whether you can benefit from in-state tuition rates.

Cost of College in Illinois 2020-2021
Institution Type Average Tuition & Required Fees
Public 4-Year (In-State) $14,579
Public 4-Year (Out-of-State) $28,660
Private 4-Year $35,894
Public 2-Year (In-State) $4,180
Public 2-Year (Out-of-State) $11,166
Source: NCES

Featured Online Programs

Scholarships for Illinois Students

If you're looking for ways to save on tuition, scholarships are a great way to minimize your college costs. There are a variety of state-specific funds available to help offset the cost of your undergraduate education. Here are a few opportunities for scholarships in Illinois.

Fred S. Bailey Scholarship Fund

For undergraduates at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a demonstrated commitment to social and community service, University YMCA offers the $4,000 Fred S. Bailey Scholarship.

You should be enrolled in the coming term and have demonstrated a positive impact through social service.

George M. Pullman Educational Foundation Scholarship

Graduating high school seniors in Cook County, Illinois, are eligible for the Pullman Foundation Scholarship. Scholars receive up to $10,000 per year for up to four years to attend college anywhere in the U.S. You need a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois

Aspiring teachers in Illinois are eligible for the Golden Apple Scholars program, with up to $23,000 in total funding. You must be a high school senior or first- or second-year student at an accredited college in Illinois looking to enter a career in K-12 teaching.

Hope Chicago Scholarship

For graduates of Hope Chicago's five partner schools within Chicago Public Schools, the Hope Chicago Scholarship offers funding to help you finish college debt-free. You must be admitted to a two- or four-year institution and may apply regardless of GPA.

Accreditation for Colleges in Illinois

Accreditation is what gives your degree legitimacy, which is why it's absolutely crucial for you to attend an accredited college. For a college to be accredited, it needs to meet standards of academic rigor and legitimacy laid out by a recognized third-party accrediting agency.

In Illinois, one of the largest recognized accreditors is the Higher Learning Commission. For distance-learning institutions, look for schools accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission.

To learn more about accreditation in the U.S., check out the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, a national advocacy association focused on higher ed accreditation.

Frequently Asked Questions About Colleges in Illinois

How many colleges are in Illinois?

According to NCES, there are 152 degree-granting institutions in Illinois. These include 60 public schools, 77 nonprofit private schools, and 15 for-profit colleges.

There are many academic programs to choose from in Illinois. You should consider the difference between nonprofit and for-profit colleges when researching options.

The University of Illinois system consists of three universities, enrolling about 95,000 students total. The system includes universities in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, and Springfield. At the University of Illinois Chicago, you can find 16 colleges offering 95 bachelor's, 100 master's, and 63 doctoral degree programs.

How much does it cost to go to college in Illinois?

The average cost of tuition and fees for in-state students at public four-year institutions in Illinois was $14,579 during the 2020-2021 academic year, according to NCES. Out-of-state students paid about $28,660, and room and board added an additional $11,673.

Tuition and fees for private universities cost, on average, $35,894. The average cost of in-state tuition and fees at two-year public institutions was $4,180, and nonresidents paid $11,166.

Additional costs include books and supplies, transportation, and personal expenses. Across the nation, the average cost of college in tuition and fees in 2020-2021 was $19,020.

Do I need to live in Illinois to attend an online college in Illinois?

You do not need to live in Illinois to attend an online college in Illinois. One of the appealing things about online college is that you can study from anywhere.

With that in mind, you should check if Illinois residents are eligible for in-state tuition at your online college. Also, see if the program is fully online or has hybrid elements like labs that will require you to come to campus.

What is the biggest college in Illinois?

The biggest college in Illinois is the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. If you attend UIUC, you'll be in good company: The school had 56,916 total students as of fall 2022. Because UIUC is a flagship state university, Illinois residents are eligible for in-state tuition here.

What qualifies you for free college in Illinois?

UIUC offers the Illinois Commitment program. This program covers the tuition and fees for qualifying in-state students for up to four years. You must be under 24 and enrolled in a full-time bachelor's degree program, with family assets and earnings under certain guidelines.

Northeastern Illinois University offers the NEIU for You scholarship. This covers the cost of tuition for qualifying first-year, full-time students. You can also find other sources to help pay for your college, such as federal grants and federal work-study.