International Students’ Guide to Studying in Illinois

In Illinois, international students can access some of the best U.S. colleges in rural and urban settings while enjoying a lower-than-average cost of living.
Updated on April 11, 2023
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Colin Weickmann has worked as an editor for BestColleges, focusing on degree and college planning resources for prospective students. He holds a BA in digital technology and culture from Washington State University. Colin is a former editor at Red...
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  • Illinois has the fifth largest population of international students in the country.
  • The Midwestern state has over 150 public and private schools.
  • Students who choose to study in Illinois have access to strong academic programs.
  • The application process is similar for U.S. and international applicants.

According to the Institute of International Education (IIE), over 760,000 students came overseas to study in the United States during the 2021-2022 academic year.

Many students study in the U.S. to practice English, take advantage of economic opportunities, and benefit from the high standard of education offered. With an abundance of colleges in the U.S., narrowing down where to attend can be challenging. 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.

Ready to Start Your Journey?

One popular spot to consider is Illinois, which hosted over 46,000 international students in 2022, according to IIE. Illinois is home to over 150 colleges and universities, giving international students plenty of options. Many schools in the state are among the top in the country.

This guide breaks down everything international students need to know before studying in Illinois — including costs and application requirements.

Why Study in Illinois?

Illinois is the fifth most popular state for international students. The central location makes it easy to get to, and the state offers vast cultural and economic opportunities.

When they aren't studying, students can enjoy the state's outdoor activities, including hiking. Many Illinois cities, like Chicago, have vibrant art and culture scenes and offer fantastic dining options.

Illinois holds the country's fifth-largest GDP, and the cost of living is lower than the national average. The climate may take some getting used to as high temperatures average 30-40 degrees during winter.

Public transportation is easily accessible. Ninety-six out of the state's 102 counties offer transit services.

Studying in Illinois: Pros and Cons


  • Check
    Illinois' central location makes air travel more accessible.
  • Check
    The state offers vibrant cultural, arts, and dining options.
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    The Midwestern state offers a lower-than-average cost of living.
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    There are over 150 colleges and universities from which to choose.


  • X
    Winters can be pretty cold.
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    Citywide, crime in Chicago is increasing.
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    Students may find limited access to culture and arts in rural areas.
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    Some tuition rates are high.

How Much Does It Cost to Study in Illinois?

The average undergraduate student in Illinois paid $35,570 in tuition to attend a private university in 2020-2021, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Undergraduate students at public four-year colleges in Illinois paid $14,579 for tuition during the same period, according to NCES. Costs are higher for international students than for state residents.

On top of tuition, additional expenses include textbooks, healthcare, student fees, travel, and accommodations.

Financial aid and scholarships for international students are available for those who qualify and can help ease the financial burden of college.

How Do I Choose a College in Illinois?

With so many options, choosing a college in Illinois that best fits your situation as an international student can be overwhelming.

It's important to consider your passions, what you enjoy doing, and what to study. You can see what colleges offer programs you're interested in and determine your eligibility. Once that's narrowed down, review the costs and support services.

1. Identify Your Interests

The best place to start your search is to determine what you wish to study. Taking an inventory of your passions and favorite pursuits can help you narrow down your choices. Find colleges that offer majors that interest you.

Although many colleges have departments for the same subjects, courses of study vary slightly between schools. And, some institutions rank higher in certain areas. Once you have a short list, you can search for the best-ranked departments in a specific field.

2. Research Your Options

Illinois has rural and urban institutions with student populations ranging from the thousands to the tens of thousands. To narrow your list, refer to search engines, guides, and college rankings.

When your list is down to a few schools, carefully review their respective websites and contact college advisors with any questions. Data points like student retention, graduation rates, and the percentage of international students can give you some insight into overall student satisfaction.

3. Pick a Location

Illinois is a state with diverse landscapes. A student in the bustling city of Chicago will have a vastly different experience than a learner studying in a more remote area.

Taking those considerations into mind, think about where you want to live. Also, weigh factors like climate, the size of campus or the town, the location, the cost of living, and cultural and community offerings into your decision.

Urbana, Chicago, and Evanston are all great college towns.

4. Evaluate Your Eligibility

Before you apply, it's best to see if you meet the criteria for acceptance. Some colleges require international students to pass English proficiency exams.

International applicants must provide proof of financial resources to apply for an F-1, J-1, or M-1 visa. Amounts vary, so check with your prospective schools.

5. Consider Cost

The cost of attending college as an international student in Illinois varies widely. The average cost of tuition for students at public, in-state universities was $14,579 in 2020-2021, according to NCES. The cost of living in Illinois is lower than the U.S. average, and housing is notably affordable.

It's best to evaluate all expenses, including tuition, cost of living, textbooks, accommodations, and healthcare ahead of time to ensure you can afford the total amount.

6. Review Support Services

Attending college overseas can be overwhelming. Top universities offer international students in Illinois various services to help make the academic and cultural transition much more manageable.

When searching for a university, determine if the school has academic advisors, career services, mentors, internship opportunities, and international student services.

How Do I Apply to College in Illinois?

Applying to college in Illinois will likely be different than applying to college in your home country. But the application process for an international student is very similar to the application process for U.S. students. Traditional application materials include transcripts, test scores, letters of recommendation, and college essays.

Since the process for international applicants is similar to residents, it's best to use the Common App when applying to participating schools. Over 900 colleges and universities accept this form, which asks for your basic information and educational background.

In addition to the standard resident requirements, international students must show proof of financial resources and a valid passport. Some schools have additional requirements, so check with the institution before submitting your application.

How to Obtain a Student Visa to Study in Illinois

You must legally maintain a student visa to study in the U.S. The most popular is the F-1 student visa, which allows international learners to attend school full time.

After acceptance, students must complete the I-20/DS-2019 application for newly admitted international students. In addition to the completed form, students must submit copies of their acceptance letters, passport photo pages, and relevant bank documents proving they can meet the financial obligations.

After the I-20/DS-2019 is issued, students begin the visa process with a visit to an American Embassy in their country. There are often hiccups along the way, but your college is there if you need assistance.

Studying in the U.S. as an international student can be a stressful process. Here’s everything you need to know to make your transition smoother.

Frequently Asked Questions About International Students Studying in Illinois

Is Illinois good for international students?

Illinois is an excellent place to attend college. Ranked fifth in the nation for international students, it's a popular pick, too. Over 44,000 students from all over the world studied in the state in 2019-2020.

Tuition costs vary greatly, but international students in Illinois enjoy a cost of living lower than the national average.

There are over 150 colleges and universities within the Lincoln state. Illinois has it all, whether you are looking for a large or small school in a rural or urban area. Its central location and vast public transportation system make travel a breeze.

Is Illinois expensive for international students?

The cost of attending college in Illinois varies considerably depending on the school you attend. The average undergraduate student paid $35,894 for tuition and required fees at four-year private institutions and $14,579 at four-year public colleges in 2021-2022, based on NCES data.

The most expensive school in the nation, the University of Chicago, is in this Midwestern state. But there are other, more affordable options, too. Illinois boasts more than 150 colleges and universities.

In addition to tuition, students must factor in other expenses such as transportation, textbooks, and healthcare.

What are the best colleges for international students in Illinois?

The best college in Illinois for international students is one that provides strong academics, offers social support, and fits within a student's budget. There are more than 150 institutions in Illinois, both public and private.

Elite institutions like the University of Chicago and Northwestern University are in Illinois. The latter boasts over 90 school-based research centers and 40 university research institutes and centers. However, the state is home to many public institutions that offer ample opportunities for research with a much lower price tag.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has 53,000 students enrolled in rigorous academic programs that rank among the best in the nation.

What are the cheapest universities in Illinois for international students?

The cheapest universities in Illinois are the ones that offer international students the best scholarships and financial aid coupled with a lower cost of living and tuition rate. Prices vary vastly from school to school. Generally, the cost of attending public universities is lower than enrolling in private institutions.

One of the most affordable colleges in Illinois, the University of Illinois at Chicago, costs $26,726 for tuition and fees. This urban college offers 94 bachelor's degrees with a student-to-faculty ratio of 18-to-1. Whatever school you choose, be sure to factor in the costs of travel, healthcare, and textbooks before making your final decision.

How do I get a student visa for Illinois?

The most common visa for full-time students in Illinois is the F-1. To obtain this visa, students must apply and receive acceptance from an SVEP school. From there, the institution issues a 1-20 certificate of eligibility form.

After acceptance, future scholars schedule an interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in their home country and bring the 1-20 and nonimmigrant visa form DS-160 to the appointment. They must also submit proof of sufficient funds to cover all educational and living expenses and a plan for returning to their home country after graduation. Applicants must also possess a valid, up-to-date passport. 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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