7 Reasons to Study in the Windy City

Chicago has top-ranked colleges. And the city also has cultural attractions, sports, and food. Learn more about why you should study in the Windy City.
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Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
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An award-winning historian and writer, Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D., has published multiple scholarly articles and a book with the University of Chicago Press. She currently works as a writer and consultant. She holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern...
Updated on September 18, 2023
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Amelia Buckley has worked as an editor for BestColleges, focusing on degree resources for prospective students. She holds a BA in global studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara....
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www.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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Chicago is famous for its skyscrapers, unique take on pizza, and the Cubs. But it's also a great place for college students.

When choosing a college, prospective students need to consider more than standardized test scores or the size of a campus. You should also research the place where you'll spend the next several years. If you're looking for colleges in urban settings, Chicago is a great option.

The third-largest city in the country, Chicago combines the benefits of a big city with a Midwest vibe. Whether you're interested in sports, history, art, or food, you'll find something to love about Chicago.

Why Should I Study in Chicago?

Academic Opportunities

Thinking about Chicago colleges? You'll have a lot of options, from the University of Chicago to the University of Illinois at Chicago. The city also boasts an extensive network of community colleges with the City Colleges of Chicago.

Seeking more flexibility? You can enroll at one of the best online colleges in Chicago.

In addition to colleges and universities, Chicago also has coding bootcamps if you're looking for tech training without the time commitment of a full degree program.


Whether you're a student athlete or prefer spectator sports, Chicago is a great option.

Chicago stands out when it comes to sports, thanks to the Chicago Bulls, Chicago Cubs, and Chicago Bears. The city also has a thriving college sports scene. When the Northwestern Wildcats face the Ohio State Buckeyes, you'll see fans of both teams crowding the L stations.

Want to get involved in the action? You can also find many intramural sports options at Chicago colleges.

Public Transportation

The Red Line. The Blue Line. They might sound more like a Dr. Seuss book, but they're part of one of the best public transportation systems in the U.S. The Chicago L brings elevated tracks to the city's downtown and makes it easy to get around the city.

College students can benefit from transportation discounts through their school. For example, the University of Chicago is among the schools that offers students a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) U-Pass. The U-Pass provides unlimited travel on rail and bus systems during the school year.

Students can also ditch the car when they move to Chicago — it's one of the best cities for students without cars.

Affordable Living

Even though it's the third-largest city in the U.S., Chicago is much more affordable than other large cities. According to Statista, Chicago is more affordable than New York City, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix.

And while some areas in Chicago report average rents of over $2,500 per month for a one-bedroom, according to Apartment Guide, the most affordable neighborhoods report average rents of under $1,100.

Cultural Diversity

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Chicago is one of the most diverse cities in the U.S., with white, Black, and Hispanic residents making up around 48%, 30%, and 29% of the population, respectively.

Unfortunately, the city remains largely segregated. However, multicultural students can seek out diversity in neighborhoods like Little Italy, Chinatown, Greektown, and Pilsen. The city also has a strong Polish community.

Chicago's cultural diversity means a vibrant art and food scene, which students can enjoy.

Arts and History

From Museum Campus to the Art Institute of Chicago, the Windy City has a strong art and history scene. And the city offers something for everyone, from historic Wrigley Field to architectural tours on the river.

Famous for its blues and jazz, Chicago has a thriving music scene. Plus, the city is a theater capital, with historic venues and a comedian-producing improv group called The Second City.

Great Food!

Deep-dish pizza, pierogies, Chicago-style hot dogs, and Chicago mix popcorn are all iconic Chicago foods. However, the city also has great food like tamales, lingonberry pancakes, and Italian beef.

Chicago has a rich food culture, and the city's cultural diversity means there's always a new food trend to explore. Check out the Taste of Chicago, held in Grant Park every July, to grab a bite from dozens of Chicago mainstays.

Activities for Chicago College Students
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Sports Fanatic So you know about the Chicago Cubs, the Chicago White Sox, the Chicago Bears, and the Chicago Bulls. But Chicago also has professional soccer and hockey teams! Catch a Chicago Fire FC game at Soldier Field. The regular season runs from February through October.
Art Enthusiast The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the best art museums in the world. If you're looking for something off the beaten path, check out the Chicago Arts District in Pilsen.
Nature Lover Chicago has a great outdoor scene. Lincoln Park features a beautiful conservatory, and Jackson Park offers plenty of lagoons to explore around Wooded Island.
Foodie Chicago is a foodie haven. Check out The Wieners Circle for a hot dog with an insult. And make sure to visit the Taste of Chicago every July for an amazing selection of local cuisine.
History Buff Interested in history? See living history on the Chicago Architecture Foundation Center River Cruise and learn about the city's amazing architectural history. Then check out the Newberry Library for insightful history exhibits.
Music Aficionado Combine history and music by checking out Al Capone's old hangout the Green Mill in Uptown for live music.
Cinema Lover If you're a cinema buff, why not see where famous Chicago movies were filmed? Check out Lower Wacker Drive to relive "The Dark Knight" or retrace "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."
Athlete Are you a runner? Check out the 18-mile Lakefront Trail for amazing views and car-free paths.
Scientist Can't get enough space pictures? Check out the Adler Planetarium on Chicago's Museum Campus. Then visit the Field Museum or the Shedd Aquarium for more scientific discovery.
Creative Thinker Named for Chicago's first Black mayor, the Harold Washington Library Center is more than a library — it's home to the inspiring Winter Garden. This gorgeous glass-roofed space is perfect for a relaxing study session.

Is Studying in Chicago Right for Me?

If you're looking for a big-city environment with a distinctly Midwest feel, Chicago might be the right place for you. And if you're an Illinois resident, you can benefit from an in-state tuition discount at public colleges.

The city's largest employers in 2021 include the city and federal government, the Chicago school system, healthcare organizations, and Amazon, according to Crain's Chicago Business. That means many potential career paths for college graduates who decide to stay in Chicago.

However, before moving to Chicago, make sure to visit the city. Check out the neighborhoods and learn more about the culture. A campus visit is one of the best ways to learn more about a school and the surrounding community.

Pros and Cons of Studying in Chicago

Chicago Pros

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    Chicago is surprisingly affordable for a big city, which definitely appeals to students on a budget.
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    The sports scene — Chicago has professional teams in five sports, plus student discounts on tickets.
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    A strong public transportation system makes it easy for students to get around the city.
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    Amazing food scene with lots of affordable options.
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    Lots of colleges means there's a school for everyone, with lots of opportunities to connect off campus.

Chicago Cons

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    Winter. Seemingly endless months of freezing temperatures and blizzards make the city especially challenging for those who prefer warmer climates.
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    Chicago is flat and sprawling, which means it takes a long time to get anywhere, including the airports.
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    Despite high diversity, the city is very racially segregated.
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    The traffic is intense — but students can easily navigate the city without a car, which can save money.
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    Summers can be rough because of heat and humidity. Explore whether your housing offers air conditioning!

Frequently Asked Questions About Studying in Chicago

Is Chicago a good place to go to college?

Yes, Chicago can be a great place for college. The Chicagoland area boasts many top-ranked colleges, including the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Chicago's network of community colleges also offers affordable tuition rates for students looking for two-year programs.

Beyond the classroom, the city boasts many cultural attractions, a vibrant food scene, and popular sports teams. Chicago also appeals to college students thanks to its strong public transportation network, music scene, and unique neighborhoods. Thanks to its affordable cost of living for a large city, Chicago is a great place to go to college.

What are three things Chicago is known for?

Chicago is known for its architecture, its food, and its sports.

The Chicago School transformed architecture with steel-framed skyscrapers, making the city skyline stand out.

Chicago's food scene benefits from the city's cultural diversity, with strong Mexican, Polish, and Italian roots. Popular Chicago foods include deep-dish pizza, pierogies, Chicago-style hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, and Chicago-style popcorn.

Finally, Chicago is a sports city. With professional teams representing five sports — and standout institutions like the Chicago Bulls, Chicago Bears, and Chicago Cubs — the city is great for sports enthusiasts.

What is the weather like in Chicago?

Chicago is known as the Windy City, but that's not just because of the weather. Chicagoans had a reputation of being boastful and "full of wind," which helped give the city its nickname. The city's weather covers everything from sub-zero temperatures to sweltering heat.

Chicago winters are known for their blizzards and cold temperatures. Summers can be hot and humid. While spring and fall are usually quite comfortable in Chicago, they tend to be short seasons. With the right gear, college students can weather the extreme conditions in Chicago.

Is it expensive to live in Chicago?

As a major metropolitan city, the cost of living is typically higher in Chicago than smaller towns. However, when compared to other large cities, Chicago is surprisingly affordable.

Among major cities, Chicago ranks No. 15 on the highest-cost-of-living list, according to Chicago Business Journal. That makes it cheaper than New York City, Los Angeles, Oakland, and Miami.

Chicago is also a city of neighborhoods. Students who live in the most expensive areas, like downtown or River North, typically pay higher rents. Areas farther from the city center, like Rogers Park, offer much more affordable rents.

Students can often save money in Chicago by taking advantage of the extensive public transportation network.

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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