9 Factors to Consider Before Studying in Illinois

Illinois is home to many top-rated colleges. If you're interested in Illinois colleges, learn about factors to consider before studying in Illinois.
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  • Illinois has more than 150 colleges and universities in both urban and suburban settings.
  • Students in Illinois can visit cultural and historical venues by taking a short trip off campus.
  • Although the overall cost of living in Illinois is relatively low, education costs are higher than average.

Illinois is home to many highly ranked universities and colleges, including two-year and four-year public and private institutions. For example, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Lincoln Christian University rank among the top 10 online colleges in the Midwest.

The state offers a variety of college experiences and settings for students, from bustling cities with big art scenes like Chicago to a smaller-town feel like Evanston, where on-campus Greek life and weekend football games shape much of the school's environment.

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A college's surrounding community, on-campus support services, professional opportunities, and costs combine to shape the college experience for learners. Consider these factors and how they align with your needs before choosing where to study in Illinois.

5 Reasons to Study in Illinois

Cost of Living

According to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, Illinois' cost of living is below the national average. Illinois' overall cost of living index score for the first quarter of 2022 was 91.7, compared to the national average of 100.

Groceries, utilities, and healthcare are all slightly less expensive than average in Illinois, while housing is significantly cheaper than average. This may appeal to students who want to live off campus.

Additionally, although transportation costs are slightly more expensive than average, the Illinois Department of Transportation has more than 60 public transportation providers, with 96 of Illinois' 102 counties offering some type of public transit service. Likewise, the Chicago Transit Authority operates the second-largest public transit system in the U.S.

History and Culture

You can find ample opportunities to appreciate art, culture, and history in Illinois.

Chicago has dozens of museums and galleries, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the quirky Route 66 Arcade Museum. In Springfield, you'll find the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, Lincoln Home National Historic Site, and Lincoln's New Salem — a reconstructed village showing Lincoln's home during his early adult years.

Abraham Lincoln is so celebrated in Illinois there's even Abe Fest; this two-day annual festival in downtown Springfield spotlights the area's best food, music, and art. You can attend as a guest or volunteer to expand your network in the area.

In addition to Abe Fest, the Illinois State Fair brings together residents to enjoy rock and country music concerts, food vendors, auto racing, and more.

Networking Opportunities

The Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity mentions six industries targeted for growth in the state, including energy, biotechnology and life sciences, transportation and distribution logistics, agriculture and food processing, and business. Additionally, as of 2022, the state also houses the headquarters of 37 Fortune 500 companies, including Boeing and Allstate.

Attending school near so many top companies can boost students' chances to gain professional work experience and hone their skills during an internship. Internships provide opportunities to network and learn important soft skills, such as communication and time management, which they can apply to many fields.

Students can find the right internship by researching opportunities and preparing a cover letter and a resume. Many schools also help students find internship opportunities. Look for internships that offer training, networking, and mentorship opportunities.

Set goals, find a mentor, be professional, and network with your co-workers to get the most out of an internship. This helps establish professional relationships that can lead to future job opportunities.


Illinois is home to several professional sports teams, including the Chicago Bears (football), Chicago Bulls (men's basketball), Chicago Blackhawks (ice hockey), Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox (baseball), Chicago Fire (men's soccer), and Chicago Sky (women's basketball).

The Chicago White Sox offer discounted ticket prices to Illinois students on certain nights, and the Chicago Bulls Student Pass gives Illinois college students access to special ticket deals. Additionally, the Chicago Fire sell $15 student tickets.

Illinois is also home to several nationally ranked college sports teams. The University of Illinois-Chicago's baseball team consistently ranks high in D1 baseball, while Northwestern University has been nationally ranked in football, field hockey, and lacrosse in recent years. Many colleges in Illinois have earned conference championship accolades.

Top-Rated Universities

According to College Navigator, there are about 150 nonprofit colleges and universities in Illinois, including some of the country's top universities. Illinois' top-ranked colleges include Northwestern University, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the University of Chicago, and the University of Illinois at Springfield.

Undergraduate students at Northwestern University boast a 94% college graduation rate — one of the highest in the nation. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is considered a leader in research with one of the largest public university library collections. And the University of Chicago is a large private university with a highly selective acceptance rate of just 6%.

4 Reasons to Reconsider Studying in Illinois

Concerns About Crime

Safety is a concern for many college students and their families. Common crimes on college campuses in the U.S. include burglary, vehicle theft, and forcible sex offenses.

Students attending school in and around Chicago should know that the city has high rates of gun violence — 59 of the state's 85 mass shooting incidents in 2021 occurred in Chicago, according to SafeWise.

And people around Illinois express high levels of concern about issues like violent crime, property crime, and gun violence. However, despite these concerns, violent and property crime rates across Illinois are actually at or below national averages. Students concerned about crime can check statistics for their specific city or county.

Education Costs

The price of college has increased dramatically in recent years across the nation, impacting students' accessibility to higher education. From 2010 to 2020, the average combined cost of college tuition, fees, room, and board across all schools increased by 17.8%.

And four-year public colleges in the Midwest were more expensive than the average school in the U.S. during the 2019-2020 school year. The average listed tuition at in-state public institutions in Illinois was about $14,500 per year — more than 50% higher than the U.S. average ($9,375). And to figure out how much school really costs, you'll need to account for additional college costs like the price of room and board, transportation, and books and other supplies.

That said, Illinois has several tuition assistance programs to help students offset out-of-pocket expenses. For example, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission is a government-funded agency that provides information on scholarships, grants, work-study options, and honors programs. Students can also learn about 529 College Prepaid Tuition and Savings Programs and the Minority Teachers of Illinois Scholarship Program.

Job Competition

As of June 2022, the unemployment rate in Illinois was 4.5% (Bureau of Labor Statistics). This was significantly higher than the national unemployment rate of 3.6%. The unemployment rate in Chicago was even higher (4.9%). A relatively sluggish job market may make it challenging for college grads in the state to find jobs.

However, despite the stagnation and downturn in some fields, Illinois also has several industries that are projected to grow in the coming years. These may appeal to graduates looking to stay in the area after finishing school. For example, the Illinois Department of Employment Security projects that the number of personal care and service worker supervisors will increase by 11% from 2021-2023. Nurse practitioners are also projected to increase by 10% over that period.

With the economy experiencing ups and downs, it pays to plan ahead and start looking for a job after college while you're still a student.

Natural Disasters

Illinois is prone to some natural disasters, including floods, winter storms, and tornadoes, especially along the northeastern edge of the state. In recent years, Illinois hasn't experienced any major earthquakes, but when those occur they tend to affect the state's southern portion.

Although natural disasters aren't a part of day-to-day life, they can disrupt one's schedule, depending on the severity. There is no way to predict when a potential hazard will turn into something larger, but the state does share various ways to prepare for natural disasters in Illinois.

Frequently Asked Questions About Studying in Illinois

Is studying in Illinois worth it?

Illinois has many highly ranked public and private colleges, making it a popular state for attending college. The cost of living in Illinois is low, and graduates can pursue employment with various top companies throughout the region.

How many colleges are in Illinois?

There are about 150 colleges and universities in Illinois. These institutions include two-year and four-year schools, as well as public and private options. And many schools offer online options for distance learners. Students should be able to find just about any major in Illinois.

What are the best colleges in Illinois?

Illinois has several highly ranked universities and colleges with top business and sciences programs. Northwestern University tops the list, offering degrees in nearly every field. If you're interested in studying business, you might want to consider the University of Chicago. And Wheaton College offers popular degrees in theological studies.

Is community college free in Illinois?

Illinois' 48 community colleges may appeal to students looking to earn a two-year degree quickly and/or save money on higher education. While community college is not free for most students, it tends to be significantly less expensive than tuition at a four-year institution. According to 2020-2021 data from the National Center for Education Statistics, in-state students in Illinois paid approximately $4,180 for tuition and fees at community colleges, while students at public four-year institutions paid an average of $14,579 per year.

However, there are some free education options. For example, the City Colleges of Chicago system offers career training programs without fees. These are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The Future Ready initiative provides over 60 career training programs for adult learners at no cost. Online and in-person programs cover topics like healthcare, cannabis operations, and automotive technology. Some programs last a day, while others take three semesters to complete.

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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