The Best Colleges in Chicago

Chicago is home to some of the best colleges in the nation. Though the Windy City is notorious for its frigid winters, it’s also a diverse metropolis rich with unique neighborhoods that are each brimming with their own eclectic mixes of culture, food, and community. Many of the schools we’ve featured below are situated in such neighborhoods amid the city streets, and some are set further out in the city’s sprawling suburbs.

After reviewing dozens of schools we have identified the best colleges Chicago to give you a head start on your journey into higher education. We considered factors such as academic offerings, athletic opportunities, and overall value to choose our top picks, and then we detailed the rest of our favorite colleges in Chicago to give you an overview of the city’s finest academic institutions.

Top Pick
Northwestern University

Northwestern University was ranked as the #1 School in America for Communications and the Performing Arts by Niche.com in 2019 and as the #9 Best College in America for 2020 by U.S. News.

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After thoroughly investigating all of Chicago’s colleges, we’ve chosen Northwestern University as our top pick. The university is consistently ranked among the best schools in the nation in a variety of academic categories spanning across all of its undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs.

The 5 Top-Rated Colleges in Chicago

Editor's PicksCollegeRating
Best OverallNorthwestern University5.0
Runner UpUniversity of Chicago4.4
Best ValueIllinois Institute of Technology5.0
Best for AcademicsWheaton College4.4
Best for AthletesDePaul University4.3

*Ratings are from U.S. News at the time of publication and can change.

Our Top Pick: Northwestern University

Northwestern University is among America’s premier national universities. The university houses 12 different schools that together offer over 4,000 courses geared toward the completion of over 190 different degrees and certificates. Northwestern University and the schools under its collegiate umbrella are consistently well ranked on top academic lists across all forms of media from Forbes to U.S. News and beyond.

While undergraduate and graduate students have a wealth of academia to explore at Northwestern University, student life is another big reason to attend the university. Small class sizes, passionate teachers, and a lively campus help to keep class interesting and enliven the students’ school spirit.

Athletics are alive and well with varsity teams aplenty competing in top-tier NCAA Division I tournaments. Northwestern University is a part of the highly competitive Big 10 Conference which is a hotbed of intense intercollegiate rivalries.

With an admission rate of 9%, Northwestern University is a difficult school to get into, and tuition is expensive, but 94% of students at the university graduate with an education that will help them begin a career with a salary that is more than twice the national average income.

Northwestern University Key Features:

  • 6 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • NCAA Division I-FBS athletic status
  • 9 undergraduate schools and 10 graduate schools
  • Quarter-based academic calendar

Our Runner Up Pick: University of Chicago

Runner Up
University of Chicago

The University of Chicago is a standout institution that is ranked among the nation’s best colleges for math, philosophy, chemistry, and much more.

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The University of Chicago is a renown academic institution that has been the collegiate home to dozens of Nobel Prize winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, and Guggenheim fellows. Many of the university’s scholars and alumni have gone on to change the course of human history such as those who were the first to measure the speed of light and split an atom.

That rich tradition of academic prowess continues to this day. The esteemed mathematics, economics, and biology programs are the backbone of the school’s undergraduate offerings, whereas the highly-acclaimed law, business, medicine, and public policy schools are where some of America’s brightest graduate students emerge from.

These intellectual stomping grounds are located in Hyde Park, an urban neighborhood with plenty of character that adds to the school’s first-rate campus life. There are a number of varsities teams that can scratch an itch for the athletically inclined, but this isn’t an A-list school for collegiate sports.

University of Chicago Key Features:

  • 5 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Over 160 research centers and institutes on campus
  • Quarter-based academic calendar
  • NCAA Division III athletic status

Best Value: Illinois Institute of Technology

Best Value
Illinois Institute of Technology

No application fee and zero extra out-of-state tuition price hikes keep costs simple at the Illinois Institute of Technology where students graduate with high earning potential.

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The Illinois Institute of Technology is a technology-focused school that offers a long list of degrees in engineering, science, and architecture. Alumni go on to find careers in these highly technical fields and earn median incomes that are more than double what the average American makes.

This school is a great value when looked at from multiple perspectives. In the long run, the school’s graduates earn salaries that are higher than most. In the short run, those seeking immediate value will find the lack of application fee and out-of-state tuition fees to be a pleasant, budget-friendly gesture.

True value comes from the overall cost when compared to the quality of education, and in that regard, the Illinois Institue of Technology is the best bang for your buck in the city. At an estimated cost of attendance at $13,000 per semester, costs are higher than the other value schools we listed below, but 100% of IIT students receive financial aid and most will end up in high-paying careers.

Illinois Institute of Technology Key Features:

  • 12 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • NCAA Division III athletic status
  • Ranked as the #36 Best Value School in America by U.S. News in 2019

Best for Academics: Wheaton College

Best for Academics
Wheaton College

Wheaton College is a top-ranked liberal arts Christian college focusing primarily on social sciences and business.

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Wheaton College has been ranked a top 10 Christian college in America by numerous sources including Christian Universities Online and TheologyDegrees.org. While the intellectual behemoths that comprise our top two picks, Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, do share the venerated academic crown of Chicago, and all of Illinois, Wheaton College does have its own academic merits, especially for students interested in a Christian-based education.

What makes Wheaton College special is its penchant for encouraging its students to study abroad. The college sponsors study abroad programs for its students in a variety of countries across Asia and Europe. Resident students in the town of Wheaton will spend most of their time on campus pursuing degrees in popular fields such as managerial economics, English, and health services, but the school also houses a science research center in South Dakota for students interested in natural sciences.

Alternatively, aspirational artists can attend the Conservatory of Music at Wheaton College which is internationally recognized and fully accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music.

Wheaton College Key Features:

  • 10 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • NCAA Division III athletic status
  • Christian college

Best for Athletes: DePaul University

Best for Athletes
DePaul University

Competing in NCAA Division I sports in the Big East Conference, DePaul University is one of the strongest athletic competitors in Chicago.

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Second only to the national giant that is Northwestern University in Chicago’s collegiate sporting arena, DePaul University is an excellent college for athletes in the Chicago Metropolitan Area. The DePaul Blue Demons compete in over a dozen varsity sports against their rowdy rivals in the Big East Conference.

The men’s and women’s basketball teams are among the college’s strongest contenders, yet the school boasts also superb athletes in a number of individual sports as well such as golf, tennis, and track and field.

And there is more to DePaul University than sports. This well-rounded university also excels in academics and has an abundance of extracurricular campus activities. Humanities, accounting, and public relations are the most popular majors at the school, though there are many more to choose from. The school’s two main campuses are located in the Chicago communities of Lincoln Park and the Loop.

Depaul University Key Features:

  • 16 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Multiple campuses situated around Chicago
  • NCAA Division I athletic status
  • Catholic college

Who Should Attend College in Chicago

The Windy City is home to a long list of outstanding colleges, and it’s also home to a great deal more. Schools like Northwestern University and the University of Chicago are nationally ranked institutions with world-class academic programs and competitive varsity sports teams, and there are plenty of other great institutions with standout qualities that can be reason enough to attend college in Chicago.

The city itself is another reason. Chicago is a unique American city with Midwest roots that has been built up by a diverse mixture of people and cultures. There are untold things to do and see in Chicago. From the tips of the skyscrapers to the shores of Lake Michigan you’ll find a complete spectrum of various foods, neighborhoods, and events to explore.

Chicago is also a great place to be once you’ve earned your degree. The city is where many Fortune 500 companies call home. Some of the city’s largest employers include industry leaders like McDonald’s, Walgreens, and Boeing. Chi-Town will help build you up with its excellent academic institutions and then set you up for success with career endless opportunities.

If you’re moving to a college town, then you won’t want to miss Life At College: 5 Keys To Finding Your Perfect College Town Apartment.

Top Pick
Northwestern University

Northwestern University was ranked as the #1 School in America for Communications and the Performing Arts by Niche.com in 2019 and as the #9 Best College in America for 2020 by U.S. News.

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Important Features to Consider

The college of your choice should fit your current needs and future goals. Here’s what to consider before applying to a college in Chicago.

  • Location. Do you want to attend classes in the heart of downtown Chicago, or would you prefer a campus in the suburbs? Student life is an important factor in deciding which school you want to attend, and the campus’s location is a major aspect of a student’s day-to-day life.
  • Your academic and career goals. While there are a number of great colleges in Chicago choose from, each one has a specialty in which it excels. There is a wide range of accredited schools in the city, and though many may offer a degree in your particular field of interest, there are some which are bound to focus more heavily on that program, and your education, than others.
  • Academics, athletics, and value. Each is a good reason to choose a school. You’re most likely looking for a certain balance of the three. Our top pick, Northwestern University, excels in all three categories, but it’s difficult to get accepted to the school. You’ll want to find a college that strikes the right balance for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many colleges are in Chicago?

As of this article’s publication, there are 48 four-year universities and colleges in Chicago.

What is Chicago State University known for?

Chicago State University propels under-prepared and underrepresented student populations toward life-changing and community-engaging careers. The school ranks top in the state and among the best in the nation in providing African American and Latino students with quality education and degrees in such fields as physical sciences and health professions.

What GPA do you need to get into Chicago State University?

Incoming freshmen students need a 2.75 GPA or higher while transfer students need a 2.0 GPA or higher.

Is Chicago safe?

Like any major city, Chicago does have its fair share of crime, but overall most people have a safe experience in Chicago, especially on college campuses. There are certain areas of the city, and certain college campuses, which are safer than the others. A number of the colleges on our list are among the safest college campuses in the state and in the nation.

Other Colleges We Reviewed

Top Pick
Northwestern University

Northwestern University was ranked as the #1 School in America for Communications and the Performing Arts by Niche.com in 2019 and as the #9 Best College in America for 2020 by U.S. News.

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We looked at 20 other colleges in Chicago. Even though they didn’t make our five best colleges list, they’re still excellent in many ways and may be the right choice for you. The information you’ll need to compare each one is included with the listing below. All costs reflect the current per-semester in-state tuition and fees at the time of writing.

Chicago’s Best Academic Colleges

Columbia College

Columbia College

Focusing on the visual and auditory arts, Columbia College is a popular school for those interested in cinematography, graphic design, creative writing, and photography. Radio and television technician degrees can also be attained here.

Key Features:

  • 14 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • 17 graduate programs available
  • No athletic programs

Cost: $15,500

Elmhurst College

Elmhurst College

Elmhurst College is set in a suburban neighborhood outside of the main city. This Christian school’s primary focus is psychology, but it also offers degrees in business, nursing, and communications. Graduate students have a long list of programs to choose from which build upon the foundational bachelor’s programs.

Key Features:

  • 14 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • 4-1-4 academic calendar
  • Christian school

Cost: $11,000

Kendall College

Kendall College

This culinary and hospitality school is ranked among the nation’s best on-campus food locations, and it’s no wonder why. Students at Kendall College most often pursue degrees, and ultimately careers, in restaurant and hotel management. You’ll learn to cook, bake, and run a customer-focused business at Kendall College.

Key Features:

  • 8 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Online degrees available
  • No athletic programs

Cost: $15,000

Lake Forest College

Lake Forest College

Lake Forest College opened its doors in 1857 and has since become a leading force for social mobility in higher education, giving disadvantaged youth a better chance at achieving their educational aspirations. Economic building blocks like finance, business, and communications are the most popular degree programs at this school. It’s located just outside of Chicago in the town of Lake Forest.

Key Features:

  • 12 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • No application fee
  • Ranked a top 10 School for Social Mobility by U.S. News

Cost: $12,500

Loyola University

Loyola University

Loyola University of Chicago is known as one of the largest Jesuit colleges in the nation with around 12,000 students. Biology, nursing, and psychology are the most popular undergraduate degrees, and graduate students can choose from either the business, medical, or law schools.

Key Features:

  • 14 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • No application fee
  • Catholic college

Cost: $17,000

Moody Bible Institute

Moody Bible Institute

Moody Bible Institute is a highly-rated Christian school that is completely focused on faith-based studies including biblical studies, missionary studies, and teaching English as a second language. This is a top-tier choice for students looking to pursue careers around their Christian faith.

Key Features:

  • 18 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Available first-year-online-program
  • Christian-based education

Cost: $8,500

North Park University

North Park University

Business and nursing degrees are what most students seek at North Park University, but the likes of biology, sociology, and criminal justice are available programs as well. This urban campus stands out with its refined beauty which is reflective in its century-old red-brick buildings that rise over most of the campus.

Key Features:

  • 10 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • No application fee
  • Christian school

Cost: $10,000

Northeastern Illinois University

Northeastern Illinois University

Northeastern Illinois University is a leader in social mobility and puts forth a number of educational programs that encourage graduates to uplift their communities. Social work, youth services, and criminal justice are popular degree paths, and graduate students can pursue degrees from the school’s Department of Counselor Education.

Key Features:

  • 16 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Summer transition program available for high school graduates
  • Intramural and club athletics

Cost: $9,000

Roosevelt University

Roosevelt University

Founded in honor of Theodore and Eleanor Roosevelt, Roosevelt University pioneered social mobility principles that sought to deliver higher education to everyone who desired it despite their race or economic background. Those principles lead the school’s mission to this day. Psychology and biology are the school’s two most popular degree paths.

Key Features:

  • 11 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Original board members include Eleanor Roosevelt and Albert Einstein
  • Evening degree programs available

Cost: $13,000

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is home to contemporary artists in one of America’s most diverse artistic and cultural hubs. The vast majority of students pursue bachelor’s and graduate degrees in studio arts with performing arts as one of the more popular alternatives.

Key Features:

  • 10 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Ranked #12 Best Art College in America by Niche.com
  • No athletic programs

Cost: $13,000

Chicago’s Best Athletic Colleges

Judson University

Judson University

Judson University is in a suburban community and situated on the banks of the Fox River. The beautiful campus is where students learn architecture, business administration, fitness management, and more. A wide variety of varsity teams for both men and women are available, and the school is associated with the NAIA Division I athletic division.

Key Features:

  • 9 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • 40 miles outside of Chicago
  • Christian college

Cost: $10,000

Lewis University

Lewis University

Lewis University is an NCAA Division II school where varsity sports are a big part of campus life. The university is home to a wide array of degree programs that are taught by a highly esteemed staff that was awarded the #14 Best Undergraduate Teaching ranking by U.S. News. Campus lies just outside of Chicago in the town of Romeoville.

Key Features:

  • 13 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Ranked a top 15 School for Veterans by U.S. News
  • Catholic college

Cost: $10,000

North Central College

North Central College

North Central College is a well-rounded private university that offers great education, a long list of varsity sports programs, and is considered an excellent value due to its excellent financial aid incentives. There’s a varsity team for almost any sporting interest spanning the fundamental team sports and including the likes of swimming, volleyball, and wrestling.

Key Features:

  • 14 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • NCAA Division III athletic status
  • Quarter-based academic calendar

Cost: $12,500

Robert Morris University

Robert Morris University

Robert Morris University is an urban school in the heart of Chicago. The most popular degree programs are business, liberal arts, and computer information science. A range of men’s and women’s varsity sports teams compete in NAIA Division II competition in the Independent Midwest Region conference.

Key Features:

  • 21 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • 5 10-wk s-based academic calendar
  • No Greek life

Cost: $10,000

University of St. Francis

University of St. Francis

The University of St. Francis specializes in nursing and healthcare management. Students of this Catholic school receive average financial aid amounts that are three times the national average, making this an excellent value school for some. There are a number of men’s and women’s varsity sports to choose from, including uncommon offerings such as bowling and golf.

Key Features:

  • 13 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • NAIA Division II athletic status
  • Catholic school

Cost: $9,000

Chicago’s Best Value Colleges

Chicago State University

Chicago State University

Chicago State University is a fairly small public school that comes at an incredible value. Tuition fees are lower than almost anywhere else in the state of Illinois, and graduates go on to earn incomes above the national average. 99% of students go on the receive financial aid at this institution and on average they receive enough to cover all schooling costs.

Key Features:

  • 10 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • NCAA Division I athletic status
  • Evening degree programs available

Cost: $5,500

Dominican University

Dominican University

Students of Dominican University often seek degrees in criminal justice, business, and psychology. The private school is small by design, but rich in resources, earning top marks in multiple educational categories while maintaining an affordable rate for students. This school is a great bang for your buck and is set in the beautiful suburban town of River Forest.

Key Features:

  • 10 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Ranked #3 Value School in the Midwest by U.S. News
  • NCAA Division III athletic status

Cost: $8,500

National Louis University

National Louis University

National Louis University is a private school located in Chicago. The school is a “test-optional” school, meaning it doesn’t require SAT or ACT scores for admission. Low tuition rates, high financial aid rewards, and above-average graduate earning potential make this a fantastic value college.

Key Features:

  • 17 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • Quarter-based academic calendar
  • Test-optional school

Cost: $7,500

Purdue University Northwest

Purdue University Northwest

Purdue University Northwest is one of several Purdue University Branches based out of Indiana and is notable for its stellar engineering programs. The dual Northwest campuses in Hammond and Westville were recently established in 2016. Tuition is incredibly inexpensive and a great boon for budget-minded students.

Key Features:

  • 19 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • NAIA Division II athletic status
  • A public university with multiple branches

Cost: $5,000

University of Illinois at Chicago

University of Illinois at Chicago

The University of Illinois at Chicago is a large public institution with nearly 20,000 students. The low cost of attendance is met with financial aid rewards that are well above the national average and graduate earning potential that is nearly double what the typical American makes. This is one of the best value schools in the entire state of Illinois, if not the entire Midwest.

Key Features:

  • 19 to 1 student to faculty ratio
  • NCAA Division I athletic status
  • Unique UIC Undergraduate Research Experience

Cost: $6,000

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