Best Colleges in Illinois

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By: Colleges of Distinction Staff

Jump to: Concordia University Chicago | DePaul University | Illinois State University | Illinois Wesleyan University | Lewis University | Loyola University Chicago | Northern Illinois University | North Park University | Olivet Nazarene University | Saint Xavier University | Trinity Christian College | University of Illinois at Chicago | University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign | University of St. Francis | Wheaton College | Frequently Asked Questions

Colleges of Distinction has hand-picked a selection of top schools that are well equipped to provide a personalized education catered to students’ interests. Through a rigorous vetting and interview process we have refreshed and reaffirmed that these institutions strive for excellence in line with the four overarching distinctions—Student Engagement, Teaching, Community, and Outcomes.

These schools vary in size, cost, location, academic offerings, and more, but they are all distinguished by their commitment to the undergraduate experience. The diversity of the college list is intentional, giving students and parents a variety of public and private universities to consider. No matter what, they all exhibit the foundational qualities of a fulfilling undergraduate education.

Concordia University Chicago

River Forest, IL ‧ Christian ‧ 4-year

Founded in 1864 as a college for teachers, today Concordia University Chicago is a comprehensive liberal arts-based Christian university affiliated with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Through its College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business, College of Education, College of Graduate Studies, and College of Innovation and Professional Programs, CUC offers more than 140 areas of undergraduate and graduate study in small classes taught by professors who are passionate about teaching and student success. Students choose Concordia University Chicago to open up their world and be inspired throughout their collegiate career and beyond.

Inspired learning, whether in or out of the classroom, is a key component in connecting to students. Access to the amazing resources and culture of the cosmopolitan city of Chicago enables students to open up their world. Students have wide-ranging experiences as they learn alongside peers from various backgrounds and cultures from across the globe.

Acceptance rate 79%      •      Net price $17,363      •      SAT Range 990-1180     •     Students submitting SAT scores 67%
Total Undergrad Population 6,491      •      Setting Suburb      •     Private 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 51%     •     Retention rate 71%      •     Student-to-faculty ratio 12:1

Click here for available majors

DePaul University

Chicago, IL ‧ Catholic ‧ 4-year

With over 300 undergraduate programs, the breadth of academic excellence at DePaul is vast and varied. The university’s world-class faculty are experts in their field who bring their years of experience to the classroom every day. Although DePaul’s faculty are conducting groundbreaking, award-winning research everyday, their biggest priority is the success of their students. Classes are small to maximize engagement between students and professors. Students are challenged to meet their potential and inspired to reach their goals.

Whether it’s a mission to Mars or the supply chain on steroids, there are new and exciting problems for DePaul students to solve. Research is integral to the student experience, so students will find many opportunities to make their mark on the world. Research isn’t reserved just for STEM majors, either. Students are encouraged to explore undergraduate research opportunities regardless of their major. Faculty are active participants and leaders in various professional organizations, centers, and initiatives that focus on research and creative activity.

Acceptance rate 70%      •      Net price $33,319
Total Undergrad Population 21,922     •     Setting City: Large     •     Private 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 71%      •     Retention rate 83%      •      Student-to-faculty ratio 17:1

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Illinois State University

Normal, IL ‧ Public ‧ 4-year

Illinois State University serves a diverse student body through immersive, career-minded programming across a range of subjects. The university prides itself in its core values: Pursuit of Learning and Scholarship, Individualized Attention, Diversity, Integrity, and Civic Engagement. Thanks to these pillars, the university motto, “gladly we learn and teach,” truly speaks for itself.

Each spring, undergraduate and graduate students all have the opportunity to present their research, scholarship, and creative projects at the annual Research Symposium. Participation in this university-hosted event allows students to practice presenting to an audience, networking, and understanding the overall process of high-quality research.

Acceptance rate 81%      •      Net price $20,933      •      SAT Range 1020-1220      •     Students submitting SAT scores 79%
Total Undergrad Population 20,720     •     Setting Suburb     •     Public 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 68%      •      Retention rate 84%      •      Student-to-faculty ratio 19:1

Click here for available majors

Illinois Wesleyan University logo stacked

Illinois Wesleyan University

Bloomington, IL ‧ Private ‧ 4-year

Where the multitalented go to learn. Illinois Wesleyan is a true renaissance university at which students are encouraged to explore all of their interests. Double majors in diverse subjects like physics and music are common. Students have a host of compelling opportunities to enrich their education with off-campus experiences that might involve spending a year at Pembroke College/Oxford University or perhaps a semester in Washington D.C. through American University.

The community surrounding Illinois Wesleyan offers distinctive opportunities for students who look to supplement their classroom experiences with off-campus learning experiences. The best example of this is the Action Research Center, which coordinates research projects undertaken by Illinois Wesleyan University students, faculty, and staff in partnership with groups in the larger central Illinois community. Current projects include work on McLean County’s ten-year plan to end homelessness, a tutoring and mentoring program, and work with the Ecology Action Center to reduce pesticide use.

Acceptance rate 57%      •      Net price $32,545      •      SAT Range 1100-1300      •      Students submitting SAT scores 65%
Total Undergrad Population 1,636     •     Setting City: Small     •     Private 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 82%      •      Retention rate 87%      •      Student-to-faculty ratio 11:1

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Lewis University

Romeoville, IL ‧ Catholic ‧ 4-year

Lewis University, guided by its Catholic and Lasallian heritage, provides students a liberal and professional education, grounded in the interaction of knowledge and fidelity in the search for truth. Lewis promotes the development of the complete person through the pursuit of wisdom and justice. Fundamental to its Mission is a spirit of association, which fosters community in all teaching, learning, and service.

The Doherty Center for Aviation and Health Research was established to promote scholarship and innovation in the fields of health and aviation and to create mutually beneficial partnerships with business and industry. Students work with faculty on projects that will have an impact on the aviation industry such as Determining the Hazardous Effects of Flight Deck Laser Illumination Events.

To encourage entrepreneurship, the University hosts the Business Plan Competition, which is open to all undergraduate and graduate students. Students formulate an idea, develop a business plan, and pitch their idea to a panel of judges. The winner(s) of the competition earn $5,000 to be used towards their business venture.

Acceptance rate 66%      •      Net price $20,022      •     SAT Range 1010-1220      •     Students submitting SAT scores 73%
Total Undergrad Population 6,437     •     Setting Suburb     •     Private 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 70%      •     Retention rate 80%      •      Student-to-faculty ratio 14:1

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Loyola University Chicago logo with school seal

Loyola University Chicago

Chicago, IL ‧ Catholic ‧ 4-year

Superior education in a world-class city. An outstanding, nationally lauded institution, Loyola University Chicago continues to advance the 450-year-old Jesuit tradition of rigorous academic study grounded in the liberal arts. Loyola helps students prepare for meaningful careers with top programs in business, the sciences, and other disciplines, along with opportunities for internships in Chicago and beyond. Loyola’s well-rounded, transformative education will help each student develop as a whole person—intellectually, physically, socially, and spiritually.

Loyola’s Career Development Center (CDC) provides all of the resources students need to start their careers after graduation. The CDC annually lists thousands of jobs and internships and helps students and alumni connect with prospective employers for job opportunities and making connections before and after graduation. The CDC also provides mock interviews, job fairs, resume referral services, and regular internship newsletters.

Acceptance rate 71%      •     Net price $37,731     •     SAT Range 1130-1330      •     Students submitting SAT scores 100%
Total Undergrad Population 16,893      •      Setting City: Large      •      Private 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 76%      •      Retention rate 85%     •     Student-to-faculty ratio 14:1

Click here for available majors

Logo for Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, IL

Northern Illinois University

DeKalb, IL ‧ Public ‧ 4-year

Northern Illinois University (NIU) is a public research university located in DeKalb, Illinois, United States. With a history that dates back to 1895, NIU has grown to become one of the largest universities in the state of Illinois, offering a wide range of undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degree programs across seven colleges. The university is known for its strong commitment to research, experiential learning, and community engagement, providing students with numerous opportunities to explore their passions, develop their skills, and make a difference in the world. 

Whether students are interested in the arts, sciences, business, education, or any other field, NIU is a welcoming and supportive community that can help them achieve their goals and succeed in their academic and professional pursuits.

Acceptance rate 59%     •    Net price $14,397   
Total Undergrad Population 12,277    •    Setting Suburb    •    Public 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 48%     •    Retention rate 78%     •     Student-to-faculty ratio 15:1

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north park university chicago logo

North Park University

Chicago, IL ‧ Christian ‧ 4-year

Founded in 1891, North Park University prides itself on its deep Christian roots and its commitment to providing a world-class education in the liberal arts, professional studies, and theology. North Park’s location in Chicago offers students a unique opportunity to learn, serve, and develop their faith in an increasingly diverse community.

Crux is a living-learning cohort in which first-year students are inspired to develop their identity in Christ while experiencing the city. Coursework, experiential learning, mentorship, and discipleship training comprise the Crux experience, earning students college credit while living and learning within an on-campus cohort. They also complete multiple service projects to further develop a life of community engagement.

Acceptance rate 44%      •      Net price $19,320      •      SAT Range 940-1122      •      Students submitting SAT scores 77%
Total Undergrad Population 2,831     •     Setting City: Large     •     Private 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 59%      •      Retention rate 75%      •     Student-to-faculty ratio 10:1

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Olivet Nazarene University

Bourbonnais, IL ‧ Christian ‧ 4-year

Faith is at the heart of superior academics, nationally competitive athletics, thriving social atmosphere, and countless ministry opportunities at Olivet.

In fine arts, Olivet’s School of Music and Department of Art and Digital Media have consistently earned the Apple Distinguished School designation since 2014 for their participation in the iLearn@Olivet initiative. Launched in 2013, iLearn@Olivet utilizes iPad technology for every music major, ensemble, core art course. The technology is also utilized by music and art faculty and staff members.

Students have the opportunity to thrive in an environment that prepares them for technology-driven industries. The Reed Hall of Science features a three-story wing dedicated to studying technology and innovation, and the Walker School of Engineering is equipped with state-of-the-art engineering design labs.

State-of-the-art academic facilities include Benner Library and Resource Center, information hub for digital and print research and communication; and Strickler Planetarium, one of the Midwest’s few all-digital planetariums, renovated in 2008 with the same technology in Chicago’s Adler Planetarium.

Acceptance rate 67%      •      Net price $20,006      •      SAT Range 970-1190      •     Students submitting SAT scores 70%
Total Undergrad Population 3,764     •     Setting Suburb     •     Private 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 65%      •     Retention rate 75%      •      Student-to-faculty ratio 14:1

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Saint Xavier University

Chicago, IL ‧ Catholic ‧ 4-year

Celebrating 175 years in 2021, Saint Xavier University is a distinguished four-year private institution founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1846. Chicago’s oldest Catholic university and the first Mercy college in the United States, Saint Xavier provides a transformative educational experience to 3,600 students at its Chicago campus with more than 40 undergraduate programs and nearly 30 graduate program options in the College of Arts and Sciences, Graham School of Management (GSM), and School of Nursing and Health Sciences (SONHS) as well as a variety of program options in Continuing and Adult Education. SXU is consistently recognized as one of the best in the Midwest.

One of the core values of Saint Xavier University is service, and as such, SXU features programs and classes that encourage students to make the most of their education. This includes things like study abroad programs, internships, community service projects, and student-driven research to ensure a well-rounded experience.

Students benefit from an active, collaborative learning environment. Professors are readily available to offer the necessary support, encouragement, and intellectual stimulation. Perhaps most significantly, students acquire lifelong skills in writing, critical thinking, and problem-solving, prepared to take on every sphere of life.

Acceptance rate 79%      •      Net price $13,326      •     SAT Range 950-1120      •      Students submitting SAT scores 79%
Total Undergrad Population 3,764     •     Setting City: Large     •     Private 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 55%      •      Retention rate 78%      •      Student-to-faculty ratio 16:1

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trinity christian college logo

Trinity Christian College

Palos Heights, IL ‧ Christian ‧ 4-year

Trinity Christian College has been changing students’ lives since 1959, having been begun by a group of entrepreneurs who wanted to develop Chicago-area Christians who would put their faith into action, not just believe. As a smaller college, Trinity provides students with individualized attention, harnessing an extensive network throughout Chicago in order to make a difference in the world. Trinity faculty help students discover their passion and develop it into incredible achievement. Through a Biblically informed liberal arts education, the College community endeavors to provide an environment of Christian integrity and love, enhancing and supporting the entire learning experience.

Trinity’s community believes strongly that service is not something to be done exclusively in the summer or over spring break; rather, it should be woven into the fabric of their lives. At the core of the Office of Community Partnerships and Service-Learning (OCPSL) is a strong college-organization relationship with valued partners. Through reciprocal relationships with these community partners, Trinity is able to serve not only students, but the larger community as well. Trinity seeks to equip local organizations with dedicated, responsible student volunteers and interns. It’s with these partners that the College prepares its students to be “active members of a community based on the Biblical requirements of justice, humility, and love.”

Acceptance rate 64%      •      Net price $23,177      •      SAT Range 980-1180      •     Students submitting SAT scores 75%
Total Undergrad Population 1,086     •     Setting Suburb     •     Private 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 64%      •     Retention rate 80%      •      Student-to-faculty ratio 10:1

Click here for available majors

University of Illinois Chicago wordmark and logo

University of Illinois at Chicago

Chicago, IL ‧ Public ‧ 4-year

Located in one of the most vibrant cities in the world, UIC helps students unleash their potential. Students enjoy 87 bachelor’s programs, a low student-to-faculty ratio, and award-winning professors who are regarded as experts in their field. The University of Illinois at Chicago is proud to support one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse campuses in the nation, so every member of the community has a place in which to learn and thrive.

UIC is proud to offer students unique ways to live and learn on campus. Living-learning communities comprise of committed students who share a common interest. Students can choose from 15 different communities with topics ranging from Pre-Health to Women in Science and Engineering. Each community has a peer mentor who works within the group to make sure students have the best experience possible. Students also enjoy the benefits of making deeper connections with peers, having built-in study buddies, and gaining easy access to experiential learning opportunities that are relevant to their field of study.

Acceptance rate 73%      •      Net price $12,614      •      SAT Range 1030-1250      •      Students submitting SAT scores 82%
Total Undergrad Population 33,518     •     Setting City: Large      •     Public 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 63%      •      Retention rate 82%      •      Student-to-faculty ratio 18:1

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University of Illinois Urbana Champaign logo and wordmark

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Champaign, IL ‧ Public ‧ 4-year

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) is a public research university that is esteemed for its more than 150 undergraduate and 100 graduate programs. These programs span across diverse fields such as engineering, business, social sciences, education, and more. With a large student body of over 50,000 students from all around the world, UIUC is committed to providing a supportive and inclusive environment that fosters academic and personal growth. 

UIUC’s distinguished faculty are renowned experts in their respective fields and their cutting-edge research programs are at the forefront of innovation and discovery. UIUC offers numerous opportunities for students to participate in research, service, leadership, internships, study abroad programs, and other experiential learning opportunities. Join a community of learners and leaders who are passionate about making a difference in the world, and discover why UIUC is consistently recognized among the top public universities in the United States.

Acceptance rate 63%      •      Net price $13,517      •      SAT Range 1200-1460      •      Students submitting SAT scores 75%
Total Undergrad Population 33,683      •      Setting City: Small      •      Public 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 86%      •      Retention rate 94%      •      Student-to-faculty ratio 20:1

Click here for available majors

University of St. Francis logo

University of St. Francis

Joliet, IL ‧ Catholic ‧ 4-year

The University of St. Francis, in Joliet, IL, is a Catholic university rooted in the liberal arts. As a welcoming community of learners who are challenged by Franciscan values, everyone at USF is mindful of the compassionate, peacemaking tradition that encourages the pursuit of knowledge, faith, wisdom, and justice. USF strives for academic excellence in all programs, preparing women and men to contribute to the world through service and leadership.

The College of Business’ “Small Business Incubator,” located at USF’s downtown St. Bonaventure Campus, allows Entrepreneurship students to work with businesses to help develop their own startup. College of Nursing students utilize the SIM Lab and Skills Lab, getting hands-on experience in simulated hospital environments before working with real patients. USF even offers a cadaver lab to give biology and pre-health sciences students the opportunity to expand their understanding of anatomy through hands-on dissection. For College of Education students, the annual Chrysalis Retreat gives students time to reflect on themselves and their passions to become teachers.

Acceptance rate 60%      •      Net price $16,761      •      SAT Range 970-1180      •      Students submitting SAT scores 76%
Total Undergrad Population 3,529      •     Setting Suburb     •     Private 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 60%      •      Retention rate 81%      •      Student-to-faculty ratio 13:1

Click here for available majors

Wheaton College

Wheaton, IL ‧ Christian ‧ 4-year

A Wheaton College education prepares students for lives that are wholly dedicated to serving Christ and His kingdom.

Wheaton is proud of the work it does to prepare its students for postgraduate success. Upon graduation, Wheaton scholars are well equipped with the tools and skills necessary to succeed in the working world. This is achieved largely through Wheaton’s liberal arts education; it is both general and specific in a way that earns students a wealth of knowledge in a span of disciplines. Aside from the degree itself, the College boasts a list of credentials that prove the value of a Wheaton education.

Acceptance rate 87%      •      Net price $27,474      •     SAT Range 1210-1450      •     Students submitting SAT scores 66%
Total Undergrad Population 2,908     •     Setting Suburb     •     Private 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 88%      •      Retention rate 90%      •     Student-to-faculty ratio 10:1

Click here for available majors

What it’s like to attend schools in Illinois and other FAQ:

What are average tuition costs in Illinois?

The average undergraduate tuition & fees for colleges in Illinois is $6,389 for in-state students at public institutions, $19,374 for out-of-state students at public institutions, and $22,171 for students at private institutions.

Cheapest degree program in Illinois

University of Illinois at Chicago has an average net price of $12,614 making it the least expensive bachelor’s degree program in Illinois that made our list.

Easiest degree program to get into in Illinois

Wheaton College has an acceptance rate of 87%, making it the least exclusive college on our list.

Degree program with lowest student debt in Illinois

University of Illinois at Chicago has a median total debt after graduation of $17,250. This is the typical debt for a student who completed their undergraduate degree.