2024 Best Colleges in Iowa

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Updated: May 7, 2024

By: Colleges of Distinction Staff

Jump to: Cornell College | Drake University | Grinnell College | University of Iowa | 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 for the 2024-2025 academic year, 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.


Cornell College

Mount Vernon, IA ‧ Private ‧ 4-year

Perched above the splendid Cedar River Valley in Eastern Iowa, Cornell College graduates students with strong backgrounds in the liberal arts—students who can write, think, and communicate effectively. With its One-Course-At-A-Time calendar, Cornell offers a unique opportunity for students to learn through in-depth and focused study, which minimizes distractions, increases flexibility, and helps students better retain their knowledge.

Located in Mount Vernon, Iowa, a rural town of four thousand in eastern Iowa, Cornell is twenty miles southwest of Cedar Rapids and twenty miles north of Iowa City. The Cedar Rapids metro area has urban amenities typical for its size, including Eastern Iowa Airport, and calls itself the City of Five Seasons. Iowa City has a metro population of one hundred and twenty thousand, and the combined eastern Iowa corridor of Cedar Rapids and Iowa City offers numerous entertainment and cultural options for students.

Mount Vernon, Iowa—30 minutes from Iowa City, 20 minutes from Cedar Rapids, 2 hours from Des Moines, and 3-4 hours from Chicago.

Acceptance rate 82%      •      Net price $25,028      •      SAT Range 1068-1280      •      Students submitting SAT scores 36%
Total Undergrad Population 999      •      Setting Town      •      Private 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 67%      •      Retention rate 74%      •      Student-to-faculty ratio 12:1

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Drake University

Des Moines, IA ‧ Private ‧ 4-year

At Drake, students are actively involved in their educations. They interact with their subjects and draw conclusions that they can apply to the bigger picture—one that extends far beyond the academic environment of the campus. Students are given the opportunity to work with their professors, meet with visiting ambassadors, and participate in service-learning initiatives, all within the liberal arts-based framework that Drake gives all its students.

Drake is located near the city of Des Moines, affording students a number of social and professional opportunities that extend beyond the campus. Students are encouraged to venture into the city and enjoy the food, shopping, and cultural events that make the city thrive.

Drake offers its students plenty of opportunities to get involved outside of the classroom. The University encourages all of its students to get take part in extracurriculars, recognizing the social and academic benefits that active involvement can bring them. There are over 160 clubs and organizations to choose from, the interests of which span from media clubs to governing organizations. Students can immerse themselves in the arts by seeing a play or going to an exhibit, or, for those interested in athletics, they may join one of several intramural and club sports teams. Students can also get involved in service-learning projects or participate in the Leadership Development Program.

Acceptance rate 68%      •      Net price $30,321      •      SAT Range 1110-1340      •      Students submitting SAT scores 26%
Total Undergrad Population 2,848      •      Setting City: Midsize      •      Private 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 77%      •      Retention rate 86%      •      Student-to-faculty ratio 10:1

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Grinnell College

Grinnell, IA ‧ Private ‧ 4-year

Find unparalleled opportunities for learning at the Grinnell College. Grinnell is a private institution with 42 areas of study.

Acceptance rate 19%      •      Net price $32,091      •      SAT Range 1353-1538      •      Students submitting SAT scores 49%
Total Undergrad Population 1,493      •      Setting Town      •      Private 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 87%      •      Retention rate 81%      •      Student-to-faculty ratio 8:1

Click here for available majors

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University of Iowa

Iowa City, IA ‧ Public ‧ 4-year

Succeed in your personal and professional life with an education from The University of Iowa. Iowa is a Public school in Iowa City, Iowa with many undergraduate degrees to choose from.

Acceptance rate 84%      •      Net price $17,452      •      SAT Range 1110-1310      •      Students submitting SAT scores 27%
Total Undergrad Population 22,304      •      Setting City: Small      •      Public 4-year
Graduation rate (6 year) 72%      •      Retention rate 88%      •      Student-to-faculty ratio 16:1

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

What are average tuition costs in Iowa?

The average undergraduate tuition & fees for colleges in Iowa is $6,280 for in-state students at public institutions, $21,515 for out-of-state students at public institutions, and $25,407 for students at private institutions.

Cheapest degree program in Iowa

University of Iowa has an average net price of $17,452, making it the least expensive institution in Iowa that made our list.

Easiest degree program to get into in Iowa

University of Iowa has an acceptance rate of 84%, with an SAT range of 1110-1310, making it the least exclusive college in Iowa on our list.

Degree program with lowest student debt in Iowa

Grinnell College has a median total debt after graduation of $17,000. This is the typical debt for a student who completed their undergraduate degree.

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