Why This Matters


    According to College Navigator, Illinois has 12 public colleges, 63 private non-profit colleges, and six private for-profit colleges.


    College Board notes that the average college student in Illinois paid $14,420 in tuition at a public or private in-state college during the 2020-21 school year.


    The average full-time undergraduate student in the U.S. received $14,940 in financial aid during the 2019-20 school year.

Our Research

This list is a curated selection of the best colleges in Illinois, ranging from large research universities to midsize colleges and small liberal arts colleges. We reviewed colleges based on several factors, including the cost of tuition, credits required to graduate, and format in which coursework is offered (i.e., in-person or online).

We only reviewed institutions that have achieved accreditation to ensure that all schools on our list meet high standards of quality for higher education. The majority of the colleges on our list are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, which assesses colleges in the central United States based on factors like academic mission, ethics, teaching and learning, and resources.

We evaluated each program on the basis of flexibility, faculty, course strength, cost, and reputation. Then we calculated the Intelligent Score for each program on a scale from 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.

  • 63 hours to write this article
  • 203 universities and colleges we assessed
  • 251 education programs we compared

The Top 46 Colleges in Illinois

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What You Should Know About Graduating From College in Illinois

There are many considerations students should keep in mind when selecting a college. One factor that is often overlooked is the local job market. Before choosing a state in which to attend college, consider local employment opportunities. As of October 2020, the top five industries that employed the most people in Illinois were trade, transportation and utilities; education and health services; professional and business services; government; and goods-producing services.

For jobseekers with a bachelor’s degree, the five fastest-growing careers in Illinois are operations research analyst, software developer, actuary, information security analyst, and market research analyst/marketing specialist.

To get a sense of the labor market in the state, here are some of the companies that made the list of top 50 largest employers in Illinois: Abbott Laboratories, Allstate Corporation, Deloitte, Unity Point Optimum Health, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

What’s Next?

While researching colleges in Illinois, it’s important to consider financial aid. Below is a list of federal and state resources that offer grants, scholarships, and financial aid opportunities for undergraduate students in Illinois.

  • Illinois Student Assistance Commission. The Illinois Student Assistance Commission administers several scholarship, grant, prepaid tuition, and student loan repayment/forgiveness programs to support the post-secondary educational goals of Illinois students.
  • Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Federal Student Aid, a part of the U.S. Department of Education, provides more than $120 billion in financial aid each year to students attending college or career school. Student financial assistance programs provide funds in the form of grants, work-study, and loans. To learn if you’re eligible for aid, visit the FAFSA4caster. To apply, complete the online FAFSA form.
  • CareerOneStop. CareerOneStop, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, offers information regarding scholarships, fellowships, grants, and other financial aid award opportunities available in each state. You can filter information by award type, degree level, and state.