Our Research

This list features some of the best online schools in Illinois. Each school featured is a nonprofit, accredited institution — either public or private — with a high standard of academic quality for post-secondary institutions. We included liberal arts colleges and research universities as well as small, midsize, and large institutions. Next, we compared this comprehensive list to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like the U.S. News & World Report among others to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

We ensure all colleges on our list are accredited, meaning they hold up to the high quality standards of an accrediting organization. In Illinois, most of the colleges fall under the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), a regional accreditor in the North Central region serving higher learning institutions in 19 states. The organization provides quality assurance in higher education.

We evaluated each school on tuition costs, admission, retention and graduation rates, faculty, and reputation as well as the student resources provided for online students. Then we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

The Top 50 Online Colleges in Illinois

Best Online Colleges in Illinois Badge
Intelligent Pick
University of Illinois Urbana - Champaign
Best Catholic University
University of St. Francis
Best Certificate Programs
University of Illinois at Springfield
Best Undergraduate Degrees
University of Illinois Chicago
Best Master's Degrees
Eastern Illinois University
Best Christian University
Lincoln Christian University
Best STEM Programs
Lewis University
Best Jesuit University
Loyola University Chicago
Most Innovative Curriculum
Illinois Institute of Technology
Best Hybrid Options
Illinois State University

DePaul University

McKendree University

Governors State University

Western Illinois University

Concordia University Chicago

Olivet Nazarene University

National Louis University

Judson University

Benedictine University

Greenville University

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Aurora University

Methodist College

Northern Illinois University

Rush University

North Park University

Quincy University

Elmhurst University

Dominican University

Roosevelt University

Saint Xavier University

Northwestern University

Bradley University

Millikin University

Southern Illinois University

Frequently Asked Questions: Online Colleges in Illinois

Does Illinois have good online colleges and universities?

Illinois’s online bachelor’s and graduate degree programs are some of the strongest in the country. For instance, U.S. News & World Report ranks University of Illinois Chicago’s online bachelor’s degree program No. 3 in the country and places both Illinois State University and Loyola University Chicago’s online bachelor’s degree programs at No. 19 in the country. At the graduate level, many online programs at institutions in Illinois rank in the top 10 nationally, with University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Online Master’s in Civil Engineering earning the No. 1 spot. The state of Illinois is truly a leader in high-quality online postsecondary education.

Do online college credits in Illinois cost more than in-person classes?

The answer to this question depends on which college you attend. Some colleges offer discounted rates for online courses regardless of where you live, while others charge an additional fee for online courses to help cover the cost of software licenses, technical support, etc. In-state and out-of-state online degree students tend to pay the same tuition at Illinois universities; however, this is not the case at Illinois State University. At the community college level, out-of-state students pay more than in-state students.

Why should you choose Illinois for online higher education?

Illinois has online bachelor’s and graduate degree programs that consistently rank at the top of nationwide comparisons. This tells you that as an online student, you will get a flexible education that does not sacrifice anything in the way of quality. Illinois’s wide range of online degree programs also means it’s more likely you’ll find an affordable option.

The Cost of Online College in Illinois

How much does an online degree in Illinois cost?

The cost of an online degree in Illinois depends on which institution you attend as well as the type of degree you choose to pursue. For example, undergraduate courses are usually more affordable than graduate degrees. Also, you may find yourself paying more for your degree if you major in a STEM field rather than the humanities.

Regardless of the cost per credit, you should also consider that you may be able to save a lot of money on indirect expenses, such as transportation and housing, by earning your college degree online.

To give you a sense of exactly how much you should expect to pay for your online education, we’ve listed the current rates for earning an online bachelor’s degree in Illinois below:

  • Most affordable online college in Illinois: Western Illinois University, $308 per credit
  • Most expensive online college in Illinois: Illinois State University, $768 per credit

Average College Tuition Cost

Source: Education Data Initiative

How long do you have to live in Illinois to get in-state tuition rates?

Establishing Illinois residency typically requires you to have resided in Illinois for at least 12 months prior to declaring Illinois residency. You must prove you are in the state for a reason other than education, so you cannot enroll at a college or university more than half-time during the year in which you are establishing Illinois residency.

Who qualifies for reduced tuition costs in Illinois?

Illinois offers several ways to reduce your tuition costs. Prior to 2021, the state actively participated in the Midwest Student Exchange Program, which enables online students from the Midwest to pay reduced tuition at other colleges and universities in the Midwest. As of 2021, Illinois is an inactive member of the program, meaning you cannot currently benefit from the tuition reciprocity agreements. However, it is possible Illinois will become active in the program in the future.

Several public universities in Illinois offer generous grants and aid packages. For instance, through the Illinois Commitment, University of Illinois guarantees free tuition to Illinois residents whose families make less than $67,000 per year and have less than $50,000 in assets. Eligibility is determined based on FAFSA application data, so it’s important to file early and accurately. The FAFSA will also show if you are eligible for Federal Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), and other financial aid awards.

College Financial Aid, Scholarships, and Grant Programs in Illinois

In addition to university-specific funding, there are a number of other programs available that can help you cover the cost of college. Some of these programs are also based on financial need, while others are awarded based on factors such as demographics or academic merit. We’ve reviewed a few of the most prominent financial aid options for you below:

George M. Pullman Educational Foundation Scholarship

This scholarship program awards $10,000 per year to successful students from Cook County, Illinois who demonstrate substantial financial need, as determined by the FAFSA.

Who’s eligible? Residents of Cook County, Illinois who demonstrate strong financial need, have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0, and will attend an accredited four-year institution.

Contact information: Online form | 312-422-0444

Learn more

Greenhouse Scholars Program

Open to students from Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, New York, and North Carolina, this is a holistic scholars program that provides not only funding but also mentorship, support, and cocurricular leadership development to students from low-income communities. The goal is to stop the cycle of poverty and create generational change.

Who’s eligible? Legal residents of Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, New York, or North Carolina who have a cumulative, unweighted GPA of 3.5 or above, demonstrate financial need, and possess strong leadership, grit, and commitment to community.

Contact information: [email protected] | 720-449-7444

Learn more

Chicago Engineers Foundation Awards

The CEF awards merit-based grants ranging from $1,200 to $1,500 to students living in Chicago or graduating from a high school in or near Chicago.

Who’s eligible? Students living in Chicago or graduating from a Chicago high school who will major in an engineering field.

Contact information: [email protected]

Learn more

Golden Apple Scholars of Illinois Program

Geared toward future teachers in Illinois schools in need, this program provides up to $23,000 in tuition assistance and paid training programs, as well as mentoring and real-world classroom experience, to high school seniors and college freshmen and sophomores who want to be teachers.

Who’s eligible? Illinois residents/students at partner institutions in Illinois who intend to become teachers and teach in high-need schools in Illinois.

Contact information: Online form | 312-407-0006

Learn more

5 Fastest Growing Careers in Illinois

If you’re still in the process of assessing your college options, you may also be undecided on your major. When selecting a major, one of the most important factors to consider is your future employability. Thinking about which industries and careers are growing the fastest in Illinois can make it easier to find a job once you graduate, and being in demand should also help you earn a higher salary.

By consulting the U.S. Department of Labor’s Long-Term Occupational Projections 2018–2028, we’ve determined that the following five careers have some of the highest projected growth rates in Illinois, all of which come with an average annual salary in the six figures:

Nurse Practitioners

NPs are advanced practice registered nurses who specialize in diagnosing and treating patients with an emphasis on preventative care and health education. They are quickly becoming many Americans’ preferred primary care professionals. NPs tend to be well-compensated; in Illinois, they earn an average salary of $120,470 per year.

Financial Managers

Financial managers tend to the financial health of an organization. Over the next decade, Illinois expects to create nearly 6,000 financial manager jobs, making it one of the highest growth careers in the state. Financial managers in Illinois earn an average salary of $143,300 per year.

Physician Assistants

Physician assistants (PAs) are one of the most in-demand health professionals. They work under physicians to support patient care, and must complete extensive education and medical training. They are not as highly compensated as physicians, but they still make six-figure salaries. The average annual PA salary in Illinois is $117,480.

​​Software Developers (Applications)

As governments, companies, and individuals become ever more reliant on web-based technologies, it’s no surprise the skills of software developers, especially app developers, are in high demand. Salaries in this field tend to be quite high, with software developers earning an average salary of $109,970 per year in Illinois.

Information Security Analysts

Information security analysts monitor and manage an organization’s computer networks and systems. Specifically, information security analysts keep an organization’s data safe. As cybersecurity and information security become increasingly important in our digital world, security analysts are in high demand. They are also well-compensated, making an average annual salary of $112,830 in Illinois.