Discover the 10 Best Colleges in Chicago

After New York and Los Angeles, there’s Chicago, the Midwestern metropolis. Two rivers and a Great Lake mean water views in every direction. The Art Institute holds world masterpieces and the Field Museum has dinosaurs. It’s a city with its own music and food, a love for sports and for American ingenuity.

Attending college in Chicago can mean a big-city experience, with campuses right downtown where students can see the Cloud Gate or the Joffrey dancers practicing from their classrooms. Or they can choose a slower pace in a suburban green campus with gardens for recreation and studying.

Students can work for class credit in hands-on experiential learning classes. They can be a research assistant for the next Nobel prize winner. They can have their short stories critiqued by a Pulitzer winner or their singing coached by a Tony winner.

These city institutions give back, with social justice and equity missions to provide service to Chicagoans. Many offer admission to first-generation students; most have graduation success data higher than the national average as a result of strong mentorship and scholarship programs.

Chicago has been the city of dreams for many Americans migrating up the Mississippi or across the Appalachians. The schools on this list are helping students build their dream careers while conducting groundbreaking research, making art, and serving the community.

Chicago has the resources; these universities bring the vision, with innovative programs and renowned faculty from around the world.

This list includes schools both in Chicago as well as the greater Chicago area.

Here are our picks for 10 of the best colleges in Chicago.

North Park University

North Park University
Rputera, North Park University Campus Center, CC BY-SA 4.0

North Park University offers rigorous academics in a Christian context. The school respects other faiths and traditions among its student body, but North Park articulates its connection to the Evangelical Covenant Church and its seminary, the North Park Theological Seminary.

Located in Chicago’s North End, North Park earns praise for social mobility, innovation, and undergraduate teaching. Classes run small, averaging 17 students. Over 65% of students commute to campus daily, though students can access on-campus housing in several styles.

Public health, religious studies, criminal justice, and the business program make up some of the most popular majors. The Catalyst program offers experiential learning opportunities that maximize the school’s proximity to downtown Chicago and its resources.

Community service and spiritual growth provide the foundation for the North Park student experience. The school’s CRUX program seeks to help students find a vocation through urban outreach, faith, and community.

The school’s Johnson Center provides a high-tech center for students, classrooms, laboratories, and conference rooms to serve the campus and the community.

Northeastern Illinois University 

Northeastern Illinois University
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Northeastern spans Chicago, with a main campus on the Northwest side and satellite campuses in several neighborhoods. Top majors include computer science, psychology, social work, accounting, biology, and media studies.

Some key features of Northeastern: it’s one of the top schools nationally for graduating students college-debt-free, it’s a federally-designated Hispanic-Serving institution, and its diversity has been recognized by multiple evaluating boards. 

Northeastern Illinois University demonstrates a commitment to making quality degree programs available to students of all economic and social backgrounds.

Motivated students can take advantage of the resources in the school’s honors program, including smaller classes, scholarships, additional advisory support, and a community of similarly-focused cohorts. 

An array of study abroad options, from faculty-led short excursions to a full academic year placement, offer Northeastern students the chance to experience another culture fully.

Northeastern’s commitment to global understanding and the power of education shines brightest in its current Afghan Transition Program, available to Afghan refugees seeking asylum in the United States. The school plans to offer interested Afghan immigrants ESL assistance, tuition, and housing if needed.

National Louis University

With campuses in Florida and Chicago, National Louis University offers career-driven degree and certificate programs in a wide range of professional fields. 

Management and business programs, teaching and coaching paths, career-specific health care training, culinary training: National Louis provides practical, directed study options for people ready to move into their career roles as soon as possible.

To that end, National Louis partners with industry to give students a direct path to employment. Internships, campus employment events, online resources, and direct access to leaders in their chosen field allow students to realize their employment goals while completing their studies. 

Multiple locations and schedule flexibility make National Louis a good option for students already pursuing a career.

The application process at National Louis takes life experience into account, often offering credit. 

Its history of working with underserved populations, whether nontraditional learners, immigrant, or financially unable to afford college, dates back to its association with the legendary reformer Jane Addams, when the school offered educational opportunities to the populations served by Hull House.

Its National College of Education provides educators with specific professional development training, conducting research and determining the best approaches for education at all levels. 

The P.A.C.E. program allows students with developmental disabilities to pursue post-secondary education for life skills and employment readiness.

National Louis earns acclaim for Kendall College, its culinary and baking arts program. On-site professional facilities and hands-on training ready Kendall students for advanced culinary careers. 

For practical skills taught in a targeted academic context, National Louis serves its students efficiently and affordably.

Roosevelt University

With a commitment to social justice and inclusion, Roosevelt University focuses on equity, recruiting underserved populations, extending programs to students with disabilities, and reaching out to first-generation college students. 

Roosevelt’s diversity benefits the entire campus, offering the entire student body a range of experience and understanding in their academic community.

Roosevelt leverages its downtown Chicago location to offer students internship and experiential learning opportunities. A student body under 5,000 and an 11:1 student-faculty ratio gives Roosevelt students the chance to form bonds with their peers and with faculty.

Service-learning anchors the Roosevelt program, with 36 courses involving a service component. Hands-on, career-focused degree programs offered through Robert Morris Experiential College give students a chance to begin working in their fields while studying, in programs from cyber security to film studies.

Roosevelt ranks highly for diversity and for its music and performing arts programs. Roosevelt students overwhelmingly agree that faculty demonstrate commitment to teaching, and most agree that they’ve been able to get the coursework they need for their program.

Illinois Institute of Technology

Illinois Institute of Technology
Joe Ravi, IIT Main Building, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago’s only tech-focused university, offers degrees in engineering, the sciences, architecture and design, business, and law. 

The school articulates its central mission as socio-economic mobility, and as the number 1 school in Illinois moving families from the bottom 20% of income to the top 20%, Illinois Tech fulfills that mission.

Forbes recognizes Illinois Tech as a top STEM college, and U.S. News ranks it highly for value, at #42 nationally. Students can expect immediate benefits from an IIT education; 84% of graduates find employment or enroll in a graduate program within six months of receiving a diploma.

IIT’s experiential, learn-by-doing approach, along with extensive career counseling and support, helps students find internships that will lead to career placement. The school’s Kaplan Institute serves as a working space for student entrepreneurial projects, allowing them to start their own business or research projects while pursuing their degrees.

Research institutes in biomedical science, sustainable energy, food safety, and other areas give students the opportunity to participate in high-level research. Exceptionally motivated students can take advantage of the school’s accelerated Master’s program, completing their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the time it takes many students to finish an undergraduate program.

DePaul University

DePaul University
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

DePaul offers students the best of both worlds in terms of location: with one campus adjacent to Lake Michigan in a park setting and another in Chicago’s lively downtown Loop, students can vary their experiences.

A private, Catholic institution, DePaul’s name derives from St. Vincent De Paul, and the university was founded on De Paul’s mission toward underserved populations. Among DePaul Universities students today, about a third are the first in their families to attend college.

High-ranking programs run throughout the school’s many departments; top 25 programs in business, entrepreneurship, film, drama, PR, and other communication programs stand out. Game design and animation programs earn especially high praise, both at undergraduate and graduate levels

DePaul’s Theater program is the oldest theater conservatory in the Midwest.

DePaul’s renown for innovative adult education programs shows in its continuing and professional education department, formerly the School for New Learning, a flexible program designed for adults returning to complete undergraduate or graduate degrees in order to enhance their career opportunities.

The Blue Demons enjoy a versatile program and campus, a rich Division I sports legacy, impressive career success rates, and many service opportunities for students and staff.

Loyola University Chicago

Loyola University Chicago
Amerique, Cudahy Science Hall, CC BY 3.0

Loyola University is a large, private, Jesuit institution with its central campus in downtown Chicago. While Loyola students can be of any religious background, most students take part in the Jesuit mission of knowledge, ethics, and service to humanity.

Nursing, biological sciences, business, psychology, and criminal justice are among the most popular majors, and each of these programs is ranked in roughly the top 10% of their fields nationally.

Loyola has a campus in Rome, but offers study abroad opportunities around the world, enthusiastically supporting student participation and providing a host of scholarships to make the study abroad experience available to any student.

The unique J-Term at Loyola gives students a way to get mandatory coursework completed in a condensed time frame or provides a chance for students to take a course outside their primary areas of interest. These ten-day intensive classes take place during winter break (the J stands for January); for two weeks, students can immerse themselves in topics from cell biology to Polish short stories.

Most Loyola students participate in a considerable amount of public and community service. Members of the organization Loyola 4 Chicago commit to once a week volunteer service throughout the academic year, tutoring at Chicago schools or working with Big Brothers, Big Sisters.

Division I sports, several hundred campus organizations, events including arts workshops, theatrical presentations, seasonal festivals, and spiritual retreats: the Rambler campus maintains its mission with a balance of academic rigor, public service, and self-care.

University of Illinois, Chicago

University of Illinois Chicago
Hied5, UIC East Campus old building new look, CC BY-SA 3.0

A public research university in downtown Chicago, the University of Illinois Chicago is made up of sixteen colleges and schools. 

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences covers a broad spectrum of coursework; more specialized colleges offering degree programs include many public service areas like urban planning, public health, nursing, education, and pharmacy.

UIC students can participate in research in one of the many research centers and institutes on campus, including ones for environmental science, cyberinfrastructure, and health research and policy. Over 40 designated Illinois Board of Higher Education Official Centers for research in topics from literacy to magnetic resonance are housed on campus.

For motivated students interested in being part of a smaller, rigorous academic community, the Honors College opens the door to special lectures, seminars, and coursework, along with designated facilities and Honors-only organizations. Additional scholarships are available for Honors students.

Social and economic equity emerge as priorities throughout UIC’s mission and organization. Around 78% of students receive financial aid of some kind, and the campus offers extensive academic and career counseling for its students, many of whom represent the first generation of their families to attend college.

UIC’s Guaranteed Professional Program Admission allows students who know they want to attend a postgraduate program to secure admission as freshmen, leaving them free to pursue a variety of coursework as undergraduates.

Northwestern University

Northwestern University
Amerique, Student Union & University Library, Northwestern, CC BY 3.0

Northwestern University stands as one of the few institutions with global renown in multiple divisions of academic study. 

Its law, music, and medical schools date back to the nineteenth century. It’s a longstanding leader in research whose research funding has increased 127% in the last decade. It’s both established and innovative, rooted in tradition but always moving forward.

Northwestern students accept the greater challenges offered by a school with rich academic choices and research opportunities. More than two-thirds of undergraduates combine at least two areas of study, and about half participate in study abroad programs.

Acceptance rates run at around 7%, but accepted students enjoy a 6:1 student-faculty ratio. The Northwestern faculty includes Nobel and Pulitzer winners, MacArthur Genius Grant awardees, winners of Tony, Emmy, and Grammy awards.

U.S. News ranks Northwestern at #9 among all universities nationwide. Popular activities on campus include a champion speech and debate team, multiple student-run periodicals, and student-run-theater and film companies. The only private school in the Big 10 conference, the Wildcats have a high rate of successful graduation for student-athletes.

Alumni include heads of state, Supreme Court justices, and leaders in media, science, and engineering. The president and COO of SpaceX and the director of the Smithsonian, the Duchess of Sussex and the prime minister of Belgium, and both Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert are all Northwestern graduates.

University of Chicago

University of Chicago
Ndshankar, University of Chicago main quadrangles, CC BY-SA 4.0

Looking at the University of Chicago’s application for admission reveals its status as a different kind of institution from the beginning. Elite without elitism, rooted in history but always questioning assumptions, the University of Chicago shapes American thought in its classrooms, research facilities, and in conversations across its campus.

While the student body of the University of Chicago includes some of the brightest students in the world, the institution makes clear it’s looking for critical thinkers and intellectual risk-takers. 

In the application process, candidates respond to essay topics like “what’s so easy about pie?” or “describe a picture, and explore what it wants.” Some of the essay topics come from Chicago alumni; these essays serve to reveal as much about the school and its approach as they do about the candidates responding to them.

Bound together by intellectual curiosity and a commitment to knowledge, the student body at Chicago forges strong traditions and lifelong associations. Classes run on the quarter system, and first-year students live in housing communities with specific support structures, including upperclassmen in residence to give advice.

Each student works directly with a faculty advisor as a guide through the rigorous Chicago academic terrain, from the compulsory Core curriculum through choosing among 50 majors and 40 minors. Given the university’s global role as a research leader in numerous fields, students can be involved in hands-on research within their disciplines from their freshman year.

Over 160 research centers, from the Fermilab to the Becker Freidman Institute for Research in Economics, draw the most innovative minds from around the world to teach and work at the university. The faculty boasts 94 Nobel laureates, and its stated principles of free expression have been adopted by universities around the world. No other school resembles it.

The University of Chicago ranks at number 9 in the top ten universities worldwide, one of five U.S. schools to make the 2021 list. This university community of iconoclasts and visionaries will continue to ask and answer the impossible questions.