Students pursing a higher education in Illinois can choose from a number of both private and public institutions for their chosen degree programs. These may offer two-year, four-year or graduate degrees either on-campus or as online programs.
Illinois State University, with its campus in Normal, had the honor of being founded as the first public university in the state. However, the University of Illinois System is the state's largest network of higher education institutions. The system includes distinct universities at Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield plus regional campuses in Rockford, Peoria and Quad Cities.
For students interested in starting with vocational training or a two-year degree, the Illinois Community College System includes 48 colleges covering 39 districts. We ranked the top community colleges in Illinois, as well. Students completing an A.A. or A.S. degree at one of these institutions can transfer their credits to the more than 100 schools that participate in the Illinois Articulation Initiative. There are also specialized transfer degree programs available in the areas of engineering science, fine arts and teaching.
Read on to find out about how we analyzed data to find the best Illinois colleges, plus find out about Illinois financial aid resources, top industries and careers in the Illinois and more. Learn how traditional or online programs can benefit your educational goals and how you can enroll in an Illinois campus-based or online program. The schools on this list may not be fully online colleges but students of all types are likely to find helpful options.
Best 4-Year Colleges in Illinois
While community colleges specialize in two-year degrees and technical education, you'll need to go to a four-year school to earn a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree. The best Illinois colleges for these degrees include the following mix of accredited private and public institutions which ranked high on metrics such as affordability, accessibility and program prominence.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign not only has excellent on-campus programs but is also one of the best online colleges for Illinois. The university offers a significant number of distance education programs through its Illinois Online division, which is a good sign for those in favor of taking online courses or enrolling in online degree programs.
Founded in 1867, the flagship campus of the University of Illinois System is one of the original 37 land-grant institutions created as a result of legislation signed by President Abraham Lincoln. It can boast of numerous Nobel Laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners among its alumni and faculty.
The 15 colleges and schools within the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign enroll more than 47,000 students at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Meanwhile, its online offerings lean heavily toward graduate degrees and certificate programs.
Illinois State University is a popular institution for future teachers, with elementary education and teaching being among its most sought after degrees. However, its strong graduation rate and wide range of services make it an appealing option for students studying other fields as well.
There are six colleges and dozens of degree programs within Illinois State University. The vast majority of classes are taught by professors rather than graduate or teaching assistants. Plus, nearly all those professors hold the highest degree possible in their field.
Advisors at ISU are specially trained to work with first year students and help them navigate college life. The university points with pride to its retention rate of more than 80 percent which it says is among the highest in the country.
Founded under the direction of the Chicago Catholic Archdiocese and named for Chicago philanthropist Frank Lewis, this accredited school can trace its roots back to 1932. Lewis University has transformed from humble beginnings to become one of the best schools in Illinois.
Lewis offers more than 110 undergraduate and graduate degree programs through its five colleges and schools. There are more than 100 clubs and organizations available to students, and its more than 20 athletic teams participate in the NCAA Division II. Nearly all students receive financial aid to make the university more accessible and affordable.
While Lewis University is sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, a Catholic teaching order, it welcomes students of all faith traditions for degrees from bachelor's to doctoral degrees to online degrees. Its main campus is in Romeoville.
Northwestern University is another of the top universities in Illinois. The school was envisioned by its founders in 1850 and opened its doors in 1855 on a campus near Evanston. Today, Northwestern continues to operate in Evanston and has added campuses in Chicago and Doha, Qatar.
The thousands of full-time faculty at Northwestern University are part of what sets the school apart from other Illinois colleges. Among their ranks are Tony Award winners, Guggenheim Fellows and other others who have been recognized as being at the top of their field.
Not only is Northwestern University one of the best schools in Illinois, but it is nationally recognized as well. In particular, it is known for its research, and more than $675 million in sponsored research is conducted annually at Northwestern. Degree programs, whether online programs or not, range from liberal arts to the sciences to business administration.
The University of St. Francis describes itself as a "university with a mission." That mission is to create a community of learners where students will be prepared to continuously strive for excellence while contributing to the world.
When it was founded in 1920, the University of St. Francis was intended to teach members of the Congregation of the Third Order of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate. Since then, it has expanded to become a comprehensive, coeducational institution open to all. However, it continues to embrace Franciscan values and its Catholic heritage.
USF enrolls more than 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students in its four academic colleges. Dozens of scholarships are available to make tuition more affordable for those enrolled. The University of St. Francis has its campus in Joliet.
Situated in the heart of Chicago, DePaul University promises its students an urban experience with global perspective. It is a leading Catholic institution as well as one of the best Illinois schools.
With more than 300 undergraduate majors and graduate programs, DePaul University offers something for just about everyone. Its location makes it ideal for those wanting to gain real-world experience alongside their classroom studies, and thousands of internship opportunities are located nearby. Students also benefit from small class sizes and a diverse campus, as well as online courses or online programs.
DePaul University was founded by members of Congregation of the Mission, also known as Vincentians, in 1875. As it has grown, the accredited university has continued in the tradition of its Catholic founders and their patron St. Vincent DePaul.
For the technologically-minded student, the Illinois Institute of Technology may be the right fit. Among the top schools in Illinois, perhaps none is as focused on a technology-infused education as Illinois Tech.
The Chicago school's history runs back to 1893 when the Armour Institute opened. That school focused on the fields of chemistry, engineering, architecture and library science. In 1940, it merged with Lewis Institute to create the current Illinois Institute of Technology. It now enrolls approximately 7,500 students in its 11 colleges and institutes and offers online courses.
Illinois Tech has strong retention rates for freshman and placement rates for graduates. As a Chicago-based school, the Illinois Institute of Technology has long-standing partnerships with two-year city colleges that allow students to seamlessly move from an associate degree to a bachelor's degree program.
As a mid-sized school in Peoria, Bradley University offers a more personalized experience than what may be found at larger institutions.
Bradley University is unique in that it wasn't formed by a government mandate, religious order or businessman. Instead, it was established in 1897 thanks to the determination of Lydia Moss Bradley, who wanted to create a memorial for her six children who had died. Her dream of a school where students could learn how to do practical things sparked an institution that is now one of the best colleges in Illinois, for degrees from bachelor level to doctoral.
Although its curriculum and programs have changed, the accredited college continues to focus on providing a practical education. The top-ranked private university offers nearly 200 undergraduate and graduate degrees in diverse fields, from computer science to business administration.
Located just outside Chicago, Elmhurst College has a mission to create passionate students who are engaged with the world. Those enrolled appear to have embraced that mission with 2,000 service projects completed by students each year.
Elmhurst College was founded in 1871 and offers traditional undergraduate and graduate programs as well as evening and online programs geared for adults. Its tree-lined campus houses not only its academic programs but also hosts the activities for many of its 100 student clubs, teams and organizations.
As a Christian institution, Elmhurst was founded by the German Evangelical Synod of the Northwest. Today, it is affiliated with that group's successor: the United Church of Christ. People of all faiths are welcome to enroll, however.
Affordable tuition, ample student support services and popular degree programs all help The University of Illinois at Chicago land of the list of top universities in Illinois. It also Chicago's only public research institution.
UIC values diversity in both its student population and academic offerings. There are 15 colleges within the university that offer a range of degree programs. What's more, there are a number of online degrees and certificates to be earned, making this school a worthy choice for those interested in online degrees in Illinois.
Although officially formed in 1982, The University of Illinois at Chicago was created by merging schools that had roots dating back to 1859. While its primary location is Chicago, UIC also has five regional campuses for medicine, nursing and pharmacy students.
Most Popular Degree Programs in Illinois
While the best online colleges in Illinois offer a number of degree programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, a few fields of study stand out. Here's a look at some of the most popular degree programs in the state, some of which you may find may be offered as online degree programs.
In-Demand Careers in Illinois
Selecting the right online program or degree program may be easier if students know which jobs will be most likely to be hiring when they graduate. While there are no guarantees, the following chart looks at some of the careers expected to be in-demand in Illinois in the coming years.
|Career Title||Projected Job Growth||Total Employment||Annual Salary|
|Software Developers, Applications||28.4%||30,500||$96,610|
|Occupational Therapy Aides||28.3%||2,550||$28,820|
|Operations Research Analysts||28%||5,100||$96,630|
|Orthotists and Prosthetists||26.9%||530||$81,090|
|Home Health Aides||24.7%||33,990||$25,370|
|Hearing Aid Specialists||23%||250||$45,450|
|Information Security Analysts||22.9%||3,780||$98,640|
|Combined Food Preparation and Serving Workers, Including Fast Food||22.2%||144,260||$22,240|
|Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists||22.1%||30,150||$61,670|
|Occupational Therapy Assistants||20.6%||2,200||$60,200|
|Computer and Information Research Scientists||20.5%||500||$113,350|
|Medical Appliance Technicians||20.2%||570||$51,390|
|Personal Care Aides||20%||50,970||$24,600|
|Physical Therapist Assistants||19.9%||4,470||$58,060|
|Veterinary Technologists and Technicians||19.7%||3,810||$36,750|
|Ambulance Drivers and Attendants, Except Emergency Medical Technicians||19.3%||620||$24,650|
|Nonfarm Animal Caretakers||18.8%||8,380||$24,550|
|Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers||18.6%||2,470||$28,060|
|Physical Therapist Aides||18%||1,210||$31,100|
Financial Aid and Scholarships in Illinois
Whether looking to study computer science or history or the numerous options for traditional and online programs, students earning on-campus or online degrees in Illinois typically have access to a number of state-administered financial aid programs.
MAX. AWARD AMOUNT
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- University of Illinois System
- Illinois Community College System Foundation
- Illinois Community College Board
- Illinois Board of Higher Education
- Illinois Student Assistance Commission
To get our list of the best colleges, we ranked 1,383 4-year colleges and universities in the U.S. Each school was scored on a 100-point scale, using the following data points and the weights specified. In order to be included in the ranking, schools had to report data for each of the following data points:
- The in-state tuition and fees for full-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- The average amount of institutional grant aid awarded to full-time, first-time undergraduate students as a percentage of in-state tuition and fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of full-time first-time undergraduates awarded any financial aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Median debt of graduates, College Scorecard, 2015-16
- 3-year student loan repayment rate of graduates, College Scorecard, 2015-16
- No. of degree and certificate programs offered on campus, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- No. of degree and certificate programs offered via distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of students enrolled in any distance education classes, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2016
- Full-time student retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2016
- Graduation rate within six years, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2013-14
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Dual credit
- Credit for life experience
- Advanced Placement credit
- Programs of study that can be completed entirely on weekends or in the evening
- Remedial services
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
- Guaranteed tuition plan
- Tuition payment plan
- Any other alternative tuition plan
Note:Tuition prices are based on data for the 2016-17 academic year reported to the National Center for Education Statistics. The actual cost of tuition may vary.
All of the National Center for Education Statistics data came from IPEDS:
Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2015-16, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- About, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Accessed March 2018, http://illinois.edu/about/index.html
- Academics, Illinois State University, Accessed March 2018, https://illinoisstate.edu/academics/
- Lewis at a Glance, Lewis University, Accessed March 2018, https://www.lewisu.edu/welcome/facts.htm#
- Northwestern, at a Glance, Northwestern University, Accessed March 2018, http://www.northwestern.edu/about/facts.html
- USF Facts and Figures, University of St. Francis, Accessed March 2018, https://www.stfrancis.edu/about/usf-facts-figures/
- Mission and History, University of St. Francis, Accessed March 2018, https://www.stfrancis.edu/about/mission-history/
- History & Timeline, DePaul University, Accessed March 2018, https://www.depaul.edu/about/history-and-timeline/Pages/default.aspx
- About, DePaul University, Accessed March 2018, https://www.depaul.edu/about/Pages/default.aspx
- Quick Facts, Illinois Institute of Technology, Accessed March 2018, https://web.iit.edu/about/quick-facts
- Bradley University, Accessed March 2018, https://www.bradley.edu/
- About, Bradley University, Accessed March 2018, https://www.bradley.edu/about/
- Our United Church of Christ Identity, Elmhurst College, Accessed March 2018, https://www.elmhurst.edu/about/united-church-christ/
- About Elmhurst College, Elmhurst College, Accessed March 2018, https://www.elmhurst.edu/about/
- About, The University of Illinois at Chicago, Accessed March 2018, https://www.uic.edu/about
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2016-17, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- Illinois and Federal Financial Aid Programs, Illinois Student Assistance Commission, Accessed March 2017, https://www.isac.org/students/during-college/types-of-financial-aid/illinois-and-federal-financial-aid-programs.html
- Scholarship directory data is copyrighted material which is reproduced on this website by permission of Wintergreen Orchard House, a division of Carnegie Communications. Copyright © 2017-18 by Wintergreen Orchard House. All rights reserved.