Updated December 6, 2022

There are many colleges and universities in Illinois. Discover the best value colleges and universities in Illinois today! is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

Click here for high resolution badge.

By Iris Stone

Illinois is a unique state for many reasons. Residents of "The Prairie State" enjoy an ideal blend of rural Midwestern calm and urban city buzz, and Chicago stands out as a metropolitan beacon in a state that is known for its agricultural productivity. When it comes to college, this means that students who choose to attend school in Illinois will never be far from whatever activity they could desire, whether it's an internship in the capital city of Springfield, a music venue in downtown Chicago, or a relaxing camping trip in the woods. This also means that academic options for students are about as diverse as they come - Illinois is home to numerous metropolitan campuses in Chicago, several reputable state schools, and top-ranked national programs like Northwestern and the University of Chicago.

Of course, quality is meaningless if it isn't financially accessible to as many students as possible. That's where our ranking comes in - we take all the indicators that people use to identify "top" institutions, like selectivity, graduation rate, and return-on-investment - and add cost to the mix, revealing a distinct ranking that focuses specifically on "best value" schools. You may also want to check out our ranking of the top affordable online schools in Illinois.

Our Ranking Methodology:

Graduation Rate: This indicator refers to the percentage of students who complete their degree within 150% of normal time (six years for a typical four-year degree program). Schools that perform well in this area have a track record of keeping students engaged and successful for their entire time on campus. We weighted this category 30% of the total and retrieved the information from College Navigator.

Net Price: In order to make sure that cost was still a factor in the ranking, we also considered overall net price as an indicator. Taken from data on College Navigator, "net price" is an approximate value that refers to the average amount of money a student could expect to pay each year after taking into account tuition, room and board, living expenses, scholarship awards, and financial aid packages. We weighted this category 25% of the total.

Acceptance Rate: Academically challenging, popular universities tend to be more selective and thus have a lower acceptance rate. In order to pinpoint those colleges that boast rigorous academics and also receive a large number of applications, we considered acceptance rate - the percentage of students out of the total number of applicants who receive an acceptance letter. We retrieved this information from College Navigator and weighted it 30% of the total.

20-Year Net Return on Investment: Taken from information on the website PayScale, this statistic provides a picture of how much students can expect to make after they graduate from a particular college. More specifically, the figure is calculated by taking the average income an alumnus will make over his or her first 20 years after graduation and subtracting the amount paid in tuition. Schools with a high ROI tend to be better at preparing their students for the job market. We weighted this category only 15% because data was not available for all colleges considered.

After adding all the points, we gave each university a final score out of 200. The schools below have scores ranging from 98 to 164, and each has something different to offer in terms of its cost, quality, and reputation. No one college is perfect (which is why the scores vary so much) but this ranking offers you a premier selection of universities to help get you started on your search for an education in Illinois.

Also check out the full list of best cheap online colleges.

#1 University of Illinois Urbana Champaign Champaign, IL
#2 Northwestern University Evanston, IL
#3 University of Chicago Chicago, IL
#4 Eastern Illinois University Charleston, IL
#5 Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago, IL
#6 Illinois College Jacksonville, IL
#7 University of St. Francis Joliet, IL
#8 University of Illinois Chicago Chicago, IL
#9 Illinois State University Normal, IL
#10 Northern Illinois University Dekalb, IL

Featured Online Programs

Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.

  1. University of Illinois Urbana Champaign

    Champaign, IL



    Of all the campuses associated with the University of Illinois, the Urbana-Champaign location is without a doubt the best of them all. While it's 84% graduation rate and $550,000+ 20-year ROI earn the school plenty of points, it's the school's low net price that really sets it apart. As a public school, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is a no-brainer for in-state students, who can get the quality and value of a top-ranked college for a fraction of the price. And this top, affordable Illinois college only continues to grow; the school now boasts more than 32,000 students, a burgeoning research program, and faculty that include Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners.

  2. Northwestern University

    Evanston, IL



    Northwestern University is well known as a school that regularly appears near the top of U.S. News' ranking lists, and for good reason. It's selective (13% acceptance rate) with a habit of cultivating overachievers (93% graduation rate) who do exceedingly well after graduation (20-year net ROI approaches $475k). Northwestern is also a great choice for students who are looking for a little of everything; it houses Division I, nationally-ranked athletic teams; highly praised academic programs - including the internationally known Medill School of Journalism; and an esteemed alumni network that rivals those of the Ivy League giants.

  3. University of Chicago

    Chicago, IL



    There is plenty for students to get excited about at the University of Chicago, one of America's top colleges and by far one of the best universities in Illinois. Although the school's prime location makes it somewhat expensive to attend, those who have their heart set on the Windy City should give this university a closer look. It's at the top of the field in research, including work in education, medicine, engineering, and the arts. Involvement in Argonne National Laboratory, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and the Marine Biological Laboratory only heighten UC's reputation, while the school's star-studded faculty (including 6 Nobel laureates) draws quite the crowd of applicants. But of course not everyone can attend this superior college, which boasts an acceptance rate of just 9%.

  4. Eastern Illinois University

    Charleston, IL



    Personal relationships and quality academics are the cornerstones of Eastern Illinois University, a small school with a compact campus and a growing reputation. EIU is also more committed to affordability than most, and goes so far as to provide an in-house textbook rental system that saves students hundreds of dollars ever term. Undergraduates can major, minor, and double-major in a wealth of subject areas, and can challenge themselves by tackling Honors College classes or taking their studies abroad. Independent research projects and creative activities give students an additional edge after graduation, and EIU's well-rounded alumni enjoy an average ROI of $231,000 20 years out.

  5. Illinois Institute of Technology

    Chicago, IL



    A private research university which centers STEM topics and entrepreneurship, the Illinois Institute of Technology comprises eight schools and several research institutes and affiliates. It began life as two separate schools, the Armour Institute and the Lewis Institute, which merged in 1940 to become the solution-centered institution it is today. Students interested in progressing to graduate-level research can pursue the school's combined bachelor's-master's degree programs, which open up graduate-level coursework to students in their junior years. Illinois Institute of Technology also has a large international student population, encouraging cross-cultural exchange of ideas.

  6. Illinois College

    Jacksonville, IL



    With just 1,000 students on campus and a low net price, Illinois College is ideal for those who seek both comfort and affordability in their collegiate experience. An 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio and intimate class environments make sure all students get the most out of their courses, whether they're studying Biology, Education, International Studies, or one of ten pre-professional programs (including Law, Pharmacy, Physical Therapy, and Veterinary Medicine). Perhaps most importantly, Illinois College is one of the few schools that has made its National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) scores readily available, and the results are promising; IC seniors rave about their school's ability to help them think critically, communicate effectively, and work well with others.

  7. University of St. Francis

    Joliet, IL



    Like other institutions of higher learning founded in the Franciscan tradition, the University of St. Francis sticks to the ideals of justice, faith, wisdom, and knowledge. The small liberal arts college seeks to nurture each individual in his or her pursuit of higher learning; students are encouraged to participate in as many areas of campus life as possible. On-campus organizations are available for math lovers, comic book fans, drama geeks, budding journalists, future entrepreneurs, and more. There is a similar diversity on the academic side, and the sky is the limit thanks to a breadth of academic options that cover Accounting, Visual Arts, History, and everything in between.

  8. University of Illinois Chicago

    Chicago, IL



    There aren't many downsides to attending a college like the University of Illinois in Chicago. In addition to being one of the largest schools in the state, UIC also claims one of the most vibrant cities in the country as its home base. With 83 bachelor's degree programs, an 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and a net ROI that approaches $400l, the numbers at this top university in Illinois don't lie. The school is also quite ethnically and culturally diverse - an attribute that is well known to enhance students' perspectives and improve their overall collegiate experience. And given that the university is such a research powerhouse, it's no surprise that undergrads are encouraged to participate; young learners have multiple opportunities to partner with their favorite professors and pursue projects of personal significance.

  9. Illinois State University

    Normal, IL



    There are plenty of reasons to claim Illinois State University is one of the best universities in Illinois. Every year more and more students apply to ISU, and it is now welcoming the largest freshman class in its history. And despite this increase in size, the school continues to maintain a graduation rate (72%) that is in the top 10% of colleges across the country. Students stay on track with the help of attentive professors and diligent advisors, who keep on top of ISU attendees as they pursue degrees in Art, Biology, Chemistry, Dance, Education, and Finance; just about every possible program, A to Z

  10. Northern Illinois University

    Dekalb, IL



    Northern Illinois University is full of possibilities, with majors, minors, and extracurricular activities to suit every hobby and life goal. Students can join Greek life and cheer on the Huskies at athletic events (there are more than a dozen sports on campus), participate in an academic or special interest campus organization (there are more than 300) or try their hand at an intramural sport like Badminton or Flag Football. But of course there is always time for academics, and NIU's 50+ degree programs are so successful that the school's 20-year net ROI now exceeds $350,000.

College Navigator
Pay Scale

About the Author:
Iris Stone began her writing career as a freelance writer and researcher. She now owns and operates a writing and editing firm that works with clients all across the country. Her work has included articles related to education policy, colleges and universities, academic programs, and careers.

Get prepared for your next steps

Use articles and resources to uncover answers to common questions, get guidance on your goals, and learn about applying to schools.

Discover a program that is right for you.

Explore different options for you based on your degree interests.