Best Colleges in the Midwest
Considering applying to any of the best colleges in the Midwest? There are many reasons why students might want to study in America’s Heartland. The Midwest refers to a broad swath of states in the center of the US, home to both bustling cities and idyllic towns, along with diverse populations and stunning geography from the Great Lakes to the Great Plains.
In this article on the best colleges in the Midwest, we’ll cover everything you’ve ever wanted to know about many of the colleges in the Midwest, including:
- The top 20 best colleges in the Midwest
- The “Harvard of the Midwest”
- The top Christian colleges in the Midwest
- The best colleges in the Midwest by major
- Top Midwest colleges to specialize, including the best colleges in the Midwest for computer science, the best engineering colleges in the Midwest, and the best journalism school in the Midwest
- And finally, we’ll answer the question, “how do I choose from the best colleges in the Midwest?”
If you’re looking to learn more about the best colleges in the Midwest, we will give you a comprehensive look in this guide. But first, let’s start with the basics: what states are in the Midwest?
What states are in the Midwest?
If you want to attend one of the best colleges in the Midwest, you’ll definitely need to know what states to look at. So, let’s learn a bit more about where you’ll find the best colleges in the Midwest.
If you were looking at a map of the Midwest region, here are the 12 states that you would see:
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
The states on a map of the Midwest region don’t always get as much love as the coastal states when it comes to higher education. However, there are many reasons why you might want to attend one of the best colleges in the Midwest.
The Midwest is home to many incredible cities. From big metropolises like Chicago, Illinois, and Kansas City, MO, to lovely college towns like Ann Arbor, MI, and Iowa City, there is something for every type of student.
Additionally, you would never know how varied the region is simply from looking at a map of the Midwest region. The best colleges in the Midwest also offer some of the grandest natural features in the US. You could meet bison in the Badlands in South Dakota, or even sunbathe on the beaches of the Great Lakes in Michigan (take it from a coastal skeptic—they really do feel like oceans).
The best colleges in the Midwest are spread across the map of the Midwest region, with stellar schools located in Chicago, Missouri, Michigan, and more. We’ll list the best colleges in the Midwest a bit later. But first, just how many colleges are in the Midwest?
How many colleges are in the Midwest?
There are quite a few colleges located in the Midwest. Here’s a list of all the colleges in the Midwest:
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Now that we’ve covered some Midwest basics, like the map of the Midwest region and how many colleges are in certain areas in the Midwest, let’s dive into our main topic: the best colleges in the Midwest.
Read on for a look into the best Midwest colleges. This includes the best private colleges in the Midwest, the best public colleges in the Midwest, the best colleges in the Midwest for computer science, and even the worst colleges in the Midwest.
Top 20 Colleges in the Midwest
Here’s a list of the top 20 colleges in the Midwest. We built this list by looking at the U.S. News national rankings for Midwestern schools.
Top 20 Colleges in the Midwest
1. University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is ranked by U.S. News as #1 of the best colleges in the Midwest. Nationally, the University of Chicago ranking is #6, a quick and recent rise from its former position of #18. This ranking makes it one of the most prestigious universities in the country. Unsurprisingly, UChicago has a low acceptance rate of 6%. One of the best colleges in Chicago, UChicago is also known for its intense academic environment and location in the Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago. If you are lucky enough to attend the institution that produced over 90 Nobel Prize winners, you’ll be doing your homework overlooking Lake Michigan.
2. Northwestern University
A close competitor to UChicago, Northwestern is another top Illinois university that ranks #2 of the best colleges in the Midwest. The Northwestern ranking nationally is #10, tied with Duke, with an acceptance rate of 7%. Northwestern is located in beautiful Evanston, a suburb of Chicago, and it is definitely considered one of the best colleges in Chicago. Northwestern is also one of the best colleges in the Midwest for arts and humanities. From music at the prestigious Bienen school, to a world-renowned journalism program, to one of Playbill’s top 10 most represented universities on Broadway, Northwestern shines in its humanities offerings. Not to be outdone, the school’s STEM fields also thrive: Northwestern is #3 nationally for materials engineering.
3. Washington University
Next up on the list of best colleges in the Midwest is Washington University, or WashU. The Washington University ranking nationally is #15, and its acceptance rate is 13%. If you’ve been coast-bound your whole life, it might surprise you to learn that one of the best colleges in the Midwest is in Missouri—right on the border with Illinois. WashU is located in the thriving city of St. Louis, home to the famous arch, the tallest man-made monument in the U.S. So, if you’re looking for a rigorous education at one of the best colleges in Missouri, WashU might be the place for you.
4. University of Notre Dame
You’ve probably heard of Notre Dame—or at least heard of its football team. This school is #4 of the best colleges in the Midwest. The Notre Dame ranking nationally is #18, and its acceptance rate is 15%. However, its early acceptance rate is nearly 28%, so if UND is your dream school, definitely send that app in early! UND is located in South Bend, Indiana, and features a gothic-styled campus in a classic college town.
5. University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
One of the best colleges in the Midwest is also one of the best public universities in the Midwest, as well as one of the best colleges in Michigan: UMich. UMich is #5 of our best colleges in the Midwest, and, nationally ,the University of Michigan ranking is #25. UMich’s acceptance rate is considered most selective at 20%. Additionally, UMich is the #1 public school in the world and offers over 280 degree programs. In fact, it’s also one of the top 10 best liberal arts colleges for psychology.
6. University of Wisconsin – Madison
As #6 of the best colleges in the Midwest, the University of Wisconsin is another example of one of the best public colleges in the Midwest. It’s also one of the best colleges in Wisconsin! Nationally, the University of Wisconsin ranking is #38, and the school has an acceptance rate of 60%. UW-Madison also boasts the biggest museum collection in the Big 10 and unique research opportunities like the Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility Laboratory. If you’re ready to be a Badger, start your application here.
7. University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign
Alongside Northwestern and UChicago, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is one of the best colleges in Illinois. As #7 of the best colleges in the Midwest, the UIUC ranking nationally is #41. Additionally, the school’s acceptance rate is 60%. Some of the most popular majors at UIUC are Engineering, Business, and Marketing. Along with some other best colleges in the Midwest, Illinois is also part of the Big 10 athletic conference.
8. Case Western Reserve University
Not just one of the best colleges in the Midwest, Case Western takes the #1 spot for best colleges in Ohio (sorry to Ohio State, who’s up next on our list of best colleges in the Midwest). The Case Western ranking is #41 nationally, and its acceptance rate is 30%—more selective than some of the public universities we’ve just covered. Additionally, if you want to take part in experiential learning like internships, co-ops, or research, Case might be the place for you—in fact, 99% of undergrads pursue these kinds of activities. What’s more, you’d be able to take advantage of the Cleveland area: Great Lake access, and nationally-recognized livability.
9. The Ohio State University
As #9 of the best colleges in the Midwest is Ohio State. Ohio State is located in Columbia, OH—one of the top 5 best cities in the U.S. for new college grads. Nationally, the Ohio State ranking is #49, and the acceptance rate is 57%. Moreover, Ohio State offers a “rich landscape” of majors, with 200+ majors and over 500 specializations. So, at Ohio State, students will find a learning environment befitting one of the best colleges in the Midwest.
10. Purdue University – West Lafayette
If you want to attend one of the best colleges in Indiana, look to Purdue. Purdue is ranked #51 nationally and accepts 69% of applicants. One of the best colleges in the Midwest, Purdue is also part of the Big 10. Purdue’s tuition is unique: since 2013, it has frozen tuition at the 2012 cost, avoiding the increases in tuition that we see commonly in schools across the U.S. So, if you’re worried about how to pay for college, Purdue’s tuition policies could give you access to a great education at a relatively lower cost. For more help crafting the best possible Purdue application, check out this article.
11. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
As #11 of the best colleges in the Midwest, the University of Minnesota is also one of the best colleges in Minnesota. Ranked #62 nationally and with an acceptance rate of 73%, the University of Minnesota is a large college with over 30,000 students. U of M is also one of the only Big 10 schools within walking distance of a major city: Minneapolis.
12. Indiana University – Bloomington
Another of the best colleges in Indiana, Indiana University of Bloomington is #12 on our best colleges in the Midwest list. Ranked #72 in national universities, IU has an 85% acceptance rate. Many of the best colleges in the Midwest boast beautiful college settings, but Bloomington has been ranked the #2 best college town in America.
13. Michigan State University
Michigan State is another of the best colleges in Michigan and is #13 on our list of best colleges in the Midwest. US News ranks Michigan state #77, and the school’s acceptance rate is 83%. Michigan State offers the second-best graduate program in nuclear physics, is a top 40 public university, and is also part of the Big 10.
14. Marquette University
Located in the heart of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, #14 on our best colleges in the Midwest list is Marquette University. Marquette is a Catholic, Jesuit University and is also one of the best colleges in Wisconsin. Ranked #83 nationally with an acceptance rate of 86%, Marquette would be a great option for a student looking to attend one of the top Christian colleges in the Midwest.
15. University of Iowa
If you want to attend a Big 10 school in Iowa, look into the University of Iowa! As a Hawkeye, you’d be attending one of the best colleges in the Midwest as well as one of the top 100 schools nationally (tied for #83 with Marquette!). Iowa has one of the best writing programs nationwide, both for graduates and undergraduates. So, you can embrace your inner Hannah Horvath at Iowa.
16. University of Illinois – Chicago
Another stellar Chicago school, the University of Illinois – Chicago gets the #16 spot on our best schools in the Midwest list. Illinois Chicago is ranked #97 nationally, just sliding into the top 100 schools nationwide. Most students also live off-campus, taking advantage of the exciting urban setting, and Greek Life is nearly nonexistent.
17. Miami University Oxford
Don’t let the name fool you: Miami University is located in Ohio, not Florida, and is one of the best colleges in the Midwest. As one of the best colleges in Ohio, at Miami, you can get a wide-ranging education, choosing from over 100 majors. Additionally, Miami’s small student body is made up of about 2,000 students, and the campus is located in rural Oxford, Ohio.
18. Saint Louis University
Located in Saint Louis, MO, SLU is one of the best colleges in Missouri and is ranked #18 on our list of the best colleges in the Midwest. Another of the best Christian colleges in the Midwest, SLU identifies as a Jesuit university. SLU is also one of only 14 Catholic universities with a high or very high research activity classification from the Carnegie Foundation.
19. Loyola University Chicago
Chicago is home to many wonderful academic options and #19 on our list of best colleges in the Midwest. Like SLU, Loyola is a Jesuit university—the only catholic university in Chicago. Loyola also offers many study abroad options, including the John Felice Rome Center, the oldest continually operated American university program in Italy.
20. University of Kansas
The final college on our list of best Midwest colleges is the University of Kansas. KU is Kansas’ premiere university—but don’t tell K State that. Lawrence, Kansas, a bustling college town, began as an “abolitionist haven.” KU is also the 56th-best public school in the U.S. and offers a diverse, exciting college experience.
What is the best college in the Midwest?
Now that we’ve gone over the top 20 best Midwest colleges, let’s review: what’s the best college in the Midwest?
According to U.S. News, The University of Chicago ranking is #6 nationally. This makes it the best college in the Midwest.
UChicago is a mid-size university with 7,000 undergraduates and an additional 10,000 graduate students who take part in UChicago’s renowned law, business, and medical programs. The University of Chicago is a rigorous, research-focused university. It is also home to students from more than 100 countries worldwide. Of the best colleges in the Midwest, UChicago differentiates itself due to its rigorous research opportunities and focus on academic excellence.
Contrary to some of the other best Midwest colleges, UChicago positions itself not only as intellectually rigorous but as, well, quirky: UChicago is known for its specialized supplemental essay prompts, and UChicago students take pride in their school’s emphasis on intellectuality over prestige.
What college is considered the Harvard of the Midwest?
The best Midwest colleges cover a wide range of experiences; moreover, every college in the Midwest is different. However, if we had to pick one, as #1 of the top colleges in the Midwest, UChicago likely claims the title of “Harvard of the Midwest.”
UChicago and Harvard have many similarities: Both place the utmost value on academic rigor and intellectual pursuit and feature some form of a core curriculum. Harvard’s requirements allow for more flexibility than UChicago’s, but UChicago is known for the strength of its Core. Both schools are located in a city and feature stunning buildings crafted by celebrated architects.
Best Public Universities in the Midwest
Now that we’ve gone over the best Midwest universities, let’s focus on some specific types of universities. Here’s a list of the best public colleges in the Midwest.
- University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
- University of Wisconsin – Madison
- University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign
- The Ohio State University
- Purdue University
Since we’ve already covered all of these universities above in our list of best Midwest colleges, we won’t repeat too many of the details above. But if you’re wondering why you’d want to attend one of the best public universities in the Midwest, we’ll help break it down.
Public universities can be much cheaper than private colleges, especially if you’re an in-state student. Also, the University of Michigan ranking is very competitive. So, if you’re a Michigan native, you can attend one of the best Midwest colleges for a relatively low price.
Similarly, the UIUC ranking is in the top 50 nationwide, and the Ohio State ranking is also competitive. So, these schools can be great options for students from Illinois and Ohio.
Public universities are also often larger, with more focus on athletics and Greek Life and a more lively campus experience. If your dream Saturday features a tailgate, check out these public best Midwest colleges.
Top Private Colleges in the Midwest
If you’re set on attending one of the top private colleges in the Midwest, look no further. Here’s a list of the top private colleges in the Midwest—and they should all look a little familiar!
- Washington University
- University of Notre Dame
- Case Western Reserve University
If you want to attend one of the best Midwest colleges, these private schools are likely gracing your list, with UChicago, Northwestern, and Washington University ranking at the top. Keep in mind that when building a college list, you shouldn’t just look for one type of college. Both private and public colleges have many benefits, and what matters is that a college is the best fit for you. Also, just because the best colleges in the Midwest are mostly private colleges doesn’t mean that private colleges are universally better than public ones. In fact, in some states, like California, some of the best colleges are public.
When people think of the top private colleges in the Midwest, many look for the quintessential liberal arts experience: small to mid-size college, campus-centric student life, and a wide range of academics. These schools also tend to focus on developing each student as an intellectual rather than pre-professional development.
Some of the top liberal arts colleges in the Midwest include Carleton College, Grinnel, and Kenyon. The Carleton college ranking is #6, Grinnel is #15, and Kenyon is #31. The Carleton college ranking puts it at the top of our list of top liberal arts colleges in the Midwest, and it’s also one of the best liberal arts colleges nationwide.
Top Christian Colleges in the Midwest
If you want to attend one of the best Midwest colleges and still keep the Christian faith at the center of your college experience, look no further than these schools. We’ve gathered some of the top Christian colleges in the Midwest below. Note that these aren’t ranked in any particular order—this is just a selection of some of the best Midwest colleges with Christian roots and culture.
Top Midwest Christian Colleges
1. Bethel University
One of the top Christian colleges in the Midwest, Bethel is one of the best colleges in Minnesota for students looking to focus on their faith. Bethel boasts a “beautiful lakeside campus” in St. Paul as well as strong financial aid offerings. Apply to join Bethel’s “Christ-guided community” here.
2. Indiana Wesleyan University
With 11 education centers throughout Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky– as well as online and hybrid degree programs, Indiana Wesleyan University next on our list of Christian colleges. So, you can attend one of the best Midwest colleges with a Christian focus from the comfort of your own home.
3. Trinity Christian College
Trinity is located in the Chicago metro area, colloquially called “Chicagoland,” and all freshmen partake in service programs in the local neighborhoods. Additionally, 100% of Trinity students participate in an internship or field education, gaining career experience as early as possible.
4. Trinity International University
Not to be confused with Trinity Christian College, Trinity International has four different schools. Located in Deerfield, Illinois, Trinity International’s mission is “to educate men and women to engage in God’s redemptive work in the world.” Additionally, if you apply to Trinity International, you’ll receive a decision within 1 week of submitting your application. So, this school can be a great option for students looking for a Christian college to balance their lists.
5. Taylor University
Taylor University is located in Upland, Indiana, and is home to around 2,000 undergraduates. Additionally, 83% of full-time faculty have earned the highest degree in their field, and 100% of their faculty report a meaningful relationship with God.
Remember, the best Midwest colleges also feature some Catholic Jesuit universities like SLU, Loyola, and Marquette. These universities also have a faith-based background and are included amongst some of the top Christian colleges in the Midwest.
Top Colleges in the Midwest – By Major
The best Midwest colleges can vary based on what major you’d like to pursue. You don’t need to be positive about your major when you apply to college, but it’s best to have some idea of what you would like to study. That way, you can tailor your applications to the best Midwest colleges for the disciplines you’re interested in.
In each of our next sections, we’ll give you a list of colleges in the Midwest that have the best departments for different majors: the best colleges in the Midwest for computer science, the best engineering colleges in the Midwest, and one of the top colleges in the Midwest for journalism.
Best Colleges in Midwest for Computer Science
Here’s a list of colleges in the Midwest that have the best computer science programs. Since there are no official undergraduate rankings, we’ve developed this list from the U.S. News data on CS graduate programs. Though graduate and undergraduate programs aren’t the same, graduate rankings will give you a good idea of the research being conducted at the school. They can also give you a sense of the expertise of the professors.
Best Midwest Colleges for Computer Science
1. University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign
One of the top colleges in the Midwest, the UIUC CS program is ranked the #5 undergraduate program nationwide. They also have 20+ degree options within computer science, and $33M+ in research funds.
2. University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
UMich is another of the large public research institutions on the list of top colleges in the Midwest. Its computer science program is one of the “oldest and most respected programs in computation in the world.” You could get an undergraduate degree in areas like computer engineering, data science, and computer science.
3. University of Wisconsin – Madison
According to their website, the University of Wisconsin ranking has recently risen to #12 for computer science. UW-Madison is one of the top colleges in the Midwest for computer science. The undergraduate department offers classes in artificial intelligence, computer architecture, and computational biology.
4. Purdue University
The Purdue CS department was founded in 1962 and has been advancing the industry through research ever since. As an undergraduate, you can look forward to majors at the forefront of CS development, like artificial intelligence.
5. Ohio State University
As one of the top colleges in the Midwest for computer science, Ohio State has a lot to offer. At Ohio State, undergraduates are encouraged to pursue exciting research opportunities.
Now that we’ve looked at some of the best colleges in the Midwest for computer science, let’s go over some of the best engineering colleges in the Midwest.
Best Engineering Colleges in the Midwest
There’s a lot of overlap between the best engineering colleges in the Midwest and the top Midwest schools for computer science–some of the programs even fall under the same umbrella, located in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.
Best Midwest Engineering Colleges
From U.S. News, a list of some of the best engineering colleges in the Midwest for undergraduates:
- University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
- University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign
- Purdue University
- University of Wisconsin – Madison
- Northwestern University
The only new player on the list, Northwestern features the McCormick School of Engineering. McCormick features many different areas of study and degree options. One of the best engineering colleges in the Midwest, Northwestern also features the unique Engineering First curriculum, which provides first-year students with engineering experiences as soon as they step on campus.
If you’re more interested in communications, read on to learn about one of the top colleges in the Midwest for journalism.
Best Journalism School in the Midwest
Northwestern is generally considered to be one of the best undergraduate, and graduate, journalism schools in the country.
Northwestern is home to the Medill School of Journalism and offers the only undergraduate journalism degree at a top 10 school. The Northwestern ranking is #10 nationally, and no other comparably prestigious university offers an undergraduate journalism degree.
At Northwestern, you can get hands-on reporting experience and learn from industry experts as well as seasoned professors. You can build a portfolio of work while pursuing your Bachelors of Science, which will give you a step up in pursuing a career in journalism as soon as you graduate—and so will their alumni network of 18,000.
At this point, you might be getting tired of hearing about all the incredible things that the Midwest has to offer. So you might find yourself wondering, what are some of the worst colleges in the Midwest?
Worst Colleges in the Midwest
If you came for a list of the worst colleges in the Midwest, we’re sorry to disappoint you. The fact of the matter is that you can’t just point to the #1 worst college on a map of the Midwest region—the “worst colleges in the Midwest” will be different for everyone.
For example, even though UChicago is ranked #1 in the Midwest, if you aren’t looking for a cutthroat academic environment in a city with some pretty brutal winters, UChicago might be the worst school in the Midwest for you. But, it might be the best school for someone else!
When deciding where to enroll, you can figure out what schools might be the best or worst for you by touring, talking to students and professors, and evaluating the school’s different strengths and weaknesses.
Remember, the worst colleges in the Midwest for you might be the best colleges in the Midwest for someone else. So, make sure you do your research as you build your college list and plan for the admissions process.
How do I choose the best college in the Midwest for me?
When you’re reading a list of colleges in the Midwest, how can you find the best college for you?
There are a few factors to keep in mind when trying to build a balanced college list. First, college size. College size is an important factor, as a school with 2,000 students will have a wildly different feel than a school with 20,000. Another factor to keep in mind is college location: the location will affect temperature and seasons. If you hate extreme temperatures and harsh winters, maybe a school in the “windy city” isn’t the best fit for you.
College setting, though similar to college location, can also make a difference. If the setting is more campus-based, the college will likely have a main green where students gather, and maybe more students live on campus. But, if the college is embedded into the fabric of a city, the buildings might just feel like any other city buildings. Both can make for an amazing college experience—it’s all about what’s right for you.
Academic offerings can also affect whether a college is a good fit for you. As we demonstrated above, the best schools for computer science might not be the best schools for journalism. Pick a school that isn’t just highly ranked in general, but that speaks to your interests.
Other factors to consider include campus culture–lots of Greek life? No Greek life? D1 athletics? And, of course, students should consider tuition prices. Price is the deciding factor in college choice for many, and whether you’re an in-state student or flying in from another continent, tuition costs can sometimes affect your decision.
Best Colleges in the Midwest – Final Thoughts
Congrats–now that you’re finished reading this article, you should be an expert on the best colleges in the Midwest!
Whether you’re looking at public universities or private colleges in the Midwest, you can find all different types of college experiences in America’s Heartland. From Chicago to South Bend, you can study in an urban setting or a classic college town. Whether you’re pursuing Engineering at UMich or Journalism at Northwestern, you can be sure to find a Midwestern program that fits your needs.
If you’re struggling to figure out which of the best colleges in the Midwest is the right fit for you, CollegeAdvisor is here to help. Click here to schedule a meeting with our team and learn how we can support you.
This article was written by advisor, Rachel Kahn. Looking for more admissions support? Click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how CollegeAdvisor.com can support you in the college application process.