The best Chicago area colleges and universities are ranked according to raw affordability, academic rigor and reputation, and proximity to the city. Chicago is full of highly ranked institutions that draw students from all over the world. Living near Chicago offers a diverse community, all the amenities of a large metropolis, and views of the Great Lakes. Chicago presents a unique setting for higher education.
Top 30 Best Chicago Area Colleges and Universities Ranked by Affordability Methodology
We reviewed 75 Chicago area colleges and universities listed by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) College Navigator and the Web that were within an approximately one-hour drive from Chicago. We gave preference to schools ranked with major publications like U.S. News and World Report. We ranked the Chicago-area schools according to raw affordability.
Below is our list of the top 30 best Chicago area colleges and universities ranked by affordability.
#30 – University of Chicago
Undergraduate Tuition: $58,230
Known as one of the best Chicago area colleges, the University of Chicago offers students the opportunity to earn a degree from an elite institution located in the famous Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, which served as the home of former president Barack Obama. The university confers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees and offers undergraduates more than 100 majors to choose from. The university is home to some of the most prestigious professional schools including the Booth School of Business and the Harris School of Public Policy. Undergraduate admission is very competitive with just 8% of applicants being accepted in 2016. U.S. News and World Report ranks the University of Chicago #3 in national universities.
#29 – Northwestern University
Undergraduate Tuition: $54,568
Founded in 1851, Northwestern University serves as one of the elite Chicago colleges and universities commonly ranked in the top ten of academic institutions. Located in nearby Evanston, Northwestern’s main campus sits along Lake Michigan, just minutes from Chicago. The institution features some of the top ranked graduate schools such as the Kellogg School of Management, School of Law, and Feinberg School of Medicine. In addition to its rigorous academic environment, Northwestern features highly successful NCAA Division I sports teams such as its national champion women’s lacrosse and its men’s football team. U.S. News and World Report ranks Northwestern University #10 in national universities.
#28 – School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Undergraduate Tuition: $49,310
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is one of the few Chicago colleges and universities to focus exclusively on fine arts. The institution has a rich history dating back to 1866 and is located in downtown Chicago. The program enjoys an outstanding reputation among its peers and was named “most influential art school” in the country by a survey conducted by Columbia University. Composed of mostly undergraduate students, the institution enrolls approximately 3,700 undergrads and 750 graduate students. Approximately 75% of the institution’s students are female. Popular majors include art history, art theory, art therapy, fashion design, interior design, and animation.
#27 – Illinois Institute of Technology
Undergraduate Tuition: $47,646
The Illinois Institute of Technology comes in at #27 in our rankings of best Chicago area colleges based on affordability. The institution dates back to 1890 and is divided into five colleges and is ranked by U.S. News and World report in multiple categories including #96 in national universities, #30 in best value schools, and #82 in best engineering schools, among others. The institution has buildings dispersed throughout Chicago, including the Bronzeville neighborhood where many undergraduates live as well as the downtown campus that houses the Stuart School of Business and Kent School of Law. IIT has a total of four campuses throughout the Chicago area. The institution features over 100 student clubs and organizations and has athletic teams that compete at the NCAA Division III level.
#26 – Lake Forest College
Lake Forest, Illinois
Undergraduate Tuition: $47,064
Originally known as Lind University, Lake Forest College comes in at #26 in our list of Chicago colleges and universities ranked by affordability. The institution was founded in 1857 as an alternative to nearby Northwestern University and now features an enrollment of approximately 1,600 students. The campus features approximately 110 wooded acres less than a mile from the shores of Lake Michigan. The curricular focus of Lake Forest is the liberal arts with 30+ undergraduate majors in the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences, business, and more. U.S. News and World Report ranks Lake Forest University #103 in national liberal arts institutions and #49 in best value schools.
#25 – Loyola University
Undergraduate Tuition: $44,048
Loyola University is one of the more picturesque Chicago colleges and universities situated along the shores of Lake Michigan in the Rogers Park neighborhood in the north side of Chicago. The institution has several campuses including the Water Tower campus along the Magnificent Mile and the Health Sciences campus approximately ten miles from the Loop. Loyola was originally known as St. Ignatius College upon its founding in 1870. In 2018, the men’s basketball team went on to the NCAA Final Four and finished the tournament with the highest winning percentage of any school finishing ahead of basketball powerhouse Duke University. U.S. News and World Report ranks Loyola Chicago #89 in national universities and #60 in best value schools.
#24 – DePaul University
Undergraduate Tuition: $39,975
DePaul is one of the largest Chicago colleges and universities with an undergraduate enrollment of approximately 16,000 students and nearly 8,000 graduate students, making it the 13th largest private university in the United States. The institution has five campuses spread around the Chicago area with its main two campuses in Lincoln Park and the Loop. DePaul is known for its experiential learning by providing students with opportunities to apply what they learn in the classroom throughout the city and its various resources. DePaul is the only institution in Illinois to qualify for the Community Engagement designation conferred by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. U.S. News and World Report ranks DePaul #119 in national universities.
#23 – North Central College
Undergraduate Tuition: $38,880
Known as one of the best Chicago areas colleges, North Central College is located in Naperville, Illinois, just 30 minutes from the Chicago Loop. The institution’s proximity to Chicago gives it excellent access to learning opportunities for its students through internships and jobs. Founded in 1861, the campus sits on 61 acres and has a total population of 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students, with the vast majority (2,700) being undergrads. U.S. News and World Report ranks the institution in multiple categories including #13 in regional universities Midwest and #25 in best value institutions. Additionally, Forbes magazine ranked the institution among the top 20% from 2012-2015.
#22 – Elmhurst College
Undergraduate Tuition: $37,055
Coming in at #22 among top value Chicago colleges and universities is Elmhurst College, a liberal arts institution founded in 1871. The college originally taught all of its classes in German until making the switch to English in 1917. Unlike most small, private liberal arts institutions that are located in small towns, Elmhurst breaks the mold and is located near metropolitan Chicago in Elmhurst, Illinois. The college has a history steeped in progressive thinking and social justice. In 1943, four students of Japanese descent were admitted at the height of the Japanese internment crisis where more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent were placed in “relocation centers.” U.S. News and World Report ranks Elmhurst College #20 in regional colleges Midwest.
#21 – Wheaton College
Undergraduate Tuition: $36,420
Wheaton College is one of many small liberal arts Chicago colleges and universities located near the city. Situated just 25 miles east of the city, the institution provides students with an idyllic 80-acre campus with access to the opportunities provided by the metro Chicago area. Blanchard Hall serves as the school’s most iconic building, having served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The building is named after Jonathan and Charles Blanchard, the father-son duo who were the first two presidents of the college. U.S. News and World Report ranks Wheaton College #61 in national liberal arts institutions and #78 in best value schools.
#20 – Benedictine University
Undergraduate Tuition: $34,290
As with most Chicago colleges and universities, Benedictine University is located in the Chicago metropolitan area. The institution confers all levels of college degrees from bachelor’s to PhDs. Benedictine is a Catholic institution that offers approximately 60 majors through its colleges of Science, Liberal Arts, College of Business, and Education. The campus resides in Lisle, Illinois in Chicago’s western suburbs within DuPage County. The University moved to their current location in 1901, 14 years after its initial founding. U.S. News and World Report ranks Benedictine University #221 in national universities. Additionally, Forbes magazine ranks the institution #556 in top colleges.
#19 – Saint Xavier University
Undergraduate Tuition: $33,880
Saint Xavier University ranks #19 in our list of most affordable Chicago colleges and universities. Originally founded as a women’s college in 1846, the institution’s original campus on Washburn Avenue was destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The main campus is located in the Mt. Greenwood neighborhood of Chicago and features 109 acres of suburban space made up of several buildings. The university’s other campus is located in Orlando Park and is mainly used for meetings and events. Saint Xavier offers approximately 40 undergraduate majors. The institution was recently recognized for building eco-friendly structures through opening two environmentally residence halls on campus. U.S. News and World Report ranks Saint Xavier University #72 in regional universities Midwest.
#18 – Dominican University
River Forest, Illinois
Undergraduate Tuition: $33,434
Dominican University is one of the highest-ranking academic institutions among all Chicago colleges and universities. Located in River Forest, Illinois, the school was originally named St. Clara Female Academy upon its founding in 1848. The school became coeducational in 1970. With approximately 3,200 students, Dominican is located 10 miles from Chicago’s downtown and is situated on 30 acres of wooded lands. With a student-to-faculty ratio of just 11 to 1, students enjoy plenty of engagement with professors. The institution offers around 50 majors at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. U.S. News and World Report ranks Dominican University #11 in regional universities Midwest and #3 in best value schools.
#17 – Lewis University
Undergraduate Tuition: $32,450
Ranking #17 in best affordable Chicago area colleges, Lewis University sits on 410 acres in Romeoville, Illinois approximately 31 miles west of downtown Chicago. With a total student population of 6,500, the university is the seventh largest private non-profit institution in Illinois. With over 80 majors to choose from, it offers one of the broadest lists of undergraduate and graduate degrees to choose from of all colleges and universities in the state. Lewis was founded in 1932 by the Archdiocese of Chicago under its original name of Holy Name Technical School. An interesting note within its history: the school’s classes were temporarily stopped in order for the United States Navy to use the campus as a training location for pilots during WWII. U.S. News and World Report ranks Lewis University #20 in regional universities Midwest.
#16 – University of St. Francis
Undergraduate Tuition: $32,320
Located in a residential neighborhood in Joliet, Illinois, University of St. Francis ranks as one of the most affordable Chicago area colleges. Its Joliet location provides students with close access to nearby Chicago, which is just 35 miles southwest. The 18-acre main campus serves approximately 4,100 undergraduate and graduate students pursuing a variety of degrees ranging from liberal arts, health sciences, and pre-professional programs. In addition to its main campus, St. Francis has two campus locations referred to as the downtown St. Bonaventure campus and the St. Clare campus. U.S. News and World Report ranks St. Francis University #28 in regional universities Midwest.
#15 – Concordia University
River Forest, Illinois
Undergraduate Tuition: $32,078
Concordia Chicago ranks #15 on the list of affordable Chicago area colleges. The main campus is located in River Forest just ten miles from downtown Chicago, giving students access to resources and learning opportunities in the city. The school was founded in 1864 as a teachers college but is now a comprehensive institution offering well over 100 majors that serve approximately 6,000 students. The suburban campus sits on nearly 40 acres. Concordia has four distinct colleges including arts and sciences, business, education, and graduate studies. Concordia fields athletic teams that compete at the NCAA division III level. U.S. News and World Report ranks Concordia University of Chicago #72 in regional universities Midwest and #44 in best value.
#14 – Judson University
Undergraduate Tuition: $29,860
Coming in at #14 on our list of affordable Chicago colleges and universities, Judson University serves approximately 1,200 students. The institution’s main campus is located in Elgin, Illinois, just 45 miles west of Chicago on the banks of the Fox River. The wooded campus is known for its beautiful and picturesque setting. Students can choose from more than 60 undergraduate majors and eight graduate offerings. The university’s most popular program is architecture, which is a highly unique major at a private Christian institution such as Judson. U.S. News and World Report ranks Judson #86 in regional universities Midwest for its 2019 list.
#13 – North Park University
Undergraduate Tuition: $29,860
North Park University ranks #13 in affordable Chicago colleges and universities. The institution is ranked in multiple categories by U.S. News and World Report, including #65 in regional universities Midwest and #39 in best colleges for veterans. North Park is a private university enrolling approximately 2,000 undergraduates. The 33-acre campus is located on Chicago’s north side. The university offers 40 undergraduate majors and 26 minors through its various schools and theological seminary. North Park participates in 16 sports teams all competing at the NCAA Division III level. The most successful program is the men’s basketball team that has captured five national titles since 1978.
#12 – Roosevelt University
Undergraduate Tuition: $29,832
Roosevelt University ranks as the 12th most affordable Chicago university and is named after Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. The institution’s first advisory board featured prominent historical figures including Albert Einstein and Albert Schweitzer. The university enrolls approximately 4,300 undergraduate and graduate students seeking degrees from its six schools. Roosevelt has two campus locations including its main downtown campus near the Magnificent Mile and another location on Chicago’s north side. U.S. News and World Report ranks Roosevelt University #88 in regional universities Midwest. The campus has been featured in multiple Hollywood movies including The Untouchables, Public Enemies, and The Lake House.
#11 – Columbia College
Undergraduate Tuition: $27,176
Of all the affordable Chicago area colleges, Columbia College is unique among its peers as it specializes in the arts and media-related disciplines. The institution was founded in 1890 under the name Columbia School of Oratory by Mary Blood and Ida Riley, both of whom were graduates of Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. Columbia serves around 6,200 students, the vast majority of whom are undergraduates taking courses at its South Loop and near South Side Chicago campus locations. Columbia also offers a 5-week program in Hollywood at Raleigh Studios. Majors are offered through the School of Fine and Performing Arts, School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and School of Media Arts. Columbia ranks #128 in regional universities Midwest by U.S. News and World Report.
#10 – Resurrection University
Undergraduate Tuition: $26,390
Resurrection University is one of the best Chicago area colleges focusing solely on health sciences. Students attending Resurrection must transfer in their lower division course requirements and be prepared to take upper division classes. The institution serves approximately 1,200 students with its campus located in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago located just west of the Kennedy Expressway. The area is known for its art, food scene, and nightlife. Resurrection was founded in 1914 and currently has a college of nursing and college of health sciences. Its colleges are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics & Information Management and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
#9 – Aurora University
Undergraduate Tuition: $24,260
Aurora University comes in at #9 in our list of affordable Chicago colleges and universities. The private institution serves approximately 5,600 students, most of whom are undergraduates. The campus is located in Aurora, Illinois approximately 40 miles from downtown Chicago. The institution offers 40 undergraduate majors through its College of Arts and Sciences, School of Education and Human Performance, College of Professional Studies, and Aurora University Online. The Higher Learning Commission accredits Aurora to confer bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral level degrees. One unique feature of the campus is the red roofs on virtually all of the buildings, which was a requirement of Charles Eckhart who made a major donation during the early days of the university. U.S. News and World Report ranks Aurora University #123 in regional universities Midwest.
#8 – East-West University
Undergraduate Tuition: $22,050
East-West University is arguably the most diverse institution among the list of affordable Chicago area colleges. It is currently the only university in Illinois that has a majority of minority students along with a very high percentage of international applicants. East-West was founded in 1980 and prides itself in featuring one of the lowest tuition rates among Chicago area colleges and universities. Its 1,200 students enjoy pursuing majors such as social work, human resources, and more. While most students are ethnic minorities, non-minority students like the perspective it provides. U.S. News and World Report ranks East-West University #173 in national liberal arts colleges.
#7 – University of Illinois
Undergraduate Tuition: $13,764
The University of Illinois at Chicago is the largest of all affordable Chicago colleges and universities with a total undergraduate enrollment of over 19,000 along with 10,000 graduate students. The 240-acre campus has an urban setting located near several public transportation stops, which makes the university convenient for commuter and residential students. University of Illinois Chicago boasts the nation’s largest medical school with over $400 million in research expenditures. Many of the graduates stay in state as one out of every eight doctors in Illinois is a graduate of the medical school. U.S. News and World Report ranks the University of Illinois Chicago #129 in national universities.
#6 – Moody Bible Institute
Undergraduate Tuition: $13,056
Moody Bible Institute ranks as one of the most affordable Chicago area colleges. The institution focuses on preparing students for a variety of ministries through its approximately two dozen majors such as biblical studies, theology, and missionary aviation technology. In addition to its bachelor degree programs, Moody confers graduate degrees in divinity, biblical studies, and counseling psychology. The institution’s campus is located on the north side of Chicago and also has campuses in Michigan and Washington State. Moody was founded by evangelical Christian and businessman Dwight Moody in 1886 under the motto of “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
#5 – Governors State University
University Park, Illinois
Undergraduate Tuition: $12,196
Governors State University comes in at #5 in our list of best Chicago area colleges. The institution’s campus is located approximately 40 miles south of Chicago and features an idyllic setting with plenty of wooded trails and lakes. Governors was founded in 1969 and currently has four colleges including the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Business, the College of Education, and the College of Health and Human Services. Its initial curriculum and assessment did not include grades, with students instead receiving competency reports. It has since altered its assessment practices and now uses traditional grading. U.S. News and World Report ranks Governors State University #128 in regional universities Midwest.
#4 – Saint Augustine College
Undergraduate Tuition: $11,400
Of all of the affordable Chicago area colleges, St. Augustine College is the only bilingual (English and Spanish) institution on the list. The college was founded in 1980 under the leadership of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago. The onus behind its inception came as a direct result of the under serving of Hispanic students in need of academic and vocational training. The institution has four campuses spread out over different sections of Chicago and one in nearby Aurora, and is accredited to confer associate and bachelor degrees. The school’s demographics include 79% female and 87% Hispanic. St. Augustine is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
#3 – Northeastern Illinois University
Undergraduate Tuition & Fees: $11,462
Tuition Only: $9699
Northeastern Illinois University lands at #3 on our list of best Chicago area colleges. The institution is designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) for its high population of Latinx students. It was founded in 1867 and sits on approximately 70 acres in Chicago’s North Park neighborhood. The university also has two additional locations in the city (in Avondale and Bronzeville) and one in Grayslake, IL. Because of its locations, students have the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of field-based learning applying the principles and skills they learn in class to real world settings. The institution prides itself in serving marginalized communities. It features the Angelina Pedroso Center for Diversity and Intercultural Affairs and is the residence of Ensemble Español, a world renowned Spanish dance company. Northeastern Illinois University ranked #2 in Midwest regional universities by U.S. News and World Report for diverse student population, #1 for students who graduate with the least debt, and #128 in the Midwest region overall.
#2 – National Louis University
Undergraduate Tuition: $10,710
Our ranking of affordable Chicago area colleges includes National Louis University, a private institution founded in 1886 with its main campus located on Michigan Avenue in the heart of the historic Michigan Boulevard District. The school’s initial mission upon its founding was to train kindergarten teachers using its influential educational model that was adopted by several other colleges and universities. Today the school serves nearly 5,000 students earning a wide array of degree types through its schools of business and management, health and human services, and social and behavioral sciences. U.S. News and World Report ranks National Louis University #230 in national universities and #195 in best graduate education schools.
#1 – Chicago State University
Undergraduate Tuition: $10,163
Founded in 1867 as a teacher preparatory school, Chicago State University ranks #1 among best Chicago area colleges based on affordable tuition. The campus sits on 161 acres and features an urban setting. The institution focuses on recruitment and attainment of African American students but welcomes students of any ethnic or racial background. The university offers a variety of majors through its five colleges of arts and sciences, business, education, health sciences, and pharmacy. The university ranks #1 in awarding bachelor’s degrees in the health sciences to African American students and #4 in Illinois in awarding bachelor’s degree in education to Latinx students. U.S. News and World Report rank Chicago State University #128 in regional universities Midwest.