10 Most Popular Colleges in Illinois

The largest schools in Illinois based on popularity and cost.

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Whether you’re looking for a sports-driven university or a strong nursing school, Illinois has a lot of colleges to choose from. Illinois is where some of the top public universities are located, thanks to its strong public university system. Attending college as an in-state resident has a lot of perks, including more affordable tuition.

In Illinois, there’s a school for every student: small liberal arts colleges, engineering-focused community colleges, and spirited Big Ten universities. Here are the 10 most popular schools in Illinois – and what it’ll cost to attend them.

10. Triton College

Type of College: Community college

Enrollment: 16,000

Cost: $98 per semester hour for in-district students, $256 per semester hour for out-of-district students, or $321.05 for out-of-state students

Best Programs: The nursing and biology programs are the top choice for most Triton students. Students who earn their associate's degree from the School of Health Careers have access to hands on experience in local hospitals and their technology. The biology program prepares students for all fields of science, including basic biology and organic chemistry.

Fun Fact: Triton students can complete their degree program in less than two years if they choose the Fast Track learning program. Classes meet for less than seven weeks, but they still give students full semester credit.

9. College of Lake County

Type of College: Community college

Enrollment: 17,575

Cost: $93 per credit hour for in-district students, $240 per credit hour for out-of-district students, and $323.50 for out-of-state students

Best Program: The Liberal Studies program is the biggest at Lake County, awarding nearly 600 degrees every year. Its broad scope includes everything from social sciences and fire technology to humanities and library science.

Fun Fact: As part of the University Center of Lake County, the College of Lake County allows students to earn much more than an associate’s degree. Through the Center, students can complete their bachelor’s or master’s by taking classes from 19 different Illinois universities and colleges right at Lake County.

8. Northwestern University

Type of College: Private university

Enrollment: 18,475

Cost: $43,779

Best Program: Northwestern is known for its many excellent programs, but when it comes to the best, business tops the list. It’s both the most popular major and one of the most renowned. Undergraduates flock to the business enterprise program within the department. Six months of work experience is required prior to graduation, ensuring that majors get all the necessary skills to either enter the workforce or head to graduate school.

Fun Fact: Northwestern has three campuses – one in Evanston, one in Chicago, and one in Doha, Qatar.

7. Southern Illinois University, Carbondale

Type of College: Public university

Enrollment: 18,847

Cost: $11,153 for residents, $22,844 for out-of-state students

Best Programs: The education department is by far the largest program at Southern Illinois. More degrees in education are conferred every year than any other undergraduate program. Within the department, most majors choose to specialize in elementary education.

Fun Fact: The REACH Program at Southern Illinois offers 20 grants each year to students who are working on independent research projects.

6. Illinois State University

Type of College: Public university

Enrollment: 20,502

Cost: $12,726 for residents, $20,016 for out-of-state students

Best Programs: At Illinois State, education is the most popular program. Education majors make up nearly 20 percent of the student body. Students can specialize in either early childhood or elementary education and can earn their teaching credentials along with their BA.

Fun Fact: The College of Applied Science and Technology’s student organization Gamma Phi Circus puts on a non-profit circus every year. It’s the oldest collegiate circus in the country.

5. Northern Illinois University

Type of College: Public university

Enrollment: 22,990

Cost: $11,024 for residents, $19,515 for out-of-state students

Best Programs: The top two undergraduate programs at NIU are business administration and health services.

Fun Fact: Northern Illinois is currently working to complete its Vision 2020 Initiative, a multi-year plan to develop the university into the top student-centered public research school in the Midwest.

4. DePaul University

Type of College: Private university

Enrollment: 25,398

Cost: $31,650

Best Program: Business ranks first at DePaul, with more than 4,000 undergraduate students in the program. Students can choose from a wide variety of specializations, such as hospitality and tourism management or management sciences and statistics.

Fun Fact: DePaul placed second in the National Cyber League competition, which tests students on digital forensics and internet security – meaning DePaul students know how to battle any kind of hacker.

3. University of Illinois, Chicago

Type of College: Public university

Enrollment: 27,512

Cost: $13,050 for residents, $25,440 for out-of-state students

Best Program: Psychology is the most popular major on campus. As part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the psychology program prepares undergraduates for a wide variety of post-college paths, from graduate school to careers in social work or even business.

Fun Fact: The University of Illinois at Chicago doesn’t just have a strong medical program. It’s also home to the country’s biggest medical school, and more than $335 million is spent on medical research each year.

2. College of DuPage

Type of College: Community college

Enrollment: Approximately 30,000

Cost: $136 per credit hour for in-district students, $323 per credit hour for other Illinois residents, and $393 for out-of-state students

Best Program: The architecture department at DuPage is both popular and renowned. In fact, the college has a program that helps students who earn an associate’s degree in architecture transfer to the University of Michigan – in addition to schools such as UIC and Illinois Institute of Technology.

Fun Fact: College of DuPage is the biggest single-campus community college outside of California.

1. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Type of College: Public university

Enrollment: 32,256

Cost: $14,428 for residents, $28,570 for out-of-state residents

Best Program: Engineering is both one of the best and most popular programs at Urbana-Champaign. Not only is the program recognized as one of the best departments in the country, but it also produces successful graduates – almost all of whom receive multiple job offers upon graduation.

Fun Fact: Illinois was a founding member of the Big Ten Conference.

Quick Facts

  • Illinois boasts five universities that rank in the top 125 out of the 500 national universities in the country.
  • There are 49 public community colleges to choose from in Illinois.

Stats source: U.S. News.

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