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The 22 Best Colleges in the Midwest


Are you from the Midwest and want to stay close to home for college? Do you want to experience life in the heartland or in one of America's underrated flyover states? If you’re considering going to college in the Midwest, you should have an idea of which schools are the best in the region.

In this article, I’ll provide my rankings of the best colleges in the Midwest and explain how you should use my ranking list of the top Midwestern schools.


Which States Are in the Midwest?

For my rankings, here are the states that I considered to be in the Midwest: North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, and MissouriThere is some argument about which states are in the Midwest. My apologies if you disagree with my assessment.


How I Ranked the Best Colleges in the Midwest

While rankings can be subjective, you can get a general idea of which colleges are better based on their reputations and objective statistics. I placed the 22 top colleges in the Midwest into four tiers, with tier one including the highest ranked schoolsI determined my rankings by looking at the rankings from US News, Forbes, and NicheEach ranking list uses different variables to determine its rankings, but here are some of the most important factors that are considered when determining college rankings:


Academic Reputation — The academic reputation of a school is what education experts think about the academics at a particular college. US News gives a peer assessment survey to university presidents, provosts, and deans of admissions to help rate academic quality. Additionally, it surveys high school counselors across the country.

Freshman Retention Rate The freshman retention rate is the percentage of freshmen that return for their sophomore years. Typically, better colleges have higher retention rates. A high retention rate shows that students at the school are satisfied with the school and receiving the necessary support to succeed.

Graduation Rate The graduation rate is the percentage of students that graduate within 6 years. Better schools have higher graduation rates. If a higher percentage of students is graduating, then the students are seen as being more capable, and the college is providing the necessary support and resources to enable students to successfully finish college.

Student Selectivity Student selectivity refers to the qualifications of the students and the competitiveness of the admissions process. Better schools have students with higher high school GPAs and standardized test scores. Also, better schools tend to have lower acceptance rates. More selectivity generally equates to a higher caliber of student.

Financial Resources Ranking lists consider schools’ per student spending. More spending per student is indicative of having more resources and positively influences a school’s ranking.


I weighted the US News rankings a little more heavily because US News has the most prestigious ranking list; therefore it has the greatest impact on a school’s reputation. All of the schools were among the top 25 Midwestern colleges in at least two of the three ranking lists I looked at. Honorable mention schools made the top 25 in at least one list.

I included the average standardized test scores, acceptance rates, and US News ranking for each school. Because US News ranks national universities and liberal arts colleges separately, after the ranking, I put NU for national university or LA for liberal arts college. I also put public colleges in bold.




The 22 Best Colleges in the Midwset, Ranked

Here are my rankings of the best colleges in the Midwest. Enjoy.


Tier One

The first tier of the best universities in the Midwest is composed of extremely selective private schools. Their acceptance rates range from 9% (University of Chicago) to 22% (University of Notre Dame). Also, their graduation rates are between 93% and 96%. They’re all top 15 schools in the country in their respective categories in the US News rankings, and all of the first tier schools meet 100% of demonstrated financial need. The only liberal arts college in the group is Carleton College.

School Location Average SAT Average ACT Acceptance Rate US News Ranking
Carleton College Northfield, MN 2135 31 21% #8 LA
Northwestern University Evanston, IL 2170 33 15% #12 NU
University of Chicago Chicago, IL 2228 33 9% #4 NU
University of Notre Dame South Bend, IN 2130 33 22% #18 NU
Washington University in St. Louis St. Louis, MO 2220 33 16% #15 NU



University of Chicago (supafly/Flickr)


Tier Two

The second tier is composed of very well-regarded, selective colleges. All of the second tier schools are small liberal arts colleges, except the University of Michigan, which is considered to be one of the top public universities in the nation. Their acceptance rates range from 30% (Oberlin College) to 38% (Kenyon College), and their US News rankings are all in the top 30 in the country in their respective categories. Their graduation rates range from 86% (Grinnell) to 91% (University of Michigan). They all meet 100% of demonstrated financial need, except Kenyon (95%) and Michigan (85%).

School Location Average SAT Average ACT Acceptance Rate US News Ranking
Grinnell College Grinnell, IA 1375 (on Math and Critical Reading only) 30 35% #19 LA
Kenyon College Gambier, OH 1988 30 38% #25 LA
Macalester College St. Paul, MN 2015 31 34% #23 LA
Oberlin College Oberlin, OH 2059 30 30% #23 LA
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor Ann Arbor, MI 2041 30 33% #29 NU


Tier Three

The third tier is composed of a mix of private and public colleges from five different states. Their acceptance rates range from 42% (Case Western) to 62% (University of Illinois), and their US News rankings are between 37 and 51 in their respective categories. Their graduation rates range from 80% (DePauw) to 89% (St. Olaf). They meet from 69% (Illinois) to 99% (St. Olaf) of demonstrated financial need. 

School Location Average SAT Score Average ACT Score Acceptance Rate US News Ranking
Case Western Reserve University Cleveland, OH  2032 31  42%  #37 NU 
DePauw University Greencastle, IN 1780   27 61%  #51 LA 
St. Olaf College Northfield, MN 1919   29 59%   #51 LA
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Champaign, IL 1970   28  62% #41 NU 
University of Wisconsin Madison, WI  1916 28   51%  #41 NU



Case Western (OzinOH/flickr)


Tier Four

The fourth tier is composed of seven colleges, four liberal arts colleges and three large public universities. Their acceptance rates range from 44% (University of Minnesota) to 73% (Lawrence University), and their US News rankings are from  55 to 66 in their respective categories. Their graduation rates range from 74% (Purdue) to 89% (Wheaton). They meet from 71% (Ohio State) to 97% (Denison) of demonstrated financial need. 

School Location Average SAT Score Average ACT Score Acceptance Rate US News Ranking
Denison University Granville, OH 1264 (on Reading and Math only) 29 46% #55 LA
Kalamazoo College Kalamazoo, MI 1854 28 67% #66 LA
Lawrence University Appleton, WI 1900 29 73% #57 LA
Ohio State University Columbus, OH 1864 28 56% #52 NU
Purdue University West Lafayette, IN 1773 27 60% #61 NU
University of Minnesota Minneapolis, MN 1920 28 44% #69 NU
Wheaton College (IL) Wheaton, IL Not Available Not Available Not Available #57 LA


Honorable Mention



The menacing Michigan State mascot (John Martinez Pavliga/Flickr)


How Should You Use This List?

If you want to go to one of the best colleges in the Midwest, research the schools on the list that interest you to determine if you want to apply to themThink of the factors that are important to you in a college including cost, size, selectivity, location, and the majors offered. Look at the school’s website and use guidebooks, college finders, and search websites to help you in the college selection process. If possible, consult with teachers, counselors, parents, current students, and alumni.

Also, just because a school didn’t make the list doesn’t mean it’s a bad school. In your college search, you should identify the school that’s the best fit for you. Some schools may not rank well because they’re not as selective or have fewer financial resources. However, they may have academic programs, professors, and a campus environment that will enable you to have a high quality of life while you’re in school and reach your academic and professional goals.


What's Next?

Do you want to go to one of the best colleges in the Midwest, but you're worried that your standardized test scores are too low? Check out the Ultimate SAT Prep Study Guide or 15 ACT tips and tricks to help raise your score.

Are you worried about the cost of attending a great college? Find out how much college really costs, learn how to save for school, and read this post about how to pay for college.


Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

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Justin Berkman
About the Author

Justin has extensive experience teaching SAT prep and guiding high school students through the college admissions and selection process. He is firmly committed to improving equity in education and helping students to reach their educational goals. Justin received an athletic scholarship for gymnastics at Stanford University and graduated with a BA in American Studies.

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