The 20 Best Colleges in the Midwest

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What’s Covered:

 

The Midwest, America’s Heartland, is known for its friendly residents. The region boasts major cities like Chicago, Kansas City, and Detroit, but is also spotted with smaller tight-knit communities and towns. At its core, the Midwest is known for being welcoming to anyone and everyone. This includes a welcoming college culture! Each August, new freshmen begin their studies at dozens of Midwestern universities. 

 

Our Ranking Methodology

 

Below is a list of the 20 best colleges in the Midwest. The list was constructed with a focus on school quality, outcomes, and return on investment (ROI), along with consideration of a host of other factors such as retention rate, selectivity, endowment per student, student-faculty ratio, median earnings, and cost of attendance. You can find CollegeVine’s rankings in their entirety here. 

 

The 20 Best Colleges in the Midwest 

 

1. University of Chicago

 

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Acceptance Rate: 6.2%

Median SAT: 1530

Median ACT: 34

Undergraduate Enrollment: 6,632

 

UChicago is known for the intellectual curiosity of its teachers and students. The university has a long history of free and open discourse, making it an exciting place for young and passionate minds to come together for important conversations. The university has significantly more graduate students than undergraduate students, but that doesn’t mean the undergraduate population gets left behind. Rather, it allows undergraduates to have advanced opportunities, including research and networking opportunities. UChicago teachers focus on learning for the sake of learning and on expanding the boundaries of human knowledge and abilities.

 

Learn more about UChicago and what it takes to get accepted.

 

2. Northwestern University

 

Location: Evanston, Illinois

Acceptance Rate: 6.8%

Middle 50% SAT: 1430-1540

Middle 50% ACT: 33-35

Undergraduate Enrollment: 8,194

 

Northwestern is a school of well-rounded and motivated students. It is a Big Ten school, with a vibrant sports community and a significant number of students involved in Greek life. At the same time, the university is consistently highly ranked for its academic excellence. Northwestern is known for its school spirit, its many traditions, and the fact that the color purple is featured all over campus. The school has great name recognition and students are typically very successful after graduation.

 

Learn more about Northwestern and what it takes to get accepted.

 

3. University of Notre Dame

 

Location: Notre Dame, Indiana

Acceptance Rate: 15%

Middle 50% SAT: 1400-1550

Middle 50% ACT: 32-35

Undergraduate Enrollment: 8,874

 

Notre Dame is strong in academics, school spirit, and football. It was founded as a private Catholic institution in 1842, and while you do not have to be Catholic to attend, the school is still known for devout students, mass services throughout the week, and religious iconography. Notre Dame culture largely centers around traditions, many of which take place in the dorms. Dorms are gender-divided and 98% of students stay in their same dorm for three to four years. In addition to dorm culture, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team brings students together to show off their school spirit at football games and tailgates.

 

Learn more about Notre Dame and what it takes to get accepted.

 

4. Washington University in St. Louis (WashU)

 

Location: St. Louis, Missouri

Acceptance Rate: 16%

Middle 50% SAT: 1480-1560

Middle 50% ACT: 33-35

Undergraduate Enrollment: 7,653

 

The students, faculty, and staff at WashU epitomize the friendly and supportive Midwestern spirit. Students at the school say that the large university lacks the coldness of other schools and feels very familial. In that same vein, the university is very supportive of its undergraduate population, with many established resources and programs that address student needs. Simply put, WashU undergraduates have access to anything they need for success. One example of the university’s commitment to student success is the Cornerstone program, which provides free tutors and assistance to students who are struggling in particular subjects.

 

Learn more about WashU and what it takes to get accepted.

 

5. University of Michigan

 

Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan

Acceptance Rate: 26%

Middle 50% SAT: 1340-1520

Middle 50% ACT: 31-34

Undergraduate Enrollment: 31,329

 

While UMich is much larger than many of the other great schools in the Midwest, its size brings with it many benefits. Most importantly, there’s always something to do at Michigan, whether you want to go to a Greek life recruiting event, support the Wolverines at “the Big House,” venture out to a concert in the city, or study at one of the school’s 20 libraries. Michigan has it all. Additionally, because the school is large, there is a diverse representation of students from different places and with different interests.  

 

Learn more about UMich and what it takes to get accepted.

 

6. Carleton College

 

Location: Northfield, Minnesota

Acceptance Rate: 21%

Middle 50% SAT: 1340-1508

Middle 50% ACT: 30-34

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,940

 

Carleton College is a top liberal arts school that recognizes the value of deep thinking. The school has a very low student-to-faculty ratio, meaning that students get the attention they need to succeed. Carleton’s campus is situated in a small town in Minnesota, leading to a laid-back culture where students are free to be themselves and form tight communities.

 

Learn more about Carleton and what it takes to get accepted.

 

7. Grinnell College

 

Location: Grinnell, Iowa

Acceptance Rate: 10.5%

Middle 50% SAT: 1383-1500

Middle 50% ACT: 30-34

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,700

 

Grinnell is a unique school due to its commitment to social justice and equity. The school practices need-blind admissions and uses its endowment to fund merit scholarships that increase socioeconomic diversity. Grinnellians are generally liberal, socially active, and engaged in whatever they are pursuing. Grinnell is exclusively undergraduate, allowing professors to focus on encouraging curiosity and engagement in younger students.

 

Learn more about Grinnell and what it takes to get accepted.

 

8. Macalester College

 

Location: Saint Paul, Minnesota

Acceptance Rate: 31%

Middle 50% SAT: 1290-1430

Middle 50% ACT: 29-33

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,049

 

Macalester is a liberal arts college that emphasizes global citizenship and establishes an intellectual foundation for its students to impact the world at large. It is an excellent school with good financial aid and a beautiful campus in a Saint Paul neighborhood that gives students access to the entire Twin Cities area. Macalester’s class sizes are small like the size of its student body, a fact that helps foster a close community. The school’s community is also a product of the requirement that students live on campus for their first two years.

 

Learn more about Macalester and what it takes to get accepted.

 

9. Case Western Reserve University

 

Location: Cleveland, Ohio

Acceptance Rate: 30%

Middle 50% SAT: 1350-1490

Middle 50% ACT: 31-34

Undergraduate Enrollment: 5,430

 

Case Western is known for its outstanding research. It is particularly renowned for its top-notch engineering program, as well as its programs for nursing and medicine. Academics are taken very seriously at Case. That said, while students are committed, they are not competitive or cold. The school’s intensity does not create a negative culture, but rather a culture of encouragement as students and professors communally value academic achievement.

 

Learn more about Case Western and what it takes to get accepted.

 

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10. Kenyon College

 

Location: Gambier, Ohio

Acceptance Rate: 35%

Middle 50% SAT: 1280-1460

Middle 50% ACT: 30-33

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,617 

 

Kenyon College is known as “the Writers’ College” as its academic intensity centers itself around writing. Professors at Kenyon know their students’ names and create a community where student input is valued. The strong bonds between professors and students can be seen by the fact that professors commonly stop and chat with their students when they see them on the Middle Path (the main drag that runs through campus). Generally, Kenyonites are known for being quirky, cerebral, and artsy and for creating a work-hard, play-hard culture on campus.


Learn more about Kenyon and what it takes to get accepted.

 

11. University of Wisconsin 

 

Location: Madison, Wisconsin 

Acceptance Rate: 57%

Middle 50% SAT: 1300-1440

Middle 50% ACT: 27-32

Undergraduate Enrollment: 33,585

 

Not just one of the best colleges in the Midwest, the University of Wisconsin is one of the best public universities in the U.S. It’s this academic excellence that leads some to call the school the “Berkeley of the Midwest.” Given its Midwest location, it’s no surprise that Wisconsin has been at the center of a variety of fields—from alumni like John Muir and Gaylord Nelson (founder of Earth Day) leading in environmentalism to scientific achievements like the discovery of vitamins and cultivation of embryonic stem cells.  


Learn more about Wisconsin and what it takes to get accepted.

 

12. Denison University 

 

Location: Granville, Ohio 

Acceptance Rate: 28%

Middle 50% SAT: 1280-1450

Middle 50% ACT: 29-33

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,300

 

Denison is a prestigious liberal arts college that encourages students to learn inside and outside of the classroom and empowers them to become architects of their own lives. One of Denison’s most well-known programs is Summer Scholars. Approximately 120 students are chosen as Summer Scholars annually and pursue projects in a variety of fields under the supervision of a faculty member while receiving a stipend and funding for research. Despite its location in the center of the country, students come from all over to attend Denison—students from 40 states and 23 countries can be found on campus. 


Learn more about Denison and what it takes to get accepted.

 

13. Oberlin College and Conservatory

 

Location: Oberlin, Ohio

Acceptance Rate: 34%

Middle 50% SAT: 1338-1460

Middle 50% ACT: 30-34

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,942 

 

Oberlin College is known both for its world-class music conservatory and its highly-ranked liberal arts program. Oberlin itself is a very small town, with just a few restaurants, that is isolated from the rest of Ohio. That said, like most small liberal arts schools, the school works hard to foster an involved community. The Oberlin student body is generally composed of liberal and unconventional students who enjoy discussing politics, culture, and philosophy. With regards to student life, Oberlin’s music conservatory sponsors over 500 concerts each year and there are hundreds of student groups to get involved in.

 

Learn more about Oberlin and what it takes to get accepted.

 

14. Ohio State University (OSU)

 

Location: Columbus, Ohio

Acceptance Rate: 68%

Middle 50% SAT: 1230-1390

Middle 50% ACT: 26-32

Undergraduate Enrollment: 46,984 

 

Ohio State University is one of the largest colleges in the U.S. It’s home to more than 61,000 total students, of whom more than 45,000 are undergraduates. To keep pace with the interests of its huge number of undergraduates, Ohio State offers over 200 majors and almost as many minors in academic fields ranging from Architecture to Wildlife Science. Can’t find an area that interests you? The Personalized Study Program lets you design your own major. 

 

Learn more about Ohio State and what it takes to get accepted.

 

15. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

 

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota 

Acceptance Rate: 69%

Middle 50% SAT: 1260-1430

Middle 50% ACT: 25-31

Undergraduate Enrollment: 36,061

“Ski-U-Mah!” Get to know those words well—ski-oo is a misinterpreted word from the Dakota language thought to mean victory or winning—because you’ll hear it often at the University of Minnesota, where it is chanted at nearly every sporting event. Outside of athletics, students at Minnesota have a lot to celebrate; the college is located in a flourishing urban district of Minneapolis, with easy access to restaurants, parks, miles of bike paths, and lakes—it’s Minnesota, after all. 

 

Learn more about Minnesota and what it takes to get accepted.

 

16. Purdue University 

 

Location: West Lafayette, Indiana  

Acceptance Rate: 67%

Middle 50% SAT: 1190-1430

Middle 50% ACT: 25-33

Undergraduate Enrollment: 34,920

 

After Purdue’s rivalry with Indiana University—the two colleges have competed in football for the Old Oaken Bucket since 1891—the college is known for its excellent STEM programming. Purdue rises above other universities in numerous (literal) ways: it was the first college to offer a degree in Aeronautical Engineering; Gus Grissom (one of the first Americans to go to outer space), Neil Armstrong (the first person to walk on the moon), and Eugene Cernan (the last man to walk on the moon) are all Purdue Alumni; and the school is also home to its own airport, which is the second-largest airport in Indiana. 

 

Learn more about Purdue and what it takes to get accepted.

 

17. St. Olaf College

 

Location: Northfield, Minnesota  

Acceptance Rate: 50%

Middle 50% SAT: 1160-1370

Middle 50% ACT: 25-32

Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,953

 

St. Olaf is a well-regarded liberal arts college founded by Norwegian Lutheran immigrants in 1874. The college remains grounded in Lutheran tradition today, although it is welcoming to students regardless of their faith—just 23% of St. Olaf students are Lutheran, while 33% have no religious preference. St. Olaf operates on a 4-1-4 academic calendar, which consists of two 14-week semesters of four courses separated by a one-month interim of one course in January.  

 

Learn more about St. Olaf College and what it takes to get accepted.

 

18. University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign (UIUC)

 

Location: Champaign, Illinois   

Acceptance Rate: 63%

Middle 50% SAT: 1220-1450

Middle 50% ACT: 27-33

Undergraduate Enrollment: 21,921

 

University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign has a well-deserved reputation as one of the nation’s top party schools—thanks in part to laws that allow 19-year-olds to enter bars (but not drink) in Champaign and 18-year-olds to enter bars (but not drink) in Urbana. UIUC isn’t all fun and games, however, and students there work as hard as they play. The college is regularly a top producer of Fulbright Award winners and its alumni count 23 Nobel Prize winners and 26 Pulitzer Prize winners among them. 

 

Learn more about UIUC and what it takes to get accepted.

 

19. Saint Louis University

 

Location: St. Louis, Missouri    

Acceptance Rate: 58%

Middle 50% SAT: 1040-1240

Middle 50% ACT: 21-27

Undergraduate Enrollment: 9,700

 

Saint Louis University is the oldest university west of the Mississippi and one of the best Jesuit colleges in the country. Jesuit education believes in caring for the whole person—mind, body, and spirit—as well as encouraging students to contribute to the greater community. About 800 students attend Sunday evening student mass and about 80% of students volunteer at least once during the 2019-2020 academic year. St. Louis University’s soccer team, the Billikens, have won 10 NCAA Men’s Soccer Championships, more than any other men’s Division I college soccer program. 

 

Learn more about Saint Louis University and what it takes to get accepted.

 

20. DePauw University

 

Location: Greencastle, Indiana     

Acceptance Rate: 67%

Middle 50% SAT: 1130-1360

Middle 50% ACT: 22-29

Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,752

 

DePauw University is a well-respected liberal arts college that’s affiliated with the Methodist Church. Despite its ties to the Methodist Church, DePauw is committed to providing an open college experience for students of all religious beliefs and backgrounds and is a place where students can explore, practice, and share their faith. DePauw values learning both inside and outside of the classroom. The university offers majors ranging from Actuarial Science to Theatre and it ranks among the best schools in the nation for study-abroad opportunities.  

 

Learn more about DePauw and what it takes to get accepted.

 

What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?

 

Each of the aforementioned schools has a different average acceptance rate, and your chances of acceptance at these schools may be higher or lower than the average acceptance rate depending on your profile. To find out your chances of admission at each of these top schools in the Midwest, or any other schools you are interested in, use CollegeVine’s free chancing engine. By taking into account your grades, test scores, and extracurriculars, we’ll estimate your odds of acceptance at different schools and give you tips on improving your profile.


Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.

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