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Top 10 Most Underrated Colleges in the Midwest

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When compiling a college list, many students pore over traditional lists like the Princeton Review or the US News and World Report. Limiting yourself to schools that are highly regarded by these ranking systems can be shortsighted, though; many great schools exist outside of the top rankings.


At CollegeVine, we routinely work with students and parents who are surprised to find that many best-fit colleges don’t land at the top of the rankings. In this post, we reveal the top 10 underrated schools we’ve discovered in the Midwest through working with over 6,000 students.


How we put this list together:


Traditional rankings do a great job of identifying schools that shine in a very specific way. While highly ranked schools might have smaller student to faculty ratios or selective admissions statistics, the bigger picture can often reveal more.


When we at CollegeVine consider how successful a college is, we tend to look at outcomes. This means we closely examine factors like starting salary, job outcome, and return on investment (ROI).


To determine our top ten underrated colleges in the midwest, we considered the following factors:


  • Cost of attendance and generosity of financial aid & scholarships
  • One and five-year ROI after graduation
  • Financial performance of specific majors
  • Qualitative data on career outcomes like job placements and grad school progression


The top ten most underrated schools in the Midwest are:

1. University of Iowa


Sometimes discounted for its distance to any major metropolis (Chicago is three hours away), University of Iowa boasts career outcomes and ROI in the top 25 and shines particularly in the fields of English/Literature and Engineering. US News and World Reports ranks this school as 89th for national universities. Out-of-state students might consider that school more attractive due to its relatively reasonable total cost of attendance of $40,000.

2. University of Missouri


The University of Missouri is conveniently located near Kansas City and St. Louis, both of which boast strong job markets. Programs of study in Computer Science and Business are especially strong, and the Journalism program is arguably one of the top in the country, second only to Northwestern.


It is rated in the top 100 for ROI and career outcomes, and the US News and World Report places it at the 129th spot nationally.


3. University of Illinois – Chicago


The University of Illinois – Chicago boasts the obvious advantage of a major job market directly at its doorstep. In addition, it places in the top 75 for ROI and career outcomes, despite its national ranking of 130 by the US News and World Report.


Students interested in Business, Computer Sciences, and other STEM fields especially should give University of Illinois at Chicago more than a cursory glance.

4. Kansas State University


Kansas State University may often be discounted because Kansas City isn’t one of the first cities to come to mind when considering successful job markets. But in reality, Kansas City is a thriving job market, especially for KSU Engineering grads.


Kansas State University ranks in the top 100 for ROI and career outcomes, and the US News and World Report places it at the 147th national spot.


5. Saint Louis University


Students considering Saint Louis University might think they are restricted to the St. Louis job market, but Chicago is about four hours away for students willing to job hunt a little further afield.


It ranks in the top 75 for ROI and career outcome, thanks in part to its strong pre-med program, which includes a coveted BS/MD combined program for accepted students. US News and World Report places it at 106 nationally.


6. University of Nebraska – Lincoln


University of Nebraska – Lincoln is another Midwest sleeper college, ranked in the top 80 for ROI and career outcomes. It boasts strong programs in the fields of Engineering and Business, and ties for the 129th rank by the US News and World Report.


7. University of Kansas


The University of Kansas is another school with strong Engineering and Business programs, and it’s conveniently located close to the thriving, but often discounted, Kansas City job market. It ties with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for the 129th national ranking from the US News and World Report.

8. Oberlin College


Oberlin is a little different from the rest of the schools on our list as it’s a liberal arts college. Students interested in the liberal arts experience in the Midwest would be hard-pressed to find a better option.


Oberlin falls in the top 15 for ROI and career outcomes from liberal arts colleges, and scores a respectable 30 on the liberal arts rankings from the US News and World Report. Though it’s not spitting distance from any major metropolis, many of its grads land in the NYC job market.

9. Miami University – Oxford


Sometimes referred to as a Public Ivy, Miami University in Oxford, Ohio shines broadly with strong programs ranging from Business and Engineering to the Humanities. It lands in the top 75 for ROI and career outcomes and is ranked 96 nationally by the US News and World Report.


It doesn’t have an urban setting, but many graduates end up in the Chicago area where the job market remains strong.


10. Case Western


Case Western, located in Cleveland, OH, lands in the top 25 for ROI and career outcomes, so we’re often surprised that more students haven’t heard of it. It offers strong programs in Business, Premed, and Engineering and lands at the 42 spot nationally according to the US News and World Report.


Students with strong SAT scores should be especially interested in Case Western, as it offers significant scholarships to students who score above 1500.


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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.