Top 25 Best Colleges in the Plains Region | 2021 Rankings

Best plains region colleges badgeAmerica’s heartland has a lot to offer — beautiful scenery, booming industry, vast farmlands, and fantastic colleges. In fact, some of the very best colleges in the US are located in the plains region.

For this list, we’re including the following states in the plains region: Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Curious about the best colleges in the plains? Here they are.

Top 25 Best Colleges in the Plains Region

Although it technically began as a university, Washington University in St. Louis was originally a night school until they received enough funding to become a fully-fledged university. Today, almost 16,000 students attend the university with a 97% first year retention rate. Some popular majors at the school include Computer Science, Finance, and Experimental Psychology.
Location St. Louis, MO
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 15,852
Carleton College was named after William Carleton, who donated $50,000 to the school after seeing its first president survive a carriage and train accident. The school is quite selective, only accepting 20% of all applicants and many attendees are National Merit Scholars. Some of the most popular majors at Carleton include Computer Science, Biology, and International Relations and Affairs.
Location Northfield, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,097
In 1914, Grinnell College offered a Peace Rock to students protesting the abolishment of a favorite tradition. In response, a group of students stole and hid the rock, which wasn’t found until 2017. Grinnell College itself is need-blind, which means that finances don’t factor into admissions.
Location Grinnell, IA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,716
Macalester College offers over 30 different majors and students can even create their own. Some of the most popular majors at Macalester College include Econometrics and Quantitative Economics, Biology, and Research and Experimental Psychology. The campus is located near the mighty Mississippi River.
Location St. Paul, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,174
The University of Minnesota -- Twin Cities is not only the largest and first school in the University of Minnesota system, it’s also considered a Public Ivy and is known for its focus on research. Over 43,000 students apply to the university every year and only half are accepted. The three most popular majors at the university include Psychology, Computer Science, and Biology.
Location Minneapolis, MN
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 50,734
St Olaf College was founded by Norwegian immigrants who wanted a school that taught in both Norweigian and English. To this day, the school maintains ties with its Norweigian heritage, even having two kings of Norway visiting. Over 3,000 students attend this small liberal arts college. Incoming students have an average ACT score between 25 to 32 and an SAT score between 1,120 to 1,460.
Location Northfield, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,048
Did you know that SLU has a sister campus in Madrid, Spain? The American branch is located, aptly, in Saint Louis, Missouri, not far from the Mississippi River. SLU has a 90% first-year retention rate and a student-to-faculty ratio of 9:1. Their mascot is a unique one; the Billiken, which is a creature of good luck.
Location St. Louis, MO
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 14,438
Athletes and Olympians the world over come to participate in the Drake Relays, including Jesse Owens back in 1935. 100% of students at Drake receive institutional aid to help cover the costs of college. Though 35% of the incoming class comes from Iowa, many others come from neighboring states Minnesota, Illinois, and Missouri.
Location Des Moines, IA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 4,869
Famed for the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the university has had several famous people pass through its halls as well -- Gene Wilder, Tennessee Williams, Flannery O’Connor, and Ashton Kutcher, to name a few. The University of Iowa has a 16:1 student-to-faculty ratio and a first-year retention rate of 86%.
Location Iowa City, IA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 31,656
Blue and white are the official school colors of Creighton University, which makes its mascot especially apt -- the Bluejay. Unlike many colleges, Creighton has an even 50/50 split between undergraduate and graduate students. The school has a 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio and a 6-year graduation rate of 78%.
Location Omaha, NE
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 8,910
The sister school of the all-men’s Saint John’s University, the College of Saint Benedict is an all-women’s liberal arts college. The school has an acceptance rate of 80% and does not require an application fee. Registered Nursing, Biology, Nutrition Science, Elementary Education, and Psychology are the most popular majors.
Location Saint Joseph, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,782
Also known as TSU or just Truman, this university chose the Bulldog as its mascot. Incoming students to TSU score, on average, 24 -- 31 on the ACT and 1180 -- 1430 on the SAT. 81% of first-year students come from the state of Missouri, though many others come from surrounding states.
Location Kirksville, MO
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 5,853
The University of St. Thomas has a rather altruistic school motto -- “All for the common good.” The campus is located on the banks of the Mississippi River. The school has a first-year retention rate of 86% and a student-to-faculty ratio of 14:1. Purple and gray are the school colors. The sports teams are called the Tommies.
Location Saint Paul, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 10,035
Mechanical Engineering, Marketing, Kinesiology, Finance, and Animal Science are the most popular majors at Iowa State University. Cardinal and gold are the official school colors of the ISU Cyclones. The school is known for its agricultural programs and famed botanist George Washington Carver graduated back in 1894.
Location Ames, IA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 34,992
Also known as UM or Mizzou, the school’s official motto is “Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law.” Three-quarters of student body study at the undergraduate museum. 77% of the students receive institutional aid to help pay for college. The most popular major on campus is Business / Commerce.
Location Columbia, MO
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 29,843
Saint John’s University is an all-male college and the brother school to the College of Saint Benedict -- an all women’s college. Of the entire student body, 94% are undergraduates and 6% are graduate students. Business Administration is the most popular major, followed by Accounting and Economics.
Location Collegeville, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,777
Maroon and gold are the colors of the University of Minnesota Rochester, a school that focuses primarily on general health sciences. The highest degree offered at this school is the bachelor’s degree, which is why you’ll only find undergraduate students on campus. 77% of the first-year class call Minnesota home, though many other students come from neighboring states.
Location Rochester, MN
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 533
The University of Kansas Jayhawks wear red and blue while competing in NCAA Division I sports. There are around 520 student-athletes on campus; some popular sports include track, basketball, football, golf, swimming/diving, and volleyball. KU alumni and faculty have gone on to become Fulbright scholars, astronauts, and Nobel Prize winners.
Location Lawrence, KS
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 27,690
Located on the banks of the Minnesota River, Gustavus Adolphus College does not require an application fee. Incoming students typically score an average of 24 -- 30 on the ACT and 1180 -- 1400 on the SAT. Gustavus Adolphus has an 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio and a 6-year graduation rate of 78%.
Location St. Peter, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,241
Registered Nursing, Biology, Business Administration, Elementary Education, and English are the top 5 most popular majors on campus. At Augustana, blue and gold are the official colors of the Vikings. 100% of the students receive institutional aid to help pay for college. The student-to-faculty ratio is 12:1.
Location Sioux Falls, SD
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,133
“Sapientia Aedificavit Sibi Domum” is the Latin motto of Rockhurst University, which means “Wisdom has built herself a home” -- an apt phrase for an institute of higher learning. 75% of the students on campus study at the undergraduate level. Rockhurst does not require application fees from prospective students.
Location Kansas City, MO
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,145
Luther College celebrates its Norweigian roots. Founded by Norweigian immigrants, Luther’s sports teams are known as the Norse, there’s an a capella group called the Nordic Choir, and the logo is a horned helmet. The school is exclusively undergraduate and its student-to-faculty ratio is 11:1.
Location Decorah, IA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,005
Concordia’s school colors are maroon and gold. The campus is located on the banks of the Red River on the Minnesota -- North Dakota border. A whopping 99% of students studying on campus are undergraduates. There are over 500 student-athletes competing at Concordia who play ice hockey, soccer, track, and basketball among other sports.
Location Moorhead, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,129
Though based in Iowa, only 20% of Cornell’s incoming class come from the state -- the rest come from all around the country. Biochemistry, History, Computer Science, Kinesiology, and Creative Writing are the top 5 most popular majors at the school. Cornell has a student-to-faculty ratio of 12:1.
Location Mount Vernon, IA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,028
“Literis Dedicata et Omnibus Artibus” is the motto of this university, which translates to “Dedicated to Letters and All the Arts.” The students of UNL are known as the Cornhuskers an wear red and white to celebrate their school pride. Notable alumni include Warren Buffet and Johnny Carson, as well as pro athletes, academics, scientists, and more.
Location Lincoln, NE
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 25,820

Interested in any of these schools? Check out College Raptor’s free match tool to see if they’re a good fit for you!

Methodology

Colleges are ranked based on a combination of factors, including graduation rates, campus diversity, endowment per student, and other data as reported via the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) for the most recently-available enrollment year. Some colleges may have been excluded from rankings based on certain criteria, including specialization and classification. Learn about our full methodology.

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