Top 25 Best Great Lakes Colleges in the US (2024)

Superior, Erie, Michigan, Huron, and Ontario make up the five Great Lakes that border the United States and Canada. The states that surround them are chock full of amazing schools and amazing sites. Many of the colleges and universities in this region have unique traditions that take advantage of the cold, too. So, if you love the outdoors and the cold, these top 25 best colleges in the Great Lakes region may be perfect for you and your education.

For the Top 25 best colleges in the Great Lakes region list, the following states are included: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Top 25 Best Great Lakes Colleges

The University of Chicago receives over 37,900 applications though only about 2,400 were accepted. Therefore, the school has a 6.5% acceptance rate. The school is made up of their undergraduate college and five graduate research divisions. They also have campuses all over the world from Hong Kong to Paris.
Location Chicago, IL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 18,832
Top majors at Northwestern University are Econometrics and Quantitative Economics, Digital Communication and Media, and Speech Communication and Rhetoric. A founding member of the Big Ten Conference, top sports for the Wildcats include football, basketball, baseball, and soccer. Willie the Wildcat cheers them on and the colors are purple and white.
Location Evanston, IL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 23,409
Edward Sorin founded the University of Notre Dame in 1842 as a private Catholic research University. Their motto is, “Vita Dulcedo Spes” or “Life, Sweetness, Hope” – referencing the Virgin Mary. The school’s teams are known as the Fighting Irish and wear the colors blue and gold. Their mascot is the very iconic leprechaun.
Location Notre Dame, IN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 13,139
The two most commonly chosen majors at University of Michigan – Ann Arbor are Computer and Information Sciences and Business Administration. However, Economics, Physiological Psychology/Psychobiology, and Experimental Psychology are also popular. Accepting just 20% of applicants, 45% of students who are accepted decide to attend the following year.
Location Ann Arbor, MI
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 50,278
Hillsdale’s motto is “Virtus Tentamine Gaudet” or “Strength Rejoices in the Challenge.” The school has a 94% first year retention rate and an 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio. All students who attend are required to take courses on the “Great Books,” the United States Constitution, and Science courses. 78% of students will graduate within 4 years.
Location Hillsdale, MI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,602
A land-grant research university, Ohio State is known as a Public Ivy. Getting its start in 1870, it was originally known as the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College. The Buckeyes take part in the Big Ten Conference and are well known for their football program. With over 1,000 athletes, other popular sports at the school include track, baseball, ice hockey, and fencing.
Location Columbus, OH
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 61,677
The University of Wisconsin - Madison was the first public university in the state as it was founded when Wisconsin received statehood in 1848. Their motto is “Numen Lumen” or “Divine Light.” It’s also the largest employer in the state as it has over 24,200 faculty and staff. There are more than 140 undergraduate majors available to those attending.
Location Madison, WI
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 47,016
The University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign is a public land-grant research university. It was one of 37 universities that came out of the Morrill Land-Grant Act. When the school opened, there were only 77 students and 2 faculty members. Today, over 47,500 apply each year to Urbana, 60% of which are accepted.
Location Champaign, IL
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 56,607
Case Western Reserve University has slightly more graduate students (52.3%) than undergraduate students (47.7%). The school is known as the “Yale of the West” since its campus imitated Yale’s. Computer Science is the most popular major, followed by Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering and Biology.
Location Cleveland, OH
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 12,142
Kenyon College has produced Rhodes Scholars, Truman Scholarship winners, Fulbright recipients, and Marshall Scholarship winners. Famous alumni have included former United States President Rutherford B. Hayes, actor Paul Newman, and Calvin and Hobbes creator, Bill Watterson. The school has a 37% acceptance rate.
Location Gambier, OH
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,875
Bloomington is the flagship and largest campus of Indiana University. Past students have included former Disney CEO, Bob Chapek, Hunger Games author, Suzanne Collins, and the co-founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales. A majority of incoming students are from Illinois and Indiana, but students will come from all over the country to attend.
Location Bloomington, IN
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 45,328
Purdue University is a public land-grant research university. Alumni include Neil Armstrong, Orville Redenbacher, and Drew Brees. The university accepts about 69% of students. The most popular majors are Computer Science, followed by Mechanical Engineering, Industrial Engineering, and Aerospace, Aeronautical, and Astronautical/Space Engineering.
Location West Lafayette, IN
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 50,344
Michigan State University is one of the largest universities when it comes to enrollment. Some alumni have included Magic Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, Dan Gilbert, and Sam Raimi. Athletes are known as Spartans and they compete in the Big 10 conference wearing green and white. 77.7% of the students on campus are undergraduates.
Location Lansing, MI
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 49,659
Oberlin College is the oldest coeducational liberal arts college in the country, and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music is also the oldest operating conservatory within the United States. The school accepts only about 35% of students. 72% will graduate within 4 years (82% within 6). Oberlin College’s motto is “Learning and Labor.”
Location Oberlin, OH
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,953
Denison University is an undergraduate school that is highly selective, only accepting 28.5% of students who apply. With an 87% first year retention rate, 81% will graduate within six years. Econometrics and Quantitative Economics, Mass Communication/Media Studies, and Biology are popular areas of study.
Location Granville, OH
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,321
Miami University - Oxford’s motto is “Prodesse Quam Conspici” in Latin, which means “To accomplish without being conspicuous.” The 10th oldest public university in the United States (1809), they accept 89% of applicants. Athletes, known as the Miami RedHawks, compete in the Mid-American Conference and National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
Location Oxford, OH
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 19,264
Wheaton College was founded by evangelical abolitionists in 1860 and would become a stop on the Underground Railroad. Business is by far the most popular major at the school. Athletic teams are known as The Thunder. They wear blue and orange and compete in the NCAA Division III in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin.
Location Wheaton, IL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,047
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology focuses on math, science, and engineering. It was originally founded as the Terre Haute School of Industrial Science in 1874 in an effort to teach technical training to assist with railroad construction. It would get its current name in 1971 after financial support from the Hulman family. The top major is Mechanical Engineering.
Location Terre Haute, IN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,101
Located in Greencastle, Indiana, DePauw University was founded in 1837 as Indiana Asbury University. DePauw’s motto is “Decus lumenque reipublicae collegium” in Latin, which means “the college is the splendor and light of the common good.” Econometrics and Quantitative Economics, Speech Communication and Rhetoric, and Computer Science are the three most popular majors.
Location Greencastle, IN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,724
Founded in 1881, the school would become the first coeducational Catholic university in the world in 1909. 11 schools and colleges can be found at the Milwaukee campus, but the school also features more than 68 doctoral and master’s degree programs. Top areas of study include Biomedical Sciences and Finance.
Location Milwaukee, WI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 11,320
CIM is a school of music that focuses on playing and composing classical music. Many graduates and alumni are members of the Cleveland Orchestra. CIM has a 100% first year retention rate and 98% of students who attend will receive some sort of grant aid. The only two majors offered at this school are Music Performance and Music Theory and Composition.
Location Cleveland, OH
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 343
Lawrence University was the second coeducation institution (founded in 1847) in the US. The three most popular majors are Music Performance, Econometrics and Quantitative Economics, and Psychology. Offering only bachelor’s degrees to students, many alumni have gone into careers in politics, music, and sports. The campus sits along the winding Fox River.
Location Appleton, WI
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,483
A liberal arts college, Lake Forest College is located just a half mile from Lake Michigan and just 30 miles north of Chicago. The school offers 32 majors of which Business, Research Psychology, and Finance are the most popular. Lake Forest College offers a $0 application fee for undergraduate students and around 64% of applicants will be accepted.
Location Lake Forest, IL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,690
Loyola University Chicago is classified as a Doctoral/Research university and a Roman Catholic affiliation. Located in downtown Chicago right on the shore of Lake Michigan, the school has a $0 application fee for undergraduates and a 77% acceptance rate. Registered Nursing, Biology, and Psychology are the three most popular majors.
Location Chicago, IL
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 17,498
Wabash College is a small undergraduate men’s school. They accept 62% of applicants and have a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio. The student paper, The Bachelor, has been in publication since the early 1900’s. Rhetoric and Composition, Economics, and Political Science and Government are among the popular majors.
Location Crawfordsville, IN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 840

Why is the Great Lakes Region a Great Place to Go to School?

If you love the outdoors – whether that’s fishing, hiking, or just being out and about – going to a Great Lakes college is for you. Of course, you’ll need to be okay with the cold in these states – they have some of the coldest temperatures in the country – and they get a lot of snow too!

The Great Lakes Region is home to some amazing national and state parks, lakes, rivers, and more that are well worth exploring. From the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan to the Indiana Dunes National Park in Indiana, there are plenty that you will want to return to again and again. 

The cities themselves also offer some unique opportunities for fun and education. Indianapolis is home to the Indianapolis Zoo and the Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari theme park. In Detroit, you can take a trip back in history with the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation or relax in the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Ohio is, of course, home to the Cincinnati Zoo, Cedar Point, and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame!

State Grant Aid in the Great Lakes Region

Did you know that many states offer grants, scholarships, and other forms of financial aid to make college more affordable for its students? Higher education departments, such as the Ohio Higher Ed. and, have resources students need to locate and apply for these awards. To learn more about what may be offered in your state, use our handy State Grants Guide to get started.

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


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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