Top 25 Best Plains Colleges in the US (2024)

The heartland is so much more than just “flyover country.” The Plains are home to booming industry, gorgeous farmlands, wind farms, and incredible colleges. In fact, some of the very best colleges in the US are located in the Plains.

Our top 25 best colleges in the Plains region cover Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Curious about the very best colleges in the plains? Here are the top 25.

Top 25 Best Plains Colleges

Washington University in St. Louis was named after George Washington and founded in 1853. A private research university, the school receives just under 34,000 applications a year and accepts around 4,500 students. Commonly chosen majors are Computer Science, Experimental Psychology, and Finance. Top sports on campus include track, football, and soccer.
Location Saint Louis, MO
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 16,973
Part of the Midwest Conference, the most popular sports at Carleton College include football, basketball, baseball, and cross country/track, soccer, and swimming and diving. They’re known as the Knights and wear blue and maize for school colors. Biology is a top major, with Computer Science, International Relations and Affairs, and Research and Mathematics also being popular choices.
Location Northfield, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,044
The two most popular majors at Grinnell College are Computer Science and Biology/Biological Sciences. Part of the Midwest Conference and NCAA Division III, the Pioneers, wearing scarlet and black, have a wide variety of sports to choose from including football, swimming, diving, golf, and soccer. They currently have exactly 400 athletes and their unofficial mascot is a squirrel.
Location Grinnell, IA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,748
Exclusively for undergraduates, Macalester College has an acceptance rate of 31.5%. They have a relatively low student-to-faculty ratio (10:1) and a 96% first year retention rate. Although the school is located in Minnesota, many students also come from California, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Macalester’s campus is located near the Mississippi River.
Location St. Paul, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,244
The University of Minnesota – Twin Cities’ campus is actually made up of two locations, 3 miles apart: Minneapolis and Falcon Heights. Also known as U of M or Minnesota, their motto is “Commune vinculum omnibus artibus” or “A common bond for all the arts.” It’s the largest and oldest school in the University of Minnesota system and actually got its start in 1851, before Minnesota was even a state.
Location Minneapolis, MN
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 52,376
Founded by Norwegian-American immigrant pastors and farmers, St. Olaf has actually been visited by King Olav and King Harald V. Their mascot is St. Olaf Lion and the school’s athletes are known as the Oles. The school accepts only 47.1% of students, with many going on to major in Biology, Economics, Mathematics, and Research and Experimental Psychology.
Location Northfield, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,988
The second oldest Jesuit university in the country, SLU is also the oldest university west of the Mississippi. Although they are based in St. Louis, they also have a campus in Madrid, Spain. The school boasts a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio and an 89% first year retention rate. Registered Nursing and Kinesiology and Exercise Science are popular majors.
Location St. Louis, MO
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 13,474
Registered Nursing is by far the most popular area of study for Creighton University. With a first year retention rate of 91%, a majority of students come from Nebraska and the surrounding states. The campus is located near the Missouri River on the border of Nebraska and Iowa. Blue and white are the school colors and their mascot, appropriately, is a bluejay.
Location Omaha, NE
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 8,735
The University of Iowa has a 15:1 student-to-faculty ratio and 88% first year retention rate. The oldest university in the state, the school offers over 200 areas of study. The top major is Kinesiology and Exercise Science. Flannery O’Connor and Gene Wilder are famous alumni from the school. Athletes are known as Hawkeyes and their team is led by Herky the Hawk.
Location Iowa City, IA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 29,909
The most popular major at the University of Missouri – Columbia is Business, closely followed by Health Services and Journalism. It was the first public university west of the Mississippi. The Missouri School of Journalism was founded in 1908, the first journalism school in the world. Famous alumni have included Chris Cooper, Sheryl Crow, Jon Hamm, and Brad Pitt.
Location Columbia, MO
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 31,401
The University of St. Thomas in Minnesota was founded in 1885 as a Catholic Seminary. Named after Thomas Aquinas, he is now the patron saint of the students attending the university. The main campus of the school is located in Saint Paul, but other campuses and properties can be found in Minneapolis, Owatonna, and Rome, Italy.
Location Saint Paul, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 9,336
Iowa State University, also known as simply Iowa State, was one of the founding members of the Big 12. They have 16 varsity teams which have won several NCAA national championships. The Cyclones are led by their mascot Cy the Cardinal and they wear the colors cardinal and gold. A majority of students come from Iowa and the surrounding states.
Location Ames, IA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 30,708
This university is named in honor of Harry S. Truman, who was a Missouri native. Popular majors include Business Administration and Management, Kinesiology and Exercise Science, and Biology. Athletes are known as Bulldogs and their mascots are Spike and Simone. 92.1% of students at Truman State study at the undergraduate level.
Location Kirksville, MO
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 4,225
Track is a very popular sport on campus, which shouldn’t be a surprise given the university hosts the famed Drake Relays. In 1935, Jesse Owens set an American broad jump record during the Relays! The Drake Bulldogs also compete in football, basketball, soccer, and tennis. On the academic side of things, the most popular major is Actuarial Science.
Location Des Moines, IA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 4,875
Partnered with Saint John’s University for men, the College of Saint Benedict is exclusively for women. The school got its start in 1913 with only six students. Today, resources are shared between the two campuses, a partnership that began in 1955. They have an 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio, 85% first year retention rate, and 74% four year graduation rate.
Location Saint Joseph, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,542
Popular majors at Gustavus Adolphus College include Psychology, Biology, Business, Registered Nursing, and Political Science and Government. The school does not charge students for applications. Gus the Lion is the mascot for the school’s sports teams - the Golden Gusties. Black and gold are the official school colors.
Location St. Peter, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,251
The University of Kansas, also known as KU, is the state’s flagship university. The school athletes compete in the Big 12 Conference. Known as the Jayhawks, there are 16 available varsity sports and several club level sports available to students. 71.5% of the student body are undergraduates.
Location Lawrence, KS
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 26,780
Saint John’s University is an all-male school that has a partnership with the College of Saint Benedict, the women’s college. They share curriculum and access to resources on either campus. Saint John’s has a 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio and an 85% first year retention rate. Wearing cardinal and blue, athletes are known as Johnnies.
Location Collegeville, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,668
Martin Luther College is Via Veritas Vita, which is Latin for “The Way, the Truth, the Life.” Elementary Education and Teaching is the most popular major, followed by Pre-Theology/Pre-Ministerial Studies. 91.4% of applicants are accepted, and over 86% of the students on campus study at the undergraduate level.
Location New Ulm, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 920
Bethel University has an 89% acceptance rate. Registered Nursing and Business Administration and Management are the most popular majors, followed by Communication, Elementary Education and Teaching, Psychology, and Biology. The campus is located on Valentine Lake, and students can benefit from an 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio.
Location Saint Paul, MN
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,731
Luther College, which has a first year retention rate of 84%, got its start as a Lutheran seminary by Norwegian immigrants. The upper campus is on the National Register of Historic Places which is a list of buildings and structures that are considered of historical significance. In the lower part of the school, students can see the Upper Iowa River flowing through.
Location Decorah, IA
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 1,744
UMR is dedicated to solving health challenges of the 21st century. In fact, the only two majors offered at UMR are BS in Health Sciences and BS in Health Professions. Students get the benefit of collaborating with the Mayo Clinic as a part of their program. The school has an 80% acceptance rate and 75% first year retention rate.
Location Rochester, MN
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 646
At “Augie,” 84.8% of students are working towards their bachelor’s degree. Students attending AU will follow “The Augustana Plan” for their core curriculum which aims to help with ethics, problem-solving, creativity, communication, and more. Students will go on to study Registered Nursing, Biology, Business Administration and Management, and other majors. 100% of students receive grant aid.
Location Sioux Falls, SD
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 2,022
The University of Nebraska - Lincoln is the oldest university in the state and the flagship of the University of Nebraska system. The top five most popular majors are Business Administration, Psychology, Finance, Public Relations, and Foods, Nutrition, and Wellness Studies. 80% of the students on campus study at the undergraduate level.
Location Lincoln, NE
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 24,431
There is no application fee at Rockhurst University, where they accept 67% of students. 17.2% of these accepted students will go on to attend. Nursing is by far the most popular major and 74% of students will graduate within 6 years. Rockhurt’s motto is Sapientia Aedificavit Sibi Domum which is Latin for “Wisdom has built herself a home.”
Location Kansas City, MO
Institution Type Private
Student Enrollment 3,626

Why Are the Plains a Great Place to Go to School?

When people think of the plains states, they may think of corn and flying over to reach the west or east coasts. However, this region has so much to offer its students! 

When it comes to the region’s cities, they can have some amazing getaway locations. Minneapolis, for example, is home to the Mall of America and the Minneapolis Institute of Art. In Saint Louis, you can plan a trip to the STL Zoo or the Silver Dollar City amusement park. Many cities in these states also have their own local museums, botanical gardens, sports stadiums, and so much more.

And if you love the outdoors, the plains region of the United States has so much to offer! It’s home to some of the most stunning national and state parks including the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, and the Badlands National Park which actually contains one of the richest fossil beds in the world.

The Plains region shouldn’t be overlooked if you’re looking for great colleges. The dramatic landscapes and unique destinations these states can offer can add a world of experiences to your time in college.

State Grant Aid in the Plains Region

Between loans and 529 plans, affording college can get expensive and confusing. However, many states – including those in the plains region – offer state grants and scholarships to their students. These financial aid awards can make attending your dream school a reality. To learn more about what these states and others offer, we recommend beginning with our State Grants Guide.

Interested in any of these top best Plains 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.