Best Colleges in Iowa in 2024

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Ever considered Iowa for your college journey? Selecting the appropriate college is a pivotal choice with profound implications for student engagement. Finding a college that offers the perfect combination of academic excellence, ideal student activities, and affordability can be overwhelming. Iowa offers a wide selection of some of the best colleges and universities.

In this blog, we’ve gathered information about Iowa’s best colleges that provide a diverse selection, from small liberal arts schools to large research universities, private colleges, and public institutions. Each offers a unique educational experience, with the student-faculty ratio playing a crucial role in shaping student involvement and personalized attention, particularly in private colleges and liberal arts institutions.

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Choosing the Right College in Iowa

If you are looking at this, at the heart of your future lies the following question: What are the best colleges in Iowa? This choice becomes even more significant in a state known for its robust education system and affordable yet high-quality institutions.

In Iowa, the education system prioritizes both quality and affordability across its top colleges. As aspiring undergraduates make their decisions, they closely consider key factors such as student-faculty ratio, acceptance rate, student activities, financial aid, location, and even campus policies like being smoke-free. These elements play a vital role in determining the overall value for money. This scrutiny has been heightened by the national discourse on student loan debt, with graduates actively seeking ways to minimize their financial burdens post-college.

Amidst this backdrop, education statistics show that Iowa colleges have emerged as leaders not only for their affordable tuition fees but also for their commitment to supporting student success. They have responded to students’ demands for a meaningful education that is also affordable by providing a wide range of resources and opportunities:

  • Study abroad programs: Many Iowa colleges offer extensive opportunities for students to study abroad and gain valuable international experiences.
  • Small class sizes: Colleges are ensuring that classrooms remain small and conducive to interactive learning, allowing students to engage more closely with professors and peers.

For those embarking on the journey of higher education in Iowa, it’s important to know that there are resources available, such as’s applicant profile, that can assist you in easily applying for scholarships. Additionally, you can explore numerous scholarship options on, which can make a significant difference in financing your college experience by providing access to new scholarships not found anywhere else.

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Iowa’s collegiate landscape boasts renowned institutions such as Luther College, Cornell College, Coe College, and Central College, each offering a unique educational experience. These colleges are known for their vibrant campus communities, with about a dozen fraternities adding to the lively atmosphere.

Additionally, several Iowa colleges, including those mentioned, participate in NCAA Division athletics, showcasing their commitment to both academic excellence and athletic achievement. Moreover, institutions like St. Ambrose University and Clarke University stand out for their emphasis on service and community engagement, with programs like the Peace Corps offering students opportunities to make a meaningful impact locally and globally.

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Best Colleges in Iowa

Let’s dive into an examination of some of the top colleges in Iowa to help you make the right choice.

1. Grinnell College

Nestled in the heart of Iowa, Grinnell College stands as a beacon of liberal arts education. With a rich history dating back to 1846, this private institution has consistently received recognition for its commitment to academic excellence.

Grinnell College offers a nurturing environment for academic exploration and critical thinking, with small class sizes and personalized attention from faculty. The college’s focus on interdisciplinary learning, coupled with robust academic support services and career counseling, ensures student success and prepares them for future endeavors.

A Focus on Liberal Arts Education

At Grinnell, they empower a liberal arts education, incentivizing students to develop their communication skills and sense of community in their residence halls. The curriculum is designed to provide students with a well-rounded learning experience, allowing them to explore various subjects and disciplines.

  • Students have the opportunity to study humanities and social sciences, natural sciences, fine arts, and more.
  • This interdisciplinary approach helps foster intellectual growth and critical thinking skills.
  • We believe that by encouraging exploration and embracing different perspectives, we can better prepare our students for the complexities of the world beyond college.

An Intimate Learning Environment

One of the things that sets Grinnell apart is our small undergraduate enrollment. With fewer students, we can offer:

  • Personalized attention: Our faculty members are able to engage closely with each student, providing guidance and support throughout their academic journey.
  • Meaningful interactions: The close-knit community in the residence halls at Grinnell promotes connections between students and faculty, creating an environment where discussions flourish both inside and outside the classroom.
  • Collaborative opportunities: With smaller class sizes, students have more opportunities to collaborate with their peers on projects and research initiatives.

A Commitment to Student Success

We take pride in our high graduation rate at Grinnell. It is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our students, as well as the support systems we have in place:

  • Academic support services: We offer resources such as tutoring services and writing centers to help students excel in their coursework.
  • Career counseling: Our dedicated career services team assists students in exploring career paths, finding internships, and preparing for post-graduate opportunities.
  • Alumni network: Grinnell College has a strong network of alumni who are eager to support current students through mentorship and professional connections.

The Grinnell Experience

For students who choose Grinnell College, they can expect:

  • A supportive community that values inclusivity and diversity.
  • Rigorous academics that challenge them intellectually.
  • Opportunities for personal and professional growth through internships, research projects, and study abroad programs.

Grinnell College is more than just an institution of higher education. It is a place where students can discover their passions, build lifelong friendships, and lay the foundation for a successful future.

universities in iowa

2. Drake University

Located in the vibrant city of Des Moines, Iowa, Drake University is a private institution with eight residence halls and is known for its commitment to academic excellence. Here are some highlights of what sets this University in Des Moines apart:

Athletic Programs

Drake University has about a dozen fraternities and is a member of the NCAA Division I and the Missouri Valley Conference in Des Moines. Their athletic programs have gained recognition for:

  1. Hosting the Drake Relays, one of the oldest and most prestigious track and field events in the country.
  2. Producing student-athletes who excel both in competition and in the classroom.

Teacher Education Program

Drake University offers a wide range of education programs in Des Moines at the undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral levels so students participate. Their teacher education program is known for:

  1. Preparing educators who are ready to innovate and lead in diverse educational settings.
  2. Providing hands-on teaching experiences early in the program through experiential learning opportunities.

Through a combination of academic rigor and practical learning, the university aims to create an environment where students can effectively apply their knowledge. This approach fosters a community that nurtures future leaders who are prepared to make a difference.

3. University of Iowa

The University of Iowa, located in Iowa City, is known not only for its intramural sports teams with Big 10 athletic traditions but also for the breadth and depth of its graduate programs.

A member of the Association of American Universities, the university has significantly impacted fields such as healthcare, law, and arts in Iowa City. With a strong emphasis on research and innovation, it fosters an environment where students are encouraged to challenge boundaries and redefine knowledge.

Here’s what stands out about the University of Iowa when compared to other colleges in Iowa:

Athletic Traditions

The university’s sporting prowess is evident in the Big 10 conference. It has a rich history in wrestling, football, Iowa Hawkeyes’ women’s basketball team, and more, cultivating a lively campus culture filled with spirit and pride and empowering Iowa City.

Graduate Programs

The university boasts notable graduate programs across various disciplines. Particularly noteworthy are their health-related programs— including an acclaimed medical school and top-ranked hospital in Iowa City— alongside robust offerings in law, engineering, and the creative arts.

Study Abroad Programs

Beyond academics and athletics, another aspect that sets the University of Iowa apart as one of the best colleges in Iowa is its commitment to global engagement. Undergraduate students can take advantage of numerous study-abroad experiences, which promote cultural understanding and provide international learning opportunities.

Whether you’re interested in studying Spanish in Spain or exploring sustainable development in India, there’s an experience waiting for you at the University of Iowa. The University of Iowa embodies a blend of academic rigor, athletic enthusiasm, and global perspective, making it one of the best colleges in Iowa to consider in your search.

4. Iowa State University

Iowa State University is a highly respected institution known for its academic excellence and strong athletic programs. Located in Ames, Iowa, Iowa State University offers a wide range of educational opportunities and is committed to pushing the boundaries of research and innovation.

The University is Renowned for fields like engineering and agriculture. It offers hands-on learning experiences and research opportunities. With transparent admissions criteria like the Regent Admission Index (RAI), the university ensures fairness and accessibility for prospective students.

Athletic Success:

  • Iowa State University intramural sports teams are in the Big 12 conference. The Iowa State Cyclones compete and have a storied history of excellence in sports such as basketball, football, and wrestling.
  • The university’s investment in athletic facilities and coaching talent underscores its commitment to providing student-athletes with top-tier opportunities for growth and competition. Their commitment is highly correlated to the success of when Iowa State cyclones compete.

Academic Excellence:

  • Iowa State is renowned for its strong programs in engineering, agriculture, and design, reflecting the university’s land-grant heritage and its dedication to practical innovation.
  • With a focus on experiential learning, students at Iowa State engage in hands-on projects like the campus newspaper, research opportunities, and internships that prepare them for success beyond academia.

Unique Admissions Criteria:

  • The Regent Admission Index (RAI) is a unique feature of admissions at Iowa State. This transparent scoring system combines factors like GPA, ACT/SAT scores, core coursework completion, and class rank to streamline the admissions process.
  • By using the RAI, Iowa State ensures clarity and fairness in evaluating prospective students, opening doors based on merit and preparedness.

Iowa State University’s combination of rigorous academics, competitive athletics, and a clear admissions strategy create an environment where students are primed to thrive.

Whether one is drawn to the excitement of sports or the opportunity to make groundbreaking discoveries, this university offers a diverse array of paths to personal and professional fulfillment.

5. University of Northern Iowa

Located in Cedar Falls, the University of Northern Iowa stands out as a public liberal arts university. Unlike larger institutions, it provides a small and supportive learning environment similar to a private institution.

The University of Northern Iowa boasts diverse undergraduate majors, providing students with opportunities to explore various fields. With a low student-faculty ratio, personalized attention from dedicated faculty enhances the learning experience. Emphasizing community engagement and vibrant campus life, the university fosters social responsibility and offers ample extracurricular opportunities for students to thrive.

Strengths and Highlights

Wide Range of Undergraduate Majors

The University of Northern Iowa offers an impressive selection of undergraduate majors covering various fields such as education, humanities, business, and applied sciences. With over 90 options to choose from, students have the flexibility to explore their interests and pursue their desired career paths.

Dedicated Faculty

One of the standout features of this university is its committed and accessible faculty members. Thanks to a low student-faculty ratio, students enjoy more opportunities for direct interaction with their professors. This personalized attention enhances learning experiences and fosters mentorship relationships.

Community Engagement

The University of Northern Iowa places great importance on active community involvement. Through initiatives like service learning and volunteer work in Cedar Falls, students are encouraged to make a positive impact beyond the campus boundaries. These hands-on experiences not only benefit others but also provide valuable real-world skills and perspectives.

Vibrant Campus Life

Beyond academics, the University of Northern Iowa offers a lively and inclusive campus life. There is a wide range of student clubs, organizations, and events catering to diverse interests. Whether you’re passionate about sports, arts, social causes, or anything in between, you’ll find opportunities to connect with like-minded peers and pursue your passions outside of the classroom.

As you explore your college options in Iowa, remember that finding the right fit goes beyond just looking at rankings and statistics. The University of Northern Iowa’s emphasis on individualized education and community engagement could make it the perfect match for you!

notable colleges in iowa

Other Notable Colleges in Iowa

Beyond the top five best colleges in Iowa, many other respected institutions call Iowa home. Each of these colleges offers unique opportunities and advantages that could make them the perfect fit for your educational journey.

Central College

Central College is known for its picturesque surroundings and vibrant community. Central College location Pella offers a beautiful and inviting campus for students to pursue their academic and personal goals. Central College offers over 70 majors, minors, and pre-professional programs, and students have ample opportunities, such as the campus newspaper, to explore their interests and academic goals.

Clarke University

Clarke University is known for its strong emphasis on personalized education and experiential learning. With a commitment to academic excellence and a supportive community atmosphere, Clarke University location Dubuque provides students with the tools and resources they need to succeed in their academic and professional endeavors.

Coe College

Coe College, situated in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, offers a rich academic environment with a focus on undergraduate education. Coe College has a diverse range of majors, vibrant campus life, and opportunities for hands-on learning. Coe College provides students a transformative educational experience in a supportive community setting.

Cornell College

Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, stands out for its unique One Course At A Time curriculum, where students delve deeply into one subject for three-and-a-half-week blocks. Cornell College fosters intense learning and critical thinking. With a vibrant campus community and personalized education, Cornell College prepares graduates to excel academically and socially, equipping them for success in improving life in Mount Vernon.

Dordt University

Located in Sioux Center, Dordt University is rooted in the Christian Reformed Church. It offers a broad range of academic programs and is recognized for its commitment to community service in Sioux Center.

Loras College

In the city Bathed by the Mississippi River is Loras College location Dubuque. The institution is known for its strong liberal arts program and commitment to sustainability. It has also earned high marks for its undergraduate teaching.

Luther College

Luther College is a liberal arts college affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Known for its study abroad programs and music department, Luther College provides a well-rounded education grounded in faith and service. Luther College location is in Decorah, Iowa.

Graceland University

Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa, offers diverse academic programs and a supportive community environment. With a focus on experiential learning and a commitment to the values of community and diversity, Graceland fosters personal and professional growth for its students.

Northwestern College - Iowa

The private institution, Northwestern College - Iowa (not to be confused with Northwestern University in Illinois), is another faith-based institution located in Orange City. A small student-faculty ratio fosters an intimate learning environment in Orange City.

Grand View University

Grand View University, located in Des Moines, Iowa, offers a diverse array of undergraduate and graduate programs with a focus on experiential learning. With small class sizes and a commitment to community engagement, Grand View provides students with a supportive environment to grow academically and personally, preparing them for leadership roles in their chosen fields.

Simpson College

Simpson College location Indianola, Iowa, provides students with a supportive and inclusive environment for academic and personal growth. With a focus on hands-on learning and individualized attention, Simpson College prepares students to excel in their chosen fields and make meaningful contributions to society.

St. Ambrose University

Lastly, St. Ambrose University, a private institution located in Davenport, a city crossed by the Mississippi River, stands out with its comprehensive offerings ranging from liberal arts to professional programs. Known for being military-friendly, it also has robust services for veterans.

We encourage you to consider these institutions as potential options. Aligning your studies with your interests and goals is key to finding success in college and beyond.

colleges in iowa to apply for

Criteria for Selecting the Best Colleges in Iowa

When looking for the Best Colleges in Iowa, it’s important to understand how the rankings work. Finding top-notch academic programming involves considering various factors:

Academic Excellence

This includes faculty qualifications, student-to-faculty ratios, research opportunities, and the range of academic programs offered.

Student Life

How students live is essential for personal growth. This category encompasses aspects of student life, such as diverse student organizations, quality of housing, and overall campus atmosphere.

Career Opportunities:

When seeking the finest educational institutions in Iowa, it’s vital to grasp the dynamics behind their rankings. Identifying top-tier academic offerings entails assessing a range of criteria:

Academic Excellence:

This encompasses the caliber of faculty members, student-to-faculty ratios, availability of research opportunities, and the breadth of academic programs provided.

Student Life:

The quality of student life profoundly impacts personal development. This aspect encompasses diverse student organizations, the standard of housing facilities, and the overall ambiance of the campus, including elements such as Greek life.

Career Preparation:

A college’s efficacy in preparing students for their future careers is evident in post-graduation employment rates, the availability of internships, and robust connections with potential employers.

While rankings can offer valuable insights into schools consistently excelling in these areas, they should not singularly dictate your decision-making process.

It’s equally crucial to consider your own aspirations and learning preferences when selecting a college. A school that resonates with your goals and values holds the potential to enrich your educational journey beyond any numerical ranking.

Reflect on what you seek from your college experience—be it pioneering programs, community engagement, or specific career pathways. Evaluating these needs aids in making a well-informed decision.

As you explore various colleges, consider the following questions:

  • What sets each college apart, and which city aligns with my preferences for residency (e.g., Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Sioux City)?
  • How do their academic offerings, particularly in fields such as computer science, creative writing, and business administration, support my career aspirations?
  • What resources, including robust academic programming, financial aid initiatives, and campus amenities like smoke-free environments, are available to foster my academic and professional success?
  • How do factors like the student body composition, standardized test requirements, and admission criteria contribute to the college experience and readiness for future careers?

By delving into these considerations, you can craft a tailored college selection process that integrates objective assessments with your individual preferences.

welcome to iowa sign

Frequently Asked Questions About Colleges in Iowa

What distinguishes a college with a top-notch academic program?

A college with a “top-notch academic program” is characterized by rigorous coursework, experienced faculty, ample research opportunities, and diverse academic majors and minors. These programs prioritize academic excellence and equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in their chosen fields.

Can you elaborate on Dordt University’s affiliation with the Reformed Church?

Dordt University is affiliated with the Reformed Church, a Protestant denomination known for its emphasis on Calvinist theology and principles. This affiliation informs the university’s mission, values, and community atmosphere, shaping its approach to education and service.

How does student life contribute to the overall college experience, particularly regarding where students live?

A positive student life experience fosters a sense of belonging, encourages personal growth and development, and enhances the overall college experience. Where students live plays a significant role in shaping their daily routines, interactions, and sense of community within the college environment.

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