A Guide to Online Colleges in Illinois

Updated May 11, 2021 | BestCollegeReviews.org Staff

Search Programs

The fifth-largest state in the country, Illinois is a little bit of everything: small, modest Midwestern towns; open tracts of farm land; and the windswept, buzzing metropolis of the Second City, Chicago, which remains remains perhaps the American city — sports, comedy, music, pizza, hot dogs. The state serves as a litmus test for the US, equal parts town and country, with one of the busiest airports in the world connecting sea to sea. Still, it wasn't always a geographical median. Much of the state's culture can be attributed to its frontier days, when a wealth of Native American tribes, French Canadians, freedmen, and East-coast migrants commingled, with mixed results, following the Northwest Ordinance, passed in the summer of 1787. That matrix of culture today can be felt across the state, and especially its schools, which are among the country's best: of Illinois's eleven "National Universities," as determined by the Carnegie Foundation, six are rank in US News's top tier. So, if you're an Illini eager to take advantage of the perks of online education, why not state local?

In-state tuition is often applied to public schools offering online programs Many online programs require some face-to-face time, or more numerous support services at their brick and mortar locations. Intensive study experiences–often on the weekends or in several week long bouts–enable many online students to accelerate their time until graduation. And students looking at online education can drastically expand their educational options if they also look to hybrid degrees (degrees where degrees can be taken partially, or mostly online). Finally, one of the most common stipulations in scholarships is that students be from a certain state or region, often more funds are available to students seeking degrees in-state.

The fourteen public schools in Illinois with online degree options offer everything from associate to doctoral programs. UI Urbana-Champaign and Eastern Illinois bother offer more than 20 programs in a wide variety of fields, including Education, Computer Science, Engineering, Health Sciences, Natural and Environmental Sciences, Business, and Counseling, among others, with numerous opportunities for concentrations and degree customization. On the other hand, professional-focused colleges like Wilbur Wright, DuPage, Harper, John Wood Community, Spoon River, and Kaskaskia College offer 26 total associate degrees, designed to accelerate career tracks and provide students with practical skills to leverage into employment opportunities. The largest of these is Harper College, with 11 associates in Accounting, Business, Management Information Systems, and more.

There are also twenty-five Illinois private schools offer online degrees. Concordia's selection of 43 degrees — 32 masters and 11 doctoral — is the largest, with graduate programs in business, education, gerontology, religion, and more (all of which have concentration and certificate options). Next in size are Benedictine University and Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, whose primary offerings are in religion, ministry, etc. MacMurray College offers the most bachelor tracks — fourteen — from business, to nursing, to homeland security. For private schools, associate-level degrees are limited, but Moody Bible Institute and Benedictine University each offer tracks in biblical studies and business administration, respectively.

Featured Online Schools

Potential Resident

For a variety of reasons, a student may look to move to the state of their online college program whether specifically required by the program or not – be it for a job, location desirability, school benefits, etc. Different states have different policies, however, and some of them can be rather demanding. Illinois is relatively straightforward. Dependent students should have a permanent home and physically reside in the state, with a permanent mailing address. Independent students must have physically resided in Illinois for 12 continuous full months immediately prior to the start of the academic year. U.S. Armed Forces members and foreign missionaries qualify as residents if they previously resided in the state before entering service, return or plan to return within six months after their service, and can demonstrate that Illinois remained their registered domicile throughout service. To demonstrate residence, potential students may be required to show documentation, i.e., tax returns, driver's license, car registration, etc. More information here.

Compared to the rest of the country, Illinois's higher education costs are slightly above average — at about $13,200 tuition per year at four-year institutions — but still below several other competitive and comparable states'. More important, it's one-year percent change is only 3%, and it's five-year percent change is only 10%, below the national average. (Some states have seen tuitions rise 30% in the last five years.) Other important factors to consider: private schools (and for-profit schools) significantly outnumber public ones, disproportionately raising the state's tuition average; and the state is home six-top tier universities per US News and World Report, which means premium costs but, theoretically, excellent value and prestige pedigree (note that several of these schools are public). All said, modestly above-average tuition costs are commensurate with education quality, and public, professional, and community colleges offer affordable opportunities, too.

Chicago has at least fourteen accredited schools offering online degrees, including University of Illinois at Chicago, Depaul University, Loyola University, National Louis University, Roosevelt University, and North Park University. Concordia and National Louis each offer more than twenty programs in a wide range of fields, from the bachelor's to doctorate level, in management, healthcare, business, criminal justice, education, and leadership, among others. Also of note are the Adler School of Professional Psychology and Chicago School of Professional Psychology, post-baccalaureate schools which offer unique studies in International Psychology, Business Psychology, Forensic Psychology, and Military Psychology, with several concentration options. The most bachelor offerings come from NLU and Roosevelt. Associate-level work is harder to find, but Moody Bible Institute and Wilbur Wright each offer tracks.The two primary online options in Eastern Illinois (south of Chicago) are Eastern Illinois University and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, two of the largest distance education providers in the state. They're also two of the best universities in the state. UI Urbana Champaign, ranked in the top 40 nationally by US News, offers one online bachelor's degree in Earth, Society and Environmental Sustainability and 21 master's degrees in a variety of areas: education (including an array of concentrations), natural resources, environmental science, engineering, library and information science, translation, computer science, and more. Eastern offers a fair distribution of 13 bachelor's and 10 master's programs. Bachelor programs include business, organizational and professional development, and a range of customizable general studies tracks; master programs include studies in business, educational leadership, counseling, and technology. Also note that Olivet Nazarene University offers 11 online degrees, including 3 bachelor's and 8 master's. With more than twenty other schools in the region, prospective students will want to check further for individual online offerings from smaller campuses.

Spoon River College, Mckendree University, and The University of Illinois at Springfield all offer online degrees from the Central Illinois region. Of these, the largest are Springfield and Mckendree, with 15 and 12 total degrees, respectively. Springfield's studies include 6 bachelor's tracks and 9 master's programs in Teacher Leadership, Management Information Systems, Environmental Studies, Human Services Administration -Social Service Administration, Political Science, and an MPA. Mckendree offers 4 master's degrees and 8 bachelor's in Nursing, Psychology, and Business (with concentrations like Sports Management, HR, and Marketing). Western Illinois schools granting online degrees include Quincy University, MacMurray University, John Wood Community College, and Western Illinois University. WIU offers 5 online degrees, but Quincy and MacMurrary are the largest (8 and 14, respectively). MacMurray's online programs are all bachelor-level, with studies in Business, Homeland Security, and Nursing, including a number of customization options. Quincy offers a bachelor's in Business and in Human Services, plus an MA in Communication, MEd in Curriculum and Instruction, and an MBA with several concentrations.


Population: 9,551,031
Cost of Living: 107.3%
Top Industries: Finance, Transportation, Distribution
Local Online Degrees: 14


Population: 199,963
Cost of Living: 102.1%
Top Industries: Technology, Manufacturing
Local Online Degrees: 0


Population: 344,623
Cost of Living: 85.4%
Top Industries: Automative, Education
Local Online Degrees: 0


Population: 147,433
Cost of Living: 101.3%
Top Industries: Manufacturing, Healthcare
Local Online Degrees: 1


Population: 141,853
Cost of Living: 104.4%
Top Industries: Technology, Food Services
Local Online Degrees: 0


Population: 211,700
Cost of Living: 85.3%
Top Industries: Government, Healthcare
Local Online Degrees: 1


Population: 118,943
Cost of Living: 84.5%
Top Industries: Manufacturing
Local Online Degrees: 0


Population: 110,145
Cost of Living: 101.8%
Top Industries: Manufacturing
Local Online Degrees: 0

The Best Online Colleges in Illinois

1. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Online Programs: 22
Type: Public

Founded in 1867, The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is the state's second-oldest university, offering 150 undergraduate, 100 graduate, and numerous professional programs. The school is considered one of the top public universities in the country, and features highly in rankings from U.S. News, Times Higher Education World University Rankings, Academic Ranking of World Universities, QS World University Rankings, and others. It has also been named a "public ivy," and is listed as one of the top research universities in the US, according to the Carnegie Foundation and The Center for Measuring University Performance. Its distinguished alumni and faculty include 21 Nobel laureates and 20 Pulitzer Prize-winners, and UI Urbana-Champaign graduates have gone on to leadership positions (including as founders, CEOs, and presidents) at such companies as Netscape Communications, PayPal, the NFL, YouTube, THX, Yelp!, and others.

2. DePaul University

Online Programs: 27
Type: Private

DePaul University is a private university in Chicago, Illinois, founded by the Vincentians in 1898. Student enrollment stands at about 16,000, making the school the thirteenth largest private school in the United States, with students from 60 countries across the world. The Princeton Review has ranked the school first in the nation for diversity, and its unique teaching philosophy and service-learning emphasis have earned recognition from a number of publications. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 16:1, classes are kept small to promote an intimate, collaborative learning environment. The school reports that 90% of undergraduate and graduate students are employed or continuing their education within 6 months of graduation. Prestigious programs include business, computer programming, education, law, music, and more. Distinguished alumni include Richard Driehaus, CEO of Driehaus Capital Management; Jack Greenberg, former CEO of McDonald's; James M. Jenness, former CEO of Kellogg Company; three former mayors of Chicago, and numerous artists, musicians, writers, athletes, and business leaders.

3. Benedictine University

Online Programs: 37
Type: Private

Benedictine University is a private Roman Catholic university in Lisle, Illinois, outside of Chicago; additional campuses are in Naperville, Springfield, Arizona, and abroad (plus the school's distance learning program). Benedictine's enrollment stands at just over 10,000, the school offers 56 undergraduate majors in the sciences, liberal arts, business, education, and health, among others. Classes sizes are small and intimate, with a student-to-faculty ratio of 13:1. The school's 31,000 alumni are found in all 50 states and 17 countries around the world, and the school is expanding: The Chronicle of Higher Education reports Benedictine as the second-fastest growing campus in the country among private nonprofit doctoral universities from 2003-2013. Forbes and U.S. News rank Benedictine among the best schools in the Midwest region. Well-regarded programs include business, nursing, and public health; and, as a Catholic school, Benedictine incorporates Christian concepts and values into all of its programs.

4. Loyola University Chicago

Online Programs: 16
Type: Private

Founded in 1870 by Jesuits, Loyola University Chicago is a private Catholic university with a main campus along the shore of Lake Michigan on the North Side. (There are six total campuses in Chicago, with additional locations in Rome, Beijing, and Ho Chi Minh City.) Offering 80 undergraduate and 140 graduate/professional programs, Loyola is especially known for its degrees in medicine, nursing, and health sciences, supported by the prestigious Loyola University Medical Center. Both US News and Washington Monthly rank it among the top schools in the country, and it has also been recognized for its "best value" rating and commitment to community service, having been ranked 6th overall by USA Today in the category. Its graduate school of business was ranked 1st in Ethics by Businessweek. With a total enrollment of approximately 16,000, Loyola boasts a robust and active alumni base of 150,000. Distinguished graduates include executives at McDonald's, Baxter International, Sun Microsystems, Wal-Mart, Sara Lee Corporation, and more. Others have been won Emmy, Grammy, Peabody, and Pulitzer awards, as well as Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowships.

5. Southern Illinois University Carbondale

Online Programs: 19
Type: Public

Founded in 1869, Southern Illinois University Carbondale is SIU's flagship campus. Total enrollment stands at about 17,000, and students comes from all 50 states and more than 100 countries around the globe. There are more than 200 bachelor's, 70 master’s, and 31 doctoral programs offered, in addition to professional programs in law, medicine, architecture, and business. Classified as high research activity university by the Carnegie Foundation, US News and the Princeton Review rank SIU among the top schools in the Midwest. (The latter also includes it in its "Guide to 311 Green Colleges.") Particularly noteworthy programs are in such varied areas as finance, automotive technology, zoology, American philosophy, clinical psychology, and forestry. With over 220,000 graduates, notable alumni have gone on to careers in politics, aeronautics, journalism, television, entertainment, and professional sports.

6. Eastern Illinois University

Online Programs: 23
Type: Public

Eastern Illinois University is a public university in Charleston, fifty miles south of Champaign. Originally a two-year teacher's college, EIU was established in 1895, assuming its current incarnation in 1957. With a student enrollment at 9,000, and the school's 14:1 student-to-faculty ratio supports an intimate, collaborative learning environment. There are 50 undergraduate, 29 graduate, and 10 post-baccalaureate certificate programs, and the university is divided into four colleges: Arts and Humanities, Business and Applied Sciences, Education and Professional Studies, and Sciences. It has been ranked among the top schools in the Midwest region by US News, and has been recognized by Business Insider and Washington Monthly for affordability and top value. Distinguished alumni have gone on to careers in business, politics, journalism, academia, professional sports, and the arts.

7. University of Illinois at Chicago

Online Programs: 12
Type: Public

University of Illinois at Chicago is located on the Near West Side by the Chicago Loop. There are nearly 30,000 students enrolled, and the school is the largest in the city, with fifteen separate colleges across a wide range of disciplines in healthcare, business, arts and sciences, and more, offering 83 bachelor's degrees, 93 master's degrees, and 64 doctoral degrees; eleven inter-college programs are also available from the Cancer Center, Center for Structural Biology, Council for Teacher Education, Graduate Education in Medical Sciences, National Center of Excellence in Women's Health, Office of International Affairs, and the Office of Special Scholarship Programs, among others. UIC is highly ranked by Forbes, Washington Monthly, and US News on both regional and national tiers; Entrepreneur and Princeton Review have recognized its undergraduate and graduate entrepreneurship programs. It ranks tenth in the country for diversity.

8. University of St Francis

Online Programs: 21
Type: Private

Founded in 1890, the University of Saint Francis is located in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with about 2,300 students enrolled, the majority of whom are from the Midwest — Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio. The school has received high academic ranking from several top publications, and Washington Monthly has listed it among its "Best Bang for Your Buck" schools. The school ranks fifth in the state for earnings potential, and 93% of 2015 graduates are employed, enrolled in educational programs, or in volunteer services. St. Francis is divided into four schools in business and entrepreneurship, arts and sciences, health sciences, and creative arts, and the university's unique EPIC programs allow students to earn for-credit work experience over two years. Specializing in online education, the university is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church and Franciscan Order. Notable graduates have gone to careers in politics, journalism, business, and entertainment.

9. National Louis University

Online Programs: 11
Type: Private

Established in 1886, National Louis University's main campus is in Skokie, Illinois, with additional campuses in Downtown Chicago, Wisconsin, Florida, and Poland. In recent years, its distance education program has significantly expanded, and over 90% of its 7,600-enrollment studies on a part-time basis. The school offers 15 bachelor's, 29 master's, and 6 doctoral programs, plus 4 postgraduate EdS tracks. More than 90% of classes have less than 20 students, and NLU emphasizes an individualized, intimate education setting. Notable graduates include John Merikis, CEO of The Sherwin-Williams Company; Lydia Stephens, former Executive Vice President of MSG Network; Richard Davidson, President and CEO of Century 21 Real Estate; and numerous other business executives, politicians, artists, and professional athletes. Core values are listed as: excellence, respect, collaboration, passion, inquiry, innovation, and engagement.

10. Concordia University-Chicago

Online Programs: 43
Type: Private

Concordia University-Chicago is a private Lutheran liberal arts school in the River Forest neighborhood. Part of the Concordia University System, other members schools are in New York, Alabama, Michigan, Texas, California, Oregon, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. Enrollment is approximately 5,300, and CUC is divided into four schools: the College of Arts and Sciences, College of Education, and College of Business, and College of Graduate and Innovative Programs. Education is the school's largest program, followed by business, communications, music, and theology. The average class size is just 15 students, encouraging an intimate, collaborative learning environment. As a Christian university, CUC lists its core values as: Christian Faith, The Individual, Excellence, Integrity, and Service. Religious concepts and values are incorporates into all of its programs.

11. University of Illinois at Springfield

Online Programs: 15
Type: Public

Established in 1969, the University of Illinois at Springfield was incorporated into the state system in 1995. Other memberships include the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), and the American Council on Education. With an enrollment of about 5,400, Springfield offers 27 bachelor's degrees, 20 master's, and a doctorate in Public Administration. The university has also offered distance degrees since 1999; it has won awards from the Sloan Consortium for Excellence in Institution-Wide Online Teaching and Learning, the Ralph E. Gomory Award for Quality Online Education, and the Society for New Communications Research for Excellence in Online Reputation Management. Notable alumni include Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Kathy Best, United States Department of Defense inspector general Gordon S. Heddell, Emmy-winning filmwriter-producer Milton J. Nieuwsma, and many others in business, politics, and the arts.

12. Northern Illinois University

Online Programs: 9
Type: Public

Northern Illinois University's flagship campus is in DeKalb, Illinois, with additional schools in Chicago, Hoffman Estates, Naperville, Rockford, and Oregon. Founded in 1895 as a teacher's college, the school has a current enrollment of 25,000 and consists of seven colleges offering 60 undergraduate majors, 70 minors, 9 pre-professional programs, and 79 graduate programs. It has received high marks from US News, Washington Monthly, and Forbes for academics, and Payscale, CollegeNet, and the Center for College Affordability and Productivity rank the school among the best in the country for value. Of particular ntoe are NIU's programs in business, engineering, nursing, visual and performing arts, and teaching. Distinguished alumni include actor and comedian Matt Walsh; Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer Simpson; Kurt Sutter, creator of "Sons of Anarchy"; Joan Allen, Academy Award nominee; and numerous politicians, writers, business leaders, and professional athletes.

13. Lewis University

Online Programs: 11
Type: Private

Established in 1932, Lewis University is a Roman Catholic and Lasallian university in Romeoville, Illinois. With an enrollment of 6,800, Lewis offers more than 80 undergraduate majors, 35 graduate programs, and accelerated programs for working adults across five colleges: Arts and Sciences, Business, Education, Nursing and Health Professions, and Professional and Continuing Education. Both US News and World Report and the Princeton Review rank Lewis among the top schools in the Midwest region, and a 13:1 student-to-faculty ration allows for individualized instruction and an intimate educational setting. Notable graduates have gone on to careers in entertainment, politics, television, law enforcement, the arts, and professional athletics. Sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, Lewis's programs integrate Christian values and concepts at all levels.

14. Northern Baptist Theological Seminary

Online Programs: 28
Type: Private

Northern Baptist Theological Seminary is located in Lombard, Illinois, a suburb to the west of Chicago. Founded in 1913 by the Second Baptist Church of Chicago, the school has an alumni base from all 50 states, currently serving in 30 countries around the world as pastors, missionaries, teachers, ministry leaders, writers, speakers, church planters, and more. Distinguished graduates include David Breese, Carl Henry, Torrey Johnson, John Osteen, Clay Evans, Millard J. Erickson, Louis S. Rawls, Kenneth Kantzer, and J. Edwin Orr, among many others. Master's degrees are available in Divinity, Christian Ministry, Theology and Mission, New Testament, and Worhsip, with doctoral and certificate programs available as well.

15. MacMurray College

Online Programs: 14
Type: Private

A four-year professional school, MacMurray College is in Jacksonville, Illinois, about 30 miles outside of Springfield. The school's most popular majors include nursing, criminal justice, homeland security, deaf and hard-of-hearing education, American Sign Language interpreting, teacher preparation, business, and social work. With under 600 students enrolled, 75% of classes have less than 20 students, and the student-to-faculty ratio is 13:1, allowing for an intimate, collaborative educational setting that supports individualized instruction. US News ranks MacMurray among the best schools in the region, and Washington Monthly has ranked it among the top 20 schools in the country for "contribution to the public good." Notable alumni have gone on to careers in politics, journalism, professional athletics, music, business, and more.

Monitoring the accreditation of a university you are interested in attending is incredibly important. Accreditation ensures your credits can transfer that you can receive Federal financial aid, and most importantly that certain standards of educational quality are during your schooling. The highest accreditation standard for most programs in the United States is provided by regional accreditation agencies. The regional accrediting agency for Illinois is the Higher Learning Commission, one of six regional accrediting agencies responsible for accrediting schools in Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Making sure that a University you're hoping to attend is regionally accredited — or accredited by a real and respected accrediting agency — is one of the most important choices you can make in ensuring the quality of your education.

Three Steps for Securing Financial Aid

  • Submit your FAFSA.
  • Check to see if additional forms are needed at your university of choice.
  • Search and apply for private scholarships.

Through the previous three steps most students find themselves offered some sort of federal grant, work study, private grant, scholarship, or stipend.

Great Illinois Higher Education Resources

Recommended Reading

See all posts