Best Colleges in Iowa

The higher education experts at have reviewed the top 4-year colleges in the state of Iowa. Start planning for your future today.
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Updated on July 6, 2023
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Earning a college degree provides graduates with a number of benefits. Higher education promotes critical thinking, enhances communication skills, and often exposes students to diverse communities and perspectives they might not otherwise encounter. Perhaps most significantly, data suggests that earning a college degree can dramatically increase employability and earning potential over the course of your lifetime.

Top 10 Colleges in Iowa

  1. Grinnell College - Grinnell, IA
  2. Iowa State University - Ames, IA
  3. Allen College - Waterloo, IA
  4. University of Northern Iowa - Cedar Falls, IA
  5. University of Iowa - Iowa City, IA
  6. St Luke's College - Sioux City, IA
  7. Coe College - Cedar Rapids, IA
  8. Luther College - Decorah, IA
  9. Drake University - Des Moines, IA
  10. Cornell College - Mount Vernon, IA

Generally, low unemployment rates make it easier for job seekers to find work. This is good news for college graduates in the Hawkeye State. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Iowa boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation -- 2.6% as of October 2019. According to the state agency Iowa Workforce Development, occupational fields with particularly high projected growth rates between 2016 and 2026 include office and administrative support, sales, management, and education/library services.

If you're ready to begin your college journey, the following list of the 25 top colleges in Iowa is a great place to start. Our ranking provides you with notable information about several key elements of the college experience, such as admissions, academic offerings, student life, and campus culture.

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Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

2020 Best Colleges in Iowa

Best Colleges in Iowa

  1. Grinnell College

    Grinnell, IA



    Located in the town of the same name, Grinnell College is a private liberal arts college known for flexible curriculum pathways and a commitment to social responsibility and justice. This coeducational, residential college serves approximately 1,700 students each year. Grinnell participates in NCAA athletics, features over 150 student groups, and hosts hundreds of lectures, performances, and events each year.

    Grinnell offers a diverse catalog of 27 majors and 16 concentrations. Areas of study include biological chemistry, classics (ancient Greece and Rome), Russian, statistics, and technology studies. Students receive individual advising to help them craft their own ideal curriculum. Major selection isn't required until the second half of a learner's sophomore year. Grinnell emphasizes experiential learning and mentorship, providing students with extensive opportunities for internships, externships, service learning, and study abroad.

    Admission to Grinnel is highly selective. Prospective students must submit official high school transcripts, ACT or SAT scores, two teacher evaluations, and a counselor recommendation.

  2. Iowa State University

    Ames, IA



    Iowa State University is a public land- and space-grant research university located in Ames. With a campus of 1,900 acres, the institution is the third-largest university in the state as well as in the NCAA's Big 12 athletic conference. Notably, Iowa State belongs to the invitation-only Association of American Universities, along with 61 other top research universities in the U.S. and Canada.

    Approximately 35,000 students attend Iowa State each year, pursuing diverse academic options from a catalog of 104 bachelor's degrees, 117 master's programs, and 83 Ph.D. degrees. The university delivers these programs through eight colleges: agriculture and life sciences, business, design, engineering, human sciences, liberal arts and sciences, veterinary medicine, and the graduate college. Students can also access select courses and programs through online and hybrid learning.

    Prospective undergraduate students must provide high school transcripts and ACT or SAT scores.

  3. Allen College

    Waterloo, IA



    A private nonprofit institution, Allen College offers outstanding healthcare education to more than 650 students each year. The campus is located in Waterloo, and student housing options are available in nearby Cedar Point through a mutual partnership with the University of Northern Iowa.

    Allen College offers associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in a variety of healthcare fields including nursing, radiography, occupational therapy, healthcare leadership, and education. Students can complete an accelerated BSN in 15-16 months. Allen also delivers several hybrid and fully online degrees including undergraduate programs in public health and medical imaging. All nursing degrees at Allen College hold accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

    Admission requirements, including minimum GPA and ACT scores, vary according to student status and program choice. Undergraduates must fulfill their general education requirements at another institution prior to degree completion.

  4. University of Northern Iowa

    Cedar Falls, IA



    The University of Northern Iowa is a public liberal arts university located in Cedar Falls. Serving more than 10,000 students each year, UNI offers on-site housing, Greek life, a state-of-the-art wellness and recreation facility, NCAA athletics, study abroad opportunities, and a rich tradition in art, music, and theater performance.

    UNI offers more than 90 undergraduate majors and 50 graduate programs in disciplines including business, art, healthcare, literature, and technology. UNI's well-respected teacher education program produces more than 450 new educators each year and features majors and minors in more than 30 disciplines including earth science, music education, and literacy. Students interested in distance education can take advantage of dozens of web-based courses, 16 fully online programs, and 19 hybrid programs.

    UNI bases freshman admission decisions partially on the Regent Admission Index, which is calculated by ACT/SAT scores, class rank, GPA, and number of completed high school core courses.

  5. University of Iowa

    Iowa City, IA



    Founded in 1847, the University of Iowa is the oldest and second-largest university in the state. Located on a 1,880-acre campus in Iowa City, this public research university serves more than 32,000 students each year. UI boasts a proud athletic tradition, the largest library system in the state, and many notable alumni and faculty, including 43 Pulitzer Prize winners.

    Eleven colleges provide more than 200 majors, minors, certificate programs, and graduate degrees in disciplines such as business, dentistry, education, liberal arts, and public health. UI features well-respected programs in healthcare, law, and fine arts. The school also hosts a nationally ranked public teaching hospital and the celebrated Iowa Writer's Workshop, which offers MFA degrees in creative writing. The school also delivers 29 programs online.

    Prospective students must provide a completed application, official high school transcripts, and ACT or SAT scores. Some colleges and programs require additional admission qualifications.

  6. St Luke's College

    Sioux City, IA



    The region's smallest institution of higher learning, St. Luke's College is a medical-center-based health sciences college located in Sioux City. Students receive a health system education in a dynamic setting with facilities that include practice laboratories, conference rooms, student lounges, a library, and a bookstore.

    St. Luke's College offers certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor's degrees in nursing, health science, radiology, phlebotomy, respiratory care, and medical lab science. A clinical pastoral education pathway offers students the opportunity to gain experience as a hospital chaplain. Additionally, distance learners can access the RN-to-BSN program and health sciences bachelor's program entirely online. Many of St. Luke's College programs hold accreditation from associations including the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.

    Admission to St. Luke's College is competitive. The school evaluates prospective students based on high school academics, ACT or SAT results, any prior college academics, and application essays.

  7. Coe College

    Cedar Rapids, IA



    Founded in 1851, Coe College is a private liberal arts university historically affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. The 70-acre campus in Cedar Rapids attracts an annual enrollment of more than 1,400. Coe students engage in weekly activities, on-site housing communities, NCAA athletics, Greek life, and the nation's largest undergraduate, student-run writing center.

    Undergraduate students can choose from more than 60 areas of study, including African American studies, biology, creative writing, environmental science, organizational science, and religion. Coe also offer pre-professional programs in 13 fields such as pre-actuarial science, pre-law, and pre-veterinary medicine. The school ensures small class sizes and personal attention from knowledgeable professors with an 11-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. Learners can also access a wealth of resources including tutoring, career assistance, and public speaking consultations.

    Prospective students must supply a completed application, ACT or SAT scores, official high school transcripts, an admission recommendation, and a personal essay.

  8. Luther College

    Decorah, IA



    Originally founded as a seminary in 1861, Luther College later became a private liberal arts institution affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church. More than 2,000 students enroll at Luther each year. The 175-acre campus in Decorah hosts over 100 student organizations and a variety of athletic facilities.

    Luther offers more than 40 majors, 46 minors, and nine pre-professional programs including pre-dentistry, pre-law, and pre-ministry. Every undergraduate program at Luther features a broad liberal arts curriculum that prepares students for complexity, diversity, and change. Available majors include anthropology, environmental science, international studies, Nordic studies, and visual communication. Students seeking a more individualized education can develop a customizable, interdisciplinary major that combines two or more related disciplines.

    Prospective students must supply a completed application, an educator or counselor reference, an essay, official high school transcripts, and ACT or SAT scores.

  9. Drake University

    Des Moines, IA



    Drake University is a private university located on a 105-acre, urban campus in Des Moines. Drake enrolls more than 3,000 undergraduate students and 1,800 graduate students. Students benefit from on-campus housing, dining, 160 clubs and organizations, intramural sports, and leadership and service-learning opportunities. Nearby state parks provide year-round outdoor recreation.

    Drake students can choose from more than 100 undergraduate majors, minors, and concentrations and more than 35 graduate degrees. The school organizes academic offerings into six colleges, including one of the oldest law schools in the country. Undergraduates can pursue programs of study in art history, information science, magazine media, neuroscience, and writing. Drake also provides six graduate degrees and two certificates in an asynchronous online format.

    Admission to Drake is competitive. Prospective freshmen can choose a standard application process or a test-flexible application process, which requires an interview in lieu of ACT or SAT scores. All applicants must provide official high school transcripts.

  10. Cornell College

    Mount Vernon, IA



    Cornell College is a private liberal arts college located in Mount Vernon and affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Cornell values spiritual diversity and welcomes students from all religious and nonreligious perspectives. More than 1,000 students attend classes at Cornell each year, 92% of whom live on campus.

    Cornell offers more than 40 undergraduate majors and pre-professional programs in areas such as economics, history, and psychology. Students can also work with an academic advisor to customize a major according to specific career goals. Cornell's notable "One Course at a Time" curriculum structure allows students to immerse themselves in a single academic discipline during each three- to four-week block.

    Cornell's centers its selective admissions process on academic ability and preparedness, personal character, and extracurricular involvement. All prospective students must supply a completed application, high school transcripts, writing samples, and either ACT/SAT scores or a portfolio.

Click here to see the best community colleges in Iowa.