While Chicago provides the charming hustle and bustle of an urban setting, it is also surrounded by relaxing natural settings. Sandy beaches provide a reprieve from concrete buildings, honking taxis, and busy roads. Chicago has a unique, public art scene that attracts many visitors as do attractions like museums, parks, zoos, and botanical gardens.

In short, the city has something to offer for everyone, including an affordable college experience for students who don’t necessarily live in the state in which they want to attend college! Read on to learn about some of the most affordable universities in Chicago.

Affordable Schools in Chicago for International Students

Before we actually dive into our list of cheapest universities in Chicago, let’s cover some terms that we will be using throughout the post. For this post, the term domestic applies to citizens of the United States and US permanent residents, and if you don’t meet the domestic requirements, you are an international student.

In addition, the term in-state applies to applicants who are residing in the state of Illinois, and the term out-of-state refers to applicants who are not residing in the state of Illinois. With this information in mind, let’s dive straight into the universities that are located either in Chicago or very near to this region.

1. Western Illinois University

WIU is committed to its students and offers a 13:1 student-to-teacher ratio. In addition to cheap tuition, Western Illinois University also offers a student employment program that allows students to work on campus to cover some of their academic costs. Student employees are encouraged to seek on-campus employment opportunities to build their skills and credentials and can even be awarded the Student Employee of the Year.

Students at WIU are not just encouraged to pursue an internship, many majors and programs require that students complete an internship to increase their employability. Students can even intern abroad for a unique experience outside of Chicago.

Students who attend WIU are sure to feel that they got the “bang for their buck” and often enter the workforce post-graduation with confidence.

2. University of Illinois at Chicago

Next on our list of cheap universities in Chicago is the University of Illinois at Chicago, which is the second oldest public university in the state and has a 74% acceptance rate. UIC is a popular choice for international students and over 30% of the student population can speak more than one language.

There is also plenty to do around the university. Students might venture out for a meal off-campus at popular restaurants like Pokelab, Cracked, or Sakanaya. Or, students might plan a weekend excursion to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio for a tour of the architect’s first home.

Students can also easily access the Brookfield Zoo, the Chicago Botanical Gardens, and the Morton Arboretum by utilizing public transit. On-campus, students may desire to take advantage of the Student Recreation Facility (SRF), which features a climbing wall, or the Sport & Fitness Center (SFC) for a fully equipped training room.

Law students hoping to study in the city of Chicago will be particularly interested in UIC because it is home to the city’s only public law school.

3. Chicago State University

While CSU had small beginnings, it is now a fully accredited, 4-year university. It offers a total of 36 undergraduate programs and 25 graduate programs.

One of the most unique details about CSU’s history is that the school was originally housed in a railroad freight car. Under 60 students were enrolled, but the university has grown, expanded, and has even been recognized nationally. Now, the university is well-known for supporting students from underserved communities in Illinois.

While the campus was once located in South Chicago, it has moved and is now located much closer to the Loop. For this reason, students have easy access to all of the city’s amenities. Chicago State University also has a strong fraternity and sorority presence and proudly promotes that it contains chapters of all nine of the National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations.

The university reports that its most popular majors are Business Administration and Management, Psychology, and Criminal Justice and Safety Studies. Notably, 96% of students receive some form of financial aid for their pursuit of higher education. Most graduates of CSU find jobs in major cities like Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

4. Northeastern Illinois University

We end our list of cheap universities in Chicago with Northeastern Illinois University. NEIU takes student health very seriously.

In fact, the university has been a smoke-free campus since 2015. Students will find a number of recreational activities such as swimming, Zumba, and water polo are open to them. All enrolled students can enter recreation facilities for free by presenting their student IDs.

Students are provided with conveniences like complimentary towels and lockers. In addition to top-notch fitness facilities, students at Northeastern Illinois University will find that the campus boasts more than 70 student organizations, but students are also encouraged to create their own organizations if they can’t find a club that suits their interests.

NIU also understands that college can be stressful—financially, academically, and socially. The university is dedicated to offering mental health and wellness services for students, faculty, and staff. Those interested can even get involved in a Mindfulness Meditation session mid-day on Mondays and Thursdays for a casual event intended to help calm the body and the mind.

The university is also serious about educating students about what factors can contribute to stress and how students can cope with difficult situations. Importantly, Northeastern has been ranked the best at graduating students with the least amount of debt in the nation by both U.S. News & World Report and LendEDU.

5. Governors State University

Being a public institution that is located very near to Chicago, Governors State University (GSU) is a state-supported, higher education institution that was put into motion around 1969. Currently, GSU offers a wide selection of academic programs at all education levels, and its academic departments are separated into the College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business, College of Education, and College of Health and Human Services.

6. Aurora University

Unlike all the institutions that we have talked about so far, Aurora University (AU) is a private institution that is outside the public control of Illinois. Also located close to the Chicago area, the AU first started out as a seminary for a local church, but now, it has changed its curriculum to meet the required standards of a liberal arts college.

7. DePaul University

DePaul is a historical, Catholic university in the city that was built in the 19th century. DePaul is very welcoming toward international students and is said to represent more than 60 countries.

The university has also always advocated for both first-gen and financially disadvantaged students and in 2017, the university was named one of the nation’s Best Value Colleges by Forbes.

Because of its generous financial aid, DePaul University is considered to be the cheapest university in Chicago. The university has also received multiple awards for excellence in diversity.

In terms of enrollment, DePaul ranks as one of the largest private schools in North America. While DePaul does have 11 residence halls, nearly 90% of students reportedly live in the city or surrounding area and commute to school every day, often utilizing the city’s excellent public transportation.

The main campus houses five schools which include the College of Education, the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, the College of Science and Health, the School of Music, and the Theatre School.

FAQs: Studying at a University in Chicago

Which University Is the Cheapest in Chicago?

Northeastern Illinois University is the cheapest university in Chicago when it comes to tuition fees. When it comes to pricing, the close competitors of Northeastern Illinois University are the University of Illinois at Chicago and Chicago State University. For specific details on their tuition fees, take a look at our list down below.

Can International Students Afford Attending Universities in Chicago?

If you are an international student with financial needs, you probably can’t afford to attend universities in Chicago without any form of financial aid. Since Chicago is one of the most popular cities to live in, the cost of living is pretty high, which will put additional strain on your wallet.

If you are planning to attend a university in Chicago, either make sure that you have scholarships to reduce the cost or come from a rich family that will cover your fees for staying here in Illinois.

Check Also: Available Programs for International Students

When looking at colleges in the United States, you need to realize that there is a big difference between public institutions and private colleges. Due to the support from the government, public institutions charge lower tuition fees for international students than most private colleges.

Since private colleges need to earn a profit through their students, many private institutions charge higher prices than public colleges. However, since public colleges are run by the government, their quality of education might drop when you compared it to the curriculum set by private institutions. Please keep these things in mind when you are applying to colleges in the United States.


We hope that this article on the cheapest universities in Chicago was helpful. If you are interested in studying abroad, check out the Available Programs for International Students!

About the Author: Hyun Lee

Hi! I am Hyun, and I am the founder at Global Scholarships. I've received a full-tuition scholarship at Birmingham-Southern College and a $1,000 Burger King Scholarship for my undergraduate degree and was offered a fully funded scholarship consisting of tuition, living stipend, and health insurance for computer science Ph.D. program at North Carolina State University. You can read more about my scholarship journey here. If you are interested, you can follow me on Linkedin where I regularly write about scholarship opportunities.

Share this article via

Leave A Comment