The 10 Best College Towns In Illinois For 2020

Editor's Note: We updated this article for 2020. This is our time ranking the best college towns in Illinois.
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Believe it or not, America has the best colleges in the world. It's been proven by data (and surveys) that the U.S. educational system is of the highest quality

It's actually not even close and Illinois is home to a handful of them.

While we could debate which colleges within the are the 'best,' that's not the goal of this post.

Instead, ride along with us as we determine which college towns in Illinois are the best.

You know, the type of places where there's energy and stimulation, but the type of place you can walk around at night. The happiest, chillest, most downright fun places where you can send your kids off to college where you won't break the bank, or worry about their well being.

Without further ado, here are the best college towns in Illinois for 2020.

The 10 Best College Towns In Illinois For 2020

  1. Charleston, IL (Photos | Homes)
  2. Normal, IL (Photos | Homes)
  3. Evanston, IL (Photos | Homes)
  4. Champaign, IL (Photos | Homes)
  5. Lisle, IL (Photos | Homes)
  6. Macomb, IL (Photos | Homes)
  7. Galesburg, IL (Photos | Homes)
  8. River Forest, IL (Photos | Homes)
  9. Greenville, IL (Photos | Homes)
  10. Wheaton, IL (Photos | Homes)

While some of these may not seem like a 'real' college town per se, when you look at the numbers, it's hard to argue against.

And for those who live in Charleston, Normal and Evanston - we tip our hats to you and we'll schedule a tour for next week. You can see where Charleston ranks in terms of the best college town in America.

Finally, if you live in Skokie, IL - it's officially the worst college town in Illinois. Sorry, Skokie!

Read on to find out more or for more on Illinois check out:

The 10 Best College Towns In Illinois For 2020

Charleston, IL
Overall SnackAbility

Population: 20,632
% Undergrad Pop.: 45.3% (3rd best)
Median Rent: $705 (9th best)
Unemployment Rate: 567.3% (23rd best)
Crime Rank: 4th best
More on Charleston: Real Estate | Data | Photos

Charleston is a city in and the county seat of Coles County, Illinois, United States. The population was 21,838, as of the 2010 census. The city is home to Eastern Illinois University and has close ties with its neighbor, Mattoon. Both are principal cities of the Charleston-Mattoon Micropolitan Statistical Area.

Colleges: Eastern Illinois University

Normal, IL
Overall SnackAbility

Population: 54,808
% Undergrad Pop.: 32.9% (6th best)
Median Rent: $854 (17th best)
Unemployment Rate: 261.8% (2nd best)
Crime Rank: 25th best
More on Normal: Real Estate | Data | Photos

Normal is a town in McLean County, Illinois, United States. As of the 2010 census, the town's population was 52,497. Normal is the smaller of two principal municipalities of the Bloomington-Normal metropolitan area, and Illinois' seventh most populous community outside the Chicago metropolitan area. Normal's mayor is Chris Koos.

Colleges: Illinois State University, Heartland Community College, Paul Mitchell the School-Normal

Evanston, IL
Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility

Population: 75,157
% Undergrad Pop.: 12.0% (11th best)
Median Rent: $1,366 (35th best)
Unemployment Rate: 414.8% (14th best)
Crime Rank: 28th best
More on Evanston: Real Estate | Data | Photos

Evanston is a city in Cook County, Illinois, United States, 12 miles north of downtown Chicago, bordered by Chicago to the south, Skokie to the west, and Wilmette to the north. It had a population of 74,486 as of 2010. It is one of the North Shore communities that adjoin Lake Michigan and is the home of Northwestern University. The boundaries of the city of Evanston are coterminous with those of the former Evanston Township, which was dissolved in 2014 by voters with its functions being absorbed by the city of Evanston.

Colleges: Northwestern University, Pivot Point Academy-Evanston, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary

Champaign, IL
Overall SnackAbility

Population: 86,791
% Undergrad Pop.: 32.7% (7th best)
Median Rent: $921 (20th best)
Unemployment Rate: 458.3% (17th best)
Crime Rank: 34th best
More on Champaign: Real Estate | Data | Photos

Champaign is a city in Champaign County, Illinois, United States. The city is 135 miles south of Chicago, 124 miles west of Indianapolis, Indiana, and 178mi northeast of St. Louis, Missouri. The United States Census Bureau estimates the city was home to 84,513 people as of July 1, 2014. Champaign is the tenth-most populous city in Illinois, and the state's fourth-most populous city outside the Chicago metropolitan area.

Colleges: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Parkland College, Regency Beauty Institute-Champaign

Lisle, IL
Overall SnackAbility

Population: 23,435
% Undergrad Pop.: 8.6% (16th best)
Median Rent: $1,278 (31st best)
Unemployment Rate: 505.9% (21st best)
Crime Rank: 3rd best
More on Lisle: Real Estate | Data | Photos

Lisle is a village in DuPage County, Illinois, United States. The population was 21,182 at the 2000 census, and in 2016 the population was recorded to be 22,930. It is part of the Chicago metropolitan area and the Illinois Technology and Research Corridor. It is also the headquarters of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Region III.

Colleges: Benedictine University, Universal Technical Institute of Illinois Inc, Empire Beauty School-Lisle

Macomb, IL
Overall SnackAbility

Population: 18,118
% Undergrad Pop.: 58.8% (2nd best)
Median Rent: $656 (5th best)
Unemployment Rate: 836.2% (33rd best)
Crime Rank: 18th best
More on Macomb: Real Estate | Data | Photos

Macomb is a city in and the county seat of McDonough County, Illinois, United States. It is situated in western Illinois, southwest of Galesburg. The city is about 75 miles southwest of Peoria and 77 miles south of the Quad Cities. A special census held in 2014 placed the city's population at 21,516. Macomb is the home of Western Illinois University.

Colleges: Western Illinois University

Galesburg, IL
Overall SnackAbility

Population: 30,986
% Undergrad Pop.: 3.9% (23rd best)
Median Rent: $638 (3rd best)
Unemployment Rate: 731.2% (28th best)
Crime Rank: 23rd best
More on Galesburg: Real Estate | Data | Photos

Galesburg is a city in Knox County, Illinois, United States. This city is forty-five miles northwest of Peoria. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 32,195. It is the county seat of Knox County. Galesburg is home to Knox College, a private four-year liberal arts college, and Carl Sandburg College, a two-year community college.

Colleges: Carl Sandburg College, Knox College

River Forest, IL
Overall SnackAbility

Population: 11,064
% Undergrad Pop.: 21.8% (8th best)
Median Rent: $1,182 (27th best)
Unemployment Rate: 229.5% (1st best)
Crime Rank: 32nd best
More on River Forest: Real Estate | Data | Photos

Colleges: Concordia University-Chicago, Dominican University

Greenville, IL
Source: Public domain
Overall SnackAbility

Population: 6,607
% Undergrad Pop.: 17.2% (9th best)
Median Rent: $594 (2nd best)
Unemployment Rate: 304.7% (5th best)
Crime Rank: 17th best
More on Greenville: Real Estate | Data | Photos

Greenville is a city in Bond County, Illinois, United States, 51 miles east of St. Louis. The population as of the 2010 census was 7,000. It is the county seat of Bond County.

Colleges: Greenville College

Wheaton, IL
Overall SnackAbility

Population: 53,480
% Undergrad Pop.: 4.5% (22nd best)
Median Rent: $1,353 (34th best)
Unemployment Rate: 396.0% (10th best)
Crime Rank: 7th best
More on Wheaton: Real Estate | Data | Photos

Wheaton is a suburban city in Milton and Winfield Townships and is the county seat of DuPage County, Illinois. It is located approximately 30 miles west of Chicago which abuts the shore of Lake Michigan. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 52,894, which was estimated to have increased to 53,469 by July 2012.

Colleges: Wheaton College

How'd we figure out the best college towns in Illinois?

To crunch our data on Illinois's best college towns, we had to first decide which qualities (or rankings) make sense to use in the data, and then crunch the numbers for our rankings.

First off, we firmly decided that only cities with a 4 year college should make the cut -- so there has to be at least one college granting bachelors degrees in town.

You might be surprised to hear that there are only 33 places in Illinois with an institution of higher learning with that criteria.

Source of data include OpenStreetMaps, the College Scorecard, the U.S. Census, and FBI reporting data to include the following factors:

  • Students Make Up Large % of the Population
  • College-specific Factors
    • Graduation rate
    • Tuition Cost
    • Student Body Diversity
  • Town Characteristics
    • Safety
    • Affordability
    • Income and Employment Opportunities
  • Things to Do
    • Bars
    • Museums & Libraries
    • Population Density

We ranked each city across each of the criteria, with one being the best.

We rolled up the individual scores into the category and ranked them again based on the category.

Finally, we took the average rank across each category, with the city posting the lowest overall score being crowned the winner of the title "Best College Town In Illinois For 2020".

And it looks like Charleston placed Summa Cum Laude.

There You Have It -- The Best College Towns In The

If you're looking for the best college towns in Illinois, you came to the right place.

These places all have great college sports programs, tons of stuff to do, and are great places to raise a family.

If you're curious, these are the worst college towns in Illinois, starting with the absolute worst, Skokie:

  1. Skokie
  2. Decatur
  3. Rockford
  4. Carlinville
  5. Peoria
  6. Joliet
  7. Naperville
  8. Elgin
  9. Deerfield
  10. Lake Forest

For more reading, check out:

33 Best College Towns In Illinois

Rank City Population
1 Charleston, IL 20632
2 Normal, IL 54808
3 Evanston, IL 75157
4 Champaign, IL 86791
5 Lisle, IL 23435
6 Macomb, IL 18118
7 Galesburg, IL 30986
8 River Forest, IL 11064
9 Greenville, IL 6607
10 Wheaton, IL 53480
11 Edwardsville, IL 24868
12 Elmhurst, IL 46331
13 Chicago, IL 2718555
14 Lincoln, IL 13738
15 Monmouth, IL 9189
16 Aurora, IL 200660
17 Schaumburg, IL 74569
18 Springfield, IL 116459
19 Palos Heights, IL 12534
20 Bourbonnais, IL 19526
21 Carbondale, IL 25846
22 Jacksonville, IL 18914
23 Bloomington, IL 78331
24 Lake Forest, IL 19219
25 Deerfield, IL 18930
26 Elgin, IL 113023
27 Naperville, IL 147411
28 Joliet, IL 147957
29 Peoria, IL 114512
30 Carlinville, IL 5610
31 Rockford, IL 147881
32 Decatur, IL 72969
33 Skokie, IL 64395

Best College Towns By State

Enjoy The Snack?