Midwest Colleges Ranked: Elite Universities & Liberal Arts Colleges

List Rules
Updated for 2020

A ranking of top Midwestern colleges comparable to the Ivies, Little Ivies and other elite schools based on fewer variables/more transparency than US News or Forbes. This list includes Ohio,Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas. Because Carnegie-Mellon is usually considered by students looking at other Midwestern schools, it's listed here despite being in Pennsylvania.

Factors considered in score: freshman retention, graduation rate, % of classes with fewer than 20 students, % of classes with more than 50 students, and % of alumni donations. While no system is perfect nor is exact ranking considered truly important by most college experts, these metrics are considered strong indicators of student happiness, the happiness of graduates with their experience, the seriousness your student's classmates will take his or her education, and the school's dedication to providing personal attention to your student.

 A sample score: Fauxville State University: Freshmen Retention: 75%, Graduation Rate: 50%, Classes 20 & under: 33%, Classes 50 & over: 24%, freshmen in the top 10% of their graduating class 20%, and alumni giving: 10%. Fauxville State’s score would be 75 + 50 + 33 – 24 + 20 + 10 = 164.

 A perfect score would be 500. This list initially included only schools that scored 300 and above. Only about 8% of four-year colleges score that high.  Since then, this particular list has been expanded to include schools scoring above 260 so the total schools listed on the four regional lists would be about 200.

 A school with freshman retention below 75%, a graduation rate below 50%, classes with 20 students or fewer below 33%, classes with 50 students or more above 24%, or alumni giving below 10% would not included even if the total score is above 300. (There’s no minimum for students not in the top 10% of their high school class.)

 Flaws with this system: Data came from multiple sources and, like US News, may not always reflect statistics from the same calendar year. I'm not an expert statistician nor an expert on college experience quality, just a researcher/hobbyist.

 For the best evaluation, my understanding is experts consider the National Survey of Student Engagement the most valuable analysis of undergraduate colleges.

 I believe this list is complete. If you feel a school has been omitted or a listing is incorrect, I will be happy to recheck. Thanks for reading!


  • University of Chicago
    Photo: uploaded by AdmiralCrunch

    Score: 404.2,  Chicago, IL,  A Greene's Guide Hidden Ivy, Also a "UAA Brainy Eight"  The UAA is an athletic league, similar to Ivy League or the NESCAC (the Little Ivies) made up of academically elite universities.  UAA schools on other lists include Emory, Brandeis, Johns Hopkins (though Hopkins has switched to a different league) and the University of Rochester.  U. Chicago is world-famous for its economics department and like Columbia and University of Illinois, is renowned for its library.  

  • Northwestern University
    Photo: uploaded by AdmiralCrunch


    Score: 388.2, Evanston, Illinois, a Greene's Guide Hidden Ivy, I'm sure it could be a UAA school as its main academic competitors are usually Carnegie Mellon and Case Western, but Northwestern is a Division One school (Big Ten) instead of Division Three. 

    Northwestern is famous for engineering and theater among other fields. Numerous actors and comedians go from Northwestern to apprentice with Second City.  


  • Carleton College
    Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY

    Score: 384.8, in Northfield, MN, A Greene's Guide Hidden Ivy. Carleton also the highest scoring school in the nation for Princeton Review (2010) when combining their metrics of Student Life, Academics, Selectivity, and Financial Aid. 

  • University of Notre Dame
    Photo: uploaded by AdmiralCrunch

    Score: 376.7, South Bend, IN.  Notre Dame is a Greene's Guide Hidden Ivy and considered one of the four "Catholic Ivies" with Holy Cross, Georgetown, and Boston College.

  • Macalester College
    Photo: flickr / CC0

    Score: 353.8, in St. Paul, MN, a Greene's Guide Hidden Ivy - unlike most of the top liberal arts colleges in the Midwest, Macalester is in an urban environment.

  • Grinnell College
    Photo: uploaded by AdmiralCrunch

    Score: 347.5, in Grinnell, Iowa, a Greene's Guide Hidden Ivy, Grinnell is one of the wealthiest liberal arts colleges in the nation and does an excellent job providing scholarships to the most needy.