5 Best Colleges in Iowa – 2024

May 15, 2024

best colleges in iowa

It feels wrong not to begin any examination of the collegiate landscape in Iowa with a perfunctory Field of Dreams reference, so let’s jump right in…If Ray Kinsella had heard his cornfield mysteriously whispering, “If you build it, he will come” and, instead of a baseball diamond, he decided to build an elite liberal arts college, perhaps his farm would have soon been filled by ghost academics engaged in philosophical debate and sweating impending tenure decisions. Instead of tossing a baseball back and forth at the tear-jerking end of the film, Ray and his dad could have tossed around thesis statement ideas as a spectral bursar’s office glowed in the background. Okay, enough of that. Let’s get you to what you came here for. Below you will see our list of the 5 best colleges in Iowa.

Click here to read our methodology for the Best Colleges in Iowa. As you’ll see, some schools with spectacular (and deserved) reputations simply do not happen to fare well on metrics such as student-to-faculty ratio or spending per student. We understand that a list based solely on prestige/general reputation would look different than what you will find below.

Best Colleges in Iowa

Here’s a quick preview of the 5 Iowa-based institutions that made our list. Detailed profiles and stats can be found when you scroll below.

1) Grinnell College

2) University of Iowa

3) Iowa State University

4) Drake University

5) Cornell College

All of the schools profiled below have a history of sending graduates to the most desirable employers and graduate schools in the country. College Transitions will provide you with—when available—each school’s:

  • Enrollment
  • Cost of Attendance
  • Acceptance Rate
  • Median SAT
  • Median ACT
  • Retention Rate
  • Graduation Rate

We will also include a longer write-up of each college’s:

  • Academic Highlights – Includes facts like student-to-faculty ratio, average class size, number of majors offered, and most popular majors.
  • Professional Outcomes – Includes info on the rate of positive outcomes, companies employing alumni, and graduate school acceptances.
#1 Best College in Iowa
Grinnell College

Grinnell College

  • Grinnell, IA

Academic Highlights: Grinnell offers 42 areas of study and over 500 courses each semester. Thanks to a 9:1 student/faculty ratio and no competition from graduate students, 64% of classes have fewer than twenty students, and roughly one-quarter of sections have single-digit student enrollments. A top producer of PhDs in both the sciences and the social sciences, Grinnell has strong offerings in biology, chemistry, physics, economics, and history. The largest number of degrees are conferred in the social sciences, foreign languages, biology, and computer science.

Professional Outcomes: Upon graduation, 62% of Grinnell students head into the workforce, 26% to graduate school, 2% to postgraduate service, and 2% earned fellowships. Multiple recent grads accepted positions with JPMorgan, Epic, and Google. The mean salary of those employed was roughly $64,397. Close to 40% of those entering graduate school pursue PhDs or master’s degrees in the hard sciences, 8% head to law school, and 3% were bound for medical school; 88% of all applicants were accepted into their first or second choice program.

  • Enrollment: 1,759
  • Cost of Attendance: $82,890
  • Median SAT: 1460
  • Median ACT: 33
  • Acceptance Rate: 11%
  • Retention Rate: 93%
  • Graduation Rate: 88%

#2 Best College in Iowa
University of Iowa

University of Iowa

  • Iowa City, IA

Academic Highlights: 200+ undergraduate majors, minors, and certificate programs are available across eight colleges, including the Tippie College of Business, which has a very strong reputation. The most commonly conferred degree is business (24%), with parks and recreation (10%), social sciences (8%), health professions (8%), engineering (7%), and communication & journalism (5%) next in popularity. Over half of its undergraduate sections enroll 19 or fewer students, and 30% of undergrads conduct or assist research.

Professional Outcomes: 96% of Class of 2022 grads found their first job or advanced degree program within six months of receiving their diploma. The most commonly entered industries were healthcare (23%), entertainment/the arts (14%), finance and insurance (11%), and marketing/PR (10%). Companies that employ hundreds of alumni include Wells Fargo, Collins Aerospace, Principal Financial Group, Amazon, Accenture, and Microsoft. The median salary for 2022 grads was $50,000. 28% of recent graduates went directly into graduate school; 76% remained at the University of Iowa.

  • Enrollment: 22,130 (undergraduate); 7,912 (graduate)
  • Cost of Attendance: $28,846-$32,259 (in-state); $50,809-$54,822 (out-of-state)
  • Median SAT: 1240
  • Median ACT: 25
  • Acceptance Rate: 85%
  • Retention Rate: 89%
  • Graduation Rate: 73%

#3 Best College in Iowa
Iowa State University

Iowa State University

  • Ames, IA

Academic Highlights: With more than 100 majors available across six undergraduate colleges, Iowa State has no shortage of academic pathways to explore. The student-to-faculty ratio is 19:1, yet, courses are a mix of large and small. 31% of sections enroll fewer than 20 students and 22% enroll more than 50. In terms of sheer popularity, engineering wins the day accounting for 23% of degrees earned in 2022. Business (18%), agricultural fields (10%), biology (5%), and education (5%) also see high volume.

Professional Outcomes: Graduates of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences are employed in fairly large numbers by the likes of John Deere, Principal Financial Group, and Amazon. Overall, the most alumni work for Wells Fargo, Bayer, Corteva Agriscience, Collins Aerospace, Cargill, and Microsoft. Most remain in Iowa after graduation but many also move to Minnesota, Chicago, California, or Texas. The average starting salary for an engineering grad was $74,716 in 2023.

  • Enrollment: 25,241
  • Cost of Attendance: $24,204 (In-State); $41,390 (Out-of-State)
  • Median SAT: 1220
  • Median ACT: 24
  • Acceptance Rate: 90%
  • Retention Rate: 86%
  • Graduation Rate: 74%

#4 Best College in Iowa
Drake University

Drake University

  • Des Moines, IA

Academic Highlights: Students at Drake can select from 140 majors in six colleges and schools: College of Arts and Sciences, Zimpleman College of Business, School of Education, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and the Law School. A 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio leads to more than half of all classes enrolling fewer than 20 students. 25% of degrees are conferred in business, followed by journalism (8%), visual and performing arts (8%), and social sciences (7%).

Professional Outcomes: An astounding 97% of graduates are employed or graduate school within six months of earning their diplomas and the school rates first in the state for median salary ten years after starting at Drake. Most remain in Iowa but some head to Chicago and Minneapolis. Employers with more than 50 alumni include Principal Financial Group, Wells Fargo, Nationwide, John Deere, and Corteva Agriscience.

  • Enrollment: 2,835
  • Cost of Attendance: $63,732
  • Median SAT: 1260
  • Median ACT: 28
  • Acceptance Rate: 67%
  • Retention Rate: 84%
  • Graduation Rate: 79%

#5 Best College in Iowa
Cornell College

Cornell College

  • Mount Vernon, IA

Academic Highlights: There are 60 majors and minors to select from at Cornell College (not to be confused with Cornell University); 51% either double-major or take on a minor. This Iowa-based liberal arts college awards the greatest number of degrees in the areas of business (9%), biology (9%), the social sciences (9%), parks and recreation (8%), and psychology (8%). The student-to-faculty ratio is 13:1 and 88% of all students have the chance to participate in undergraduate research.

Professional Outcomes: 96% of students have found their workplace or postsecondary home within one year of earning their degree. An exception 76% of medical school applicants are successful, nearly double the national average. Employers of the most alumni include Microsoft, Wells Fargo, Northwestern Mutual, Collins Aerospace, Integrated DNA Technologies, and the Mayo Clinic. Grads schools attended include Case Western, Brown, UC Irvine, and FSU.

  • Enrollment: 1,060
  • Cost of Attendance: $68,600
  • Median SAT: 1240
  • Median ACT: 26
  • Acceptance Rate: 79%
  • Retention Rate: 80%
  • Graduation Rate: 63%

We hope you have found our list of the Best Colleges in Iowa to be useful and informative as you continue your college search process. We also invite you to check out some of our other resources and tools including: