There are many things to look for when searching for colleges. Luckily, we’re here to help! Let’s walk through some of the most important things to consider and some of the many reasons why it’s a great time to be a Redbird.

To simplify things, let’s distill the college search process down to evaluating schools on four main factors: academics, affordability, social fit, and outcomes. Whether you’re a student or a parent, these four things should be high on your list.


A natural place to begin your college search is to look for schools that have your intended major. And while that’s a great place to start, it’s equally important to consider the academic environment in which you’ll learn. In what size class will you be most comfortable? Does it matter to you who’s teaching? What kind of access to your faculty are you expecting? Here are some key points of our academic environment:

  • Average class size of 31 students
  • 19:1 student to faculty ratio
  • 85% of our classes are taught by professors
  • 97% of our professors have the highest degree in their field

Approximately nine out of ten students at Illinois State are undergraduates—meaning you can take advantage of just about everything from your first days on campus. Internships, leadership, research—it’s all here for you.

In addition to academic environment, you’ll want to consider the average academic profile of the students attending. Find a school where you fit nicely within the typical range of admitted students. That way, you know you’ll be challenged academically—and if you work hard, you’ll also have what it takes to be successful. “Fit” is important in finding the right school, and finding the right academic fit can set you up to reach your goals. The middle 50% of our 2019 admitted freshmen had a GPA between 3.10-3.80 on a 4.0 scale, and scored between 1030-1200 on the SAT or 21-26 on the ACT.


Now let’s talk about affordability. At Illinois State, we are committed to keeping a great undergraduate experience affordable for qualified students. In fact, our total cost is in the lower half of all Illinois public universities, and more than three out of every four students on campus receive financial assistance to attend. 33% of our graduates cross the stage with no debt, and 78% of our students receive financial aid of some kind.

We offer a wide range of scholarships to incoming students, some of which are automatically awarded based on your application for admission and others that require a separate application or interview. Scholarships range from one-time $500 awards to full tuition scholarships that are renewable for each of your four years. Students with a 3.0 GPA or better on a 4.0 scale that also have a minimum 1200 SAT or 25 ACT receive a scholarship automatically, but you don’t necessarily have to hit those marks to be awarded merit aid. Visit our website for more information on available scholarships.

As you consider cost, keep in mind that your tuition rate at Illinois State will remain the same for four years. You won’t have to worry about increases year over year, making it easier for your family to plan and budget. What’s more, if you live outside of Illinois, you can receive the same rate of tuition as our Illinois residents depending on your academic achievement, talent in the fine arts, or if you live in a state bordering Illinois.

Social Fit

Now let’s discuss your social fit. Believe it or not, perhaps more than anything that will affect your likelihood to succeed in college is how comfortable you feel at the school you choose. Being happy, feeling like you can be yourself, and feeling like you belong will make you more motivated, more productive and, ultimately, more successful. Find a school where you can keep doing the things you love—like playing in the marching band, competing in sports with friends, or volunteering in the community—and a place that lets you try new things you may have never even considered, like improv comedy, glass blowing, or even joining a circus. Illinois State has more than 400 registered student organizations—yes, including one of only two collegiate circuses in the country—and we can’t wait for you to add your talents to our Redbird community!

And as long as we’re talking about student life, Illinois State’s financial stability resulting from strong and steady enrollment has allowed us to continually improve the experience for our students.

Most recently, we completed a $33 million revitalization of our Bone Student Center that has transformed almost every square inch of the building and features several new restaurants for students, an expanded footprint for our career center, and soft seating and meeting spaces throughout. On your next visit to campus, talk to the good people at TechZone about the academic discounts they can get you on hardware, pick up some Redbird swag at Barnes & Noble, and make sure to try the fries at Timbers Grille before you leave!


Lastly, let’s talk about outcomes. I like to talk about the US Department of Education’s College Scorecard because it’s just a data set without any outside methodology or filters—and it’s from a pretty reputable source. The Scorecard lets you compare colleges based on important metrics like out-of-pocket cost and loan repayment rates. Three of the most important metrics are cost, graduation rate, and earning potential.

  • Average Annual Cost: less than $22,000
  • Graduation Rate: 70% or higher
  • Salary After Attending: $47,000

Salary After Attending, as defined by the Scorecard, is the salary an individual has earned 10 years after they started at their school of choice … so for most of our graduates, this is six years after graduation. And it’s worth noting that the $47,000 is about $12,000 better than the national average. Out of all the public schools in the U.S., just 54 schools across the country can say they perform as well as Illinois State on those three measures—and not particularly many in the Midwest. So this is the kind of rarified air Illinois State finds itself in nationally.

In fact, Illinois State ranks among the top 10 percent of all public schools over the last decade on three very important measures: graduation rate, retention rate, and loan default rate.

Graduation rate

First, graduation rate. Illinois State is better than 90 percent of public schools over the last 10 years in graduating students on time. If you’re concerned about college cost, but you’re not asking about graduation rate—it’s the same question. You don’t want to pay an extra year of tuition when you could instead be earning a salary or progressing through your graduate studies.

Retention rate

Secondly, and maybe most importantly, retention rate. Illinois State students return to school year after year because they love it here. And you’ll experience college in lots of ways—academically, socially, financially. A high retention rate means everything is going well for students and they are happy where they are.

Loan default rate

Lastly, loan default rate. This is the one you hear in the media about students being overburdened with loan debt and a college degree not being worth it anymore. The truth is that 10.1 percent of students who borrow from the federal government for their education default on their loans—meaning they are unable to pay them back on time. Only 3.9 percent of Illinois State graduates default on their loans. They have marketable degrees that put them in a position to pay back their commitments and advance in their careers.

Taken together, these three metrics represent the promise every college should make to its students—you’ll love it here, you’ll graduate on time, and you’ll be successful.

And lastly in the way of outcomes, you can find us in almost every major publication that ranks colleges and universities across the U.S. But among our many accolades, we have two favorites. The first is our ranking of sixty-sixth among more than 1,400 schools evaluated by Washington Monthly for contribution to the common good—for which they scored schools on social mobility, research, and community involvement. And the second is our recent classification for community engagement from the Carnegie Foundation—more recognition for the good our students, faculty, and staff are doing outside of the classroom. These are indicators of the kind of people that live and work at Illinois State, and they represent what it means to be a Redbird.

And as word spreads about the kind of experience our students have, our popularity increases. Our most recent freshman class was our largest in 33 years, and it was the largest Honors class in our history. Our student body continues to diversify, and more and more students are finding Illinois State to be a friendly, fun, safe, and exciting place to spend four of the best years of their lives.

So how will you create your legacy? I hope you’ll consider all the ways we can help you do that at Illinois State. Connect with us on any of several social media platforms, and please reach out to us if we can answer any questions for you. Until then, I wish you the best of luck with everything—and I hope to see you on campus sometime soon!