The oldest public university in the state, Illinois State was founded as a training school for teachers. Fast-forward 166 years, and education is still one of the top-producing majors at the school. Other popular degree programs include agriculture, nursing, communications, marketing and criminal justice.
The school has a highly lauded theater program — actors John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf, Jane Lynch and countless others have all roamed ISU’s Quad — and is home to the oldest collegiate circus in the country. Illinois State hosts 19 different sports teams, too — Hancock Stadium’s Victory Bell, which is rung every time ISU’s football team scores a touchdown, is a 59-year-old pillar of school spirit.
With about 18,000 undergraduates, Illinois State enjoys an above-average graduation rate and an average cost that’s below the national median. The campus is located about two and a half hours southwest of Chicago, in Normal, a town famous for being the birthplace of Steak ‘n Shake (other local favorites, like Avanti’s, D.P. Dough and Pub II, are among the area’s most popular student haunts). Fell Arboretum, located throughout The Quad and beyond, is home to more than 200 different species of trees.