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The basics
THE USA: Destination Guides

The ultimate student guide to Chicago

Known as the ‘windy city’ Chicago has a lot more going for it than just unique weather. It’s home to spectacular architecture, top-class universities, and colourful culture. We explore this iconic mid-western city.

chicago skyline

If you’ve got your heart set on studying in the USA, you’ll certainly want to consider Chicago. This picturesque, iconic American city is the heart and soul of the country’s mid-west. With its upbeat vibe and diverse entertainment scene, not to mention the fact it is home to two highly prestigious universities, Chicago is a top study destination for any international student.


What is Chicago like?

Location and demographics

Chicago, Illinois is in the USA’s mid-west, on the shore of Lake Michigan. Despite being known as the ‘Windy City’, Chicago has an appealing climate with hot summers and picturesque, snowy winters. With its iconic skyline and breathtaking views, you’ll always be sending photos home.


With a population of 2.7 million, Chicago is the third largest city in the USA. It is also one of the most multicultural and diverse, with its vibrant streets reflecting this in the food and entertainment options they offer.


Get ready for your time in America by becoming familiar with different American accents.


Culture and history

One of the fastest-growing cities in the USA, Chicago is packed with history and culture. Experience some of this in its sensational museums and art galleries, many of which have free open days, perfect for your budget.


You won’t want to miss Chicago’s performing arts scene. With live music in venues that you can even hear in the streets, world-famous theatre productions and over a hundred festivals and parades every year, you’ll be entertained.


If you choose to live in Chicago, you’ll be following in the footsteps of some seriously influential Americans, including former US president Barack Obama and sports icon Michael Jordan.


Discover what is on offer for international students in the USA. 



What universities are in Chicago?

If your dream is to study in Chicago, we have good news. The city is home to several universities and colleges, meaning you can easily find your perfect fit. Here we list a few of the most popular, but of course, consider researching others in the area too.


The University of Chicago is ranked in 10th place by the QS World University Rankings 2023. This private university excels across all fields and has notable alumni, including philosopher John Howard Moore, film director Philip Kaufman, politician Mitt Romney, author Philip Roth and 94 Nobel laureates.


Northwestern University is ranked number 24 by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2022. This private institution is in Evanston, 14 miles north of Chicago. Several people of note have attended this university over the years, including author George R R Martin, Meghan Markle, and actor Warren Beatty.


Other popular universities in Chicago include:


  • University of Illinois Chicago – this public university is the most diverse in Illinois and is ranked 97 by the U.S. News & World Report 2022 (UNSWR).
  • Loyola University Chicago – private university ranked 115 in the USNWR 2022.
  • Illinois Institute of Technology – private university ranked 127 in the USNWR 2022.
  • DePaul University – private university ranked 137 in the USNWR 2022.


If you are hoping to apply to a community college to obtain an associate degree, consider one of the City Colleges of Chicago.


Explore more about the top universities in the USA.


What does Chicago offer students?

What is transport like?

Chicago is considered one of the best large cities in the USA for walking and bicycling. But for the inevitable times you need to use public transport, you have options.

Chicago has a great bus and commuter rail system, getting you around the city quickly and safely. You can purchase tickets on buses and at ticket vending machines. For regular travel, consider a Ventra Card, a pre-paid travel card. This will reduce the overall cost of your journey. Chicago has two international airports, keeping its residents well-connected to the USA and the rest of the world.


Make sure you find out about the top things you must do when studying in the USA.


What about entertainment and food?

Whether you’re looking for a cheap and cheerful brunch or a luxurious restaurant dinner, the city has something for everyone, with just about every cuisine imaginable. For a local flavour, try one of Chicago’s famous deep-pan pizzas or hot dogs – perhaps not the healthiest, but too delicious to miss. To make sure you don’t get bored, Chicago even hosts several food festivals every year.


From dining to shopping to entertainment, Chicago has it all. With huge art and music scene, the city draws in crowds for all the right reasons. Whether you like to spend time at concerts, in the theatre or at a cosy comedy club, Chicago won’t disappoint.


Do you want to find out more about the top student cities in the USA?


Are there public services for students?

Studying in Chicago, you’ll have access to resources at the government, state, and university levels to help you settle into the American higher education system and way of life.


The US government provides a lot of free information to assist international students. You can access student resources via the US Department of State website. You can also explore financial aid options across Illinois with Education USA’s helpful tool.


Your university’s international office will be able to assist you with any queries or concerns you have, from accessing financial aid to settling into life in Chicago.


Find out what it takes to apply for a student visa in the USA.


How much does it cost to live in Chicago?

The general cost of Chicago

Chicago is one of the most expensive cities in the USA. But try not to let this deter you. With a careful budget, you can make the most of your student experience.

Are you interested in researching how much tuition costs in the USA?


Student budget

You’ll no doubt be aware that international students living in the USA must pay several upfront costs, such as health insurance and visa fees. Once you have paid these, the University of Chicago suggests the annual cost of living in the city to be around USD 19,200 to USD 22,600.


Get a better understanding of the cost of living in the USA.


What is the accommodation like in Chicago?

Most students in the USA choose to live on-campus to make the most of their student experience, and in fact, some universities insist on this. Costs vary significantly between institutions, with more prestigious institutions often charging more. But the benefit of living on campus is that bills are usually included in your rent. For an approximation of accommodation costs in Chicago, Northwestern University suggests an annual rental budget of around USD 19,500.


Get the information you need to apply to study in the USA.


What are the main attractions in Chicago?

When it comes to things to do for students, there’s no doubt that Chicago is an attractive city. And although it can be expensive, you’ll find plenty of attractions suitable for your budget. Visit museums or galleries or head downtown to experience some of the city’s fabulous public art installations, including the famously enigmatic Picasso sculpture or the iconic Chicago Bean.


Explore the city’s parks, lakefront and beaches on foot or bicycle to absorb the full natural beauty Chicago has to offer. And if sports excite you, the city has pro teams in NFL, baseball, basketball, ice hockey and soccer – one of only 10 US cities to do so.



We’ve already mentioned the city’s penchant for performing arts, but it’s something you really won’t want to miss. From intimate jazz and blues bars to high-calibre theatrical productions to cabaret to comedy, Chicago has it all. Dance the night away in one of the city’s legendary venues or head to a sports bar or retro speakeasy to wind down however you choose.


However you choose to pass your spare time, we feel sure that Chicago’s vibrant spark will leave you completely satisfied.


Study in the USA


'Study in the USA' eBook

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