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The basics
THE USA: Destination Guides

The ultimate student guide to Midwest USA

Our ultimate guide through the Midwest of the country takes you through its states, cities and universities. Learn about its history and culture and discover if it’s the right international student destination for you.

Indianapolis, Indiana, USA downtown cityscape on the White River at dusk.

The Midwest is also known as ‘America’s Heartland’ because of its strong manufacturing, farming industries and large commercial cities. With twelve states to discover it’s the perfect region for international students to travel around and explore.


The Midwest sits between the northeastern and western regions of the USA with Canada to the north and the Southeast and Southwest regions in the south.  

As seen in the map below, the Midwest includes the following states: 

  • North and South Dakota
  • Minnesota
  • Iowa
  • Nebraska
  • Kansas
  • Missouri
  • Wisconsin
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Ohio
  • Michigan

map of us divided into regions as per census



What is Midwest USA like?

Location and demographics


This region covers over 1.33 million square kilometres and has a population of almost 70 million which makes it more populated than entire countries such as the United Kingdom or Thailand. A population of this size will naturally be very multicultural.


Much like the other regions of the country, the Midwest was inhabited by Native Americans for hundreds of years before the arrival of the Europeans.  The peoples of the Sioux and Ojiwe tribes have settled in North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan but it’s important to note that the Indigenous Peoples in the US has declined significantly through land dispossession over the past two centuries. 


Culture and history


French Europeans arrived in the area in the 17th century. The French and the Indigenous Peoples conducted trade in fur, guns, blankets, tobacco and alcohol. This relationship broke down with the arrival of the British in the region. The French would later hand over control of the area to the British in the Treaty of Paris in 1763. This British hold ended in 1783 with their defeat in the American War of Independence which ended in 1783.


The 17th century also saw enslaved people from Africa being forced over the Atlantic Ocean to the USA by the European slave traders. It's estimated that between six to seven million enslaved people were fored to the USA in the 18th century. Slavery continued until the end of the Civil War in 1865 and the enactment of the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery in the entire country. 


This history has obviously created a rich multicultural society across the states from food, to art and culture. International students can experience anything from deep fried pizzas in Chicago and German sausage in Wisconsin to Juneberry pie in North Dakota.


What cities are in Midwest USA?


We can’t cover all the cities in this region as it’s far too large. Here are just a few of them:

  • Chicago, Illinois is the third largest city in the USA after New York and Los Angeles. The ‘Windy City’ is famous for its music and food.
  • Detroit is the largest city in Michigan and is best known for Motown music and the birth place of the Ford motor industry.
  • Indianapolis, Indiana is the racing capital of the world with its Indy 500 race.
  • Columbus is Ohio’s state capital. This city is young and vibrant with a growing tech industry.
  • St Louis in Missouri has its Gateway Arch, the tallest monument (it’s 192 metres high) in the USA, steamboats and Blues music.


St. Louis downtown at twilight.


How much does it cost to live in Midwest USA?


Depending on where you live, the cost of living can vary quite a bit in this part of the USA. International students should budget between USD 18,600 and USD 21,000 per year (USD 1,550 and USD 1,750 per month).  


Find out more about student living costs in the USA.


What services are there in Southeast USA?


Much like the cost of living, the services available depend on where you live. In more populated areas, you will find great bus and public transport services, but you can travel across states also.


Travelling around the USA by car is the easiest option, but you can still explore this region by train and bus. Amtrak has various train routes with connections throughout the region.  You could for example travel the almost six hours from Chicago through to Kansas City in Missouri on the Missouri River Runner train line.


For a cheaper option, you could try intercity buses. For example, the Greyhound bus company can take you from Bismark, North Dakota across the entire region to Columbus, Ohio in just over 25 hours. If you have Student Advantage Card, you can get a 20 per cent discount on the bus ticket, as well as other benefits in stores and travel companies.  


What are the post-study options?


To stay in the USA after you graduate it’s important to follow the strict visa rules. There are exceptions, but usually, international students have just over a year to find a relevant role or continue their studies.  


Hospitals and universities are the largest employers in the Midwest. There are also major multinational companies such as Boeing, Kraft Foods, Indian Oil, Koch & Co, World Wide Technology,  to name only a few, which ensure that graduates have little trouble in finding employment.


Find out the top 5 graduate careers in the USA.


What universities are in Midwest USA?


Universities in this part of the country may be considered better value for money as the cost of living and tuition fees in some cities and universities are lower than in other areas of this massive country. Here are just a few:



  • Case Western Reserve University, Ohio has as its mission to promote ‘an inclusive culture of global citizenship’. 20 per cent of students are international students from all over the world.
  • University of Michigan – Ann Arbor ranked 23rd in THE 2023. More than one third of international students at the university are undergraduates. You will need a minimum overall IELTS band score of 7.


What are the main attractions?


You can’t visit the Midwest without listening to jazz, blues and motown music. This region has been referred to as the birthplace of modern music. You could also visit Prince’s home and recording studio at Paisley Park in Minnesota. For museums try the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan or learn about enslavement and the struggle for freedom at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. If you’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights you may catch them on the shores of Lake Superior or on Oberg Mountain in the Superior National Forest.


What must you see in Midwest USA?


When you’re talking about such a large region it’s impossible to list all the things you must see and do, so here are just a few of the highlights:


  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota. See the figures of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln carved into the Black Hills in South Dakota.


tourists standing in the foreground looking up at the scultpures of the presidents carved into the rock of the hills in the background.


  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, Lake Michigan has everything from hiking, swimming, kayaking and snowboarding in the winter. It’s clear to see why it has been called the ‘most beautiful place in America.’

sea to the left of the picture. Sand dunes in the middle with a boardwalk on the right. Green forest in the far distance.


  • Paddleboat on the Ohio river in Cincinnati. Take many of the different tours on offer on a paddlewheeler boat.  

steam paddleboat on the Ohio river.


  • Skydeck, Willis Tower. See Chicago from 412 metres up. Could you? Would you?


If our complete guide to the Midwest has made you curious about living and studying in this part of the USA, why not use our course matcher tool to find your ideal study path.


Study in the USA


'Study in the USA' eBook

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