Since its founding as Illinois Industrial University in 1867, the University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign has encouraged innovation. The first shared computer-based education system and the foundation for the medical MRI are among the technologies developed at the state’s flagship university, which is home to about 32,000 full-time undergraduates and 14,000 grad students.
Today, close to 70 percent of undergrads participate in some form of research. Lauren Sargeant, a recent bioengineering grad from Park Ridge, Illinois, worked in a research lab exploring the causes of liver cancer for three and a half years, including three summers, which earned her a co-author credit on a published scientific paper and helped her develop close relationships with a graduate student and a professor who were “in my corner,” she says.
Some students can also get hands-on experience by seeking out jobs and internships at the university’s research park, a cluster of startups and research and development operations for major companies like Capital One, Caterpillar and State Farm.
Despite its size, about 80 percent of classes have fewer than 50 students. Larger lecture classes break out into lab or discussion sections of 20 to 30 students that are led by a teaching assistant who can provide more personalized attention.
Still, “you have to take the initiative to do well,” Sargeant says. “Your professors aren’t necessarily going to reach out to you if you’re falling behind.” The university does offer a range of academic support systems, such as advising, tutoring and mentoring, to help along the way.
Undergrads can choose from more than 150 majors across 10 colleges. Everyone must complete courses in the humanities and the arts, the social and natural sciences, cultural studies and several other categories.
There are ample opportunities for cross-disciplinary study, such as with the programs in agricultural and consumer economics or interdisciplinary health sciences. In a recently developed set of degrees called CS + X, students explore computer science through the lens of another subject, such as chemistry, linguistics or music. The undergraduate business and engineering programs each are ranked among the top 20 in the country by U.S. News.
UIUC’s Division I sports teams compete in the Big Ten Conference, and students typically pack the stands to cheer on the Fighting Illini, especially during football and basketball seasons.
“We could be down by 40 points, and everybody is still into the game and excited to be there,” says Ryan Salzeider, a senior English major from Pawnee, Illinois, who is a member of Orange Krush, the official basketball cheering section, which also raises money for local and national charities.
About 90 percent of undergrads from the U.S. come from within the Prairie State.
Roughly 1 in 4 students join one of the nearly 90 fraternities and sororities on campus. Undergrads can also get involved with any of UIUC’s 1,000-plus student organizations, which include intramural sports teams, arts-related groups and cultural associations.
About half of undergrads live on campus, which spans nearly 10 square miles across Urbana and Champaign, a pair of cities about 140 miles south of Chicago.
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Main Quad, at the center of campus, provides an expansive green space where people study, play Frisbee and just hang out. On one side of the quad, an ever-burning oil lamp used to promise couples who kissed beneath it eternal love.
One can take in a show at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, go bowling or play arcade games in the student union or visit Japan House for a tea ceremony or calligraphy workshop.
Students can use the free bus system to get around campus and downtown or opt to bring a car or bike. In “Campustown,” an Illini-themed area located around Green Street near the middle of campus, undergrads can enjoy a variety of restaurants, bars, boutiques and events.