Studying in Chicago – A Guide for Postgraduate Students

Studying in Chicago – A Guide for Postgraduate Students

Written by Hannah Slack

If you’re interested in studying in the US, Chicago should definitely be on your list of locations to check out. Not only is the city home to some of the top ranked universities in the world but, for its size, Chicago is relatively affordable.

This guide explains everything you need to know about studying in Chicago as a Masters or PhD student, including living costs, top universities and career opportunities.

Why study your postgraduate degree in Chicago

Chicago is a flourishing and exciting city with lots to offer postgraduate students. Some of the main attractions include:

  • Thriving sports community: Home to the Chicago Bulls, Cubs and Bears, the city is famous for its multiple successful sports teams. Whether you enjoy watching or want to get involved, there will be something for you.
  • Easy transportation: Chicago has one of the best transportation systems in the US, offering discounts to students. Unlike many other places in America, you won’t need a car.
  • Chicago-style food: While known for the deep dish pizza and specialty hotdogs, the city’s international population has more to offer including Polish, Italian and Puerto Rican cuisine.

What are the top universities in Chicago for postgrad study?

#1 The University of Chicago

Ranked 13th in the world by Times Higher Education (THE), the University of Chicago is considered a top performer in the area. Established in 1856, the university is a private research institution based in the city centre. Notable alumni and staff include former US president Barack Obama, author Philip Roth and even the fictional archaeologist Indiana Jones.

#2 Northwestern University

Ranked at 28th in the world is Northwestern University. Northwestern is a private research university with multiple campuses across Illinois and other states. The Chicago campus dates back to 1921, and has since continually built connections with the city’s social and cultural institutions and medical centres.

#3 University of Illinois Chicago

Considered to be in the top 300 universities in the world, the University of Illinois Chicago is a branch of the public institution, the University of Illinois. The university offers both academic and professional graduate programmes in a range of faculties.

Living costs for students in Chicago

Compared to New York City, San Diego and Los Angele, Chicago is a relatively affordable city location.


Student Cost of Living in Chicago - 2024
Monthly rent (1 bedroom apartment, city centre) $2,502
Monthly rent (1 bedroom apartment, outside city centre) $1,780
Restaurant Meal $20
Cinema ticket $15
Monthly travel pass $100
Monthly utilities $189
Based on crowdsourced data published by Numbeo.

To help reduce costs, many postgraduate students opt to live in halls or shared housing, rather than renting a one bedroom apartment. This can significantly reduce any expenses as utility bills would also be split. Additionally, with multiple large universities in and around Chicago, make sure to research student discounts on travel and tourist attractions.

Working during your degree in Chicago

While Chicago is more affordable than other large cities, studying in the US is not cheap. Many students decide to take on part-time and holiday work to help cover their costs and earn some extra spending money. International students are eligible to work in the US if they’re studying a full-time programme with a F-1 visa. You will be able to work up to 20 hours on campus during your first year of study and in subsequent years you’ll be allowed to work off campus as well.

Many PhD students work part-time within their department. You could teach undergraduates as a graduate teaching assistant or aid academics by working as a research assistant. After your first year, you may also choose to find industry roles related to your degree off campus.

Things to see in Chicago

As one of the largest cities in the country, there’s lots to see and do in Chicago. For those interested in art and culture, make sure to check out The Art Institute of Chicago and Millennium Park, home to the famous Bean. You can also view the city skyline from the John Hancock Center boasting views of four different states. You can even test your fear of heights on the Center’s TILT ride which will lean you over the edge of the building.

Graduate careers in Chicago

Unfortunately, there are no official post-study work visas available in the US. However, it is possible to stay and work in the country. Students may complete an OPT (post-study optional practical training) which will grant a one-year extension to the student visa while you gain practical work experience. Otherwise, you will need a temporary or permanent work visa once you’ve secured a job.

Chicago’s Midwest position means it fosters a broad range of industries, notably finance, business, agriculture and transportation. Lots of the companies situated in the city are foreign-owned. The technology sector is also on the rise and, currently, the largest employer is the healthcare industry.

Find a PhD in Chicago

Search our Chicago PhDs database and find one that is right for you.


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Last Updated: 08 January 2024