College Visit Guide: Chicago

Stroll some of the best campuses in the Midwest when you taste a deep-dish bite of Chicago.


Deep-dish pizza. Lake Michigan. Da Bears. What doesn’t Chicago have to offer? From its plethora of parades to its famous shopping district, Chicago is an ideal city for active college students ready to experience all the culture and inspiration of this urban playground. I should know—I'm finishing my senior year at Northwestern University, in nearby Evanston.

Getting Around 

Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, and navigating the sprawling region is as easy as picking a color on the L (rapid transit) or a highway route. If you choose to travel the city via the Chicago Transit Authority’s elaborate train and bus system, expect to make fast friends with 1.6 million other riders who commute each day. Or tackle the roads and encounter some of the Midwest’s most creative drivers. (Rules of the road, especially speed limits, are largely ignored.)

The Chicago metropolitan area is home to more than 50 two-year and four-year colleges and universities, many of which are world-renowned for their research, expert professors and famous graduates. Most schools claim their own neighborhood in the city, so expect a tight schedule if you only have a three-day weekend in which to travel.

Day One

Start out on the North Shore at Northwestern University’s Evanston campus, about a 30-minute drive north from downtown Chicago.

Founded in 1851, the university predates the city and is international acclaimed for many of its programs, including drama and its law, business and journalism schools. Once you’ve explored the 240-acre flower- and tree-lined campus on the shores of Lake Michigan, stroll the streets of quaint Evanston, which is in the process of serious condo and retail renovation. Le Peep, located downtown at 827 Church St., is a delicious breakfast chain—crepes, custard-dipped french toast, build-your-own omelet—that’s always busy.

Next, follow Sheridan Road south for about 15 minutes to Loyola University in the up-and-coming Rogers Park neighborhood. One of the largest Jesuit universities in the nation, the school houses undergraduates on its Lake Shore Campus. Check out the Loyola University Museum of Art, home to medieval and renaissance art. Although Rogers Park doesn’t offer much in the way of sightseeing, an array of ethnic cuisine is only a few blocks off campus. Devon Avenue is known for its many excellent Indian restaurants.

Take in the view along the scenic North Lake Shore Drive as you head south for another 20 minutes to Catholic DePaul University in the gorgeous brownstone-filled Lincoln Park neighborhood, which also boasts Charlie Trotters’ eponymous restaurant. Located about a mile west of the lake front and Lincoln Park Zoo, the school is known for more than just basketball: Its music and drama schools are also top rated, so try to catch a play or a performance while in town. Otherwise, if visiting during baseball season, Wrigley Field is only two Red Line L stops away.

Day Two

Day two is all about being in the Loop. If you choose a hotel in the area, simply walk outside to begin your journey. DePaul’s business and law schools are located near Jackson and State Streets. Two blocks away on Michigan Avenue is the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which has graduated such alumni as Georgia O’Keefe. With its distinguished lion pillars at the entrance and the occasional street performer on the stairs, the museum is a destination in its own right, but be sure to check out the two parks adjacent to the school: Millennium Park and Grant Park—home to the elaborate Buckingham Fountain and host of the week-long Taste of Chicago festival. Look up for a glimpse at the Sears Tower, the tallest building in North America. Tickets for the Skydeck are $12.95 for adults and $9.50 for kids aged 3-11 (children under 3 years are admitted free of charge).

From the Art Institute, head four blocks south along South Michigan Avenue to Columbia College Chicago. From the Museum of Contemporary Photography to the DanceAfrica Chicago center, the school offers a wealth of cultural activities. If the arts aren’t your style, you’re within a stone’s throw of Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum, Shedd Aquarium, The Field Museum and Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears, which all sit on Museum Campus.

Head about two miles west on West Harrison Street to the University of Illinois at Chicago, the largest university in the city, with more than 25,000 students. Show off your skills at the school’s bowling alley and brush up on your social welfare program history at the Jane Addams Hull-House, America’s first settlement house.

Day Three

You’ll probably be exhausted by day three. Take your time at the prestigious University of Chicago in Hyde Park, a tree-lined oasis for hard-working brainiacs. Serious readers shouldn’t miss visiting 57th Street Books or the Seminary Co-op Bookstore. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House is nearby [read more about Wright tours here] and just to the east of campus are the Museum of Science and Industry and Jackson Park, relaxing places to end your grueling weekend.

If you have any time left over during your trip, cruise the Magnificent Mile, which stretches from the Chicago River on the south end of Michigan Avenue to Oak Street in the ritzy northern end. The avenue hosts four seasonal outdoor festivals and is famous for its numerous upscale boutiques, malls and restaurants. You’ll also see the John Hancock Center, one of Chicago’s most recognizable skyscrapers. Stroll through the entertainment playground of Navy Pier, treat the family to one of Chicago’s best deep-dish pizzas at Giordano’s and check out U.S. Cellular Field, home to the Chicago White Sox.

When to Go

Avoid the brutal winter weather by visiting from April through October. Many schools hold summer sessions and programs, so you can still experience the campus energy in the middle of the year, though temperatures may soar past 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If you want a genuine student experience, note that the University of Chicago and Northwestern University start classes in September and end in early June; check with each school for their academic calendars to time your visit when they are in session.

Where to Stay

For the true downtown experience, stay at the Hotel Allegro Chicago in the heart of the city’s Loop area. Just minutes from Michigan Avenue, and 15 to 20 minutes from both O’Hare International Airport and Midway Airport, the lavish hotel is an experience unto itself.

In the same neighborhood, the Hotel Burnham Chicago is over a century old and offers easy access to the theater district, Millennium Park, the airports, public transportation and is home to the sophisticated Atwood Café. Its also offering a special family package this summer.

The Hotel Orrington in Evanston, built in 1923, reopened about two years ago after a major renovation. Rates start at around $250. For the budget-conscious saving pennies to pay for that college tuition, try the Travelodge Hotel Downtown, situated between Millennium Park and Museum Campus in the South Loop. Rates start at $109 per night.

Additional reporting by Donna M. Airoldi, who is a graduate of DePaul University.

Destinations: Chicago

Themes: College Visits, Family Travel

User Comments

Chicago is friendly city for tourists. Traveling around the locations is easy with all king of transport options available.

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