The Midwest has some of the top private, public and religiously affiliated colleges in the country and, thanks to the Big Ten and Big 12 athletic conferences, some of the best known. Many of the nation's "Public Ivies," the top state universities, are in the Midwest. Students can pursue a top-flight education at schools ranging from small liberal arts colleges to sprawling big-city campuses.

State Schools

According to U.S. News & World Report, the University of Michigan is the top state university in the Midwest. Michigan and Miami University Oxford, commonly referred to as Miami of Ohio, are two of the original Public Ivies. Midwestern additions to that select group include the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the Ohio State University and Purdue University. Elite public options in the lower Midwest include the University of Kansas and the University of Nebraska.

Private Schools

U.S. News & World Report ranks three private Midwestern universities among the top 12 in the nation, as of 2010: the University of Chicago, Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and Washington University in St. Louis. Cleveland's Case Western Reserve ranks among the nation's top engineering schools. The Midwest also boasts elite Catholic schools, such as the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, Marquette University in Milwaukee and St. Louis University.

Graduate Schools

Midwestern institutions with acclaimed graduate science programs include the Universities of Chicago (site of the first sustained nuclear chain reaction in 1942), Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. Northwestern University has one of the highest-ranked law schools, but the Illinois Institute of Technology, the University of Akron and Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., are notable alternatives. Two Big Ten schools, Wisconsin and Ohio State, boast top medical schools.

Baccalaureate Schools

Baccalaureate colleges focus on undergraduate studies and award fewer than 50 percent of their bachelor's degrees in the liberal arts. They traditionally offer diplomas in business, science and nursing while providing a limited list of majors in the humanities. The top six baccalaureate schools in the Midwest are religious schools. Indiana's Taylor University and Iowa's Northwestern College and Dordt College are broadly Christian. Ohio's Cedarville University is Baptist. Ohio Northern University is Methodist. South Dakota's Augustana College is Lutheran.