Getting To Know: University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor was one of my aspirational schools back in the late 70’s. However, it took me over four decades to actually visit the campus. The University of Michigan is an aspirational school for many, in Michigan and elsewhere. Nearly half of the undergraduate student body comes from outside the Great Lake State, aka ‘The Mitten.’ Non-residents often consider Michigan against Ivies and near-Ivy/Ivy-like universities.
Official admissions tours were filled up when I planned my visit though I attended a virtual information session beforehand. However, I had a generous two-hour tour conducted by a very bright young woman from Michigan who just graduated in Biopsychology, Cognition and Neuroscience arranged through a New Jersey hometown friend. My guide and I also made some stops, for example, to see the alumni center, that probably don’t get on the admissions tour. Michigan places their alumni center, including testimonials ar a prominent place on campus.
Since I had the benefit of touring the Central Campus and the football stadium, but had no meetings with anyone regarding admissions or academics, my write-up will be different than others you’ve read here. I’m going to look at the University of Michigan relative to another school where I have also taken a visit and also take a data dive on admissions and costs.
To me only one other school that feels like the University of Michigan: UC-Berkeley
These two universities have about the same number of undergrads (around 32,000) and have very similar liberal/progressive politics. Ann Arbor and Berkeley, both with populations just over 120,000, are perceived as “intellectual capitals” in their states. Both schools house just under 30 percent of their undergraduate student body, and the off-campus options can get expensive. Both campuses are in the centers of their cities, surrounded by an eclectic downtown, and you must leave your car in a downtown parking deck if you plan to tour campus on foot.
These schools even have their own famous bell towers! There are interesting natural history exhibits, including dinosaur skeletons, at both schools that must wow the elementary school kids who take a college tour. However, Michigan’s natural history museum had an interesting poster showing the Great Lake State’s place in the world. That’s included in this photo set below.
Both schools have some interesting ties to the student activism of the Sixties. UC-Berkeley was the founding home for the Free Speech Movement.. The first meeting and founding of the Students for a Democratic Society took place at the University of Michigan in 1960. During the same year 10,000 students gathered around the Michigan Union to hear presidential candidate John F. Kennedy call for the formation of the Peace Corps. A plaque to celebrate the occasion is at the front door of the Union.
Of course the weather is colder and less predictable in Ann Arbor than it is in Berkeley and there is nothing like the BART light rail system in Ann Arbor.
Athletics have been a more important part of campus life at Michigan than they are at UC-Berkeley,
Michigan plays one fewer sport (30 versus 31) than UC-Berkeley but it’s athletic venues are among the most impressive I have ever seen. While UC- Berkeley’s California Memorial Stadium seats 63,000 fans, Michigan Stadium, aka ‘The Big House’ seats nearly 108,000 for a football and has hosted more for outdoor ice hockey. Legendary sports broadcaster Keith Jackson first called the stadium The Big House in 1982. The name has stuck ever since. The stadium is getting a new $41 million scoreboard 40 years later.
Below you will recognize Tom Brady, the most famous icon in modern pro football. But the man in the photo crouched over a football in the center of this set turned down opportunities to play for the Packers and the Lions, and moved on to Yale Law School. He, Gerald R. Ford, became the 38th President of the United States. If you have an interest in presidential politics or American history, visit his library on North Campus.
Michigan has finished in the top ten in the Director’s Cup standings across all D-1 varsity sports 21 times since 1994. UC-Berkeley has finished in the top ten eight times, the last time in 2011. Interestingly, Greek life is not overly popula at Michigan, attracting less than ten percent of the men and less than a fifth of the women, at a school that is highly supportive of football and basketball, the major revenue sports.
Michigan’s campus feels less crowded than UC-Berkeley’s.
The Michigan campus, including the academic center and athletic facilities is triple the size of UC-Berkeley’s. The signature building, at least to me, is the Michigan Union (picture up top). Look above the front door and you see the image of the ‘Michigan Man’ as scholar and athlete, even though Michigan first welcomed women in 1870.
I really loved the variety of architectural styles on the Michigan campus. The Law Quad reminded me of Princeton.
There are some other interesting places to visit at Michigan, including the Ross School of Business.
The campus is quite spread out into Ann Arbor from the academic center, aka ‘The Diag’. This is one school where I would recommend searching housing options early to plan to live near the bus routes. Parking around Central Campus appears to be non existent.
But admissions processes between Michigan and UC-Berkeley are quite different.
Michigan, like most large schools, went test optional during the pandemic, but recommends that prospective students test or at least submit AP or IB scores as proof of rigor. UC-Berkeley will not even look at your scores. It’s not as difficult to get into Michigan as it is to get into UC-Berkeley whether you come from in-state or you are a non-resident. But Michigan is still exceptionally selective and asks you to choose from one of the eight undergraduate schools when you apply for a freshman class.
However, while the Ross School of Business considers freshmen to be direct admits, the other schools consider them to be preferred admits who will start their education in the College of Literature, Arts and Science. Transfers into Ross from another school at Michigan will be tough, since most who get in as freshmen are unlikely to leave. Michigan requires a Common App essay as well as two additional essays. One requires an applicant to explain not only “Why Michigan?” but also “why this school within Michigan?” The one school that impressed me with first-year prep for success was the College of Engineering.
The profile of a freshman class has only gotten stronger.
In 2010, according to the university’s Office of Institutional Research, Michigan accepted just over half of nearly 32,000 applicants. Nearly 60 percent of in-state applicants were accepted as were just under half from out of state and international students. The middle 50 percent had GPAs between 3.6 and 3.9. Their SATs ranged between 1230 and 1440, ACT Composite scores between 27 and 31. Forty-one percent of admitted students deposited, including two thirds of admits from Michigan. Twenty-five percent of accepted students from elsewhere deposited, too.
In 2020 the university received over 65,000 applications. The acceptance rate dropped to 26 percent for all applicants. Less than half of all in-state applicants were offered admissions.Only 22 percent from outside Michigan, including international students, were accepted. The middle 50 percent had GPAs between 3.8 and 4.0. While the SAT scoring methodology has changed since 2010, the middle 50 percent of SAT scores for Michigan freshman ranged between 1340 and 1520, ACT Composite scores ranged between 31 and 34. Forty-one percent of admitted students still deposited, including nearly 70 percent of admits from Michigan. Twenty-eight percent of accepted students from elsewhere deposited, too.
I’m impressed that Michigan gets such a high yield from non-residents given that other selective private research universities might have offered more aid to attract them. The 28% yield is higher than Penn State-University Park (19%) and Rutgers-New Brunswick (24%) got from the last resident and non-resident applicant pools.
Those who choose to come to Michigan are apparently happy. Over 95 percent of freshmen return for their sophomore year, just like UC-Berkeley and the most selective private schools The most-recent four-year grad rate from available data was 85 percent. That’s nine points better than the peer public school in California and 11 better than Stanford!
You have to go big in the classroom.
The University of Michigan advertises a student-faculty ratio of 14 to 1, but that will likely include reaching assistants who are pursuing advanced degrees. Seventeen percent of all classes taught during 2020-21 had over 50 students, Seven percent had over 100. These were about the same numbers that I found for Penn State-University Park, a much less selective school, when I did research to write my post about “the other Big Ten school in Michigan.” Since many prospective freshmen who look at Michigan will look at Cornell, the largest ultra-selective private research university, I checked out their numbers. Cornell reports a student-faculty ratio of less than 9 to 1. Just under 16 percent of all classes taught in 2020-21 had over 50 students. and five percent had over 100.
Looking at the numbers, Michigan compares favorably to a more selective school that has less than half as many undergrads. On the other hand, so does Penn State’s main campus, which has over 10,000 more, and is much less selective. That’s something for bright, cost-conscious Pennsylvanians to think about if they want to go big with their college education, and they can get into Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College.
Michigan welcomes 350 freshmen each year into Honors in the College of Literature, Science and Arts, the largest undergraduate school. There’s an honors There’s an honors program for engineering as well as a liberal arts residential college.The university admits first-year students to these programs by application.
The costs are Ivy-like for non-residents.
If I was a Michigan resident and I could get accepted, my decision would be a slam dunk, even though a price increase is built in for the junior and senior years regardless of your undergraduate school. A Michigan resident freshman will have an estimated first year cost of attendance of just over $33,000. That’s slightly less than a Rutgers freshman from New Jersey or a Penn State freshman from Pennsylvania would pay for their education. The non-resident estimate, however, is over $69,000 for a freshman and sophomore, and over $73,000 for a junior or senior. Only the University of Virginia is similarly expensive for non-residents, and it is has a much smaller undergraduate student body.
Michigan does not grant much in the way of merit based aid. Only 13 percent of the freshmen who entered in 2021 received merit scholarships, and these averaged less than $4,500. The university awarded need-based aid to less than half (49 percent) of the freshmen who requested it. However, the university met close to 90 percent of need and the scholarship awards averaged $20,500. Interestingly, the average debt for members of the Class of 2021 who borrowed was just over $27,000 the maximum permitted over four years through the Federal Student Loan program. Sixty-four percent of the class graduated with no student loan debt.
Given the financial aid numbers above from Michigan’s 2021-22 Common Data Set, I would have to believe that a very needy student from Michigan will receive the help they need to cover their costs. I’m not so sure about non-residents.
I believe in an independent campus press, but there’s one thing I did not like about the Michigan Daily.
The Michigan Daily looks a lot like the Daily Princetonian, Princeton’s campus paper and it is content rich. But the paper forces you to go online to read the full text of several student articles and opinion pieces. I realize that printing newspapers costs money, but I don’t want to go to two places to read one story or opinion. Understandably, there are many viewpoints on a campus with over 1,600 clubs and organizations. But a visitor who might want to get to know the campus, especially a prospective student, would not appreciate this inconvenience.
The University of Michigan brand is one of the strongest in the nation and the world and there are plenty of academic choices. There will be a strong alumni base in practically any major metro area to help you find work, settle into a new home, or meet up to cheer on the Wolverines. But the costs have to work out for you to Go Blue.
Report Card: University of Michigan
- Four-Year/Six-Year Graduation Rates: A
- Freshman Retention: A
- Costs: B
- Curriculum: A
- Community: A
- Comforts: B
- Connections: A
Want to know more about me?
Listen to my talk, What Exactly Is a Good College? hosted by test-prep experts Amy Seeley and Mike Bergin on Tests And The Rest!
Listen to my talk, College Is A Learning AND Living Community hosted by Dr. Cynthia Colon from Destination YOUniversity on Voice of America Radio!
Sharing is caring!