A Comparison of the Big Ten Universities

Acceptance Rates, Graduation Rates and Financial Aid Info for the Big Ten

University of Michigan Football Stadium
University of Michigan Football Stadium. allygirl520 / Flickr

The Big Ten Athletic Conference includes some of the country's top public universities as well as one of the country's top private universities. On the athletic front, these Division I schools also have many strengths. Acceptance and graduation rates, however, vary widely. The chart below puts the 14 Big Ten schools side-by-side for easy comparison.

Click on a university's name for more admission, cost, and financial aid information.

A Comparison of the Big Ten Universities
UniversityUndergrad EnrollmentAcceptance RateGrant Aid Recipients4-Year Graduation Rate6-Year Graduation Rate
Michigan State39,14366%49%51%77%
Ohio State45,28949%79%59%83%
Penn State40,74251%37%64%86%

The data presented here is from the National Center for Educational Statistics.

Undergraduate Enrollment: Northwestern University is obviously the smallest of the schools in the Big Ten while The Ohio State University is the largest. Even Northwestern, however, is a big school with over 21,000 students when graduate students are taken into consideration. Students looking for a more intimate college environment in which they will get to know their peers and professors well would do better at a liberal arts college than one of the members of the Big Ten.

But for students looking for a large, bustling campus with lots of school spirit, the conference is certainly worth serious consideration.

Acceptance Rate: Northwestern is not just the smallest school in the Big Ten--it is also by far the most selective. You're going to need high grades and standardized test scores to get in.

Michigan is also highly selective, especially for a public institution. To get a sense of your chances of admission, check out these articles: SAT Score Comparison for the Big Ten | ACT Score Comparison for the Big Ten.

Grant Aid: The percentage of students receiving grant aid has been on the decline in recent years among most of the Big Ten schools. Iowa and Ohio State award grant aid to a sizable majority of students, but other schools don't do nearly as well. This can be a significant factor in choosing a school when Northwestern's price tag is close to $70,000 and even a public university such as Michigan cost close to $60,000 for out-of-state applicants.

4-Year Graduation Rate: We typically think of college as a four-year investment, but the reality is that a significant percentage of students do not graduate in four years. Northwestern clearly does the best at getting students out the door in four years, in a large part because the school is so selective that it enrolls students who are entering well prepared for college, often with lots of AP credits. Graduation rates should be a factor when you consider a school, for a five- or six-year investment is clearly a very different equation than a four-year investment.

That's one or two more years of paying tuition, and fewer years of earning an income. Nebraska's 33% four-year graduation rate really stands out as a problem.

6-Year Graduation Rate: There are lots of reasons why students don't graduate in four years--work, family obligations, co-op or certification requirements, and so on. For this reason, six-year graduation rates are a common measure of a school's success. The members of the Big Ten do pretty well on this front. All schools graduate at least two-thirds of students in six years, and most are above 80%. Here again Northwestern outperforms all the public universities--high cost and highly selective admissions has its benefits.