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. All are large research universities with significant master's and doctoral degree programs in addition to undergraduate programs. On the athletic front, these Division I schools also have many strengths. Acceptance and graduation rates, however, vary widely. The table below puts the 14 Big Ten schools side-by-side for easy comparison.

Fast Facts: The Big Ten Conference

  • Northwestern University is the only private university in the conference, and it also the most selective.
  • The Ohio State University has the largest undergraduate enrollment in the Big Ten. Northwestern is the smallest.
  • The University of Nebraska has the lowest 4-year and 6-year graduation rates in the conference.
  • The University of Iowa provides the highest percentage of students with grant aid.

In the table below, you can click on a university's name to get more admissions information including SAT score, ACT score, and GPA data for admitted students. 

A Comparison of the Big Ten Universities
University Undergrad Enrollment Acceptance Rate Grant Aid Recipients 4-Year Graduation Rate 6-Year Graduation Rate
Illinois 33,955 62% 49% 70% 84%
Indiana 33,429 77% 63% 64% 78%
Iowa 24,503 83% 84% 53% 73%
Maryland 29,868 47% 61% 70% 86%
Michigan 29,821 23% 50% 79% 92%
Michigan State 38,996 78% 48% 53% 80%
Minnesota 35,433 52% 62% 65% 80%
Nebraska 20,954 80% 75% 41% 69%
Northwestern 8,700 8% 60% 84% 94%
Ohio State 45,946 52% 74% 59% 84%
Penn State 40,835 56% 34% 66% 85%
Purdue 32,132 58% 50% 55% 81%
Rutgers 35,641 60% 49% 61% 80%
Wisconsin 31,358 52% 50% 61% 87%

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 22,000 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 over $74,000, and even a public university such as Michigan costs over $64,000 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 36% 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.