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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


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Student Life at Big 10 Schools: What It’s Really Like

In 1895, the Big 10 was founded as an athletic conference and became the first of this type of organization in the United States. Today, it actually includes 14 large research universities, predominantly located in the Midwest. Current members are:


  • Indiana University
  • Michigan State University
  • Northwestern University
  • Ohio State University
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • Purdue University
  • Rutgers University
  • University of Illinois
  • University of Iowa
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of Nebraska
  • University of Wisconsin


The Big 10 are mostly public schools; Northwestern is the only private institution among them. While they are all large, high-quality universities, each has its own character and personality.


What is Student Life Like at Big 10 Schools?


1. Making friends can be intimidating because there are lots of people.


As is implied by the name, these are big schools. The university with the largest student body on the list, The Ohio State University, has more than 45,000 undergraduates. This means that you’re more likely to find your niche, given how many different personalities and groups there are, but it can also be intimidating and overwhelming for introverts and people who prefer more intimate settings.


2. You’ll find a club or group for almost any interest.


Whether you’re interested in participating in Greek life or advance a political cause, you’re more than likely to find an extracurricular activity or club that matches your interests. Purdue, for example, offers a 3D Printing Club, while Michigan State has a Spartan Blockchain organization dedicated to making the university a “global leader in blockchain development and innovation.”


Even if your campus doesn’t offer a certain group, many allow you to start one yourself!


Want to learn more about social life at Big 10 Schools? Hear from real students at Penn State, UMich, and OSU.



3. There’s a huge sports culture.


The Big 10 (originally the Big 9) was founded as an athletic conference, and these Division I schools continue to celebrate sports. Many of the universities invest heavily in their teams and earn a large profit from their athletics programs. Game days, especially football, are festive occasions, where students, faculty, staff, alumni, and people from the surrounding communities flock to the campuses to cheer for the home team. There are also intense rivalries with opposing Big 10 teams, such as OSU and UMich.


4. Many students live off-campus or commute. 


Given that most members of the Big 10 are large, public universities that mainly draw in-state students, a majority of students commute or live off-campus. In fact, as per the table below, Northwestern, the only private member of the Big 10, is also the only school that has a majority of students living on campus.


Data in the table below is taken from U.S. News.


University Percentage of Students Living Off-Campus
Indiana University 63%
Michigan State University 61%
Northwestern University 40%
Ohio State University 68%
Pennsylvania State University 65%
Purdue University 59%
Rutgers University 57%
University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) 50%
University of Iowa 73%
University of Maryland 59%
University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) 69%
University of Minnesota (Twin Cities) 78%
University of Nebraska (Lincoln) 66%
University of Wisconsin (Madison) 75%


5. The campuses are huge — there will be lots to explore and do and many amenities.


As a student at a Big 10 school, you’ll have access to plenty of resources and events both on and off-campus. Because most of these schools are in large cities and are often considered part of the city culture, you’ll always find plenty to do, whether it’s the homecoming game, a food festival, or a theater production.


For example, as a student at Indiana University, you might sample the cuisine from local restaurants at the annual Taste of Bloomington. Penn State students, meanwhile, can check off items on the Happy Valley Bucket List, such as strolling around the Arboretum. 


Don’t forget that you’ll have plenty of amenities on campus, including plenty of huge libraries, gyms, dining halls, and more.

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Standout Social Traditions at Each Big 10 School


Every institution in the Big 10 has a rich history and plenty of traditions. Here are just some of the ways these universities show their school spirit.


Note: Because homecoming is a much-heralded event at all members of the Big 10, this event and associated traditions have been omitted from this list. Suffice to say there’s plenty of pomp and circumstance on game day (and entire weekends or even months in many cases), though!


Indiana University: Dance Marathon


In November, the For The Kids at Riley Hospital for Children student-run organization holds an annual Dance Marathon to raise money for children’s hospital. More than 4,000 IU students spend 36 hours dancing, and even many of those who don’t participate make donations to the cause.


Michigan State University: The Rock


The Rock, a gift from the Class of 1873, is an institution at MSU. Actually an 18,000-year-old pudding stone from a glacier, the stone was excavated by that class and moved to the campus. It has had different significance over the years, from celebrating engagements to serving as a background for political protests. Today, anyone can paint the rock for any purpose with messages of sadness, celebration, hope, change, and more.


Northwestern University: Dillo Day


Dillo Day began in 1972. The all-day music festival is organized by the student group Mayfest Productions and is the largest entirely student-run musical festival in the United States. Past lineups have included Chance the Rapper, Lupe Fiasco, Young the Giant, Daya, and many others.


Ohio State University: Buckeye Nation Week


Buckeye Nation Week isn’t a single celebration; rather, it’s a jam-packed week of events for all members of the OSU community. Sponsored by the Office of Student Life’s Student Activities department, the week includes comedy sets, lectures, concerts, and many other events meant to celebrate the university.


Pennsylvania State University: The Lion Shrine


When students first set foot on Penn State’s campus, they’re expected to take a picture with the Nittany Lion Shrine, a large mountain lion sculpture that was a gift of the class of 1940. You also take a picture with the lion upon graduating. The Shrine is closely guarded around Homecoming, after a 1966 incident in which Syracuse rivals painted it orange.


Purdue University: Spring Fest


An annual event that draws community members of all ages, Spring Fest offers plenty of fun activities. It’s hosted by the College of Agriculture and includes the “Bug Bowl” insect petting zoo, a plant sale, the Veterinary Medicine Open House, popcorn-making lessons, and much more.


Rutgers University: Charter Day


Every year in November, the Rutgers community commemorates the signing of the charter that established Queen’s College, which later became Rutgers, in 1766. The anniversary features food (including birthday cake), music, giveaways, trivia, and more.


University of Illinois: Quad Day


Freshmen shouldn’t miss Quad Day, which takes place before classes begin. Hundreds of registered student organizations flock to the Main Quad to encourage new students to learn about the various clubs available at their school and find their niche. You’ll also be able to take advantage of the many giveaways.


University of Iowa: Band Extravaganza


In November, UI’s bands, including the Hawkeye Marching Band, Symphony Band, and Johnson County Landmark jazz big band, convene in the Carver-Hawkeye Arena for a music-filled night. You’ll find a wide range of music genres — from classical to contemporary — school songs, and more.


University of Maryland: Art Attack


Art Attack takes place in spring and features student activities and a huge concert. Past performers have included Jessie Reyez, 2 Chainz, Weezer, and others. The event also includes vendors selling art and other goods.


University of Michigan: MLEAD


MLEAD Academy is an opportunity for students to gain leadership experience — as well as move into residences early. Participants attend training, workshops, and other programs before assisting residential students with their move-ins and welcoming them to campus, helping them get to know one another and find their way around campus.


University of Minnesota: Shoe Tree


Overlooking the Mississippi River’s West Bank, you’ll notice the Shoe Tree, a makeshift landmark created by Minnesota students who fling shoes of all types on its branches. While there’s no known explanation for how the tradition got started, the Tree is now considered a campus staple.


University of Nebraska: The Big Event


The Big Event is a day when members of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln community volunteer at sites in the areas surrounding campus. Starting with a volunteer brunch, participants head to various job sites where they paint, complete yard work, clean out garages, and more, across community organizations, institutions, and homes.


University of Wisconsin: Fill the Hill


Each Fall, Bascom Hill becomes a nest of flamingos for one day. Each plastic bird is placed on the Hill to represent a donation to the Annual Campaign within that day. The tradition dates back to 1979, when the Pail and Shovel, a student government party, filled the hill with more than 1,000 plastic flamingos on the first day of classes. 


Want to learn more about Big 10 schools? See our post: What Are the Big 10 Schools? Should You Attend One?


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Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.