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University of Michigan vs. Michigan State University: Which is Right For You?

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What’s Covered:

 

The University of Michigan vs. Michigan State is a natural rivalry. The two schools are counted among the best public schools in the nation, they both have rich histories dating back to the 1800s, and they each have storied athletic programs. Although the Wolverines and Spartans share many similarities, they’re also quite different.

 

Gaining acceptance to either institution is a feather in a high schooler’s cap, but if you need to make a decision between the University of Michigan vs. Michigan State, here are some factors to consider. 

 

University of Michigan vs. Michigan State: A Quick Overview

 

 

University of Michigan 

Michigan State 

Location

Ann Arbor, MI 

East Lansing, MI 

Campus Type

Urban 

Suburban 

Undergraduate Enrollment

31,329

38,491

Acceptance Rate

26%

76%

U.S. News Ranking

83

23

Middle 50% SAT

1340-1520

1110-1280

Middle 50% ACT

31-34

23-29

Sticker Price

$32,272 (in-state) & $69,326  (out-of-state)

$25,590 (in-state) & $51,402 (out-of-state)

Need-blind, no-loan, or meets 100% demonstrated need?

Need-blind and meets 100% of demonstrated need for in-state students 

Need-blind and meets 100% of demonstrated need for in-state students 

 

University of Michigan vs. Michigan State: A Closer Look

 

Location and Weather

 

Like many other smallish cities that are home to thriving colleges both Ann Arbor (home to the University of Michigan) and East Lansing (home to Michigan State) offer amenities commonly associated with larger metropolises. A student living in either of these cities will find no shortage of shopping, dining, parks, or cultural opportunities to keep themselves busy. 

 

Although both Ann Arbor and East Lansing are smaller cities, Ann Arbor’s population is substantially larger, 117,082 vs. 48,709. Ann Arbor is recognized for its quirky, laid-back vibe and is commonly recognized as one of the best places to live in the country.

 

The smaller size of East Lansing makes Michigan State a good choice for those looking for a more intimate college experience. Provided you can tolerate a Michigan winter—daily average temperatures in January hover below freezing—the city is extremely walkable, with a trail running from the MSU campus through the city all the way downtown to the state capitol building. 

 

East Lansing is also less of a pure university town than Ann Arbor (where 26% of the population lives in college housing). East Lansing is located down the road from the state capital and numerous state agencies which employ more than 14,000 people. Don’t sleep on Spartan sports either, the website Niche ranks it 14th in the nation for athletics.  

 

Size

 

The University of Michigan is home to 29,851 undergraduates and 14,733 graduate students. Michigan State has 38,491 undergraduates and 11,204 graduate students on its campus. Despite the disparity in the total number of students, the two schools share a similar student-to-faculty ratio—15:1 at the University of Michigan and 16:1 at Michigan State. 

 

Academics

 

The University of Michigan offers more than 280 degree programs through its 14 undergraduate schools and colleges. In total, the University of Michigan is home to 19 schools and colleges:

 

  • Architecture & Urban Planning
  • Art & Design
  • Business
  • Dentistry
  • Education
  • Engineering
  • Environment and Sustainability
  • Information
  • Kinesiology
  • Law
  • Literature, Science, and the Arts
  • Medicine
  • Music, Theatre & Dance
  • Nursing
  • Pharmacy
  • Public Health
  • Public Policy
  • Rackham School of Graduate Studies
  • Social Work

 

Michigan State is divided into 21 degree-granting colleges, through which they offer more than 200 programs. Those colleges are:

 

  • College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  • College of Arts and Letters
  • Eli Broad College of Business and Eli Broad Graduate School of Management
  • College of Communication Arts and Sciences
  • College of Education
  • College of Engineering
  • Graduate School
  • Honors College
  • College of Human Medicine
  • International Studies and Programs
  • James Madison College
  • College of Law
  • Lyman Briggs College
  • College of Music
  • College of Natural Science
  • College of Nursing
  • College of Osteopathic Medicine
  • Residential College in the Arts and Humanities
  • College of Social Science
  • Undergraduate Education
  • College of Veterinary Medicine

 

The University of Michigan operates on a trimester academic calendar with a fall (September-December), winter (January-April), and spring/summer (May-August). Conversely, Michigan State operates on a semester-based calendar with a fall semester (September-December) and a spring semester (January-May). 

 

Housing

 

The University of Michigan and Michigan State have different housing policies—Wolverines are not required to live on campus while Spartans must spend their first two years living on campus. That said, 97% of freshmen at the University of Michigan choose to live in school-provided housing. 

 

Both the University of Michigan and Michigan State divide their campus living arrangements into neighborhoods. The neighborhoods at the University of Michigan are:

 

  • Central Campus
  • The Hill 
  • North Campus

 

There are six neighborhoods on Michigan State’s campus:

 

  • North 
  • Brody 
  • Apartments 
  • River 
  • East
  • South 

 

Both the Wolverines and the Spartans are afforded a variety of living-learning housing options and theme communities, as well as special accommodations such as alcohol-free floors and gender-inclusive housing. 

 

Financial Aid

 

When comparing the University of Michigan vs. Michigan State, one notable difference is cost. The sticker price for Wolverines is $32,272 for in-state students and $69,326 for out-of-state students. Sticker price for Spartans is $25,590 for in-state students and $51,402 for out-of-state students. 

 

About 70% of undergraduate Wolverines receive financial aid while just 40% from out-of-state financial aid. Roughly 60% of all undergraduate Spartans receive financial aid, and the average amount received in 2019-2020 was $11,721. Both schools practice need-blind admissions and will meet 100% of the demonstrated need of in-state students. 

 

Both UMichigan and MSU offer a variety of merit-based scholarships for high-achieving students looking to lower the cost of college. Both colleges also rank highly in return on investment. Wolverines place 78th (in-state) and 165th (out-of-state) on Payscale’s ranking of best value colleges. MSU ranked 228th (in-state) and 449th (out-of-state). 

 

Sports and Extracurriculars

 

The Wolverines and Spartans both play Division I sports, compete in the Big Ten, and are among the most prestigious athletic programs in the nation. The University of Michigan is perhaps best known for its athletics. The Wolverines have won 399 Big Ten athletic championships and the school is extremely well known for its men’s football and basketball programs, along with its men’s hockey team, whose nine titles are more than any other program in the nation. 

 

At Michigan State, the men’s basketball team is most often in the spotlight. It has made 23 straight NCAA appearances, including 10 Final Fours—and no Big Ten team had more combined basketball and football victories than the Spartans between 2010 and 2020.  

 

Like many other large public institutions, Greek life plays a considerable role in the lives of both UMichigan and MSU students. The University of Michigan is home to more than 60 fraternities and sororities and 17% of undergraduates participate in Greek life. More than 60 Greek letter organizations are also found at Michigan State and 14% of undergraduate Spartans go Greek. 

 

Neither Wolverines nor Spartans will be bored on campus—UMichigan has more than 1,600 student-run organizations on campus. At MSU, you’ll find over 900 student organizations, including one of the nation’s largest intramural sports programs.  

 

Culture and Diversity

 

At Michigan State, 25.3% identify as a student of color while UMichigan just welcomed its most diverse class in years—37% of its Class of 2025 identify as students of color.

 

University of Michigan Ethnic Diversity: 

 

Ethnicity

Percentage of Student Body

White 

65%

Asian  

15%

Hispanic/Latino  

6%

Black/African American

5%

Native American

1%

Other 

10%

 

Michigan State Ethnic Diversity: 

 

Ethnicity

Percentage of Student Body

White 

73.2%

Black/African American

7.9%

Asian

7.2%

Hispanic/Latino 

6.2%

American Indian/Alaska Native

0.3%

Hawaiian/Pacific Islander

0.1%

Two or more races 

3.7%

Other 

1.5%

 

Both the University of Michigan and Michigan State are LGBTQ-friendly. UMichigan received five stars on the Campus Pride Index—a benchmarking tool indicating an institutional commitment to LGBTQ-inclusive policy, program, and practice—and MSU received four stars. 

 

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How to Decide Between the University of Michigan vs. Michigan State

 

The University of Michigan is an especially strong choice if:

 

  • You value prestige. The University of Michigan is one of the best public universities in the nation and has national name recognition. 
  • You come from an extremely low-income family. UMichigan’s Go Blue Guarantee provides free tuition to students from families with incomes less than $65,000 and assets below $50,000.  
  • You want to attend college in one of the nation’s funkiest and most fun towns. WalletHub ranks it the best small city college town in the country. 
  • You care about college football. The University of Michigan’s “Big House” is the largest college football stadium in the country, holding 107,601 fans. 
  • You care about green space—90% of Ann Arbor residents live within a 10-minute walk from a park. 
  • ROI is important to you. Niche ranks UMichigan the 48th best value school in the Nation. 

 

Michigan State is an especially strong choice if:

 

  • You are passionate about the environment. MSU consistently ranks as one of the greenest colleges in the nation and its Knight Center for Environmental Journalism is one of the U.S.’s few environmental journalism programs. 
  • You love hoops. The Spartans have one of the most consistently successful men’s basketball teams in the nation—it’s almost guaranteed you’ll get to watch meaningful games while on campus. 
  • You want to have fun at college. MSU is commonly included among lists of the best party schools in the U.S.
  • You want to attend a big school. MSU is one of the largest schools in the country. 
  • You hope to study abroad. Michigan State offers over 275 credit-bearing programs around the world. 
  • You want to attend college in a small, easy-to-navigate city but want access to big city amenities. 
  • You want to attend a historic school. MSU has the distinction of being the nation’s first land-grant university and was the prototype for the entire land-grant system. 

 

What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?

 

When building your college list and comparing Michigan State vs. the University of Michigan, it’s important to know your odds of acceptance in order to maximize your chance of getting into a good fit school. It’s suggested that you apply to 8-12 schools, with 25% being safety schools, 40% target schools, and 35% reach schools. CollegeVine can help!

 

Our free Admissions Chances Calculator uses factors like your grades, test scores, and extracurriculars to estimate your odds of acceptance. This allows you to know whether a school is a safety, target, or reach. Our chancing engine can even provide tips to improve your profile, helping you boost your odds at your dream school.


Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.