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What Are the Big 10 Schools? Should You Attend One?

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Many college hopefuls have heard of the Big Ten Schools, but you might not know exactly what the Big 10 refers to in its various contexts. In this post we’ll outline which colleges are in the Big 10, where the title comes from, and what you need to know about these schools. If you’re considering applying to these schools, we’ll also go over the admissions criteria and unique aspects of each university.


Which Schools Are in the Big 10?


Like the Ivy League, the term Big 10 started as an athletic conference, which was founded by Purdue University in 1895. It was formerly known as the Big 9 and the Western Conference, and is now sometimes known by the stylized term B1G. Although its name implies otherwise, there are actually 14 schools currently in the Big Ten. These schools are located primarily in the Midwest. They are all in NCAA Division I and compete in the Football Bowl Subdivision.


The schools in the Big 10 include:


School  Location Acceptance Rate US News Ranking Middle 50% SAT Undergrad Enrollment
Indiana University Bloomington, Indiana 77.9% 79 1180-1360 33,301
Michigan State University East Lansing, Michigan 71.1% 84 1130-1310 39,176
Northwestern University Evanston, Illinois 9.1% 9 1450-1540 8,327
Ohio State University Columbus, Ohio 52.0% 54 1240-1450 46,820
Pennsylvania State University University Park, Pennsylvania 56.5% 50 1160-1360 40,363
Purdue University West Lafayette, Indiana 52.0% 57 1210-1420 33,646
Rutgers University New Brunswick, New Jersey 60.1% 62 1190-1410 36,039
University of Illinois Champaign, Illinois 62.2% 48 1220-1480 33,915
University of Iowa Iowa City, Iowa 82.6% 84 1140-1330 23,482
University of Maryland College Park, Maryland 47.1% 64 1290-1480 30,762
University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Michigan 22.9% 25 1340-1530 31,266
University of Minnesota Twin Cities, Minnesota 52.0% 70 1299-1437 29,617
University of Nebraska Lincoln, Nebraska 79.6% 139 1130-1360 20,830
University of Wisconsin Madison, Wisconsin 53.0% 46 1330-1450 33,456


Here’s a closer look at each of these schools:


1. Indiana University

Location: Bloomington, Indiana

Acceptance rate: 77.9%

U.S. News Ranking: 79

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1180-1360 SAT, 25-31 ACT

Undergraduate Enrollment: 33,301


Indiana University has a beautiful sprawling campus lined with trees and white stone buildings. The main campus is integrated into the city of Bloomington, with a population of 85,000. In common culture, IU is probably best known for its basketball team, which has won 22 Big Ten Championships, and has the best winning percentage at conference games.


Beyond its athletics, IU has an extremely prestigious school of music. It’s produced the likes of Joshua Bell (violin) and David Baker (jazz composer and musician). The school of business is also top-notch, and ranked #23 in the country by U.S. News. If you’re interested in technology, you also can’t miss the School of Informatics and Computing, which offers undergrad degrees in Computer Science, Cybersecurity and Global Policy, Data Science, Informatics, and Intelligent Systems Engineering.


2. Michigan State University

Location: East Lansing, Michigan

Acceptance rate: 71.1%

U.S. News Ranking: 84

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1130-1310 SAT, 23-29 ACT

Undergraduate Enrollment: 39,176


MSU began as a college of agriculture in 1855, but has since expanded to offer more than 200 programs of study. The College of Agriculture & Natural Study remains one of MSU’s flagship programs, but it is also well-known for its College of Education, which has ranked #1 in elementary and secondary teacher education for 25 years in U.S. News. Another prestigious program is its graduate studies in nuclear physics. 


The school also offers one of the weirdest college majors in the country: Packaging Science. While it may seem fairly straightforward, packaging has many behind-the-scenes considerations, such as materials, design, and environmental impact. Graduates of the program have an average starting salary of $63,237 and a job placement rate of 97%. 


What do real students think about the social life at Big 10 schools? Check out this video and watch the rest of the livestream to learn more about Penn State, UMich, and Ohio State from current students.


3. Northwestern University

Location: Evanston, Illinois

Acceptance rate: 9.1%

U.S. News Ranking: 9

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1450-1540 SAT, 33-35 ACT

Undergraduate Enrollment: 8,327


Northwestern is the “odd one out” of the 14 Big Ten Schools. It’s the only private college with an undergraduate enrollment of under 20,00 (though its total enrollment is 21,946). It also has by far the lowest acceptance rate and highest level of prestige. Northwestern is perfect for high-achieving students seeking academics on-par with the Ivy League, but also the liveliness and school spirit of a Big 10 school. Students also enjoy easy access to the major metropolitan area of Chicago.


Academically, the university is best-known for its Medill School of Journalism and Bienen School of Music. The School of Journalism offers exclusive hands-on experiences, with programs on Capitol Hill and in San Francisco. The School of Music offers a variety of traditional music performance degrees, but also dual degrees in Liberal Arts, Communication, Education & Social Policy, Engineering, and Journalism. 


4. Ohio State University

Location: Columbus, Ohio

Acceptance rate: 52.0%

U.S. News Ranking: 54

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1240-1450 SAT, 27-32 ACT

Undergraduate Enrollment: 46,820


OSU (or THE Ohio State University, as students will have you know), is located near downtown Columbus, Ohio. The campus blends with the city, and sprawls across 1,665 acres. Without a doubt, the university’s standout feature is its football team. The Buckeyes have won eight national championships, 38 conference championships, and have 10 undefeated seasons. Football is a major part of the campus culture, and games draw tens of thousands of spectators to Ohio Stadium.


Outside of football, OSU has 200+ undergraduate majors, including Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering, Insurance, Islamic Studies, Interior Design, and Meat Science. The university also has 18 graduate and professional programs in the 10 top of their fields, as ranked by U.S. News.


5. Pennsylvania State University

Location: University Park, Pennsylvania

Acceptance rate: 56.5%

U.S. News Ranking: 50

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1160-1360 SAT, 25-30 ACT

Undergraduate Enrollment: 40,363


Penn State is another university with a powerhouse football team. The Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten in 1993, and have since won four conference championships. Outside of sports, Greek life thrives at Penn State. There are 70 fraternities and sororities, and 17% of the massive student body participates in them. 


In academics, Penn State is known for its robust engineering program, which is among the top 20 in the U.S. The Smeal College of Business is also a quality option for students hoping to study consulting, entrepreneurship, finance, leadership, marketing, and management.


6. Purdue University

Location: West Lafayette, Indiana

Acceptance rate: 52.0%

U.S. News Ranking: 57

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1210-1420 SAT, 26-33 ACT

Undergraduate Enrollment: 33,646


Purdue is another university that’s particularly strong in engineering. Its engineering school is ranked #7 in the country by U.S. News, and it even graduated Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon. The College of Engineering offers undergraduate degrees in 14 areas, including Multidisciplinary Engineering and Nuclear Engineering.


Beyond STEM, Purdue is also home to a College of Liberal Arts with programs in political science, anthropology, communication, languages, interdisciplinary studies and more. There is even a special option for students in this college to graduate in 3 years, saving them money and allowing them to enter the workforce earlier.


Purdue is also known for pioneering Income Share Agreements (ISAs) as a form of financial aid, where students agree to pay a certain percentage of their future income for a fixed amount of time, in exchange for a reduction in tuition.


7. Rutgers University

Location: New Brunswick, New Jersey

Acceptance rate: 60.1%

U.S. News Ranking: 62

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1190-1410 SAT, 25-31 ACT

Undergraduate Enrollment: 36,039


Rutgers students get to experience college town life in New Brunswick, all while being sandwiched between major cities NYC and Philly. NYC is only a 30-minute train ride away and Philly is 2 hours away by train. Rutgers as an institution carries a lot of history, being the eighth-oldest college in the U.S., and the birthplace of college football.


Rutgers offers a variety of academic programs on its flagship campus, with nine undergraduate schools in business, planning and public policy, arts and sciences, environmental and biological sciences, management and labor relations, communication and information, engineering, arts, and social work.


8. University of Illinois

Location: Champaign, Illinois

Acceptance rate: 62.2%

U.S. News Ranking: 48

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1220-1480 SAT, 26-32 ACT

Undergraduate Enrollment: 33,915


UIUC is one of the top public research universities in the country. Undergraduate students can conduct research in any field, from Physics to Speech and Hearing Sciences. Actual student research projects include “Investigating cheap and scalable methods of creating electronics” and “Homelessness and language in native Spanish-speakers.” UIUC even has an annual, weeklong undergraduate research symposium, where students can showcase their work.


In the social sphere, UIUC is home to 89 fraternities and sororities, and over 22% of the study body participates in Greek life. Beyond that, the university has 1,800+ student organizations, and 50,000 square feet of indoor recreation space (including a climbing wall!), so you’re sure to find something that matches your interests.


9. University of Iowa

Location: Iowa City, Iowa

Acceptance rate: 82.6%

U.S. News Ranking: 84

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1140-1330 SAT, 22-29 ACT

Undergraduate Enrollment: 23,482


The University of Iowa was the first university to accept women and men equally in 1855. It’s also a pioneer in healthcare, as the university has one of the best hospitals in America. Forbes even ranked it among the top 5 healthcare employers in the country, and many important medical discoveries have come out of the university hospital’s research.


Contrary to popular opinion about the Midwest, Iowa City is said to be one of the best college towns and places to live. It is even recognized as a UNESCO City of Literature, a title granted to cities especially active in quality and diverse literature, through publishing, events, education, and other criteria.


10. University of Maryland

Location: College Park, Maryland

Acceptance rate: 47.1%

U.S. News Ranking: 64

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1290-1480 SAT, 28-33 ACT

Undergraduate Enrollment: 30,762


The University of Maryland is just eight miles away from our nation’s capital, leading to unique opportunities for students in journalism, public policy, public health, and political science. UMD has an especially diverse study body for a public school, with 43% of students identifying as people of color, and 123 countries represented. The university is also considered one of the top 10 in terms of best value, as ranked in Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine.


UMD offers 90 majors across 12 colleges, and you can also create your own major through the Individual Studies program.


11. University of Michigan

Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan

Acceptance rate: 22.9%

U.S. News Ranking: 25

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1340-1530 SAT, 31-34 ACT

Undergraduate Enrollment: 31,266


UMich is one of the most highly-respected and selective public universities in the nation. It’s even considered one of the Public Ivies, a group of public institutions with academics whose quality rivals that of the Ivy League. It’s also one of the best-value colleges, ranking #6 in Kiplinger’s list of best-value colleges.


The University of Michigan is well-known for its research, and is #1 in research volume among public research universities in the U.S. Over 1,500 students participated in the Undergraduate Research Program in 2019. The school is also a top producer of inventions and startups, so aspiring entrepreneurs will find strong mentorship here.


UMich has a long-time football rivalry with OSU, and both schools play up this “contentious” relationship during football season.


12. University of Minnesota

Location: Twin Cities, Minnesota

Acceptance rate: 52.0%

U.S. News Ranking: 70

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1299-1437 SAT, 25-31 ACT

Undergraduate Enrollment: 29,617


The University of Minnesota’s main campus is located in the bustling Twin Cities area, which is known for its culture, arts, food, and diversity. Students will need to prepare for the harsh Minnesota winters, however, as the campus is covered in snow from November through March (though it may be reassuring to know that there are tunnels connecting most buildings).


The university encourages research and service learning, with many opportunities for undergrads to do hands-on learning. In terms of the community and housing, the school offers 30+ living-learning communities, giving students the chance to connect with others over a shared interest. Some examples of these communities include those for Black women, students in STEM, and those passionate about training service dogs!


13. University of Nebraska

Location: Lincoln, Nebraska

Acceptance rate: 79.6%

U.S. News Ranking: 139

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1130-1360 SAT, 22-29 ACT

Undergraduate Enrollment: 20,830


The University of Nebraska’s main campus is located in Lincoln, Nebraska, which has a population of 287,401. Lincoln is among a handful of cities in the U.S. with the most parkland per capita, so outdoorsy students will like the school’s location. The city is also considered one of the most livable in the country, and has some of the lowest healthcare costs in the U.S.


On-campus, students can choose from eight undergraduate colleges in agricultural sciences and natural resources, architecture, arts and sciences, business, education and human sciences, engineering, fine and performing arts, and journalism and mass communications.


14. University of Wisconsin

Location: Madison, Wisconsin

Acceptance rate: 53.0%

U.S. News Ranking: 46

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1330-1450 SAT, 27-32 ACT

Undergraduate Enrollment: 33,456


The University of WisconsinMadison is situated between two lakes, making it perfect for outdoor activities like running, biking, and sailingthough be ready to face the brutal Wisconsin winters! UW Madison has a reputation for being a party school (as do many of the Big 10 Schools), but it’s also known for its stellar academics. The school offers 200+ undergraduate majors, including archaeology, Jewish Studies, zoology, athletic training, and interior architecture. 


Public service is encouraged, and 83% of students volunteer during their time at UW Madison. UW operates under “The Wisconsin Idea,” which is the belief that one’s education should influence others’ lives outside of academia.


What Are the Defining Features of the Big 10?


Since its founding as an original athletic conference over a century ago, the term Big 10 has grown to refer to these colleges outside of athletics as well. They are similar in many ways, so the term Big 10 has come to embody those similarities in addition to their participation in a common athletic conference.




The Big 10 schools are generally large, public research universities. Only Northwestern is private, and has an undergraduate enrollment under 10,000 (the others have undergrad enrollments above 20,000, sometimes well above that). Together, they currently boast over 520,000 students total and 5.7 million living alumni.

Research and Funding:


Although their title began as an athletic conference, it has also become synonymous with quality academic programs and strong endowments. The resources afforded by such an extensive alumni association mean that the Big 10 generally have rich endowments. Each year, the Big 10 engage in over $10 billion in funded research, which is far greater than the $4.5 billion of the Ivy League, and the $4.6 billion of the UC system.


One major benefit to being a member of the Big 10’s CIC is its inter-institution lending library that allows members instant access to each member’s extensive libraries. In addition, schools commonly share faculty when their expertise is needed at another university. Similarly, students can transfer credits easily and directly from one member school to another.


In general, students at these schools benefit not only from the resources afforded by their own large and well-funded research universities, but also from the resources of the other member schools.




Of course, being founded as an athletic conference means that the Big 10 schools have a lot in common when it comes to athletics. Athletics at these schools typically are a big deal within the student and alumni communities. Games are played in lavish athletic facilities and are often televised nationally. Most of the Big 10 schools spend and ultimately make a significant amount of money from their athletic programs. Only four of the Big 10 do not profit from athletics, and even these schools spend over $70 million on athletics annually. Some, like Ohio State University and the University of Wisconsin – Madison, make millions of dollars each year from athletic revenue.


Because athletics are such a defining feature at each of these schools, students can expect a culture on campus that values athletics. They frequently gather for game days, celebrate victories, and closely follow the progress of popular athletic teams. Student athletes often receive scholarships and some go on to play professionally.




While the Big 10 schools are generally not amongst the most selective in the country, they still boast impressive admissions statistics. All have average SAT scores above 1200, with Northwestern topping the crowd with an average SAT score of 1490. Acceptance rates have a broader range, from Northwestern’s 9% to University of Iowa’s 83%, but most hover around 50-60%.


Should You Attend a Big 10 School?


Big 10 schools represent some of the most highly ranked public schools in the country. They have vast resources, many student organizations and clubs, and usually reasonable tuition and fees, particularly for in-state students.


All of the Big 10 schools are known for their culture of school spirit. Unsurprisingly, this is largely rooted in their athletic programs. Football games at these schools generally have attendance and energy levels that rival NFL games. Many students consider this a major bonus of attending one of these schools, but many others could do without it. Only you can decide if a culture rooted in college athletics is the right environment for you.


In addition, big public universities aren’t the best choice for everyone. Typically, these schools are less geographically diverse, since tuition is discounted so steeply for in-state students. Intro level classes routinely have hundreds of students and are held in big lecture halls. There are fewer opportunities for getting to know your professors, but more opportunities to be involved in serious research through higher level classes.


The Big 10 isn’t the right fit for everyone, but students who are looking for a large research university with strong athletics and extensive resources should consider these schools among their top choices.


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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.