What Are the Big 10 Schools?

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Many college hopefuls have heard of the Big 10, but not all know exactly what the Big 10 refers to in its various contexts. In this post we’ll outline which colleges compose the Big 10, where the title comes from, and what you need to know about these schools.


If you’ve heard of the Big 10 and wondered what it is, or if you’re considering applying to one or more of these schools, don’t miss this post.


What Does the Big 10 Refer To?


Like the Ivy League, the term Big 10 started as an athletic conference. 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 and all are in NCAA Division I and compete in the Football Bowl Subdivision.


The Big 10 Conference was founded by Purdue University in 1895. The schools in the Big 10 include:


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


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.


What Are the Defining Features of the Big 10?




The Big 10 schools are generally large, public research universities. All but two of the 14 schools have enrollments above 30,000 and all but Northwestern University are public schools. Together, they currently boast over 520,000 students and 5.7 million living alumni.

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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 nearly $10 billion in funded research. The Big 10’s Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) receives 12% of all federal research funds. In 2007 alone, it received $3.5 billion in federal funding.


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 too.




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 broad ranger, from Northwestern’s 9% to University of Iowa’s 81%, but most seem to 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 enrolled 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 don’t mind the midwest and 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 at CollegeVine
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.