Former English major Will Ellerbe '08 left Princeton for something bigger, much bigger. Ellerbe compares Princeton (total student population: 7,567) with the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (total student population 41,674).
I finished my undergraduate degree at Princeton in the spring of 2008, and almost exactly a year later I began law school at the University of Michigan. (Michigan Law starts one-fourth of its first-year students in the summer.) Having been here for three months now, I feel confident in saying that the prospective student who is trying to choose between Princeton and Michigan has two great options, but there are some big differences between the two schools.
This might sound trivial, but I think the differences between Princeton and Michigan are best exemplified by the fact that almost all students at Princeton live on campus for all four years --- and anyone who does live off campus is probably living in an eating club as one of its officers, which is not radically different from living on campus --- while most Michigan undergrads will only live on campus their first year, after which they’ll either live in an apartment or a house in the Ann Arbor area. The fact that all Princeton students live on campus creates a sort of “closed universe” feel to the campus. This might sound like a bad thing, but it’s not: Princeton has one of, if not the, highest endowment-to-student ratios of any school in the country, and that means Princeton has almost unparalleled resources to provide to its students both in the classroom and outside the classroom. For instance, I had a creative writing class my sophomore year with a Pulitzer Prize winner who would have half-hour meetings with me every other week to talk in detail about the essays I was writing for his class.
Michigan does not have the “closed universe” feeling to the same degree that Princeton does. This might sound like a good thing to you. My impression is that there is a lot more flexibility in the life of an undergraduate at Michigan than there was at Princeton. If you have a very clear sense of what you want to do as an undergraduate, this flexibility is probably a good thing. If you know that you want rush a frat or sorority and tailgate every football game, or alternatively, if you want to move into an apartment so you can cook your own meals and focus on your studies, both options are equally available at Michigan. Essentially, what you might lose at Michigan in terms of opportunities offered by the university can be replaced with opportunities that exist outside of the university, but you’re going to have to work a little harder to find those opportunities.
If you’re still having trouble making a decision, remember this: You’ll see a lot more and better football at Michigan, but Princeton has arguably the most beautiful campus in the country.