Saturday, March 27, 2010

Orange and Apples: University of Michigan- Ann Arbor

This coming week (April 2) sees the first department's due date for seniors. Perhaps, either because you are experiencing the process yourself, or just hearing about it, you may be feeling ready to be somewhere else. Maybe somewhere a little bit bigger? Kevin Wilson GS, a University of Michigan Ann Arbor alum, gives a run down of some of the differences.

In such a short blog post, I can only hint at some of the differences between the University of Michigan and Princeton. Also, I have never directly experienced undergraduate student life at Princeton, only indirectly as a resident graduate students. Through that lens, I'll examine three differences between U of M and Princeton: size, focus and student-body composition.

Michigan is huge: It has upwards of 40,000 students. (Princeton has 7,500.) It has one of the largest university endowments (but Princeton's is larger), the largest living alumni base and a huge helping of school spirit. (Princeton has none that I know of.) Indeed, traveling in London and Barcelona while wearing Michigan gear invites shouts of "Go Blue!" This size means there are lots of undergraduate research positions, lots of clubs, lots of classes, lots of diverse backgrounds. It also means up to 500 students per lecture, lots of bureaucracy and the potential to "get lost in the system." To me, size was a major factor in choosing Michigan, even though my hometown's population was one-third the football field's capacity.

In terms of focus, Princeton is much more "abstract" than Michigan. At most universities, there is a severe disconnect between the real world and campus. At Princeton, the divide seems particularly wide. Protests occur weekly in Ann Arbor, in the center of campus. The best Princeton could muster last year was Princeton Proposition 8. Moreover, Michigan's 19 divisions (liberal arts, engineering, business etc.) infuse the university's scholarship with a practical flavor. This difference of focus is reflected even in the information technology services: Michigan is years beyond Princeton, from the library catalog to online student self-service to the availability of the computer labs.

Where Princeton truly beats Michigan, though, is in student-body composition. Look at the number of undergraduates at Princeton who have earned international recognition for their work in high school! You'll find very few (if any) winners of the Intel Science Fair or gold medalists in the International Math Olympiad attending the Maize and Blue. This is not to say there are not brilliant people at Michigan: Many of my closest friends are enrolled in top graduate programs. Basically, Princeton is a small pond with lots of huge fish, while Michigan is a very big pond with quite a few big fish.

I don't have room to speak of differences in diversity, job placement (42 percent of Princeton undergraduates entering the workforce go to financial services), cost and a whole host of other issues. But for the general pre-frosh, I offer the following advice: Before making your choice, decide very roughly on a life plan: "I think I want to go into politics" will do. Compare the rankings of Princeton's and Michigan's programs for your interests as well as starting salaries and job placement rates. Visit the campuses, and talk with professors and students in projects that interest you. If all these things are roughly the same, go with the cheaper option and make the most of your time. A degree from either Michigan or Princeton will get your foot in the door. From there, it's your resume and not your degree that will earn you a job.

If you're a Tiger who is now pursuing graduate studies elsewhere or a Princeton grad student who attended undergrad outside the Orange Bubble and would like to contribute a comparison send an email to


Anonymous said...

"school spirit. (Princeton has none that I know of.)"

What the heck are you talking about? May the "best-attended Reunion in the world" serve as one of many possible examples of Princeton's incredibly strong school spirit.

How could you even suggest that? Do you even GO to school here?