The Best Colleges in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Located in Washtenaw County on Michigan’s east side, Ann Arbor is the quintessential college town. Since the state’s premier higher education institution the University of Michigan moved from Detroit to the city in 1837, Ann Arbor has continued to grow in infrastructure, economy, and, of course, culture. 

U of M brings to the city not only a premier sports team but also museums and theaters. Music lovers can see folk and rock concerts at The Ark and classical performances at the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra. Those hoping to enjoy live performances can visit the Ann Arbor Civic Theater, the Arbor Opera Theater, or the Performance Network Theater, to say nothing of the city’s annual Shakespeare in the Arb celebrations. 

The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library collects the writings of the 38th president, while the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum lets children play and learn about science and technology. Throw in vibrant shopping, from bookstores to boutique shops to restaurants offering every type of cuisine, and Ann Arbor reveals itself as a wonderful place to live. 

Without a doubt, many of these amenities exist because of the University of Michigan’s presence. But U of M isn’t the only college in town. There are four other fine institutions of higher learning in Ann Arbor, making the city the perfect town for college students of any type.

Here are five of the best colleges in, or near, Ann Arbor, MI. 

Washtenaw Community College

Washtenaw Community College
Dwight Burdette, Washtenaw Community College Health & Fitness Center, CC BY 3.0

Established in 1965, Washtenaw Community College serves 20,000 students from over 100 countries. While nearly half of WCC’s student body falls in the 18-24 range, the rest come from all walks of life, from retirees looking to finish their education to adults training to start a new career. 

WCC is particularly proud of its work with veterans. In 2012, the school opened the Wadhams Veterans Center, which supports former soldiers in their studies and helps active-duty service members transition into college.  

The Wadhams Veterans Center is the clearest example of WCC’s desire to be a learner-centered and open-door college. The school puts students first by making education accessible to as many people as possible and supporting learners in all of their educational endeavors. For that reason, WCC embarks on community programs, in which they partner with local businesses to help them improve their workforce. They also prioritize staff development, unceasingly working to further train and educate their faculty and administration. 

This approach has helped WCC train some impressive alumni, including Catherine Hadley, who transferred to the University of Michigan and won a Truman Scholarship. WCC’s efforts have also earned the school support in the form of financial awards, such as a recent $23 thousand grant for their HVAC program

Cleary University

Cleary University
Dwight Burdette, Johnson Center Cleary University Livingston Campus Howell Michigan, CC BY 3.0

A private business school founded in 1883, Cleary University provides each student personalized attention. They achieve this goal with small classes that have a 13:1 student to faculty ratio and by offering 100% of their courses in an online format. 

The university focuses its unique business arts curriculum around a principle it calls “The Cleary Mind.” Unlike most business programs, which focus solely on issues such as marketing and accounting, The Cleary Mind emphasizes “intangible but highly important disciplines to fully understand the way humans function in the marketplace and anticipate the needs and demands of the modern world through business innovation.” Those disciplines include courses in philosophy and human relations, which prepare students to be good people, not just good business people. 

Students can learn these qualities either by studying online or by taking advantage of Cleary’s fully appointed 50-acre campus. In addition to enjoying wrestling, football, and other athletic events involving the Cleary Cougars, students can study in first-class buildings such as the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE).

As this description demonstrates, Clear strives to train people ready to meet the business challenges of the 21st century. They’re ready to meet people where they are and bring the tools and resources to them. With this training, Cleary graduates improve the economy and culture of Ann Arbor and the rest of the country. 

Concordia University

While technically a satellite campus of Concordia University Wisconsin, Concordia University Ann Arbor (CUAA) is an impressive school in its own right. Although only 25% of the students identify as Lutheran, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod affiliated school offers the full liberal arts experience from a Christian perspective, with 72% crediting CUAA as central in their spiritual formation. 

These numbers speak to the success of CUAA’s mission, to “students develop in mind, body, and spirit for service to Christ in the Church and the world.” While reaching back through its religious tradition, CUAA looks forward with confidence. The school offers degrees in a wide range of fields, ranging from the expected (English, Mathematics, Theater) and the surprising (Digital Humanities, Sport and Entertainment Business). 

In addition to its full traditional athletics department, Concordia features an esports program and even provides scholarships to those who excel in certain games.  

CUAA’s approach has led to notable successes in numerous fields. In March 2021, the CUAA Community Orchestra and CUAA Wind Ensemble were both chosen as semi-finalists in the national American Prize competition

As these details reveal, CUAA is not just a satellite of a larger university. Rather, it’s a full-fledged university with its own culture and goals, all of which have made its graduates leaders in the 21st century. 

Eastern Michigan University 

Eastern Michigan University
Dwight Burdette, Gary M. Owen College of Business Building, CC BY 3.0

Based in nearby Ypsilanti, Eastern Michigan University (EMU) is a tier-2 research university with a long history of graduating leaders in every conceivable field. Wheelock College president Jackie Jenkins-Scott, cartoonist Dave Coverly, and CEO Ron Campbell of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning are just a few of the impressive alumni who studied at EMU. 

Since its founding as the Michigan State Normal School in 1853, EMU has made a name for itself as one of the state’s best public universities. The school offers more than 200 undergraduate majors and 150 graduate programs, serving over 16,000 students. The university continues to build on this proud tradition by expanding exceptional online programs, including international marketing, educational psychology, and many more. 

These programs have earned EMU accolades from major publications. The Princeton Review placed the university’s graduate program in entrepreneurship within the top 50 in the nation and gave EMU 18th place on its list of the best school in the Midwest. U.S. News & World Report placed EMU’s integrated marketing communication program 60th in the nation and second in the state. 

With a 74.1% acceptance rate, EMU seems like an easy school to enter. But that high acceptance rate should not be viewed as a weakness. By bringing in as many qualified students as possible, EMU creates a diverse and dynamic student body, building a campus that reflects the complex world we live in. 

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 

University of Michigan
MichiganRoss, Ross School Exterior, CC BY-SA 3.0

U of M may be a public state school, but it is also a tier-one research university, rivaling even Ivy League schools in academic excellence. With an endowment worth over $12.4 billion, Michigan has more money than most schools in the country. In addition to former American President Gerald Ford, the school has been affiliated with 53 winners of the MacArthur Genius Grant, 26 Nobel Laureates, and numerous public officials. 

Despite ranking among the top 25 colleges in the U.S., the University of Michigan is not among the most exclusive. An astounding 14,833 students were accepted in 2019, which is undoubtedly a lot. However, 64,972 people applied that year, meaning only 23% made it in

To be sure, that’s a small percentage, and most consider U of M to be a highly selective school. However, the university tends to admit more students than other schools of its caliber. The University of Southern California, which shares 24th place in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of National Universities, has an acceptance rate of only 11%. Likewise, 23rd ranked Georgetown University accepts only 14% of its students

By being selective, U of M can build its reputation as an elite school (thereby raising the value of its diplomas) and maintain a small faculty-to-student ratio. But accepting more students than other high-level universities, Michigan can have more diversity on its campus.

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