Michigan Vs. Michigan State: Which School Is Better?

When one hears the words “Michigan” and “rivalry,” The Ohio State Buckeyes immediately leap to mind. But there’s much to be said about the state’s two primary public institutions. 

Founded in 1817 Detroit, a full 20 years before the territory became a state, the University of Michigan is one of the best public universities in the nation. Since moving to Ann Arbor in 1837, U of M has graduated or employed as faculty 53 MacArthur Geniuses, 26 Nobel Laureates, six Turing Award winners, a Fields Medalist, and a Mitchell Scholar. Eight heads of state have graduated from the university, including former U.S. President Gerald Ford.

Michigan State University was founded in 1855 as the premier land-grant college, a model followed by institutions across the country. Expanding its curriculum beyond agriculture in 1862, MSU grew into one of the nation’s largest universities. Today, the East Lansing school is recognized as having some of the nation’s best graduate programs for everything from elementary and secondary education to African history to nuclear physics. MSU houses the National Superconducting Cyclotron Lab, the Beal Botanical Garden, the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, and the Abrams Planetarium. 

In short, both schools are excellent. Any state would be pleased to have one school of this caliber, and two seems like an embarrassment of riches. But if you ask anyone on either Michigan peninsula, and you’re sure to find that they pull for the maze & blue of the Michigan Wolverines or the green and white of the MSU Spartans. 

But which school is the best? The answers from most Michiganders will come down to familial connections or sports loyalties, but College Gazette hopes to give a more subjective answer. So let’s get down to stats and look at the battle of the Great Lakes State. 

Academic Requirements for Admission

Between the two schools, it is far easier to be accepted into MSU than it is U of M. MSU has no minimum requirements, but makes admission decisions based on academic performance, quality of the curriculum, standardized test results, and diversity of experience. In other words, academics certainly matter for the Spartans, but they don’t limit themselves to mere numbers. Strong experience, letters of recommendation, and application essays can make even an applicant with low grades an attractive candidate. 

In 2020, MSU’s incoming Freshman class of 8,228 students had a high school GPA of 3.5 – 4.0, composite ACT scores between 23-29, and total SAT scores of 1110 – 1280. However, international students have the option of not including SAT/ACT scores in their applications.

U of M looks at many of the same criteria but has higher requirements. Their most recent Freshman class had an average GPA of 3.9 and fell into the top 10% of their classes. Their SAT scores fell between 1340 – 1530, and the ACT range was 31 – 34. 

But despite these numbers, U of M prides itself on its holistic admission process, which assigns scores to various data points. These points include standard features such as GPA, test scores, and academic interests. But counselors also look at the student’s educational environment, recommendations, essays, and leadership and service experience. 

As these facts show, both schools do care about academic performance. But neither university treats grades as the mostessentialt aspect of an application. Admission counselors look at everything a student has to offer, including their community service and future goals. 

Michigan Vs. Michigan State: Ranking, Acceptance Rate, and More

University of Michigan
Michael Barera, University of Michigan (North Campus Diag), CC BY-SA 4.0

With an acceptance rate of only 23%, the University of Michigan is the more exclusive school. In 2019, out of 64,972 applicants, only 14,883 were given offers of admission. 

That exclusivity plays a part in the university’s high rankings on a number of scales. Niche.com gives U of M an A+ overall score, citing its academics, value, and athletics. The site ranks the school as the #1 Public University in America, the #2 Best College for Kinesiology and Physical Therapy in America, and the #2 Best College for Sports Management in America. 

U.S. News & World Report places U of M #24 on its list of National Universities, ranking it #3 in Top Public Schools, #8 in Best Colleges for Veterans, and #3 in Business Programs. Even the Washington Monthly, which ranks schools according to social mobility, research, and service, places the university at #29 nationally. 

Although MSU falls a little lower on those same lists, it still sits among the top portion of American universities. Washington Monthly ranks MSU at 45, giving the school particular praise for its social mobility. Thanks to its strong academics, value, and athletics, MSU gets an A grade from Niche.com. The same site gives MSU high rankings for college athletics (#13), agricultural sciences (#20), and top party schools (#20). 

On U.S. News & World Report’s overall list, MSU sits at #80 in National Universities. The publication also ranks MSU #32 in Top Public Schools, #48 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs, and #9 in Learning Communities. 

Despite these impressive rankings, MSU has a much higher acceptance rate. 31,522 of 44,322 students were admitted in 2020, giving the university a 71% acceptance rate. 

Sports Programs – Which School Has Been Better Historically?

More than any of the other criteria listed here, this question is the most likely to start a fight in a bar. Some people bleed maze & blue and others cheer ceaselessly for the Spartans. 

As members of the Big Ten Conference, Michigan State University Spartans field 25 varsity sports teams, competing in everything from volleyball and wrestling to gymnastics and football. 

Of all its programs, MSU’s football, basketball, and ice hockey teams have received the most attention. The football team has won six national championships and won the Rose Bowl four times, most recently in 2014. The men’s basketball team won the NCAA national championship in 1979 and 2000, while the men’s ice hockey team has won three national championships, most recently in 2007. 

A fellow member of the Big Ten Conference, the University of Michigan Wolverines boast similar stats. Their 29 varsity teams include swimming, track and field, tennis, and gymnastics. Its football has won 11 national championships since 1901, with three players winning the Heisman Trophy. Although their men’s basketball team only took the national championship in 1989, it enjoys a slight edge in games played against MSU, topping its cross-state rival 102-86. The Wolverines men’s ice hockey team has won a record-setting nine NCAA championships, including seven between 1948 – 1964. 

While U of M’s women’s basketball team has made the NCAA tournament nine times, it has only left the second round once. Conversely, MSU appeared in the tournament 18 times and made the championship game in 2005. 

Deciding Whether to Attend Michigan or Michigan State

Michigan State University
Jeffness, MSU Union, CC BY-SA 2.5

After reading all of this information, you may have an idea of which Michigan school you prefer. But which one should you attend? 

That question can only be answered by looking at your preferences as a student and your future career. While U of M generally receives higher rankings, it also has a much lower acceptance rate. With its higher acceptance rate, MSU may be a better choice for those who want to study at a tier-one school but do not have the grades to enter an exclusive institution. 

As a pioneering land-grant institution, MSU focuses on agriculture, industrial supply chains, and education. Students planning on going into those fields will have a head start by becoming Spartans. U of M has a wider range of specialties but particularly stands out in medicine, business, and the humanities. 

Finally, students would also do well to consider what they want out of a college experience. Located in the college town of Ann Arbor, U of M gives students access to a diverse population and a wide range of artistic and cultural events. Located near the state capitol, MSU connects students to the heart of local government, in addition to its cutting-edge farms and agricultural centers. 

But the short answer is this: students will get an excellent education at either school. While U of M edges out its sister in many categories, no one would consider a degree from MSU to be sub-par. Between the two schools, a student will receive fine training for whichever course of study they want. 

Which School Is Better, Michigan or Michigan State?

As that previous paragraph states, the answer is really in the eye of the beholder. 

The older and larger institution, the University of Michigan tends to rank higher than many other schools. Its successes in football and ice hockey make it one of the most entertaining schools in the nation, as evidenced by hats and t-shirts emblazoned with the Wolverines logo found all over the world. U of M’s alumni include actor James Earl Jones, NFL quarterback Tom Brady, legendary playwright Arthur Millar, and pop star icon Madonna.

MSU trails behind its big sister by less than 40 years and has its own roster of impressive alumni, including director Sam Raimi, NBA great Magic Johnson, billionaire Eli Broad, and actor James Caan. The school boasts a history of championships in men’s basketball and women’s gymnastics, as well as an educational program that shaped the structure of land grant institutions. 

MSU has a $3.4 billion endowment to advance its research and educational goals, while U of M’s endowment has grown to $12.5 billion

So, in many ways, we’re back where we started. People who love the Spartans have plenty to be proud of, as do those who pull for the Wolverines. For everything U of M does better, MSU offers an aspect just as good, and vice versa. Sure, Michiganders may still be split on their answers, but they all share their dislike for Ohio.