With more than 47,000 total students—the ninth largest university in the nation—Michigan State University admits about 73 percent of applicants each year. "This place was created to provide opportunity for everyone, not just a select few," says the director of admissions, Jim Cotter. "And we're true to that today."
Despite enrolling so many students, the school boasts a 91 percent freshman retention rate, compared to a national average of 74 percent among four-year public universities, according to a study by ACT, the nonprofit education, testing, and research group.
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Tuition for in-state undergrads runs $12,203, versus $31,148 for those from out of state, with room and board an additional $8,154. About 41 percent of the undergraduate population lives on campus. (Nearly all freshmen are required to do so.) Officials acknowledge the housing would benefit from a much-needed face-lift, and several residential buildings are scheduled to be renovated in the coming years.
One recent addition is the new Brody Hall, which looks like a modern airport and is home to a cafeteria set up like a food court at an upscale mall. The building is the central hub of what's known as the Brody "neighborhood"—a collection of six residence halls. In all, the school has seven of these neighborhoods.
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Senior Erica Shekell from Howell, Mich., says they foster a sense of community. Most have their own branches of larger student groups and host events for the neighborhood's residents. "You can make a large university small, but you can't make a small university large," says Shekell.
In the fall and spring, hundreds of bicycles—essential for getting around the 2,000-acre core campus—are chained to racks outside residence halls and classroom buildings. In the winter, snow limits cycling, but grounds crews keep the sidewalks on the massive campus clear for pedestrians.
The town of East Lansing abuts campus, and many restaurants and bars are typically filled with students in the evenings. Though crime used to be prevalent, the local police, supplemented by the school's 68 police officers, have cut it so dramatically that it's now below the national average.
Outside of class, students can join any of 600 clubs and organizations, including quirky groups for squirrel-watching and enthusiasts of Quidditch, a sport adapted from the Harry Potter books. Division I sports like basketball (Michigan State went to the Final Four in 2010) and football, played at venues in the heart of campus, bring a certain energy to the school's grounds.
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But for students like Audrye Tucker of Fair Haven, Mich., academics matter most, and the curriculum is challenging. "I've had to work hard," says the May 2011 graduate. Michigan State offers more than 150 majors in areas from apparel and textile design to computational chemistry.
Ninety-four percent of the faculty have Ph.D.'s or equivalent degrees. Students indicate it's a major plus to be taught by experienced professors rather than teaching assistants, who often handle classroom duties at other major schools.
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