Rows of restaurants on Main Street, inexpensive bars on South University Avenue, a 100,000-plus-seat stadium, and sprawling homes adorned with Greek symbols mark Ann Arbor, Mich., as the quintessential college town. The environment on and off the University of Michigan's campus fosters a strong sense of community, an "energy" that many students cite as the highlight of their time at school.
"I was excited to come here, but I wasn't terribly excited," says senior Brendan Campbell of Grand Rapids. "But within two days I knew I'd made the right choice."
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Though the undergraduate population exceeds 26,000, students don't seem concerned that they might become a nameless face in a crowd. The school has only five lecture halls that seat more than 400 people, while nearly half of all classes have fewer than 20 students.
A well-endowed institution, Michigan offers undergraduates highly ranked programs like business and engineering in world-class facilities, including the glass-encased Stephen M. Ross School of Business. Once students are accepted, however, the admissions process isn't over for some. Those wishing to enroll in certain programs like business, public policy, and pharmacy must apply to those schools after their freshman or sophomore years. Though the process sounds daunting, several students said it isn't particularly stressful. "People who really want it, get in," says Chicago native Sam Carmell, who graduated this year.
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The student body represents all 50 states and some 114 countries. In-state residents benefit from the modest annual tuition of $12,634, compared to the $37,782 cost for out-of-staters. Add about $9,500 for room and board.
To accommodate such a huge population, the school spans four campuses—North, Central, South, and the medical campus—each with its own distinct personality. Central Campus is home to most of the undergraduate classes and is characterized by structures with mammoth columns and ivy-covered brick walls surrounding a massive quad, the Diag, where the sidewalks are so crowded between classes that the bustle resembles New York at rush hour.
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Most upperclassmen live off campus in Ann Arbor, while nearly all freshmen reside in residence halls on either Central Campus or North Campus (10 minutes away amid rolling hills).
Sports are big at Michigan, and South Campus is a sprawling athletic complex that houses 29 Division I varsity sports teams. The university also boasts more than 1,000 extracurricular organizations. While these present myriad opportunities for undergrads, the sheer volume can seem overwhelming. In Carmell's opinion, "There's little effort put into getting students to understand the whole scale of the university. They don't know there's someone there to help them out with X, Y, or Z."
Still, these activities can prove profoundly influential for some. For instance, Rachel Kramer, a senior neuroscience major from Ludington, Mich., had a casual conversation with a stranger at lunch freshman year and ended up joining the team that won the 2010 American Solar Challenge. (Collegiate teams built solar-powered cars from scratch to compete in a race.)
Now project manager for the team, Kramer says her experiences "have defined my entire college career." She is now debating whether to pursue a career in alternative energy or a Ph.D. in neuroscience.
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