Big Ten Colleges

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As you navigate the college application process, you may see or hear references to “Big Ten Schools.” 

But which schools does this refer to? Is it something that you need to take into consideration as you research potential universities?

In this article, we’ll explain which colleges and universities qualify as Big Ten Schools (Spoiler Alert: It’s more than ten!) and give you a brief overview of each one. And as always, if you would like to learn more about how this information relates to your specific situation, our mentors are here to help.

So… What is a Big Ten School?

This term refers to the schools that are members of the Big Ten Conference, which is a Division I athletic conference and the oldest conference of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Nine schools participated in this conference before the year 1900, and Ohio state joined in 1912 to create the original “Big Ten.” There are now 14 full members and two affiliate schools.

Except for Northwestern, which is a private nonprofit, all of the total members of the Big Ten Conference are public research universities. They’re also all very large schools. Northwestern is the smallest and still has well over twenty thousand students. Most Big Ten Schools have over forty thousand students, and the Ohio State University has over sixty thousand.

All member schools are major research universities; in addition to being big names in college sports, they’re respected academic institutions. Most Big Ten schools are in the Midwest, but two California schools have announced their intention to join the Big Ten Conference in 2024.

The Big Ten Conference

The National Collegiate Athletic Association regulates student athletics and organizes college athletic programs, and the Big Ten is the largest of its many conferences. Best known for football, The Big Ten also encompasses many other sports.

Sports sponsored by Big Ten Schools include the following:

  • Base­ball
  • Basket­ball
  • Cross Country
  • Football
  • Golf
  • Gym­nastics
  • Ice Hockey
  • Lac­rosse
  • Soccer
  • Swimming
  • & Diving
  • Tennis
  • Track & Field
  • Wrest­ling

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The Big Ten Academic Alliance

The schools that initially banded together to form the Big Ten Conference have also created the Big Ten Academic Alliance, which was established as the Committee on Institutional Cooperation in 1958. Members combined their library systems to create a vast collection of resources for students and staff. Its academic leadership program offers seminars and other professional development opportunities.

Member Schools

These fourteen schools are full members of the Big Ten Conference.

Indiana University Bloomington

Established in 1820, Bloomington is the first and largest of Indiana University’s eight colleges. They pride themselves on their “innovation, creativity, and academic freedom.” Campus life is endlessly entertaining; in addition to its many athletic competitions, Bloomington has a massive Musical Arts Center and puts on over one thousand performances each year.

Bloomington offers hundreds of different academic programs and over two hundred undergraduate majors. Its graduate programs are some of the best in the country. Its undergraduate programs consistently rank well, particularly in accounting, business, marketing, and journalism. Indiana University also offers nearly four hundred study abroad programs in over seventy countries.

Michigan State University

Founded in 1855, Michigan State University was the first agricultural college in the United States. In 1863, it became one of the first land-grant colleges in the country. Its beautiful campus spans over 5,300 acres and is located along the Red Cedar River in East Lansing. 

Michigan State University offers over two hundred academic programs and over three hundred study-abroad opportunities. Its intramural sports program is one of the largest in the country. There are over nine hundred student clubs and organizations.

Northwestern University

The only private university that’s currently a member of the Big Ten Conference, Northwestern was founded in 1851. It’s located in Evanston, Illinois, on the edge of Lake Michigan. The main campus is 240 acres, with another 25-acre campus in Chicago. 

Northwestern University is relatively selective, with an acceptance rate of less than seven percent. They offer 124 undergraduate programs and 145 graduate and professional programs. Dual programs are popular, with roughly three out of four students combining two or more areas of study. Its student-faculty ratio is six to one, considerably lower than most Big Ten Schools.

The Ohio State University

Established in 1870 as the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, Ohio State University has grown into the third largest school in the United States. This is true both in terms of the number of students and the size of its campus. It’s also one of the best public research universities in the country.

Ohio State has over one thousand student organizations and a wide variety of sports programs. Its main campus spans 1,764 acres near downtown Columbus and includes an 11-acre quad. Ohio Stadium is the fifth largest stadium in the world.

For students who have a hard time choosing between the school’s majors (there are over two hundred), Ohio State offers six fields of study that it calls “meta-majors”:

  • Arts, Innovation, and Creativity
  • Behavior, Culture, and Context
  • Education and Public Service
  • Health and Human Services
  • Management and Industry
  • Science, Technology, and Environment

Rutgers University

Renamed Rutgers in 1825, this university began as Queens College in 1766. Rutgers has four separate campuses in New Jersey that cover over six thousand acres in total. Its campuses include over 50 acres of gardens and multiple museums, including an art museum with over sixty thousand pieces. 

Rutgers has 29 schools and colleges with over 150 undergraduate majors. They emphasize community building and experiential learning, with plenty of hands-on learning opportunities for students. They offer 150 study abroad programs, 30 of which are less expensive than spending the equivalent amount of time at Rutgers.

Pennsylvania State University

Penn State began in 1855 as the Farmer’s High School of Pennsylvania, so called because of local prejudice against the terms college or university, which were regarded as impractical places. It’s one of the “Public Ivies” – a public university that offers an education on par with Ivy League schools. 

Pennsylvania State University is spread across 19 commonwealth campuses and 5 “special mission” campuses all over the state of Pennsylvania, covering a grand total of 22,484 acres.

Penn State offers a wide range of highly-regarded engineering programs. It’s also an excellent choice for students interested in business, education, geology, criminology, or health. 

Purdue University

Founded in 1869, Purdue University is located in West Lafayette, Indiana. The main campus spans 2,602 acres. Over 12,000 additional acres are devoted to agricultural and industrial research. 

Purdue is considered to be one of the ten best public universities in the United States. Students can choose from over two hundred undergraduate majors and nearly one thousand student organizations.

University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign

Founded in 1867 as Illinois Industrial University, this school is located in the twin cities of Urbana and Champaign. Its campus spans over six thousand acres and includes four theaters and four cultural centers.

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign offers 16 colleges and instructional units with over 150 undergraduate programs. Unique majors include Landscape Architecture, Agri-Accounting, Jazz Performance, Lighting Design and Technology, and Speech and Hearing Science. Students can choose from 300 study abroad programs in 50 countries.

University of Iowa

The oldest university in the state, The University of Iowa, was founded in 1847. Iowa was the first university in the United States to become coeducational, offering an education to both men and women just a few years after it was founded.

Located in Iowa City, the University of Iowa campus takes up 1,880 acres along the Iowa River. Its twelve colleges offer over two hundred areas of study. One in three undergraduates at the University of Iowa are active participants in the university’s research. 

University of Maryland, College Park

Founded in 1856 under the name Maryland Agricultural College, this university is located in College Park, Maryland – just outside of Washington D.C. Like Penn State, Maryland is often called a Public Ivy. 

Students have the choice of 102 majors and over 80 minors from the university’s 12 schools and colleges. Its criminology and criminal justice programs are particularly well regarded. Students can choose from over 400 potential study abroad programs. The university also offers 28 living-learning programs, which are residential programs that allow students who share similar interests to connect and learn together. 

University of Michigan

The University of Michigan was founded under the name Catholepistemiad in 1817, twenty years before Michigan became a state. It’s located in Ann Arbor. Including the arboretum, this university spans over twenty thousand acres. On campus, there are museums dedicated to anthropology, zoology, paleontology, archeology, dentistry, and art. 

Michigan offers over two hundred undergraduate majors at its nineteen schools and colleges. It’s a popular choice for students who wish to pursue a career in marketing and has over thirty student entrepreneur groups.  

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

The Twin Cities are the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota. This public land-grant research university was founded in 1851 and is the flagship university of the Minnesota system. It’s located along the Mississippi River and has a theater, a museum of natural history, and multiple art museums. 

Despite its student population of over fifty thousand, the vast majority of classes have under fifty students. It also offers one of the most extensive study abroad programs in the world. There are over 900 student groups to choose from. 

University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Founded in 1869, UNL is the oldest university in Nebraska. Its nine colleges include Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Architecture, Arts and Sciences, Business, Education and Human Sciences, Engineering, Fine and Performing Arts, Journalism and Mass Communications, and Law.

UNL values “access, opportunity, innovation, and lifelong experiential learning.” 

University of Wisconsin–Madison

The University of Wisconsin was founded in 1848 and is now considered a Public Ivy. The main campus on the shore of Lake Mendota is just under one thousand acres, with a nearby arboretum occupying an additional 1200 acres. It has a number of museums, including a zoological museum with over half a million specimens. 

Madison offers its students a choice of 136 undergraduate majors. There are over nine thousand courses to choose from. Students can also choose an Individual Major and design their own course of study. 

Associate and Future Members

Johns Hopkins University in Maryland and the University of Notre Dame in Indiana are both associate members of the Big Ten Conference (Johns Hopkins for lacrosse and Notre Dame for ice hockey). The University of Southern California and The University of California, Los Angeles will become full members in 2024.

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