OT: Michigan or Ivy?

Submitted by 608Monroe on December 24th, 2018 at 2:16 PM

Greetings MGoFamily:

Apologies for a substantially off-topic post (and if this has been asked by others), but I value your opinion.  My wife and I are both Michigan alums (LSA '92 for me), and (Med School '93 for her), and we're fortunate enough to have raised a kiddo who will be afforded some school choices.  We live in the Detroit area and are thus "in-state" to Michigan.

My daughter is a prospective Engineering student, and while UM Engineering is the obvious choice for all kinds of reasons, her campus visit to Princeton pretty much blew her away.  We knew her chances of getting in were small (she checks no diversity, financial hardship, legacy, pipeline school, or other compelling boxes), and so when she was admitted early action to Michigan Engineering and deferred on her early decision to Princeton, we assumed that was that.  And we were happy.

But this past week, we were notified by Princeton that her deferment was actually a positive sign for their general admission process in April, and that she's legitimately on their radar, or she would've been outright denied admission.  So she shouldn't lose hope.  That was hard to hear since she hoped to either be accepted, or to simply move on.

So now, with Michigan accepting her, it's very difficult to wait another four months.  My wife and I have sat down with her, and we believe the Michigan Engineering degree is strong enough that she could create any career path she chose with that background, and that Princeton would only provide a marginal name recognition advantage at the cost of waiting on pins/needles another four months, and then paying $70K/year, compared to Michigan in-state $30K.

So my question to you is simple: 

If you got into Princeton and Michigan Engineering, and you lived in-state, which would you choose?

Thanks for your valuable insight.



Michigan Arrogance

December 24th, 2018 at 2:23 PM ^

given the cost difference and the degree she's getting, Michigan no doubt. Maybe if her field were law or humanities it would be a tougher choice. of course, if that price difference isn't a big deal to you, that's a bit different


December 24th, 2018 at 7:12 PM ^

UM Law School is annually ranked in the top ten, FWIW.  (Princeton doesn't have a law school.)  For law schools, compared with any Ivy other than Harvard or Yale or Columbia, advantage UM.  (I'm replying to a message that specifically mentioned law.  I know that the OP's daughter is considering undergrad programs.)

Jumbo Elliot

December 24th, 2018 at 2:23 PM ^

My wife was in a similar situation when waiting for grad schools, we ended up taking the first one that accepted her even though there were other possibilities we were waiting on at the time. Just ended the drama and waiting game, made a decision and stuck with it. Never looked back and worked out great. Good luck!

NOLA Wolverine

December 24th, 2018 at 2:25 PM ^

Michigan Engineering is a better degree than Princeton Engineering's hands down, and to add on top of that the fact that tuition is in-state it would be silly to talk about Princeton being any sort of a pragmatic choice in this circumstance. It would take some Olympic level emotional gymnastics to talk yourself into paying $160k extra for an inferior product. 



December 24th, 2018 at 2:25 PM ^

What kind of engineering? I can't speak to anything outside of EECS, which is a fantastic program. If shes is interested in comp science, I do not believe that that name recognition difference warrants a 40k/year bump. 

Random thoughts:

If she can get into princeton, she could probably win at least a partial scholarship to M. Look into scholarships that are engineering and women specific. 

Being a successful engineer is not about where you went to school but about the projects you tackle and the drive you have to solve problems .

Princeton is not known for having a great engineering program (to my knowledge). When I think great engineering I think of MIT Harvard Stanford and Carnegee Melon .This might be way off .


December 24th, 2018 at 2:53 PM ^

For engineering, UofM is top 5 or 10 in just about every discipline. I have a Ph. D. from UofM. Sadly, my brother-in-law merely has a degree from Princeton.

Besides, if she goes to Princeton, she’ll have to live in...

{insert Fred Armisen’s David Patterson impersonation here}



December 24th, 2018 at 2:25 PM ^

Graduated Michigan Engineering in 2012, then went elsewhere to get a PhD in engineering.

It is my strong, objective opinion that Michigan is the finest school on earth.


December 24th, 2018 at 2:25 PM ^

 Michigan, in this scenario, no question about it.  This is a "bird in the hand" type of decision. You're the parents and are wiser for a reason. I'm presuming your bright child doesn't fall from the tree and will respond to reason.

 If she were accepted at Princeton, with some sort of scholarship, then it may be a more difficult decision.


December 24th, 2018 at 3:41 PM ^

"Bird in the hand" indeed. I don't have any first-hand knowledge of either school's Engineering program, so take this with a grain of salt. But unless I misunderstand, the situation is like this:

Michigan said "Yes." Princeton said "Maybe."

So if Michigan is a sure thing, and it's considerably cheaper, take it and run. Besides, this way, she can still come home and do her laundry on the weekends.


December 24th, 2018 at 2:28 PM ^

Michigan for Engineering.  If it was any of the liberal arts, it would be foolish to turn down an invitation from the Ivies, but Michigan is as good as it gets for Engineering in the minds of prospective employers.


December 24th, 2018 at 2:31 PM ^

Advice from UM faculty who was an alumni interviewer for decades for Harvard

1) Let her wait.  If you feel the need, send in a deposit and be ready to lose it if circumstances arise. Even if she is admitted to Princeton but stays at UM, she will be much more confident in her choice if she doesn’t have to ask “what if?” all her life.

2) Sadly what they told you in admissions is boilerplate - Most deferred candidates are turned down.  For Harvard typically in the A2 area we might get 20 deferrals a year and most years they all go elsewhere.  It is a good sign that she is deferred, and Princeton’s ratios may be extremely different, but it is something short of likely that a deferred candidate is admitted.

3) You never know about financial aid, for many the Ivies are actually cheaper.

In short, I would plan on attending UM but wait until you hear whatever you hear from Princeton, let her attend the admitted students weekend if she is indeed admitted, and use that opportunity to decide which suits her best, based on better fuller information.

Good luck to you!


PS my kid was admitted to UM and a restricted early action (Stanford), and did not decide until spring.  She was not keen to stay home so is now in  California.


December 24th, 2018 at 4:20 PM ^

I agree with this statement.  There are a couple questions I'd have you and your family ask yorsyourse.

1.  How likely is she to be a practicing engineer vs interested and may go into consulting, business, financial engineering,  etc.?  I am an engineer alum and never prscticed.  If she wants to practice, Michigan has pumped out so many engineers over the decade and has a pipeline and experience to all of the engineering world at least if not better than Princeton.

2. What is her personality?  Michigan has a diverse student body that is large with opportunities to grow in so many ways.  Will she be the type of personality to leverage it with intention or would she get more personal development in a smaller university?

Agree with the down payment approach to, so she doesn't have to think about "what if".



December 24th, 2018 at 3:20 PM ^

This is some excellent advice.


To build on it a bit - go visit Princeton with your kid.  I am one of those engineers who did end up going out-of-state to one of a handful of schools with a better engineering program than Michigan.  I visited Harvard, MIT, and Princeton the summer before senior year, and as a result of my visit, was able to eliminate Harvard off the bat, and moved Princeton much further down my list (I ended up on the west coast, and did not attend any of those schools).

Princeton was just too sleepy of a town for me.  As much as the University is engrained in the fabric of Ann Arbor, there is no town of Princeton without the college.  I was absolutely going to college to "play school", but I wanted to know I could step away from campus and have some fun a bit as well.  Princeton offered none of that, barring a train ride up to New York City.

You'll also get to know the people a bit, at the very least, the side they want to put forwards.  At Harvard, the attitude to prospective students was one of "you're lucky just to be here, standing on the same land, and breathing the same air as us", which combined with their comparatively pedestrian engineering school and positively ancient campus, had me striking them off of the list (I didn't even apply).  Princeton was a bunch of smart people who knew they were smart, but didn't feel the need to rub it in your face.  Connect with any alumni you can, and hear what they have to say.  The education you recieve will be similar, no matter where you go (with one or two exceptions at the very top).  The difference will be the people your kid meets, and how much she enjoyed the process.


December 24th, 2018 at 4:31 PM ^

I have spent 50+yrs of my life in Princeton but went to Michigan undergrad (LS&A). When my son was applying for engineering Michigan was clearly better for that. Although Princeton has amazing alumni connections the Michigan name will be a great asset. Michelle Obama was a Princeton grad and Sasha is going to Michigan. Enough said. Both schools have the winged helmet that Fritz Crisler brought to Princeton before he went to Michigan.


December 24th, 2018 at 4:22 PM ^

(i have no admissions experience but am faculty at an ivy league school, although limited contact with undergraduates)

notyourmom's advice is the best: wait and see what the final options are. Financial aid from Princeton may indeed close the gap significantly. On the opposite end, if she is officially rejected, that may help eliminate any 'what if's'. 

As for the value of a Princeton v Michigan degree, it is more complex than "Michigan engineering is far better" (which it is). Yes, Michigan will get your an excellent 1st straight engineering job out of college. However, people change during college, if she opts for a post-college career other than straight engineering, Princeton will likely open more doors.   


December 24th, 2018 at 5:12 PM ^

This seems like the best advice you will get. Just a few things I'd add. First, this is her decision. Where does she really want to go? Second, can you use her position to bargain some, actually with both schools? That is to say, at some point, tell Princeton that she has been admitted, and really needs to decide one way or the other by some certain date. Third, do more in-depth research on both schools. There's no reason not to do more visits, with the specific program and professors interested in. Spend at least some time interviewing each and asking the same questions of each. As much as I like Michigan, that's not reason enough for me to recommend it. And ratings really only go so far. An education from Princeton certainly has name recognition.


December 24th, 2018 at 9:27 PM ^

This is the definitely the best advice. Give your daughter a chance to fully explore her options. Both are excellent schools. Figure what the true cost of attendance at Princeton will be after financial aid before making a cost comparison.

I grew up in Ann Arbor and always planned to attend UM, but was admitted to an Ivy as well (Penn/Wharton). I still planned on going to UM, but then I visited Penn campus and just fell in love with it. 

If you get to the point where the cost of attendance is close, then try to give her the chance to decide. The only thing that you will regret is forcing to make a choice without having the chance to fully evaluate both options.


December 24th, 2018 at 2:31 PM ^

You can only get one job out of college. 

Engineering is in HIGH demand.  Lockheed Martin is setting up internships for high school students in my area, just to prime the pump for future employees.

She is golden either way.  So at this point you really can go for the frivolous things like pretty campus, sports, social life, college town, etc. 

If there is any risk at all in waiting, then go with the Michigan offer.


December 24th, 2018 at 2:31 PM ^

Unfortunately, the name of your school still holds so much weight these days. In fact, the name holds too much weight IMO. 

As an example, I had a colleage say that he was a Princeton MBA grad.  Sounds prestigious right?  It certainly got him a lot of recognition.  Well, Princeton doesn’t have an MBA program. 


December 24th, 2018 at 2:35 PM ^

1997 Michigan engineering grad, so I am biased.  I was also lucky to be in-state.  Also had considered some Ivies.

In my opinion, getting a Michigan degree, especially for in-state tuition, is an absolute steal.  The engineering program is widely respected. Can't tell you how many times people have given me the "Whoa!" when seeing that on my CV.

In addition, the #1 public university will give your daughter fun opportunities that Princeton can't match.



December 24th, 2018 at 2:35 PM ^

Princeton is a big name that's familiar to everyone. But, so is Michigan. The price difference alone makes it a non-choice for me.

All that aside - bird in the hand.


December 24th, 2018 at 2:36 PM ^

I applied to only two schools: in-state UNC Chapel Hill and MIT. MIT made the choice easy when I was not accepted, but looking back I am very happy in my current career working as an engineer at a major tech company, and I have $0 in debt.

I agree exactly with your analysis that the benefit of the brand is marginal and not worth the cost.

Wolverine 73

December 24th, 2018 at 2:36 PM ^

Things to ask yourself: What sort of person is your daughter?  Down to earth?  Michigan is going to be way more so than Princeton.  How obsessive is she about being at the top of the class?  I know a guy who told me the number one kid in his HS class went to Princeton, and did ok, but was destroyed by the fact there were lots of obviously smarter kids.  Bigger group at Michigan, has to be easier to avoid that feeling.  Does she care about things such as football?  No comparison.  Is she someone who will want to come home frequently?  Or will she go off, and come back at Christmas break, and head south over spring?  Geography matters.  If she had aspirations to be a federal judge or Wall Street type, I would say Princeton.  But an engineer?  I don’t see a Princeton degree giving her greater access to anything than a Michigan degree would gain her.  Not sure how individual class sizes vary, but if she learns better in a small class environment and there is a major difference in class size, that would be a consideration.  Does she think she might want to go to grad school?  If so, send her to Michigan, bank half the difference in cost, and give it to her for grad school.  Win win.


December 24th, 2018 at 2:38 PM ^

i lived this a long time ago, but my choice was harvard or michigan.  the issue was playing college hockey and the deciding point was that my mom had died when i was in high school.  my father and i basically had lived as bachelors with the other kids out of the house.  without going into all that entails, i made the choice to be close to home.  i have never regretted that choice. 

i would add two things:  i know my life would be much, much different if i'd gone out east, but i can't possibly imagine it could be better on any metric that i'd care to observe.   the second issue has to do with being a protective parent - everybody says they are but we all vary in our levels of protection.  for a daughter, i'd want her closer to home.  i am sorry i can't address the economic issue other than to say for saving $40K/yr i'd keep dear daughter close to home for that reason as well. 

i still have a vivid memory of the visit to cambridge, including coach cleary, he of the original 'miracle on ice' team of 1960, showing us all around.   they were just about to open their brand new hockey arena and i can still envision the crimson carpets in the dressing room as i write this.  and in his thick boston accent saying, 'aw, [xtramelanin], you come out here and play with us you can play in the new stadium, play in the beanpot tournament, all of that.  you're going to love it'.  i can't tell you what happened when we visited dartmouth on the same trip, it was harvard that hit home for me and almost got me to leave.



December 24th, 2018 at 3:56 PM ^

got a nephew on the LAX and track team at dartmouth, does that get me out of trouble?   and if its any consolation, i hardly ever got to play at michigan, so michigan got the last laugh in that regard. 

seriously though, the trip was nearly 40 yrs ago (yes, i am very old.  older than some minerals...) and what i remember about dartmouth was that it was a cold, rainy, fog-down-to-the-road kind of day.  i couldn't even tell you the name of the hockey coach from back then.  


December 24th, 2018 at 2:40 PM ^

If she was going for anything OTHER than engineering I think you would have a tough choice, but in my opinion no where on earth is better than michigan engineering. Some may be equal but nowhere is better. The fact you all are in state makes it a no-brainer in my opinion. Good luck and God Bless-what a great thing to have to decide between for your child!

-Brose, umich engineering class of ‘00


December 24th, 2018 at 2:41 PM ^

My vote would be Michigan also, but when our daughter was accepted we told her she should go where she wanted.  (I'll be honest: I did a terrible job of being "unbiased" in that process).  It's kind of a deal I made with God when these kids came into the world: You do all you can to get them through the best school they can get into, and that they like.

I can't speak to Princeton, however our daughter really liked Northwestern but once she was accepted at Michigan she went blue and never looked back.  Northwestern's a great school, of course, but for a hard sciences major the research going on at Michigan is a compelling argument. I think she also just fell in love with the University and with Ann Arbor.

She liked Northwestern's excellence-in-a-smaller-package approach but ultimately she found ways to make Michigan smaller and I think overall it was a better educational experience for her.  If you ask her, she'll tell you there wasn't a single day there that she regretted the decision.    

L'Carpetron Do…

December 24th, 2018 at 2:43 PM ^

Princeton. Hands down. Michigan is great and everything and so is Michigan Engineering but Princeton is the better school. It will give her a remarkable education and open far more doors for her. If I had my choice to go anywhere, it would be Princeton.

Also Michigan is great but it doesn't really have the rep we think it does. Most people don't know its a top school. On a number of occasions, someone asked me where I went to college and I said "Michigan" and they say "Oh Michigan State?" and then I have to explain they're different.  I mean, in almost all these cases, the person involved was an idiot, but still, I don't think someone would get mixed up if I told them I went to Princeton.