What Is the Big Ten and What Does a Big Ten School Mean?

Picture of a football on a football field.

What Is the Big Ten and What Does a Big Ten School Mean?

Published September 27, 2020 | Last Updated October 28th, 2023 at 07:55 pm

Picture of a football on a football field.

Once upon on a time, ten of the nation’s public universities got together to form standards for intercollegiate athletics.

That group, known as the Big Ten, still exists and proclaims to hold itself to high standards in not only athletics, but in academics and school spirit as well.

Before you throw on a jersey and cheer for your school, you may have some questions.

What is the Big Ten?

What is it like to be an undergraduate student at one of these universities?

How Many Schools Are in the Big Ten?

As so many things about higher ed are confusing these days, so too are some names ascribed to sporting groups. The “Big Ten” is really “Big Fourteen.” 

The Big Ten began as an athletic conference in 1895.

Founded by Purdue University, the conference was first referred to as the Big Nine and the Western Conference. Since then, six schools have joined the conference.

Schools in this group differ in academic program strengths. Additionally, while most Big Ten schools are located in the Midwest, the schools offer different settings.

Students researching Big Ten schools will find they are all large, public universities.

(But of course, there are always exceptions, and that one is Northwestern University.)

Which Colleges Make Up the Big Ten?

  • Indiana University
  • Michigan State University
  • Northwestern University
  • Ohio State University
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • Purdue University
  • Rutgers University
  • University of Illinois
  • University of Iowa
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of Nebraska
  • University of Wisconsin

How the Big Ten Schools Rank and Their Acceptance Rates

According to U.S. News, all fourteen universities are ranked in the top 200.

However, these universities vary in academic ranking. 

  • Northwestern University

Rank: 9

Acceptance Rate: 7.2%

Northwestern University’s best-ranked programs include Communications. Performing Arts, and Education.  

  • University of Michigan

Rank: 23

Acceptance Rate: 20.1%

University of Michigan’s best-ranked programs include Kinesiology and Physical Therapy, Information Technology, and Business.

  • University of Wisconsin

Rank: 42

Acceptance Rate: 49%

University of Wisconsin’s best-ranked programs include Agricultural Sciences, Education and Communications. 

  • University of Illinois

Rank: 35

Acceptance Rate: 45%

University of Illinois’ best-ranked programs include Accounting and Finance, Agricultural Sciences and Engineering.

  • Pennsylvania State University

Rank: 63 (tied with Rutgers University)

Acceptance Rate: 55%

Penn State’s best-ranked programs include Information Technology, Criminal Justice, and Kinesiology and Physical Therapy. 

  • Ohio State University

Rank: 49 (tied with Purdue University)

Acceptance Rate: 53%

Ohio State University’s best-ranked programs include Agricultural Sciences, Accounting and Finance, and Criminal Justice. 

  • Purdue University

Rank: 49 (tied with Ohio State University)

Acceptance Rate: 53%

Purdue University’s best-ranked programs include Information Technology, Agricultural Sciences and Engineering. 

  • Rutgers University

Rank: 63 (tied with Pennsylvania State University)

Acceptance Rate: 66%

Rutger University’s best-ranked programs include Agricultural Sciences, Criminal Justice and Accounting and Finance.

  • University of Maryland

Rank: 59

Acceptance Rate: 44%

The University of Maryland’s best-ranked programs include Criminal Justice, Library and Information Studies, and Audiology.

  • University of Minnesota

Rank: 68

Acceptance Rate: 75%

University of Minnesota’s best-ranked programs include Developmental Psychology, Accounting and Finance, and Agricultural Sciences. 

  • Indiana University

Rank: 68

Acceptance Rate: 82%

Indiana University’s best-ranked programs include Business, Music and Kinesiology and Physical Therapy.

  • Michigan State University

Rank: 83

Acceptance Rate: 88%

Michigan State’s best-ranked programs include Agricultural Sciences, Communications and Criminal Justice. 

  • University of Iowa

Rank: 83

Acceptance Rate: 86%

University of Iowa’s best-ranked programs include Accounting and Finance, Kinesiology and Physical Therapy, and Nursing. 

  • University of Nebraska

Rank: 136

Acceptance Rate: 79%

University of Nebraska’s best-ranked programs include Agricultural Sciences, Education and Accounting and Finance. 

Pros of Attending a Big Ten School

While each Big Ten school has its own unique attributes, there are some more generalized pros and cons of attending a Big Ten school.

Big Ten schools offer a wide array of majors and programs. The same goes for non-academic activities; due to the many students, there are many organizations and clubs to take part in.

Athletics are popular on Big Ten college campuses. Whether the college is known for its football or basketball team, it is certain that there will be large crowds and lots of school spirit on game days.

Financially, Big Ten schools offer lower tuition to in-state residents and are typically less expensive to attend than private schools. Although a private institution, Northwestern University meets 100% need-based financial aid.

Cons of Attending a Big Ten School

With large student enrollment numbers come large classes. This could be a disadvantage as there is a high student to faculty ratio, making it more difficult to interact with classmates and professors during class.

Most courses, specifically general education requirements and introductory-level courses, are lectures with little room for class discussion.

Traditional multiple-choice testing is more likely in larger college classes than essay-writing or presentations.

Additionally, while there is a sense of community surrounding athletics on campus, students may not see as many “familiar faces” as they may at a smaller school. 

These ‘cons’ are considerations that prospective students of Big Ten universities must consider in line with their own educational and social needs. 

How to Plan for Attending a Big Ten School

Do you think a Big Ten school may be the right place for you? There are ways you can plan in high school to achieve this goal.

Essays, extracurricular activities, and showing interest are important, among other things.

With larger universities, test scores and GPAs are important factors in the college process.

Here is a list of average SAT and ACT scores for each of the 14 universities:

Northwestern University

Average SAT: 1460-1540 (New SAT)

Average ACT: 33-35

University of Michigan

Average SAT: 1470

Average ACT: 33

University of Wisconsin

Average SAT: 1440

Average ACT: 30

University of Illinois

Average SAT: 1400-1530

Average ACT: 31-34

Pennsylvania State University

Average SAT:  1290-1460

Average ACT: 29-33

Ohio State University

Average SAT: 1340-1480

Average ACT: 28-33

Purdue University

Average SAT: 1330

Average ACT: 31

Rutgers University

Average SAT: 1370

Average ACT: 31

University of Maryland

Average SAT: 1445

Average ACT: 33

University of Minnesota

Average SAT: 1270-1480

Average ACT: 27-32

Indiana University

Average SAT: 1310

Average ACT: 30

Michigan State University

Average SAT: 1220

Average ACT: 27

University of Iowa

Average SAT: 1230

Average ACT: 26

University of Nebraska

Average SAT: 1210

Average ACT: 24

Financial Opportunities for Big Ten Schools

According to UnivStats, an average of 59% of students are receiving aid from Big Ten schools.

The Big Ten school offering the most students financial aid is University of Nebraska-Lincoln, as 73 percent of students are receiving aid. Conversely, University of Wisconsin Madison is offering the least amount of students aid at 42 percent.

The average amount of aid at Big Ten schools is $14,088. The school offering the most average aid is Northwestern University, with an average of $46,822. The school offering the least average aid is the University of Iowa, with an average of $8,778. Of course, each institution varies in tuition cost, and aid varies based on need and merit.


There is lots to think about before deciding to attend a Big Ten school, but the one constant is: Everything about them is”big.”

If  your student is looking for a “rah rah” atmosphere and the opportunity to get an education while experiencing the true meaning of “team spirit,” then they’ll be in the right place.


Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

Other Articles You Might Like

What’s It’s Like Attending Top Party Schools?

Penn State University Merit Scholarships

Can You Find Ivy League Quality at Non-Ivy-League Schools?




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