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This article is a part of a data-driven series in which The Michigan Daily obtained records on the top 301 schools by number of applications to the University of Michigan for the Fall 2019 freshman class through a public records request. These data are not representative of the entire freshman class, nor is the data about the schools a perfect aggregate representation of all students who attend the University.
The college experience widely varies, especially amid a pandemic that makes having a large social circle and in-person classes dangerous. But according to data obtained by The Michigan Daily, one in 10 members of the University of Michigan Fall 2019 freshman class came from just 10 high schools, meaning it’s very likely some students in every class come into college with already-established friend groups.
Though students from over 2,000 different high schools enrolled at the University, our data shows that nearly half of the 2019 incoming class came from just 15% of these schools. The term “feeder school” is often used to refer to schools with high volumes of applications to a certain university.
The Daily spoke with students from feeder and non-feeder schools to the University around the country to learn how their high school experiences influenced their social and academic transition to college. Students from feeder high schools in general expressed greater social and academic comfort, while students from high schools where very few students attend the University said they experienced culture shock and sometimes felt academically underprepared.
In an email to The Daily, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the University does not track graduation rates and other indicators of student success by high school.
Business freshman Marcel Wong is one of the many students in his class that came to the University from Northville High School in Northville, Mich. In 2019, the University accepted 150 students from Northville High School, and 101 chose to attend. Wong said that coming from a high school where many students attended Michigan made it easier for him to adjust as a freshman.
“Having a community of people not just in your grade, but older ones as well that are already here and can serve as a potential friend or mentor, is definitely a big plus with an in-state feeder school,” Wong said.
With a median household income just over $110,000 per year, many Northville students are able to take some of the 21 Advanced Placement classes or the IB curriculum their high school offers. These classes provide students a way to earn college credits in high school and often match collegiate academic rigor, but the $100 price tag on exams poses a barrier for some students. According to the College Board website, some “qualifying” low-income students are eligible for fee reductions, though the cost is still $53 per test.
Wong said he thinks his AP-packed Northville curriculum prepared him well for college.
“I think being exposed to those harder classes early and learning good study habits definitely assisted in transitioning to college classes and workload,” Wong said.
In contrast, LSA sophomore Adelaide Ward went to Ludington High School in the small town of Ludington, Mich., with a total population of just over 8,000. Ludington High School offers eight AP courses. Out of her graduating class of 172, only three ended up attending the University. Ward said that she experienced a difficult transition her freshman year because her high school did not challenge her academically.
“I 100% struggled academically during my first year at Michigan,” Ward said. “Public high school curriculum was pretty easy for me, so I wasn’t used to having to actually study for tests and dedicate a lot of time to each class.”
Additionally, Ward said she experienced a culture shock during her first year at the University. Coming from a small town, Ward said she had not had the same experiences as other students who came from bigger cities or other regions of the world.
“My high school class of 172 maybe had 10 people of color, and my hometown is extremely conservative and heteronormative,” Ward said. “I had little interaction, until I came to Michigan, with people of different races, religions other than Christianity, beliefs different from right-leaning, and the LGBTQ+ community. I feel as if I adjusted pretty quickly, though, because I always felt out of place in my hometown.”
Business senior Brianna Byard also came from a small town in Michigan, where she attended Tawas Area High School. Like Ward, Byard said her high school curriculum was not rigorous enough to effectively prepare her for college.
“I had just as much of a brain as most of my peers (in college), it just hadn’t been used in the same capacity in my high school,” Byard said. “There weren’t many academically-challenging courses in my high school besides three AP courses.”
Byard also said her high school provided little support for students applying to college, since there were few standardized test preparation resources available.
“We had no SAT tutors within a 2 hour radius, or any type of school-led SAT prep,” Byard said.
Byard said she felt disadvantaged coming from a small high school when many of her peers at the University had attended feeder schools. There was a steeper learning curve to adjusting to college life because of this discrepancy, Byard said.
“The social capital … my peers had, that of knowing many students already at school, knowing the norms already of social life at college or knowing what makes a successful college student,” Byard said. “I had to learn from scratch to cultivate my own social capital to enable myself to be a part of the community.”
Outside of metro Detroit, the New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Jose metro areas are home to the greatest number of feeder schools to the University. The New York metro area has the second highest number of feeder schools, behind metro Detroit. Fifty-nine high schools in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut send thousands of students to the University annually.
LSA freshman Jess Shar attended Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, N.Y., which sent 18 students to the University in 2019 and about 15 this past fall. Shar said despite feeling overwhelmed by the size of the University, it was comforting to see people she recognized on campus.
“Seeing a familiar face on State Street was really comforting, I felt,” Shar said. “Some of the girls I was friends with previously, I made plans with and reached out, and together we bonded over the experience of being a freshman during the pandemic and meeting people.”
Shar said she felt academically prepared for her classes’ rigor due to the competitiveness of New York Public Schools.
“I feel like Michigan is a very similar environment as the school I came from in terms of competitiveness and the way people work together on projects, so I was pretty comfortable (academically),” Shar said.
Like Wong, Shar said a network of older students she knew from high school and through her family helped her navigate which classes to pick and which student organizations to join.
“I have an older brother and he has a bunch of friends who go here,” Shar said. “(They’d say) ‘take this class, the professor’s great’ or ‘ooh, this professor’s a little hard, maybe avoid this.’ That definitely influenced my academics.”
Daily Staff Reporter Lily Gooding can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily Staff Reporter Julia Rubin can be reached at email@example.com.
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