The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.
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 are the data about the schools a perfect aggregate representation of all students who attend the University.
The college admissions process is a mystery to many — and the University of Michigan is no exception.
Just under 65,000 high school seniors applied for the Fall 2019 entering class — more than two times larger than the 24,000 applicants who applied for the entering class two decades earlier.
The University has grown its class size by nearly one-third, but the growth has not kept up with the increasing application volume. The acceptance rate has sat around 25% for the last several years, a percentage that has more than halved from the 55% acceptance rate in the 2000-2001 school year, according to the University’s common data set from that year.
The Michigan Daily obtained records on the top 301 U.S. high schools by number of applications to the University for the Fall 2019 freshman class through a public records request. Nearly half, or 48%, of the freshman class matriculated from one of these 301 schools, though the schools represent only 15% of the total number of high schools with students applying to the University.
So what does it take to get into an increasingly selective school like the University of Michigan? That’s the question on tens of thousands of minds each year when applications for the next freshman class open in August.
For the Fall 2020 entering class, 75% of entering freshmen received a 32 or above on the ACT, placing them in the 97th percentile of test takers. The average freshman’s high school GPA was a 3.9.
Admissions officers at schools across the nation — including at the University, which calls its admissions process “holistic” — are quick to note that universities are looking not only at the complete picture of a student, but also how they place within the context of their schools and communities.
According to Whitney Bruce, a private college admissions counselor who specializes in working with applicants from Ann Arbor, decisions can also be impacted by institutional goals. These goals, often unknown to applicants, could in turn give students who help meet these goals a leg up in the admissions process.
Institutional goals can play a larger role at selective institutions like the University where the freshman class could typically be filled two or three times over without decreasing the average standardized test scores or GPA, Bruce said.
“Creating a class from an enrollment management perspective is more art than science,” Bruce said.
Despite hurdles caused by Proposal 2, which in 2006 barred the University from considering race, gender, ethnicity or nationality in admissions, the University has still attempted to attain diversity within its incoming classes with varying degrees of success. Though still often criticized as a rich, elite university, more than 22% of new in-state undergraduates in 2019 came from families with incomes under $65,000.
The percentage of underrepresented minorities, which are students who identify as Black, Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino, Native American or Native Alaskan, make up approximately 15.3% of the 2019 class — below the state average of 21%.
Additionally, the University Record published that more than 15% of new students in the 2019 class were the first in their families to attend college. Erica Sanders, Office of Undergraduate Admissions director, confirmed this in an email to The Daily.
“The University of Michigan is a firm proponent of the educational value provided by a diverse, multicultural and inclusive campus community,” Sanders wrote. “The mission of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions speaks to the importance of identifying, admitting and enrolling a diverse group of students and our holistic review process.”
The Daily analyzed the data obtained through a public records request to shed light on who applies to, is accepted by and ends up attending the University from the 60,000-person sea of applicants each year. Across the board, we found that schools with high numbers of applications and admittees are whiter and richer than national and state averages. Here are our biggest takeaways.
One out of every 10 students in the class comes from one of 10 high schools
Despite making up less than 3% of schools on The Daily’s list, more than 11% of the 2019 freshman class came from one of 10 high schools. Almost all of these schools — the International Academy, Northville High School, Novi High School, Troy High School, Pioneer High School, Huron High School, Rochester Adams High School, Bloomfield Hills High School and Detroit Country Day — are in metro Detroit.
All nine are highly ranked within the state.
Eight out of nine of these in-state schools are public schools, with the exception of private school Detroit Country Day. The International Academy, though public, is also a magnet school, meaning students must take a test and enter a lottery for admission.
Pioneer and Huron are both part of the Ann Arbor Public School System.
The Bronx High School of Science in The Bronx, N.Y., is the only out-of-state high school in the group of 10. New York’s public school system requires students interested in Bronx Science and other “specialized” high schools take a test to get in. Of the 30,000 New York City eighth graders who take the specialized high school entrance exam, less than 3% of test takers made the cut-off to earn admission to the high school.
Michigan outperforms other states in applications, matriculation
Not only is Michigan the state with the most applicants to the University, data shows students who live in the state are more likely to both earn admission and to matriculate than students coming from out-of-state.
Ninety-four of the 301 top schools were within Michigan, meaning most, if not all, of those students pay in-state tuition. Despite being only one-third of schools on The Daily’s list of 301 schools, these 94 schools contain more than 57% of the admitted students and about 68% of the total enrolled students.
But even within Michigan, there are disparities between feeder vs. non-feeder schools: Of the total enrolled in-state students in the Fall 2019 freshman class, 63% come from one of these 94 schools — despite these 94 schools making up only 5% of the 1,870 high schools in Michigan.
On The Daily’s list, California followed Michigan as the second-most state with 54 schools, or 18%, on the total list. Illinois followed with 43, or 14%. New York and New Jersey each had around 9% — 27 and 26 schools, respectively — of the 301 schools.
Out-of state students from these 207 schools make up 32% of the enrolled students in 2019, but 69% of the total number of applicants.
You’re most likely to be accepted if you go to a magnet school
Magnet schools had the highest acceptance rates on average — more than one-third of applicants from these schools were accepted, noticeably outperforming the overall 22.9% acceptance rate for the class. Despite the fact that public magnet school students made up only 8.2% of applications from these 301 schools, applicants from public magnet schools made up 10% of total acceptances.
Bruce said this statistic would make sense given the fact that students typically must test-in to magnet schools, meaning they already show high academic performance. Michigan’s International Academies, schools that offer an International Baccalaureate program that students must test into, are one example of this. If students can earn entrance into one, she said, they are likely to be competitive candidates to the University.
“It’s not that attending IA gives you a straighter path to Michigan, it gives you a really strong education,” Bruce said. “You’ve pre-selected for kids who are already going to test into a band where their SAT scores are competitive with Michigan’s.”
The University does not separate magnet schools from public schools when reviewing applications, Sanders confirmed to The Daily.
The 301 schools on this list had higher acceptance rates on average compared to that sub-23% figure for the overall Fall 2019 class. Every type of school — public magnet (32.4%), private secular (30.1%), public charter (29.3%), private religious (26.1%), public (25.4%) and private boarding (25.2%) — was above a 25% acceptance rate. This means the majority of schools outside of The Daily’s list likely had an acceptance rate lower than the class acceptance rate of 22.9%.
Students are more likely to matriculate if they go to a lower-income school
Admittees from schools with higher percentages of students receiving free or reduced lunch, a signifier of the family income of students within the school, correlated to higher matriculation, meaning more students who were admitted to the University from lower-income schools decided to attend.
Of the 239 schools on the list with data on their free/reduced lunch programs, 17.5% of their students qualify for free or reduced lunch — far below the 2017-2018 U.S. national average of 53%. For schools on the list with more than 17.5% of students on free or reduced lunch, 52% of admitted students chose to attend.
At schools with less than 17.5% of students on free or reduced lunch, only 40% of admitted students chose to attend. With fewer students on free or reduced lunch, these schools are likely in higher-income areas.
This difference could point to the success of the Go Blue Guarantee, a marketing program that began advertising in 2018 what the school has promised for more than a decade: In-state students whose family income is below $65,000 and with assets below $50,000 will not pay anything toward tuition for four years. University President Mark Schlissel has said in the past that the purpose of this initiative was to increase socioeconomic diversity on the Ann Arbor campus.
But the higher yield rate among lower-income schools is still surprising given the relatively high cost of attendance at the University. LSA, the University’s largest school, has an in-state tuition between $15,000 and $18,000 depending on class standing. Without aid, the University’s Ann Arbor campus has the most expensive tuition out of all public colleges in the state. Still, Bruce said that in-state families consider the University a “huge value” because it is notably less expensive than the sticker prices of many out-of-state or private institutions.
Out-of-state tuition at the University ranges between $52,000 and $56,000 per year depending on class level — more than double the $21,000 average cost of tuition for an out-of-state, public college, according to U.S. News.
White students are overrepresented at high schools with high application volume
On The Daily’s list, 277 schools provided demographic data. Of these schools, white students make up the majority at four out of every five schools. This shows that the current demographics of the undergraduate population — which is majority white — are unlikely to significantly shift.
White students currently make up approximately 55% of the undergraduate community, whereas just under 68% of the 277 schools are majority white. This does not mean that every student who enrolls from these schools is white, but it does show that many of the schools the University pulls heavily from have more white students filling their classrooms than minority students.
Out of these 277 schools, only one school is a majority multirace, four are majority Hispanic, 24 are majority Asian and four are majority Black. Three out of the four schools that have a majority Black population are in Michigan. Most majority Asian schools are in California, New Jersey and New York, and most majority Hispanic schools are in Illinois.
Schools have noticeably higher family incomes than average
Students at these 301 schools have higher family incomes than both state and national averages. The average median household income for the Michigan public schools on this list is just over $75,000, about 20% higher than the average Michigan household income of $57,000.
The average median household income for out-of-state public schools on this list is just over $128,000 — almost double the national household median income of $69,000.
These numbers are not surprising given that the average family income of a student at the University is $154,000. Nine times more students at the University come from families with household incomes in the top 5% nationally than the bottom 20%, according to a 2017 New York Times study.
But The Daily’s data shows that the feeder schools the University looks to in filling its incoming class every year even further skew upper-class. These schools typically have more resources, such as more robust Advanced Placement offerings and access to standardized test preparation, that make attending a selective college more accessible.
Just because students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds enroll at the University doesn’t mean there are disproportionate recruitment efforts for them, said Paul Robinson, interim vice provost for the Office of Enrollment Management and University registrar. Robinson wrote in an email to The Daily that the undergraduate admissions team visits 500 in-state high schools and 500 out-of-state high schools that represent a wide range of income levels in a typical year. On top of this, the team visits an additional 500 college fairs and family nights, he said.
“The schools and students we interact with represent a diverse spectrum of identities, experiences and perspectives,” Robinson wrote. “In fact, the intended purposes of programs like the Go Blue Guarantee and the HAIL Scholarship are to engage and financially support students and families who may believe a U-M education is out of their reach and who often come from schools or communities that haven’t traditionally sent us students.”
Schools on The Daily’s list offer more AP and IB classes than the average U.S. school
The average high school in America offers eight Advanced Placement courses. Of the 265 schools on The Daily’s list that offer AP courses, the median number of AP classes offered was 21.
Michigan is in the top half of states in number of International Baccalaureate schools. Forty-one schools on The Daily’s list, or 13.6% of the total 301, offered IB. This is a significant amount considering only 1,900 out of 65,404 private and secondary schools in the U.S. — or 2.9% of total schools — offer the program.
Robust offerings of AP courses within schools and the option to take IB-designated classes point to these schools having more resources than the average U.S. school.
But Sanders said the University views applicants within the context of their academic environment, so a student at a school with fewer AP offerings, for example, is not expected to have the same number of AP classes on their transcript as an applicant at a school with more AP courses available.
Alex Cotignola, Parth Dhyani, Drishaan Jain, Eric Lau, Wen Si, Naitian Zhou and Ayse Eldes contributed to the data collection for this series.
Daily Staff Reporter Alex Harring can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More from this data series
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.
For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.