Is Notre Dame or Northwestern worth the coin over UM? $60K vs $30K

Submitted by diag squirrel on January 28th, 2015 at 5:56 PM

We all love and appreciate what UM has done for us. My sister's son was accepted last month, and he has a really good shot at ND and Northwestern too. I don't think he has any idea what he wants to study, so far he's just really well rounded. I know my sis and BIL will come to me and ask if the $30K per year premium over UM's in-state is worth it for that status badge. Even as an alum, it's a really tough question to answer. I know for a fact Notre Dame is nearly impossible to get into if you're not a legacy.

I'm sort of responsible for getting him hooked to even caring about NU and ND in the first place. I visited the campuses with him when he was in 9th and 10th grade, as I figured if he shot for them, he'd be a lock for UM. It worked, but he tried so hard that he has a very legit shot at both ND and NU, which kind of blows me away.

Is there a $XXXK household income threshold you should be at where this decision is a non-issue? e.g. under $200K go to UM, $350K+ let the kid go where he wants?



January 28th, 2015 at 6:48 PM ^

for most people. The costs of degrees today vs the benefit derived for them requires one to seriously ponder it. I would not spend $50,000 for a journalism degree from UM/ND/NU if I have to take out loans.  I'd go to a "lesser" school and prove myself through my own efforts rather than go into massive debt for an elite brand degree.

HOWEVA, if you don't have to worry about debt then I would go to a Michigan, ND or other high end degree. The connections, pride and confidence gained from earning a name degree are worth the effort needed to graduate.

Colleges are a product. Buy what you can afford.


January 28th, 2015 at 7:20 PM ^

People laugh, but the community college route is not a bad idea for a lot of students... especially students that have no idea what major they wish to persue (as is the case in the OPs situation). Unless there is a scholarship in the equation, spend two years at a community college, take transferable gen ed classes, figure out what you want to do, then transfer your credits to the "name" school you wish to attend. It saves a ton of money, and the degree eventually earned has the "name" school on it... with no asterisk stating, "the student started at a community college."


January 28th, 2015 at 8:08 PM ^

I agree with you that most high school students are not ready for a 4 year college, but do note that good schools do not accept many (some don't accept any) transfers.  If you have the credentials, then going the 4 year route may still be worth it if you can afford it, but do consider taking a leap year to figure out what you want to do.

Also, I don't think people should get caught up on brand names.  If you're a good student, but can't afford to attend a good school, chances are you'll do well at the lesser school that gave you a scholarship, and you'll have the credentials to invest in a graduate program down the line. 


January 28th, 2015 at 8:03 PM ^

My perspective has changed now that I've been out of college for a while, but if I had to do it over again, I would have taken a leap year between high school and college to learn a language overseas.  As someone who often works with people from different countries, I feel strongly now that Americans are handicapping themselves by not mastering at least 1 foreign language.  It's much harder to really master a language (espcially an Asian language) when you have to deal with the requirements for your major, and once you are out of school, you really don't have the time. 

I also agree that the community college route is a good option for the vast majority of high school students.  The fact is, only a select few are really mature enough to learn at a college level by the time they graduate from high school (including gifted students who get into places like Michigan).


January 28th, 2015 at 7:42 PM ^

I meant what I said, but it was also in jest based on the caliber of university that the OP was choosing between.  If the classes transfer, I do not know why it shouldn't be taken seriously to get used to college life and not pay so much.  But if the family is blessed with wealth or the student has grades that can get scholarship monies, might as well go to the prestigious institution.  

But I'm just a poor dude who went to GRCC

Moe Greene

January 28th, 2015 at 5:59 PM ^

On the financial aid, right? Private schools do discount their tuition to recruit blue-chip smart kids.

But all else equal, I can't see NW's network or ND's network being more helpful than ours.

Admittedly biased though.....


January 28th, 2015 at 6:07 PM ^

Journalism at NU is the top program in the country I believe. 

Gotta be more specific like major b/c each college has different strengths. This makes Michigan awesome b.c it's so well rounded in everything. 

diag squirrel

January 28th, 2015 at 6:13 PM ^

Aside from football, where does the ND hate come from? Some of my best friends are ND grads. I swear to you, they're really, really genuine good guys. Great families.  One of them even wrote my nephew a letter of rec (which I know helped in admissions). Rumor has it something like 25-30% of the ND admissions spots (few thousand a year total) are reserved for legacies. So if you get in as a non legacy, it's definiately an achievement badge.  Is it the sidewalk alums that irritate everyone or is this pure football team hatred?

I don't know anyone from Northwestern, but understand it's basically become an Ivy league caliber undergrad.


January 28th, 2015 at 6:52 PM ^

As someone who has been to ND's camps many times, I agree that I would never go to ND. It's completely boring and lame and awful. Nothing redeeming about the town or campus whatsoever. Yes, it's pretty. But 18 year olds care little about that. The academic difference between M and ND Is negligible and many UM programs are better. I would never push ND over UM even if the price was the same.

Northwestern is a different story. That comes down to how much money they family has and what the student really prefers.


January 28th, 2015 at 9:11 PM ^

I went to a catholic high school in Michigan, and basically everyone in charge there acted like ND was the only place an intelligent person would want to go, which rubbed me the wrong way. I went there with a group of kids from my school during sophomore year to check it out and I just really, really didn't like it. It just struck me as boring.

I will agree that most of the people I know who went to ND are good people, but it's just a school I would never want to attend. My response was probably a little over the top, but basically how I feel.

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January 28th, 2015 at 7:20 PM ^

And I lived in the area for 6-7 years. I met my wife there, had 2 kids there. Would never move back.

The town sucks massively. There is about a mile and a half stretch of road and kids would just drive in circles back and forth Fri Nights. Cruisin McKinley they called it. There is nothing to do but get hooked on meth. Downtown South Bend (aside from the couple blocks around the HoF) is a dump.


January 28th, 2015 at 7:31 PM ^

LOL this is perfect. My friend is a ND alum and she is always raving about Ann Arbor. I always joke around saying that she likes AA better than South Bend cuz it seems like it's just boring as hell compared to lively AA. She won't ever admit it, but I think she knows it's true. 

It's amazing they pull in top notch students and recruits year in and out like they do. Must be that aura of Catholic awesomeness haha. 


January 29th, 2015 at 9:31 AM ^

1) NW is just rated higher than M: ND is not (at least last time I checked).

2) [email protected] > South Bend. But Chicago is a great place (would rather have my kid at UM, in a smaller town, but you can't look down on Chi).

3) The full-spectrum college experience, unless you're a will rahrah school pride kinda person, cannot be surpassed in A2, IMO. But for the right kid, the city could be a stil-bigger education.

4)* Comes with an asterisk because who knows where you sit on the question, but ND is the most conservative of the three places, and that ramifies throughout the experience, including in the classroom.

When I got out of college I went to NYC and started looking for publishing jobs. The industry was dominated by Yale and Harvard trust-funders whose parents could subsidize their wages and lifestyles while they bided their time in 25 grand a year, part time, and freelance jobs until they worked their way up. But the name UM alone got my serious interest every time.




January 28th, 2015 at 6:03 PM ^

Would he have to take out loans to pay for it? If so, that's a big deal. One of my co-workers is in his late-40's and just finished paying off his loans.

If money isn't a huge deal, it's tough to say either way. If he would have to borrow the extra $30k to go to ND or NU, then he should go to Michigan, unless there's a particular major that he wants at ND or NU.


January 28th, 2015 at 6:15 PM ^

This is really the question. $30k is just a number: what does it mean for you in this specific situation?

I had to pick between UM (in-state) and NW. My choice was to get a degree from UM and graduate debt free, or take out some loans for NW. Considering that, there was just no debate - I went to UM, and haven't looked back. 

If you have the money such that you can graduate from either comfortably without debt, it's another story. 


January 28th, 2015 at 6:03 PM ^

honestly, these days everyone has to go to some sort of grad school, save for cs or nursing people. so i'd suggest going to the school that will get him into the best grad/professional school for whatever field, because that matters more than your undergrad. getting all b's at michigan or nd isn't looked at as highly as all a's from msu.


January 28th, 2015 at 7:27 PM ^

As someone who attended both UM and a NESCAC school, the private route is not worth it. I still think I should have stayed at UM for my whole undergrad, and if I did not grow in A2, I would have. The college I graduated from is in the top 10 for small colleges, but I got much better grades at UM than I did after my transfer. Going from 500 person Econ and Poli Sci classes in Lorch to a 12 person class did not help my gpa.

My grandfather is an NU grad, but in hindsight I would only forsake UM if I had the chance at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Stanford or Dartmouth


January 28th, 2015 at 6:08 PM ^

That's not true. Michigan grads have plentiful opportunities for amazing jobs right out of undergrad, much more than you'd find out of MSU. Hundreds of companies come to recruit on campus, especially for eng and ross. Kids without perfect GPA's are still getting jobs out of UM that state grads wouldn't even have access to apply to.

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Chad Henne

January 28th, 2015 at 6:42 PM ^

A person who is choosing a major where grad school will be necessary should never go to an expensive school for undergrad. Going to Michigan out of state for a liberal arts degree is the definition of insanity(unless family is paying).

I'm a proud UM alum, but unless you're doing Ross or Engineering for undergrad, you'd probably be better suited doing your undergrad at a "lesser" school, getting all As, and then going to UM for grad school. It's just the nature of things nowadays. In general, unless you're directly recruited from school, the location of your undergrad education means a lot less than people think. From my experience, the UM network has been rather underwhelming in terms of employment opportunities afforded.

Mabel Pines

January 28th, 2015 at 8:06 PM ^

it really doesn't matter which undergrad if they want to go to grad school.

Personally, I was accepted at Michigan and Northwestern (rejected at Cornell). Went to Michigan because I loved Michigan, of course, but the huge financial difference also helped. To me, it's not like Harvard/Michigan. Northwestern/mich are too similar to spend the extra cash.
I don't know anything about ND except South Bend is a dump.


January 28th, 2015 at 8:16 PM ^

When I showed up law school and met kids from no name colleges that got a 4.0 as an undergrad at a place like ISU (I screwed Up), I was a little shocked. Go to a place that is cheap and you can get good grades, then go to grad school. When it comes to workload, UM is still a state school with big classes, it isn't easy, but with the exception of maybe the Engineering school, it is not as rigorous as a top private school just because of size.

diag squirrel

January 28th, 2015 at 9:15 PM ^

"When I showed up law school and met kids from no name colleges that got a 4.0 as an undergrad at a place like ISU (I screwed Up), I was a little shocked. Go to a place that is cheap and you can get good grades, then go to grad school."

So many people echo this but the overwhelming majority of elite grad schools are...alums of elite undergrads or private schools. Hope and K-College place extraordinarly well at UM's Medical and Dental schools. Most kids bright enough to knock the MCAT or LSAT out of the park and get an unbelieveably strong college GPA don't end up at a no-name directional. Further, good luck pushing yourself to your limits surrounded by intellectual non-peers. But there are always outliers, of course.


January 29th, 2015 at 1:05 AM ^

I chose to go to Michigan as an undergraduate in engineering from upstae New York ( Syracuse) despite getting a scholarship from Cornell. Cornell seemed like a party school, I didn't really like the campus that much and Ithaca was too close to home. I could not hack the engineering courses and since I just chose Engineering to have a technical background before I got my MBA, I switched to LSA to become an economics major....which I guess made me insane as described  by the blog writer above.

 I never regretted my decision to go to Michigan. Now, I live in the Los Angeles area,cheer the Big Blue, and serve as an alumni student recruiter trying to convince high schoolers who were accepted to Michigan to make the decision to actually attend. small feat since these students usually have an acceptance to UCLA and/ or Berkeley so they would be paying triple to attend Michigan and , of course, leave the comfy confines of So. California. But these students and their parents respect the academics at Michigan and often times, they will come to Ann Arbor for a campus visit and commit for  that education.


January 29th, 2015 at 2:15 AM ^

The best academic school is always the best  choice. In state tuition at a top school was the best choice, but I didn't apply to ND or NU. If there are two kids with similar MCAT scores, the nod will go to the kid from the better undergrad . UM undergrad got me into UM med school which got me into a residency program in SF ( all the other interns were from UCSF,Stanford, UCLA, or Ivy league schools ). I was not anywhere near top of the class. I never saw anybody from MSU, OSU, or other Midwest schools. I would think ND or NU would have worked as well, but no matter how good of grades i could have gotten at MSU or WSU med school I would not have gotten an internship out here. And it was no secret that Med Schools tended to favor their undergrad programs so I would have had to do a LOT better at MSU undergrad to be considered at UM med school.



January 29th, 2015 at 10:33 AM ^

If you are planning on staying in Michigan, then the advantages in the job field between Michigan and MSU are not huge.  If you plan on heading out of state, Michigan has a huge upside.  I've been to the east coast and texas and having UofM on my resume was recognized as a good school.



January 28th, 2015 at 6:04 PM ^

I'm an out of stater and when it came down to it I was choosing between Michigan and Northwestern and chose the good guys, I'd say if it's not journalism, the premium isn't worth it.


And as for Notre Dame, just no.


January 28th, 2015 at 6:13 PM ^

Only if you're looking at Businessweek rankings, which I don't think anyone besides ND people look at. As far as being a target school for Wall Street and consulting recruiting, Ross is undeniably better and has a much stronger presence in top firms. ND largely gets looked over.

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January 30th, 2015 at 11:04 AM ^

If Ross is sooooooooo much better than Mendoza for undergrad, and their graduates are highly sought over for high paying jobs while Mendoza graduates get passed over, how do you explain this?…

Truth is ND is incredible at job placement, which is a large part of why Business Week ranks them high... because of where they place their graduates. Proof is in the pudding and Mendoza grads make a lot of scratch.