Big Ten Schools Ranked Academically

big ten schools ranked academically

The Big Ten has always been known for its excellence in both sports and academics. And now, with UCLA and USC joining in the near future, it aims to establish itself as the smartest among the Power 5 conferences.

You can receive a world-class education at any Big Ten school. However, if you desire a degree that stands out more, one that grabs attention when you mention your alma mater, this guide is meant for you. We rank the Big Ten schools academically and provide insights into each ranking.

List of Academic Rankings of Big Ten Schools

Our rankings are a bit different from big publications like the U.S. News. We consider factors like graduation rates and selectivity, but we ignore ones that don’t impact the quality of education, such as alumni giving rates.

We also take into account the strength of individual departments and programs within each school. For example, the University of Illinois received recognition for its computer science and engineering departments.

Northwestern University

  • Location: Evanston, IL
  • U.S. News ranking: #9
  • Acceptance rate: 7%
  • Middle 50% SAT range: 1,460-1,560
  • Middle 50% ACT range: 33-35
  • Graduation rate: 95%

Northwestern leads the Big Ten in academic prestige. While it’s not technically a member of the Ivy League, it’s often considered an “Ivy adjacent” school that stands out academically. Its academic peers include the nearby prestigious University of Chicago, as well as Duke, Vanderbilt, and Johns Hopkins. Northwestern has the smallest student body among Big Ten schools and is the only private university in the conference.

University of California—Los Angeles (Future Member)

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA
  • U.S. News ranking: #20
  • Acceptance rate: 11%
  • Middle 50% SAT range: N/A (test blind)
  • Middle 50% ACT range: N/A (test blind)
  • Graduation rate: 91%

Berkeley students and alums might disagree, but UCLA is the best public university in America. It’s the largest research powerhouse in the country, highly selective (accepting less than 11% of applicants), and receives the most applications of any college or university. Similar to other University of California schools, UCLA recently became test blind, meaning SAT and ACT scores are neither required nor considered for admissions, even if submitted.

University of Michigan—Ann Arbor

  • Location: Ann Arbor, MI
  • U.S. News ranking: #23
  • Acceptance rate: 20%
  • Middle 50% SAT range: 1,360-1,530
  • Middle 50% ACT range: 31-35
  • Graduation rate: 93%

Michigan is generally considered one of the top public universities in the nation, alongside UCLA, UC-Berkeley, and UNC-Chapel Hill. Its engineering and computer science departments are excellent, as is its business school. With a 20% acceptance rate and an average ACT score of 33 for incoming students, getting admitted to Michigan is getting tougher, especially for out-of-state students.

University of Wisconsin—Madison

  • Location: Madison, WI
  • Ranked #42 by U.S. News
  • Acceptance rate: 60%
  • SAT range: 1,350-1,480
  • ACT range: 28-32
  • Graduation rate: 88%

UW-Madison is prestigious not only nationally but also internationally. Its departments in computer science, engineering, business, and more are highly regarded. It’s actually quite challenging to get in; don’t be fooled by the acceptance rate of 60%. The school’s applicant pool is highly self-selective, so Wisconsin residents without high stats usually don’t bother applying. The acceptance rate from out of state is even lower than 50%.

University of Southern California (Future Member)

  • Location: Los Angeles, CA
  • Ranked #27 by U.S. News
  • Acceptance rate: 13%
  • SAT range: 1,330-1,520
  • ACT range: 30-34
  • Graduation rate: 92%

USC is a fantastic university that could easily be argued to be #4 or even #3 on this list. We ranked it below Wisconsin despite its higher U.S. News ranking, higher test scores, higher graduation rate, and significantly lower acceptance rate due to its reputation. Although people are recognizing how high-quality and selective USC is, it hasn’t fully shed its “University of Spoiled Children” stigma from the 1980s and 1990s. If you want to work in the film industry, there’s no better place in America to study. The Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism is also top-notch. Plus, the weather beats any other Big Ten school, except perhaps the other newcomer, UCLA.

University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign

  • Location: Urbana, IL
  • Ranked #47 by U.S. News
  • Acceptance rate: 60%
  • SAT range: 1,340-1,510
  • ACT range: 29-34
  • Graduation rate: 85%

UIUC gets a boost in our list over its similarly ranked (according to U.S. News) peers Purdue and Ohio State because of its engineering and particularly its computer science department, which is one of the most prestigious in the nation, on par with heavyweights like MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Georgia Tech. In fact, while the university as a whole accepts 60% of its applicants, the acceptance rate for CS is a scarce 10%.

Purdue University

  • Location: West Lafayette, IN
  • U.S. News ranking: #49
  • Acceptance rate: 69%
  • Middle 50% SAT range: 1,190-1,430
  • Middle 50% ACT range: 26-33
  • Graduation rate: 81%

Purdue is known as a top-notch engineering school. You don’t need amazing stats to get in, as evidenced by its almost 70% acceptance rate. However, its SAT and ACT score midranges indicate some level of self-selectivity among applicants. Additionally, Purdue has highly respected programs outside of engineering in humanities and writing. Many other universities worldwide use its Online Writing Lab (OWL) to assist students in improving their writing skills.

The Ohio State University

  • Location: Columbus, OH
  • U.S. News ranking: #49
  • Acceptance rate: 57%
  • Middle 50% SAT range: 1,260-1,420
  • Middle 50% ACT range: 26-32
  • Graduation rate: 85%

THE Ohio State University (leave out the first part in front of a student or alum, and they’ll let you know about it) has made significant progress since its open-admission days in the 20th century. While it still admits over half of its applicants, tOSU’s incoming student stats are impressive, as is its graduation rate of 85%. Considering its size, with nearly 50,000 undergraduates, Ohio State is one of the largest universities in the country.

University of Maryland—College Park

  • Location: College Park, MD
  • U.S. News ranking: #59
  • Acceptance rate: 52%
  • Middle 50% SAT range: 1,340-1,490
  • Middle 50% ACT range: 30-34
  • Graduation rate: 86%

Maryland has impressive incoming student stats, with an average SAT score of 1,420 and an average ACT score of 32. It accepts about half of its applicants, indicating self-selection among students (i.e., those who don’t believe they have the stats are less likely to apply). However, being a newer member of the conference, it doesn’t have the same level of prestige as Purdue, Illinois, or Wisconsin. Additionally, it doesn’t have any standout programs or departments, which is why it is ranked slightly lower here despite its impressive stats.

Penn State University

  • Location: State College, PA
  • U.S. News ranking: #63
  • Acceptance rate: 58%
  • Middle 50% SAT range: 1,200-1,400
  • Middle 50% ACT range: 26-32
  • Graduation rate: 86%

Penn State is the quintessential Big Ten college experience. Its campus is beautiful, nestled in a vibrant college town in rural Pennsylvania. The football stadium is one of the largest in the country. The incoming students are impressive, with an average SAT score of 1,300 and an ACT score of 29. Penn State graduates 86% of its students within six years, which is commendable for a large state institution.

Rutgers University—New Brunswick

  • Location: New Brunswick, NJ
  • U.S. News ranking: #63
  • Acceptance rate: 67%
  • Middle 50% SAT range: 1,180-1,410
  • Middle 50% ACT range: 25-32
  • Graduation rate: 82%

Rutgers University has a unique vibe among the schools in the conference. Its campus is situated in a busy suburban area in Northern New Jersey, just a quick 30-minute train ride from Manhattan. The admissions standards are relatively relaxed for in-state students, yet it still manages to graduate over 80 percent of them within six years. In fields like engineering, Rutgers competes favorably with top universities nationwide.

Indiana University—Bloomington

  • Location: Bloomington, IN
  • U.S. News ranking: #68
  • Acceptance rate: 85%
  • Middle 50% SAT range: 1,160-1,380
  • Middle 50% ACT range: 26-32
  • Graduation rate: 79%

Indiana University, also referred to as “IU” by students and alumni, is famous for basketball and legendary coach Bob Knight, but it also boasts impressive academics. The Kelley School of Business has a stellar national reputation and consistently sends graduates to prestigious consulting, banking, and finance positions. The Bloomington campus offers the classic Big Ten college experience, and Assembly Hall stands as one of the top college basketball venues in the nation.

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

  • Location: Minneapolis, MN
  • U.S. News ranking: #68
  • Acceptance rate: 73%
  • Middle 50% SAT range: 1,320-1,470
  • Middle 50% ACT range: 27-32
  • Graduation rate: 82%

The University of Minnesota has impressive incoming student stats and a high graduation rate. It’s located in Minneapolis, which is great for students who prefer city life. The school would probably be ranked higher if it had standout departments or majors. It also has more commuters than other Big Ten schools.

University of Iowa

  • Location: Iowa City, IA
  • U.S. News ranking: #83
  • Acceptance rate: 86%
  • Middle 50% SAT range: 1,140-1,330
  • Middle 50% ACT range: 22-29
  • Graduation rate: 73%

Iowa offers an amazing campus experience in a thriving college town. The students are known to be happy and friendly. At Kinnick Stadium, the fans wave at the patients at the nearby Stead Family Children’s Hospital during the 4th quarter of every game. Iowa attracts a lot of students from the Chicago suburbs who love the college town vibe and the fact that it’s not solely focused on engineering. Its writing programs are prestigious, but it has a lower graduation rate.

Michigan State University

  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • U.S. News ranking: #83
  • Acceptance rate: 83%
  • Middle 50% SAT range: 1,110-1,310
  • Middle 50% ACT range: 23-29
  • Graduation rate: 81%

There’s a joke in Ann Arbor about Michigan and Michigan State grads. However, MSU is an excellent institution with an over 80% graduation rate. Many of its students go on to top med schools, law schools, and graduate programs. MSU is slightly ranked below Iowa because it lacks a major or department with the national prestige of Iowa’s writing program.

University of Nebraska—Lincoln

  • Location: Lincoln, NE
  • U.S. News ranking: #136
  • Acceptance rate: 88%
  • Middle 50% SAT range: 1,100-1,310
  • Middle 50% ACT range: 22-28
  • Graduation rate: 67%

When Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011, some feared it would lower the conference’s academic profile. True, Nebraska’s stats are lower compared to other schools in the conference. Its graduation rate is only 67%, and it’s ranked beyond the top 100 in U.S. News. However, Nebraska is making progress, and you can receive a high-quality education there. Just look at Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest people and a UNL degree-holder.


The Big Ten conference is set to strengthen its reputation as a powerhouse in both sports and academics with the forthcoming addition of UCLA and USC. Our distinctive academic rankings provide valuable insights into the exceptional educational opportunities offered by each university within the conference. From Northwestern’s prestigious academic standing to Michigan’s renowned engineering and computer science departments, the Big Ten schools showcase a diverse array of strengths. As these institutions continue to attract students seeking top-notch education and vibrant campus experiences, the conference’s position in the world of higher education is bound to flourish. Excelling both athletically and academically, the Big Ten universities exemplify their unwavering commitment to shaping a brighter and more prosperous future for generations to come.

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