Last week, we introduced a new summer series of school profiles by touching on the top 10 college towns with the absolute best food, and to kick off the profile series, today we’ll take a look at number 2 on that list: Ann Arbor, MI. Based solely on its delicious dumplings and milkshakes, The University of Michigan could be the school for you…but wait, there’s more! Academics, sports, campus life, alumni network – there’s plenty to like about Michigan, so we asked our Director of Academic Programs, Brian Galvin, a few questions about his undergraduate university.
What is one thing you should see on campus?
There’s plenty to see around campus – everyone knows that the football stadium is the country’s largest; parents, especially, rave about the academic beauty of the Law Quad; the steps of the Michigan Union at the corner of State Street and South University are where John F. Kennedy launched the Peace Corps; just around the corner is the famous “the Cube” structure you pretty much have to spin – but the true heart of the University of Michigan is the center of campus itself: the M in the center of the Diag. On weekdays during the school year this is the busiest spot in town, with thousands of students crossing through from one class to another and many more simply passing the time between classes by throwing footballs and Frisbees, reading on the grass, hosting innovative fundraisers and attention-grabbers for charities and campus groups, and milling around with fellow Wolverines. But be careful – legend has it that if you step on the M before your first blue-book exam you’ll fail it…or maybe that’s just what upperclassmen say so that everyone can spot the freshmen walking their way around it.
Regardless, the M in the middle of the Diag is the geographic and spiritual center of campus, home to the famed student protests in the Sixties and hundreds of celebrations for sporting wins, last days of school, graduations, and other triumphs. From the Diag you’ll be halfway between the commercial districts of State Street and South University so that you can hit bookstores and restaurants – it’s not a bad idea to stop by one of the Stucchi’s ice cream shops on either State or South U to grab a cone for your walk through campus (and if it’s your birthday, it’s free) – and you’re within steps of several buildings where you’ll probably have classes as a freshman and two of the university’s biggest libraries. Even if you’re just passing through, take a second to sit on one of the benches or on the steps of the grad library and soak in the scene.
What made you choose this school?
Like many Wolverines, I’d be lying if I said that the football team wasn’t at least a factor. As a kid I was fascinated by the helmets, the Big House, the wins over Ohio State and Notre Dame, the Rose Bowls… But that just piqued my interest – as it turns out Michigan is a world-class school that also happens to have a terrific athletic history (don’t forget the basketball team’s recent trip to the Final Four or the fact that super Olympian Michael Phelps attended and trained at Michigan). Michigan is considered one of the “Public Ivies”, an Ivy League quality education at a drastically reduced cost for in-state students. Michigan has been at the forefront of technology: the Apollo 15 mission to the moon had a crew among whom all members attended Michigan (what other school has a local alumni chapter “UM Club of the Moon”?; Michigan was a pioneer in computer programming in the 1970s and hasn’t stopped, leading one of its graduates (Larry Page) to found Google; Michigan’s solar car team routinely leads the way in international competitions, and its recent Life Sciences Initiative along with the UM Hospital system has it on the cutting edge of biological and medical research.
So Michigan is an elite school, but it’s also a laid-back place. Its campus is routinely profiled by magazines and TV shows as one of the best in the country; it has clubs and activities for just about any kind of interest. It’s big and prestigious enough to attract students from all around the world, but with an active sports, extracurricular, and Greek Life scene it becomes small enough to find your niche and make lifelong friends. And you’ll keep those friends and contacts – Michigan has the world’s largest alumni association, meaning that your degree and experience will stay with you long after you’ve left Ann Arbor. Michigan has something for everyone.
With all of that, plus that I was an in-state student and tuition was pretty affordable, Michigan made a lot of practical sense. But I finally picked Michigan more by heart than by head. Michigan just felt right – to me a college campus needed diagonal sidewalks covered with colored leaves in the fall; a big football game to look forward to each Saturday during the first semester and huge basketball games on Tuesday nights in the winter; the opportunity to study anything and everything under some of the world’s greatest minds (my first semester I had an “Intro to Genetics” class taught by one of the directors of the ongoing Human Genome Project); and a sense of pride and camaraderie around campus. A lot of great schools made sense, but Michigan was the place I was excited to attend.
So really, it comes down to this: Why did I choose Michigan? I got in. At that point the decision was done.
What is your favorite place to eat off campus?
It’s nearly impossible to pick just one – Ann Arbor gets profiled on the Food Network all the time. Especially if your parents are buying lunch, you should probably check out Zingermans, the world-famous deli about eight blocks west of campus. But right next to campus, Maize & Blue Deli is eerily similar and with more of a student feel (it’s right there at South University and Washtenaw near the major sorority/fraternity row). For dinner, again if your parents are picking up the tab there are a ton of great restaurants up and down Main Street (Gratzi, Palio, Real Seafood Company, Prickly Pear), or you can stay right on campus at Good Time Charley’s or Pizza House. And for late night food, campus thrives on BTB (which used to be called Big Ten Burrito but got too popular and raised the ire of the Big Ten Conference, which really shouldn’t have too much to say about naming things since depending on when you read this it either has 12 or 14 teams, but whatever).
But the piece de resistance – get to the corner of State & Packard and pick up a chocolate and peanut butter milkshake at Pizza Bob’s. It’s like drinking heaven through a straw.
What else should a visiting student know about your school?
Michigan’s campus and the city of Ann Arbor are fairly intertwined. Whereas many campuses are bounded by straight north, south, east, and west borders, Michigan’s campus is a little more jigsawed to cut in and out of Ann Arbor. On your first visit it may be hard to tell when you’re on or off campus, but you’ll see the first time it snows: University of Michigan property is always immaculately snowplowed while the off-campus areas take their time a little bit clearing things up. But, regardless, that’s part of Ann Arbor’s charm – the university is the city and the city is a big part of the university.
Because of this, on a visit campus might seem bigger than it really is; once you’ve been a student, though, it’s relatively small. Unless you’re hopping a bus between Central and North Campuses you’ll almost never have any trouble getting from one class to the next in ten minutes, and since so much of “off-campus” is cut into parts of “on-campus” even when you’re walking home from parties (tell your parents “study sessions”) you’re usually taking a short, well-lit (and well-snow-plowed) walk through campus for a good chunk of it. Michigan becomes small quickly and it becomes home quickly. So as you’re walking around campus this summer and see dozens of people who look a little old to be prospective students, know this – they’re alumni who just can’t help but keep coming back to Ann Arbor whenever they get a chance.