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How to stand out

Is it hard to get into Michigan Engineering? Here’s what we look for.

Michigan Engineering has a competitive admissions process, and our undergraduates worked hard to get here. But it’s not just about test scores. We look at applications holistically, considering academics, extracurriculars, community engagement and more. If you’re looking for guidance on what high school activities make for a strong college application, or how to navigate the application process, we have advice and resources to help.

Hi, my name is Mike Oelke, assistant director of admissions at Michigan Engineering. I get asked the question all the time, “Is it hard to get into Michigan Engineering?” Well, I’ll level with you. It has a lot to do with your strengths and your interests.

We talk a lot about people-first engineering. So if you’re interested in math and science and also interested in helping people–engineering for the common good–you might be a good applicant. Most years we’ll admit around 20% of the students who apply. That equates to over 3000 acceptance letters, and you only need one acceptance letter. 

So let’s talk about the top seven tips that you can use to get that acceptance letter to Michigan Engineering.

Tip number one: take challenging classes and get good grades.

While this might seem obvious, it’s actually the most important thing you can do. We’re going to consider the rigor that was offered to you at your high school. Maybe you have AP classes, international baccalaureate classes, honors classes, dual enrollment classes available to you. Maybe you have none of those available to you. The first thing we want to understand is what did you have the opportunity to take relative to the rigor of the curriculum that was offered to you? Please try to take as challenging coursework as you can, and if it’s offered to you, try to take chemistry, calculus and physics at some level before you graduate.

Tip number two: do the things you like to do and stick with them. 

Often there’s a myth that students think they have to be in a specific club or a specific sport to get into college. In fact, even for Michigan Engineering, you don’t have to have engineering experience. We’re going to do a lot of education on the engineering side once you get here. So get engaged in the things that you really enjoy doing. For some of you, that might be a club or a sport. Maybe there’s a hobby that you’re really invested in. Maybe you have a part time job. Maybe you have family responsibilities in the evenings and you can’t do anything else. The quality that we’re looking for is leadership, and you can exhibit leadership and all of the things that I just mentioned. So do the things you like to do and stick with them long term.

Tip number three: get a letter of recommendation from the person who knows you the best.

Often students will think I have to get a letter of recommendation from a math teacher or a science teacher. That’s actually not the case. The person who can best describe your aptitude and your candidacy for applying to an engineering program is the person who knows you best. So maybe it’s a history teacher. Maybe it’s an English teacher. Maybe it’s someone in your community like a boss or a religious leader that you’re close to. That’s fine too. Get that letter of recommendation from somebody who can describe who you are as a human being. 

Tip number four: answer the essay prompts and use your own voice. 

From my side of the desk, when we read your essays, we’re trying to understand who is the human being behind all of these numbers.  So use your voice, be an actual person, and describe the things that you’re interested in on this essay. For example, there’s one essay that asks, “Why are you interested in coming to Michigan Engineering?” Answer that question specifically. Why this place and why you? So try not to write an essay that sounds like “why I want to go to college” and also try not to write an essay that sounds like the Wikipedia page for the University of Michigan. Try to think to yourself, I want to study aerospace engineering, and the University of Michigan is the best place for me to study aerospace engineering because…you fill in the blank with whatever your answer might be.

Tip number five: send in your materials well before the deadline. 

When you apply, you’ll use either the common application or the coalition application, and you might apply by the early action deadline or the regular decision deadline. Regardless, think about the things you can control and the things you can’t control. For example, you can control when you press the submit button on your application. You can’t control when your teacher writes a letter of recommendation and sends it to us. You can’t control the speed by which your transcript arrives in our office. So submit all of those things early. Ask for a letter of recommendation early and rest assured that everything’s going to get here well before the deadline.

Tip number six: give us the full picture and be honest.

On your application, there are actually two different free response boxes where you can fill in any gaps that you might have in your application. Maybe you had a dip in grades in your sophomore year, but there’s some reason that you want to tell us about that that might have taken place. Maybe there’s just something else we need to know about that’s relevant to your experience. Real human beings read your application and we want to get your full story. So be honest.

And the final tip, tip number seven: submit your application. 

A lot of students will research our admissions statistics, look up some stats and say, I’m not good enough. This isn’t me. I can’t do it. There’s actually only one way to guarantee that you won’t get an acceptance letter from us, and that’s to not submit an application at all. So through your application, through your essays, your letters of recommendation, your extracurricular activities and everything else, put your best self forward. Be confident in who that person is and submit the application. 

And that’s it. I hope this list helps you navigate the admission process. By the way, if you have any questions about the admission process, the admissions office is the best place to ask them. Reach out to us anytime. We’d be happy to help. Good luck with your application and go blue.

Academics

You’ve probably thought, “Wait, the average GPA / ACT / SAT is what?” Don’t worry. Take a deep breath, read on, and keep these words in mind when you start stressing about how hard it is to get top test scores.

  • Challenge yourself in the courses you like most. It’s no surprise that successful college applicants tend to choose tough classes and get good grades. Try to challenge yourself by bumping up the rigor in your favorite subjects. We know that not every high school offers the same coursework, and that’s ok. Try hard to do well in a challenging curriculum, whatever that may mean in your educational environment.
  • Take at least one course in Chemistry, Calculus, and Physics before you graduate. These concepts are foundational to your experience as an engineer. Prior exposure to Chemistry, Calculus, and Physics will show us that you’re ready to hit the ground running once you get here. You might even get college credit if you take them at the AP, IB, or Dual Enrollment level. If these courses are not taught at your high school, no problem. We will never penalize you for not taking a class that wasn’t available to you.

Extracurriculars

It’s important to balance your schoolwork with activities that showcase your passions and leadership ability.

  • Engage in something creative. Participate in any activity that allows you to express your imagination. Stretch your skills by trying your hand at painting, the writing club or constructing sets for your school play. Or showcase your skills by pursuing robotics or the Science Olympiad.
  • Extracurriculars aren’t like Pokémon; you don’t have to collect them all! Instead, focus on one or two that you’re really passionate about and participate as deeply as possible. The point is to do something that engages you, not amass a resume you think will be super impressive to admissions.
  • Leadership is everywhere; show us yours. One of the top qualities you can display on your college application is leadership. Not sure if you’re a leader? Think again. Apply to be your group’s president, treasurer or secretary. Or start your own student organization. Tell us about your part time job, or a hobby you’re deeply invested in. Are you the head of household when your parents work nights? That’s leadership too. Leadership can exist in all the things you do outside of the classroom. Make sure not to sell yourself short as you fill out your application.
  • Attend summer programs. Summer is the perfect time to branch out and explore the world around you. You can get a feel for potential research and study abroad opportunities that Michigan Engineering offers with summer programs offered by the university, or find your own opportunity.

Community engagement

Every bit of work you do in your community, however small, impacts the world and makes a difference for the better. Showcase your commitment to making that difference.

  • Get involved. Take advantage of local opportunities to create, grow and improve the world around you. Participate in any sort of community service, whether it’s a large organization or simply volunteering time at your local youth center. And if you see a need that hasn’t been filled yet, take action!
  • Branch out. If you have one cause that you’re extremely passionate about and in for the long haul, that’s fantastic. But if you divide your time between different programs, that’s great too. Helping more people is always encouraged!

Be a Michigan engineer

When you’re ready, start your application process.

Don’t forget we’re here to help.