I visited UMich and the second I got there I realized it wasn't for me, I didn't want to go there. Which was wonderful because now I'll never have any lingering doubts. I think you should go if you can. I knew immediately at every school I visited whether or not I would want to go there.
Why wasn't it for you? Let's hear your impressions!
It's hard to capture in words and explain, but I'll do my best. Please note though that it wasn't that it wasn't great as a city/town or whatever, it's just that it wasn't for me. I'm not insulting Ann Arbor or U of M!
It was what I consider a stereotypical liberal bordering on crunchy college town, a pretty, old main street area with studenty and hippie-friendly sandwich shops, political activist posters put up on all the phone poles, very studenty and friendly, which, in general, is great! And outlying strip mall areas beyond the pretty main street. All of these are not bad at all - please no one yell at me - except that - this was EXACTLY how my undergrad town was. Which was (okay, I'll out myself) Amherst. Ann Arbor reminded me exactly of Amherst and, while I absolutely loved undergrad and am liberal myself, I, personally, can't do 3 more years of that. I just got a sense that Ann Arbor and U of M were not where I wanted to be. 7 years of an almost identical environment was just too much for me. I personally would probably have chosen NU over U of M. As hypocritical as that sounds given my post above about choosing UVa over NU. Charlottesville didn't give me the same impression as Ann Arbor and Amherst. In some intangible way. Maybe it's incredibly superficial of me, I don't know. That's why I really, REALLY think you should visit because you may very well know the second you step foot into town or onto campus whether or not it's for you. If it is - go there! U of M is just slightly better than NU so if you think you can be happy there, go. If it's not for you - then go to NU with no lingering doubts or qualms. A visit is important because it will probably eliminate regret either way, which is a big deal. You want to start whichever school knowing it's the best place for you without any twinges of "I should have gone to ___".
EDIT: In summary - I don't think this is a decision you can make on paper. I think you should choose UMich if you like it and Ann Arbor enough to go there, even if you don't like it *as* much as Chicago (which you probably won't). Otherwise, choose NU.
i'll out myself too. my ugrad town was northampton!
western A** represent!
i liked ann arbor because it reminded me of my college town, but with a lot more going on. i survived there for three years, i can definitely handle ann arbor. that might make it sound like "i know i'm going to a crappy town and can suffer there for three years", but its more like "i know i won't have a lot of money and i want to be in a place where there is stuff to do but not too much stuff".
burgh, it sounds like you really want to go to nu. i think gut feelings tell you a lot.