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Most Selective Colleges and Universities in the U.S.

Most Selective Colleges and Universities in the U.S.


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Here you'll find the most selective colleges and universities in the U.S. ordered by acceptance rate percentage, from lowest to highest. These schools accept a lower percentage of applicants than any others. As you read the list, consider these issues:

  • The list does not include colleges that are essentially free (although many have a service requirement). Nevertheless, College of the Ozarks, Berea, West Point, Cooper Union (no longer free, but still highly discounted), Coast Guard Academy, USAFA, and Annapolis all have extremely low acceptance rates.
  • The list does not include extremely small places like Deep Springs College, Webb Institute, and Olin College
  • The list does not include schools with a performance- or portfolio-based admissions process such as The Julliard School and the Curtis Institute of Music (but realize some of these schools are even more selective than Harvard).
  • Selectivity alone doesn't explain how hard it is to get into a school. Some schools not on this list have students with higher average GPAs and test scores than some schools on the list.
01of 23

Harvard University

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All of the Ivy League schools are highly selective, but Harvard is not just the most selective of the Ivies, but it typically ranks as the most selective university in the United States. As both U.S. and international applications surge, the acceptance rate has steadily declined over the years.

  • Acceptance Rate: 5% (2016 data)
  • Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Enrollment: 29,908 (9,915 undergraduates)
  • School Type: Private comprehensive university (Ivy League)
  • Explore the Campus: Harvard University Photo Tour
  • Explore the Yard: Harvard Yard Photo Tour
  • Harvard admissions profile
  • Harvard GPA, SAT and ACT graph
02of 23

Stanford University

Huang Engineering Center at Stanford University. Marisa Benjamin

Stanford reveals that selectivity isn't limited to elite East Coast schools. In 2015, the school accepted a lower percentage of students than Harvard, and with the most recent data, it ties the prestigious Ivy League school.

  • Acceptance Rate: 5% (2016 data)
  • Location: Stanford, California
  • Enrollment: 17,184 (7,034 undergraduates)
  • School Type: Private comprehensive university
  • Explore the Campus: Stanford University Photo Tour
  • Stanford admissions profile
  • Stanford GPA, SAT and ACT graph
03of 23

Yale University

Yale University. Photo Credit: Allen Grove

Four of the five most selective universities in the country are Ivy League schools, and Yale falls just shy of beating out Stanford and Harvard. Like most of the schools on this list, the acceptance rate has been steadily declining in the 21st century. Over 25% of applicants get a perfect score on the SAT math or SAT critical reading exams.

  • Acceptance Rate: 6% (2016 data)
  • Location: New Haven, Connecticut
  • Enrollment: 12,458 (5,472 undergraduates)
  • School Type: Private comprehensive university (Ivy League)
  • Yale admissions profile
  • Yale GPA, SAT and ACT graph
04of 23

Princeton University

Princeton University Chapel. Lee Lilly / Flickr

Princeton and Yale give Harvard some stiff competition for the most selective of the Ivy League schools. You're going to need the full package to get into Princeton: "A" grades in challenging courses, impressive extracurricular activities, glowing letters of recommendation, and high SAT or ACT scores. Even with those credentials, admission is no guarantee.

  • Acceptance Rate: 7% (2016 data)
  • Location: Princeton, New Jersey
  • Enrollment: 8,181 (5,400 undergraduates)
  • School Type: Private comprehensive university (Ivy League)
  • Explore the Campus: Princeton University Photo Tour
  • Princeton admissions profile
  • Princeton GPA, SAT and ACT graph
05of 23

Columbia University

Low Library at Columbia University. Allen Grove

Columbia's selectivity has been climbing faster than many of the other Ivies, and it isn't rare for the school to find itself tied with Princeton. The urban location in Manhattan's Upper West Side is a big draw for many students (for students who don't love the city, be sure to check out Dartmouth and Cornell).

  • Acceptance Rate: 7% (2016 data)
  • Location: New York, New York
  • Enrollment: 29,372 (8,124 undergraduates)
  • School Type: Private comprehensive university (Ivy League)
  • Columbia admissions profile
  • Columbia GPA, SAT and ACT graph
06of 23

MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

The Rogers Building at MIT. Photo Credit: Katie Doyle

Some rankings place MIT as the #1 university in the world, so it should be no surprise that it is extremely selective. Among schools with a technological focus, only MIT and Caltech made this list. Applicants will need to be particularly strong in math and the sciences, but all pieces of the application need to shine.

  • Acceptance Rate: 8% (2016 data)
  • Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Enrollment: 11,376 (4,524 undergraduates)
  • School Type: Private university with engineering focus
  • Explore the Campus: MIT Photo Tour
  • MIT admissions profile
  • MIT GPA, SAT and ACT graph
07of 23

University of Chicago

University of Chicago. Luiz Gadelha Jr. / Flickr

Highly selective colleges are by no means restricted to the East and West Coasts. The University of Chicago's single-digit acceptance rate makes it the most selective university in the Midwest. It's not an Ivy League school, but the admissions standards are comparable. Successful applicants will need to shine on all fronts.

  • Acceptance Rate: 8% (2016 data)
  • Location: Chicago, Illinois
  • Enrollment: 15,775 (6,001 undergraduates)
  • School Type: Private comprehensive university
  • University of Chicago admissions profile
  • University of Chicago GPA, SAT and ACT graph
08of 23

Caltech (California Institute of Technology)

Beckman Institute at Caltech. smerikal / Flickr

Located three thousand miles from MIT, Caltech is equally selective and equally prestigious. With under a thousand undergraduates and an amazing 3 to 1 student to faculty ratio, Caltech can deliver a transformative educational experience.

  • Acceptance Rate: 8% (2016 data)
  • Location: Pasadena, California
  • Enrollment: 2,240 (979 undergraduates)
  • School Type: Small private university with engineering focus
  • Caltech admissions profile
  • Caltech GPA, SAT and ACT graph
09of 23

Brown University

Brown University. Photo Credit: Allen Grove

Like all the Ivies, Brown has gotten more and more selective in recent years, and successful applicants will need an impressive academic record along with true accomplishments on the extracurricular front. The school's campus sits next to one of the country's most selective art schools: The Rhode Island School of Art and Design (RISD).

  • Acceptance Rate: 9% (2016 data)
  • Location: Providence, Rhode Island
  • Enrollment: 9,781 (6,926 undergraduates)
  • School Type: Private comprehensive university (Ivy League)
  • Brown admissions profile
  • Brown GPA, SAT and ACT graph
10of 23

Pomona College

Pomona College. The Consortium / Flickr

Pomona College ranks as the most selective liberal arts college on this list. The school has begun edging out Williams and Amherst in some national rankings of the country's top liberal arts colleges, and it's membership in the consortium of Claremont Colleges provides numerous benefits for students.

  • Acceptance Rate: 9% (2016 data)
  • Location: Claremont, California
  • Enrollment: 1,563 (all undergraduate)
  • School Type: Private liberal arts college
  • Pomona admissions profile
  • Pomona GPA, SAT and ACT graph
11of 23

University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania. neverbutterfly / Flickr

While Penn's acceptance rate may be a bit higher than several of the other Ivies, the admissions standards are no less intense. The school may have an undergraduate student body that is twice the size of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, but you're still going to need "A" grades in challenging courses, high standardized test scores, and impressive involvement outside of the classroom.

  • Acceptance Rate: 9% (2016 data)
  • Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Enrollment: 24,960 (11,716 undergraduates)
  • School Type: Private comprehensive university (Ivy League)
  • Penn admissions profile
  • Penn GPA, SAT and ACT graph
12of 23

Claremont McKenna College

The Kravis Center at Claremont McKenna College. Victoire Chalupy / Wikimedia Commons

The Claremont Colleges are impressive: four members made this list, and Scripps is one of the top women's colleges in the country. If you're looking for a top-notch small liberal arts college that shares facilities with other top colleges, Claremont McKenna College is an excellent choice.

  • Acceptance Rate: 9% (2016 data)
  • Location: Claremont, California
  • Enrollment: 1,347 (all undergraduate)
  • School Type: Private liberal arts college
  • Claremont McKenna admissions profile
  • Claremont McKenna GPA, SAT and ACT graph
13of 23

Dartmouth College

Dartmouth Hall at Dartmouth College. Allen Grove

The smallest of the Ivy League schools, Dartmouth will appeal to students who want a more intimate college experience in a quintessential college town. Don't let the "college" in the name fool you--Dartmouth is very much a comprehensive university.

  • Acceptance Rate: 11% (2016 data)
  • Location: Hanover, New Hampshire
  • Enrollment: 6,409 (4,310 undergraduates)
  • School Type: Private comprehensive university (Ivy League)
  • Explore the Campus: Dartmouth College Photo Tour
  • Dartmouth admissions profile
  • Dartmouth GPA, SAT and ACT graph
14of 23

Duke University

Duke University. Photo Credit: Allen Grove

While not a member of the Ivy League, Duke proves that a stellar research university does not need to be in the cold Northeast. You'll need to be a strong student to get in--most admitted students have solid "A" averages and standardized test scores in the top percentile or two.

  • Acceptance Rate: 11% (2016 data)
  • Location: Durham, North Carolina
  • Enrollment: 15,735 (6,609 undergraduates)
  • School Type: Private comprehensive university
  • Duke admissions profile
  • Duke GPA, SAT and ACT graph
15of 23

Vanderbilt University

Tolman Hall at Vanderbilt University. Photo Credit: Amy Jacobson

Vanderbilt, like all schools on this list, has rather daunting admissions standards. The school's attractive campus, stellar academic programs, and southern charm are all part of its appeal.

  • Acceptance Rate: 11% (2016 data)
  • Location: Nashville, Tennessee
  • Enrollment: 12,587 (6,871 undergraduates)
  • School Type: Private comprehensive university
  • Explore the Campus: Vanderbilt University Photo Tour
  • Vanderbilt admissions profile
  • Vanderbilt GPA, SAT and ACT graph
16of 23

Northwestern University

Northwestern University. Photo Credit: Amy Jacobson

Located just to the north of Chicago, Northwestern University's selectivity and national ranking has climbed steadily over the past couple of decades. While slightly (very slightly) less selective than the University of Chicago, Northwestern is definitely one of the most prestigious universities in the Midwest.

  • Acceptance Rate: 11% (2016 data)
  • Location: Evanston, Illinois
  • Enrollment: 21,823 (8,791 undergraduates)
  • School Type: Private comprehensive university
  • Northwestern admissions profile
  • Northwestern GPA, SAT and ACT graph
17of 23

Swarthmore College

Parrish Hall at Swarthmore College. Eric Behrens / Flickr

Of all of Pennsylvania's many excellent liberal arts colleges (Lafayette, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, Gettysburg… ), Swarthmore College is the most selective. Students are drawn to the beautiful campus as well as the combination of a somewhat isolated location that nevertheless has easy access to downtown Philadelphia.

  • Acceptance Rate: 13% (2016 data)
  • Location: Swarthmore, Pennsylvania
  • Enrollment: 1,543 (all undergraduate)
  • School Type: Private liberal arts college
  • Swarthmore admissions profile
  • Swarthmore GPA, SAT and ACT graph
18of 23

Harvey Mudd College

Entrance to Harvey Mudd College. Imagine / Wikimedia Commons

Unlike MIT and Caltech, Harvey Mudd College is a top-rate technological school with a focus entirely on undergraduates. It is the smallest school on this list, but students have access to the classes and facilities of the other Claremont Colleges.

  • Acceptance Rate: 13% (2016 data)
  • Location: Claremont, California
  • Enrollment: 842 (all undergraduate)
  • School Type: Private undergraduate engineering school
  • Harvey Mudd College admissions profile
  • Harvey Mudd GPA, SAT and ACT graph
19of 23

Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins University. callison-burch / FLickr

Johns Hopkins has a lot to offer: an attractive urban campus, impressive academic programs (especially in biological/medical sciences and international relations), and a central location on the Eastern Seaboard.

  • Acceptance Rate: 13% (2016 data)
  • Location: Baltimore, Maryland
  • Enrollment: 23,917 (6,042 undergraduates)
  • School Type: Private comprehensive university
  • Johns Hopkins University admissions profile
  • Johns Hopkins GPA, SAT and ACT graph
20of 23

Pitzer College

East and West Residence Halls at Pitzer College. Lauriealosh / Wikimedia Commons

Yet another of the Claremont Colleges to make our list of most selective colleges, Pitzer College offers a curriculum that will appeal to socially-minded applicants with its emphasis on intercultural understanding, social justice, and environmental sensitivity.

  • Acceptance Rate: 14% (2016 data)
  • Location: Claremont, California
  • Enrollment: 1,062 (all undergraduate)
  • School Type: Private liberal arts college
  • Pitzer College admissions profile
  • Pitzer GPA, SAT and ACT graph
21of 23

Amherst College

Amherst College. Photo Credit: Allen Grove

Along with Williams and Pomona, Amherst frequently finds itself at the very top of national rankings of liberal arts colleges. Students have the advantage of an intimate academic environment as well as the opportunities afforded by being part of the Five College Consortium.

  • Acceptance Rate: 14% (2016 data)
  • Location: Amherst, Massachusetts (five-college area)
  • Enrollment: 1,849 (all undergraduate)
  • School Type: Private liberal arts college
  • Amherst admissions profile
  • Amherst GPA, SAT and ACT graph
22of 23

Cornell University

Upsilon Andromedae / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Cornell may be the least selective of the eight Ivy League schools, but it is arguably the strongest for fields such as engineering and hotel management. It is also attractive to students who want to be in touch with nature: the huge campus overlooks Lake Cayuga in New York's beautiful Finger Lakes Region.

  • Acceptance Rate: 14% (2016 data)
  • Location: Ithaca, New York
  • Enrollment: 22,319 (14,566 undergraduates)
  • School Type: Private comprehensive university (Ivy League)
  • Cornell​ University admissions profile
  • Cornell University GPA, SAT and ACT graph
23of 23

Tufts University

Ballou Hall at Tufts University. Photo Credit: Marisa Benjamin

Tufts University made this list for the first time this year, for the university continues to get more and more selective. The campus sits just north of Boston with ready subway access to both the city and two other schools on this list--Harvard University and MIT.

  • Acceptance Rate: 14% (2016 data)
  • Location: Medford, Massachusetts
  • Enrollment: 11,489 (5,508 undergraduates)
  • School Type: Private comprehensive university
  • Tufts University admissions profile
  • Tufts University GPA, SAT and ACT graph



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