Applying for college is a major undertaking, with no guarantee of acceptance. It can truly be a nerve-wracking process, especially if you’re applying to one of the top 15 hardest colleges to get into.

Colleges with Low Acceptance Rates

It’s widely believed that schools that are more selective, i.e. have lower acceptance rates, will offer a better education and a more prestigious degree. However, that’s not necessarily true. Most schools have a limit on the number of applicants they can accept. As the number of applicants to these schools grows each year, the acceptance rates tend to decline, feeding into the cycle of making these colleges appear even more selective. There are many schools with high acceptance rates that also offer a quality education, in some cases at a more affordable price, so it’s important to look at all parts of a school before deciding to apply. As with all major decisions, do your research. Determine if the schools you’re interested in offer the types of programs that will help you reach your career goals. Find out what credits you might be able to get for life or military experience.  Confirm that the tuition is within your means or establish what financial aid options are available to you. We reviewed education data across thousands of degree-granting institutions using the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) to determine the most selective colleges in the U.S. We indexed both acceptance rates and SAT test scores of admitted students to measure the difficulty of being accepted. The tuition listed is for full time, first time undergraduates paying the out of state rate.

Our List of Top 15 Hardest Colleges to get into

  1. Harvard
  2. Stanford
  3. The Julliard School
  4. The Colburn Conservatory of Music
  5. Princeton University
  6. Columbia University in the City of New York
  7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  8. Yale University
  9. United States Naval Academy
  10. California Institute of Technology
  11. Pomona College
  12. Brown University
  13. University of Pennsylvania
  14. Northwestern University
  15. University of Chicago
The list of top 15 hardest colleges to get into naturally includes Ivy League universities that receive tens of thousands of applications and only accept a fraction of them. We were curious what other schools might show up if we expanded the list to include schools with acceptance rates below 30%. Look at the full list below, you may be surprised to find that some lesser known schools are almost as selective as the Ivies.

See All 100!

Institution NameLocationTuitionAcceptance RateRetention RateGraduation Rate
Harvard UniversityCambridge, MA$44,990.005%98%86%
Stanford UniversityStanford, CA$48,987.005%98%75%
Princeton UniversityPrinceton, NJ$47,140.006%98%90%
The Juilliard SchoolNew York, NY$43,170.006%93%88%
The Colburn Conservatory of MusicLos Angeles, CA$46,350.006%92%Not Reported
Yale UniversityNew Haven, CT$51,400.007%99%88%
Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridge, MA$49,580.007%99%82%
Columbia University in the City of New YorkNew York, NY$48,989.007%97%89%
Pomona CollegePomona, CA$50,720.008%98%91%
California Institute of TechnologyPasadena, CA$48,111.008%98%84%
Brown UniversityProvidence, RI$52,231.008%98%83%
United States Naval AcademyAnnapolis, MD$0.008%95%86%
University of ChicagoChicago, IL$53,292.009%99%86%
University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphia, PA$47,416.009%98%87%
Northwestern UniversityEvanston, IL$52,239.009%98%82%
Duke UniversityDurham, NC$51,720.0010%97%86%
Claremont McKenna CollegeClaremont, CA$52,580.0010%97%77%
Dartmouth CollegeHanover, NH$51,468.0010%96%86%
United States Military AcademyWest Point, NY$0.0010%96%80%
Swarthmore CollegeSwarthmore, PA$50,424.0011%98%87%
Vanderbilt UniversityNashville, TN$46,500.0011%97%87%
United States Air Force AcademyUSAF Academy, CO$0.0012%94%77%
Franklin W Olin College of EngineeringNeedham, MA$48,600.0013%99%76%
Amherst CollegeAmherst, MA$53,430.0013%97%88%
Johns Hopkins UniversityBaltimore, MD$52,170.0013%97%87%
Cornell UniversityIthaca, NY$52,612.0013%97%86%
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and ArtNew York, NY$43,250.0013%96%64%
College of the OzarksPoint Lookout, MO$18,700.0013%74%63%
Chamberlain University-GeorgiaAtlanta, GA$18,900.0014%100%Not Reported
Bowdoin CollegeBrunswick, ME$51,344.0014%96%86%
Williams CollegeWilliamstown, MA$53,240.0015%98%88%
Harvey Mudd CollegeClaremont, CA$54,347.0015%98%86%
Tufts UniversityMedford, MA$53,152.0015%96%88%
Barnard CollegeNew York, NY$50,882.0015%95%85%
United States Coast Guard AcademyNew London, CT$0.0015%94%84%
Colorado CollegeColorado Springs, CO$52,380.0015%94%82%
Washington University in St LouisSaint Louis, MO$50,650.0016%97%86%
Rice UniversityHouston, TX$44,900.0016%97%80%
University of California-Los AngelesLos Angeles, CA$39,516.0016%97%74%
Georgetown UniversityWashington, DC$51,720.0016%96%90%
University of Southern CaliforniaLos Angeles, CA$53,448.0016%96%77%
Wesleyan UniversityMiddletown, CT$52,174.0016%95%92%
Pitzer CollegeClaremont, CA$51,964.0016%95%83%
Colby CollegeWaterville, ME$50,890.0016%94%91%
University of California-BerkeleyBerkeley, CA$39,516.0017%97%73%
Middlebury CollegeMiddlebury, VT$52,080.0017%96%87%
University of Notre DameNotre Dame, IN$50,988.0019%98%91%
St Joseph’s College of NursingSyracuse, NY$18,360.0020%100%Not Reported
Haverford CollegeHaverford, PA$52,278.0020%97%85%
Davidson CollegeDavidson, NC$49,454.0020%95%90%
Grace Mission UniversityFullerton, CA$2,640.0020%80%Not Reported
Belanger School of NursingSchenectady, NY$10,094.0020%0%Not Reported
Phillips School of Nursing at Mount Sinai Beth IsraelNew York, NY$27,566.0020%0%Not Reported
Carleton CollegeNorthfield, MN$52,476.0021%96%91%
Tulane University of LouisianaNew Orleans, LA$48,920.0021%93%72%
American Musical and Dramatic AcademyNew York, NY$37,070.0021%72%53%
Central Christian College of the BibleMoberly, MO$7,500.0021%58%15%
Washington and Lee UniversityLexington, VA$49,170.0022%97%88%
Carnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburgh, PA$52,732.0022%96%72%
Wellesley CollegeWellesley, MA$50,840.0022%95%86%
Bates CollegeLewiston, ME$52,042.0022%95%83%
Emory UniversityAtlanta, GA$48,690.0022%93%83%
New Mexico Institute of Mining and TechnologySocorro, NM$19,941.0022%74%
Georgia Institute of Technology-Main CampusAtlanta, GA$30,604.0023%97%40%
Thomas UniversityThomasville, GA$15,940.0023%54%15%
Carolinas College of Health SciencesCharlotte, NC$12,938.0024%100%Not Reported
Hamilton CollegeClinton, NY$52,250.0024%96%87%
Vassar CollegePoughkeepsie, NY$54,410.0024%96%86%
Babson CollegeBabson Park, MA$49,664.0024%96%83%
University of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel Hill, NC$32,602.0024%96%81%
California Institute of the ArtsValencia, CA$46,830.0024%90%51%
Saint Louis Christian CollegeFlorissant, MO$11,180.0024%21%31%
Virginia International UniversityFairfax, VA$9,408.0024%11%Not Reported
Lehigh UniversityBethlehem, PA$50,320.0025%96%74%
Skidmore CollegeSaratoga Springs, NY$51,456.0025%93%83%
Boston UniversityBoston, MA$50,980.0025%93%80%
Southern University at New OrleansNew Orleans, LA$13,384.0025%52%2%
Chamberlain University-CaliforniaRancho Cordova, CA$18,900.0025%0%Not Reported
Alice Lloyd CollegePippa Passes, KY$9,600.0026%81%16%
Northeastern UniversityBoston, MA$48,560.0027%97%Not Reported
University of Michigan-Ann ArborAnn Arbor, MI$48,814.0027%97%75%
University of Virginia-Main CampusCharlottesville, VA$44,230.0027%96%87%
Theatre of ArtsHollywood, CA$19,800.0027%86%Not Reported
Reading Hospital School of Health SciencesReading, PA$10,178.0027%81%Not Reported
Oak Hills Christian CollegeBemidji, MN$17,034.0027%62%29%
Florida Memorial UniversityMiami Gardens, FL$12,576.0027%56%13%
St Luke’s CollegeSioux City, IA$18,900.0027%0%Not Reported
Colgate UniversityHamilton, NY$53,650.0028%94%86%
Wake Forest UniversityWinston-Salem, NC$50,524.0028%94%82%
New York UniversityNew York, NY$47,942.0028%93%81%
California State University-Long BeachLong Beach, CA$17,622.0028%88%16%
Columbia International UniversityColumbia, SC$21,720.0028%73%47%
Kettering CollegeKettering, OH$12,408.0028%72%32%
Hope International UniversityFullerton, CA$30,700.0028%72%23%
Southwestern Assemblies of God UniversityWaxahachie, TX$19,700.0028%72%22%
University of West AlabamaLivingston, AL$15,228.0028%66%12%
Emory University-Oxford CollegeOxford, GA$46,058.0029%97%Not Reported
Grinnell CollegeGrinnell, IA$50,014.0029%96%79%
American UniversityWashington, DC$45,808.0029%90%76%
CUNY Bernard M Baruch CollegeNew York, NY$13,920.0029%90%42%
Ohio Valley UniversityVienna, WV$21,100.0029%62%16%
Johnson & Wales University-OnlineProvidence, RI$13,365.0029%33%Not Reported

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