The U.S. News Short List, separate from our overall rankings, is a regular series that magnifies individual data points in hopes of providing students and parents a way to find which undergraduate or graduate programs excel or have room to grow in specific areas. Be sure to explore The Short List: College, The Short List: Grad School and The Short List: Online Programs to find data that matter to you in your college or grad school search.
Applicants to the nation’s most selective colleges face a formidable challenge. These college hopefuls must distinguish themselves among thousands of other bright, high-achieving students, so even sterling academic credentials may not be sufficient for them to get into their dream schools.
But students who are anxious about their admissions prospects may find it reassuring to know that a majority of colleges are not exclusive schools. In fact, at more than 1,000 of the 1,268 ranked undergraduate institutions that provided fall 2017 acceptance rate statistics to U.S. News in an annual survey, a majority of applicants were admitted. The average acceptance rate among all ranked schools that participated in the U.S. News Best Colleges survey was 66 percent.
However, there is no sugarcoating the fact that getting into top colleges can be incredibly difficult. At each of the 13 schools with the lowest acceptance rates in fall 2017, fewer than 1 in 10 applicants were admitted. The average acceptance rate among these highly selective schools was only 7 percent.
Two institutions on the list are National Liberal Arts Colleges, schools that emphasize undergraduate education and award at least half of their degrees in liberal arts disciplines. The remaining schools are National Universities, research-focused institutions that offer a variety of undergraduate majors plus an array of master’s and doctoral degrees.
Among these 13 schools, eight are located on the East Coast, three on the West Coast and two in the Midwest.
Admissions experts say that applicants should understand that highly competitive schools scrutinize every portion of the college application, including not only test scores and grades but also admissions essays and recommendation letters. Experts also suggest that applicants with lofty ambitions consider applying to both highly ranked universities and liberal arts colleges, since the chances of getting into any particular school of this caliber is very small.
Below is a list of the 13 colleges where it was most difficult to gain acceptance in fall 2017. Unranked schools, which did not meet certain criteria required by U.S. News to be numerically ranked, were not considered for this report.
|School (state)||Fall 2017 acceptance rate||U.S. News rank and category|
|Harvard University (MA)||5%||2, National Universities|
|Stanford University (CA)||5%||7, National Universities|
|Columbia University (NY)||6%||3 (tie), National Universities|
|Princeton University (NJ)||6%||1, National Universities|
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology||7%||3 (tie), National Universities|
|Yale University (CT)||7%||3 (tie), National Universities|
|California Institute of Technology||8%||12 (tie), National Universities|
|Pomona College (CA)||8%||5 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|United States Naval Academy (MD)||8%||22 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Brown University (RI)||9%||14 (tie), National Universities|
|Northwestern University (IL)||9%||10 (tie), National Universities|
|University of Chicago||9%||3 (tie), National Universities|
|University of Pennsylvania||9%||8 (tie), National Universities|
Don’t see your school in the top 13? Access the U.S. News College Compass to find acceptance rates, complete rankings and much more. Sign up for the U.S. News Extra Help: College Admissions free email newsletter to receive expert advice twice a month.
U.S. News surveyed more than 1,800 colleges and universities for our 2018 survey of undergraduate programs. Schools self-reported myriad data regarding their academic programs and the makeup of their student body, among other areas, making U.S. News’ data the most accurate and detailed collection of college facts and figures of its kind. While U.S. News uses much of this survey data to rank schools for our annual Best Colleges rankings, the data can also be useful when examined on a smaller scale. U.S. News will now produce lists of data, separate from the overall rankings, meant to provide students and parents a means to find which schools excel, or have room to grow, in specific areas that are important to them. While the data come from the schools themselves, these lists are not related to, and have no influence over, U.S. News’ rankings of Best Colleges, Best Graduate Schools or Best Online Programs. The acceptance rate data above are correct as of Nov. 27, 2018.
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