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High school students with impressive GPAs and standardized test scores should be aware that those academic credentials may not be sufficient to get them into every college where they apply. That’s especially true at colleges where stratospheric grades and test scores are the norm and competition among many highly qualified applicants is fierce.
At some colleges, it’s extraordinarily difficult to get in. Stanford University in California is once again the most selective undergraduate institution, according to data submitted to U.S. News in an annual survey by 1,394 ranked colleges.
Stanford admitted only 4% of applicants for the fall 2019 freshman class, and students who enrolled in that class typically had impeccable academic credentials. The median SAT score among incoming Stanford students who submitted results was 1510 out of 1600, and the median ACT score among those who submitted results was 34 out of 36. These students also had great grades: 98% of those who submitted their high school class standing placed in the top 10% of their class.
Stanford isn’t the only school that rejects most of its applicants. The 11 colleges with the lowest acceptance rates, including ties, each admitted less than 8% of applicants.
Five of these schools are in the Ivy League, a network of East Coast colleges that is famous for its selectivity and often regarded as a gateway into the upper crust of society. Moreover, many of the non-Ivy schools on this list are academic powerhouses in their own right.
Nine of the 11 colleges with the lowest acceptance rates are National Universities, which are schools that are often research-focused and offer a variety of college majors and a wide range of master’s and doctoral programs. One is a National Liberal Arts College, a type of school that emphasizes undergraduate education and grants at least half of its degrees in liberal arts fields, and the other is a Regional College, an undergraduate-focused school that grants less than half of its degrees in liberal arts disciplines.
Three of these schools are based in California, while two are located in Massachusetts. Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island are each home to one school on this list.
Despite the low acceptance rates, it’s important to note that these schools are outliers, since most colleges admit a majority of applicants. The average acceptance rate among all ranked colleges that reported their admissions statistics to U.S. News was 68%, and 22 schools reported that they accepted 100% of applicants.
Students applying to the nation’s most selective colleges should not only demonstrate exceptional academic ability but also showcase their personality in college essays and display their initiative and leadership skills through extracurricular activities, experts say. They note that a student’s personal hobbies and projects are worthy of mention in a college application, as is any form of employment, since those details tend to humanize an applicant and can illustrate his or her uniqueness.
Below is a list of the 11 colleges that admitted the lowest proportion of their fall 2019 applicants. 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 2019 acceptance rate||U.S. News rank and category|
|Stanford University (CA)||4%||6 (tie), National Universities|
|Harvard University (MA)||5%||2, National Universities|
|Columbia University (NY)||5%||3, National Universities|
|California Institute of Technology||6%||9 (tie), National Universities|
|Yale University (CT)||6%||4 (tie), National Universities|
|Princeton University (NJ)||6%||1, National Universities|
|University of Chicago||6%||6 (tie), National Universities|
|Brown University (RI)||7%||14 (tie), National Universities|
|Alice Lloyd College (KY)||7%||26 (tie), Regional Colleges (South)|
|Pomona College (CA)||7%||4 (tie), National Liberal Arts Colleges|
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology||7%||4 (tie), National Universities|
Don’t see your school in the top 10? 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 2020 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 comes 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 admissions data above is correct as of Nov. 10, 2020.
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