The 10 Hardest Colleges To Get Into

Hardest Colleges To Get Into - featured image

Deciding where to pursue higher education is exciting for everyone, especially if they’re balling for a prestigious university. However, colleges in densely populated countries like the US have more competition in bagging a spot for college admission. 

Some institutions are highly selective, admitting only a small percentage of applicants. Nevertheless, prospective students still compete for these universities as it provides numerous advantages. Students who can gain admission to selective colleges benefit from a well-connected alumni network as well as the potential for higher earnings and the opportunity to earn a world-class education.

Quick Summarization:
Getting into college is becoming more and more competitive due to the increasing number of students pursuing higher education. This is especially true for the hardest colleges to get into. Many students in high school study hard to have the highest standardized test scores possible to gain admission to a big university. While good grades and test scores can improve your chances, they may not be enough to gain admission to the most competitive colleges.

Are Ivy League Schools The Only Schools That Are Hard to Get Into?

Students frequently assume that Ivy League schools are the only hardest schools to get into. While Ivy schools are the most difficult, other private schools like Caltech and MIT have comparably low admission rates. They may not be members of the Ivy League, but they provide comparable research opportunities and degree programs.

20 Hardest Colleges To Get Into

Harvard University

Harvard University

Acceptance rate: 5%
SAT Score Range: 1520-1590
ACT Score Range: 32-35

The hardest school to get into on the list, Harvard University is a prestigious private institution located in Cambridge, MA., known for its academic excellence and extremely low acceptance rate. Harvard recently ranked second among America’s National Universities. In-state and out-of-state tuition is $52,941 per year at full price. Before you decide not to apply because of financial concerns, keep in mind that roughly 75 percent of Harvard undergraduates receive some financial assistance, resulting in a net price of $17,590 per year.

Harvard ranked first in biology, chemistry, humanities, economics, and public health. If you dream of pursuing any of these fields, Harvard will be an excellent choice. Furthermore, this university is ranked first in Massachusetts for best student-athletes.

Princeton University

Princeton University

Acceptance Rate: 5.6%
SAT Score Range: 1505-1570
ACT Score Range: 31-35

Princeton University, ranking #1 in Nation Universities in the US, is the world’s most elite university, with an acceptance rate of only 5.6%. Tuition costs $52,857 per year, however since more than 60 percent of Princeton students receive grants or scholarship aid, the net price of tuition is $16,192/year per year.

If you want to study public affairs or political science and have what it takes to get in, Princeton is an excellent option because it is ranked second in the country in both of these fields. 

Yale University

Yale University

Acceptance rate: 6%
SAT Score Range: 1515-1580
ACT Score Range: 32-35

Yale University is a prestigious university, ranking fifth overall in the United States. It is located on a beautiful campus in New Haven, Connecticut, and only has a 6% acceptance rate, down from its 6.9% acceptance rate for the previous year. The university tuition is $52,725 per year at the sticker price. Having said that, more than 65 percent of its students receive financial aid and pay a net price of $18,748 per year.

Yale’s history, global studies, and anthropology programs are all ranked first in the country. Furthermore, Yale University was ranked first in Connecticut among top private universities.

California Institute of Technology

California Institute of Technology

Acceptance Rate: 6.7%
SAT Score Range: 1545–1570
ACT Score Range:  34-35

California Institute of Technology is a private university in Pasadena, California. It is a highly regarded institution with an acceptance rate of only 6.7%, currently ranked ninth in the United States. Full-time tuition for California students is $49,743 per year; non-California students must pay $54,980. 63 percent of Caltech undergraduates receive financial aid and pay a net price of $26,361 per year.

Caltech pays close attention to any involvement in math or science extracurriculars. As a world-renowned science and engineering institute, Caltech seeks students who naturally use math and science in various aspects of their lives. If you want to get a degree in physics or chemistry and have what it takes, Caltech is an excellent choice because it ranks second nationally in both of these fields.

Columbia University


Acceptance rate: 6.7%
SAT Score Range: 1410-1570
ACT Score Range: 31-34

Columbia University is a prestigious university located in New York, NY, ranking second in the United States. The sticker price for the tuition of New York residents is $62,401. Non-New York residents must pay $56,458 per year. Roughly three out of every five Columbia University undergrads receive some form of scholarship or grant funding and pay a net price of $21,220 per year.

Popular majors in the university are foreign languages and philosophy. If you plan to pursue any of these majors, Columbia University is a perfect choice because it is ranked first in the country in both of these disciplines.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Acceptance Rate: 7%
SAT Score Range: 1535–1570
ACT Score Range: 32-35

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as we all know, is a prestigious university known for its academic excellence in engineering. MIT recently ranked second among National universities in the United States. It is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has a remarkably low acceptance rate. Tuition without financial aid is $54,423. Before you decide not to apply because of the cost, keep in mind that approximately 75 percent of MIT students have financial assistance. The majority of students who receive scholarship aid pay a net price of $18,971 per year.

If you have high marks and want to pursue a degree in engineering, administrative and clerical, computer science, or physics, MIT is an excellent option because it ranks first in the country in these fields.

University of Chicago

University of Chicago

Acceptance rate: 7.3%
SAT Score Range: 1520-1580
ACT Score Range: 32-35

The University of Chicago is a private university in Chicago, Illinois, ranked sixth in the nation and has an extremely low acceptance rate. Tuition costs $52,653 per year for university students who pay full freight. Slightly more than 65 percent of students receive some form of scholarship or grant funding. Those who receive financial aid pay a net price of $33,003/year.

Its programs in math, economics, and public affairs are all ranked third in the country, and its programs in anthropology, chemistry, computer science, and economics are all ranked first in Illinois. It is also ranked second in Illinois for top colleges for international students.

Brown University

Brown University

Acceptance rate: 8%
SAT Score Range: 1485-1570
ACT Score Range: 31-35

Brown University is a prestigious university, ranking eighth in the country. Full-time tuition for in-state university students is $52,692 per year. Outside of Rhode Island, students must spend $58,239 per year. Slightly more than 60 percent of Brown students receive financial aid and pay a net price of $27,238 per year.

If you’re interested in pursuing English and Literature, consider Brown University. It recently ranked #1 in Niche.

United States Naval Academy

United States Naval Academy

Acceptance rate: 8%
SAT Score Range: 1370-1560
ACT Score Range: 32-35

United States Naval Academy is a public liberal arts college located in Annapolis, MD, ranking 1st top public school in the nation. If you want to get a degree in protective services and have top marks, the Naval Academy is an excellent school because its protective services program is ranked number two in the country.

While the academy is one of the hardest colleges to get into, there’s no net price of the tuition fee since it does not charge tuition. The Navy covers the entire cost of tuition, room and board, and medical and dental care for Naval Academy midshipmen. This means that ALL students who attend the academy receive a full scholarship for five years of active duty service after graduation.

Dartmouth College

Dartmouth College

Acceptance rate: 9%
SAT Score Range: 1500-1560
ACT Score Range: 30-34

Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, is a highly regarded private college ranked 13th in the United States. In-state tuition is $50,821 per year for students who pay full freight, but out-of-state applicants pay tuition of $56,170. More than half of Dartmouth undergraduates receive financial aid, allowing them to pay a net price of $23,394 per year.

If you want to major in global studies and have what it takes to get in, Dartmouth is an excellent school choice because its international relations program is ranked seventh-best in the United States. Dartmouth is also ranked first in New Hampshire for the most liberal colleges and colleges with the best Greek life.


Certain colleges and universities are worth mentioning for their stringent admission requirements! Our honorable mentions are Washington University in St Louis, Johns Hopkins University, Williams College, Georgetown University, Vanderbilt University, the University of Notre Dame, Claremont McKenna College, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Tips to Increase Your Chances at Selective Schools

The hardest colleges to get into in the country have a plethora of applicants to choose from. Luckily, you can do something to make your admission profile stand out from other applicants and get you that acceptance letter you’ve been working on for so long. Here are some pointers to help you improve your chances of getting into the college of your choice.

Ensure that Your Academics Are up to Par

While academic factors are essential in admissions decisions at selective colleges, many top schools use the Academic Index (AI) to evaluate and admit students. This is the concept of reducing your grades and scores to a single number.

The concept of AI may appear stiff and unfair, but it only makes students work harder on their standardized tests and aim for the highest GPA before applying to a school. Lots of small liberal arts schools adopt this system as well.

Develop An Outstanding Extracurricular Portfolio

Academics aren’t the only thing that matters regarding the college admissions process. Many of the students who apply to Harvard are valedictorians and salutatorians with outstanding test scores and impressive extracurricular talents. 

Top schools look beyond grades to extracurricular factors to find the most desirable applicants.

While having extracurricular talents outside of the classroom is undeniably important to a certain school or college, it is a mistake to believe that all extracurricular activities are created equal. Certain extracurricular activities are given more weight than others.

Tier 1

Tier 1 activities demonstrate a high level of excellence that is difficult and uncommon to achieve, appealing to a big school or university. Attending a prestigious summer program or becoming a nationally ranked athlete are examples of these accomplishments.

Tier 2

Tier 2 achievements are slightly more common but still highly regarded at a university. Tier 2 extracurriculars can be obtained by becoming, for example, the study body president, the state’s top tennis player, or a top musician in an all-state orchestra.

Tier 3

Tier 3 extracurricular activities that a school acknowledges include:

  • performing in the school musical,
  • being class treasurer, or
  • becoming your team’s Most Valuable Player.

Tier 4

Tier 4 activities are hobbies that students engage in. These activities, however, are less likely to catch the attention of the university. However, these activities are still valuable because they help students showcase their interests and hobbies outside of the classroom.

Write Engaging Essays

Admissions committees use personal essays to get to know their applicants and learn what is important to them. Even a small liberal arts school encourages its students to write one. Strong personal essays tell a compelling story about the applicant’s life.

A school usually uses personal essays to evaluate aspects of a student that cannot be quantified. Instead of simply listing your grades or accomplishments, use your essay to discuss an experience that shaped you into today’s person.

Myth: Selectivity Means Quality In Big or Small Liberal Arts School

Over the years, the myth that a university with a low acceptance rate equates to higher quality education has gained traction. This is because some of the more well-known colleges have lower acceptance rates.

All prospective students should know the truth behind this myth.

The more prestigious colleges have lower acceptance rates because the number of students who apply to their programs far outnumbers the number of seats available. Even if the school admission process is highly selective and requires high grades and test scores from outstanding students, it is essential to remember that just because that is what it takes to get in, it does not always indicate what you will get out of the school or the experience there.

Hardest Colleges To Get Into - fact

Frequently Asked Questions

Are the terms “admission rate” and “acceptance rate” interchangeable?

Yes, admission rate and acceptance rate are synonymous. The percentage of applicants accepted into a specific school, college, or university in a given year is referred to by both terms.

What constitutes a “good” acceptance rate?

There is no such thing as a good or bad acceptance rate. In general, the best colleges with low acceptance rates (less than 10%) have high standards, are more selective, or have thousands of students applying for a small number of available spots.

Do SAT scores and ACT scores have to be in by the deadline?

Most students plan to submit their total SAT score and ACT score to a school or university early in December. Some of the hardest colleges to get into, however, will accept ACT and SAT scores after their application deadlines (in the January-March time frame), but this is a case-by-case basis; always seek permission first.

Key Takeaways

While there are colleges with a 100% acceptance rate, other schools don’t even accept at least 10% of their applicants. If you’re thinking about including a school on your college application list, you’ll want your SAT score and GPA to be as high as possible. 

As mentioned, the hardest colleges to get into are:

  • Harvard University
  • Princeton University
  • Yale University
  • California Institute of Technology
  • Columbia University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • University of Chicago 
  • Brown University
  • United States Naval Academy
  • Dartmouth College

You might’ve noticed that schools with the lowest acceptance rate are among the oldest in the country. Each school’s reputation has massively grown through decades as a result of notable alumni and faculty members, large endowments, and academic excellence.

Most of these schools grant admitted students financial aid that lowers their tuition to a net price that’s at least half of the total cost. 

Malcolm Peralty
Chief Editor