The 30 Hardest Colleges In The U.S. To Get Into

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Submitting college applications can be one of the most exciting times in one’s life. The possibility of getting into your dream school is right in front of you, and all the work you’ve done to achieve your goals is finally going to pay off.  However, the process of college admissions gets more intense every year. Students across the world are competing for the top spots at some of the most prestigious universities in the country. Some schools have such low admissions rates, it’s amazing that anyone gets in! Read on to discover the 30 hardest colleges to get into in the United States based on their respective acceptance rates.

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30. University of Notre Dame

Notre Dame, Indiana, is the location of this private, Catholic research university that was founded by Edward Sorin in 1842. Their undergraduate program, which is divided into seven schools, is one of the best in the nation.  Students here can choose from the School of Architecture (famous for the annual Driehaus Architecture Prize), the College of Arts and Letters, the College of Science, the College of Engineering, the Mendoza College of Business, the Notre Dame Law School, and the Keough School of Global Affairs. Getting into this school isn’t easy–their acceptance rate is currently about 16%.

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29. Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon, which was founded in 1900, is a private research university located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The name came from the merging of two institutions: The Carnegie Institute of Technology, and the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research.  Carnegie Mellon has seven colleges: the College of Fine Arts, the College of Engineering, the School of Computer Science, the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy, the Tepper School of Business, the Mellon College of Science, and the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Their acceptance rate is currently at about 15%.

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28. Tufts University

Tufts University was founded in 1852 on the border of Somerville and Medford in Massachusetts. In 2021, Tufts earned the honor of becoming a member of the Association of American Universities. This group is extremely selective, and only the top-tier research universities in North America are accepted.  With over 90 undergraduate and 160 graduate programs to choose from, you can build an entire career from the knowledge you gain at Tufts. As such, their acceptance rate sits at about 15%, just like Carnegie Mellon’s.

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27. Georgetown University

This private, Jesuit research university lies in the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C., and was established in 1789. Around 7,500 undergraduate students from at least 135 countries attend Georgetown University each year, and the competition to get in is intense.  Alumni of Georgetown include 32 Marshall Scholars, 33 Truman Scholars, 27 Rhodes Scholars, two U.S. presidents, and two U.S. supreme court justices. It’s no wonder that their acceptance rate sits at an intimidating 14%. If you can get into Georgetown and become a Bulldog, you’ll be surrounded by very hardworking and disciplined company.

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26. Williams College

In 1793, Williams College was established. The leaders of the school had a goal of turning their private, liberal arts college into something of a “Western counterpart” to the prestigious schools closer to the east, like Harvard and Yale. At that time, “Western” was how they described Northwestern Massachusetts, where this school is located.  Williams College also has a relatively small student body–only about 2,100 undergraduate students are accepted annually these days. Their acceptance rate is about 14%.

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25. Washington University in St. Louis

Remember the prestigious Association of American Universities? This school is also a member of that exclusive club. WashU was established in 1853 in St. Louis, Missouri, and named after George Washington. The “in St. Louis” part was helpfully added in 1976 so that there would no longer be confusion over the school’s location.  The acceptance rate for Washington University in St. Louis, much like the previous few schools, is around 14%. You’ll see what a steep drop-off can happen between these schools’ acceptance rates in just a couple of slides.

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24. Harvey Mudd College

Harvey Mudd College is also located in Claremont, California, as it is part of the Claremont Colleges. Its acceptance rate for students sits at about 14%. That’s pretty difficult! Graduates of this college tend to get very high-paying jobs, so their selective admissions process must be pretty effective!  The students currently enrolled at this college averaged SAT scores of about 1490-1560. Unsurprisingly, Harvey Mudd is known for having an intense culture surrounding academics. If you want to go here, get ready to study all night–the true college experience!


23. Amherst College

How beautiful is the foliage surrounding Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts? This private, liberal arts college was founded in 1821 by Zephaniah Swift Moore. It holds the honor of being the third-oldest institution for higher education in the state of Massachusetts.  This is a small school of only about 2,000 students, and they exclusively offer undergraduate degrees. There are 38 programs of study to choose from, and students are not required to study a specific curriculum or meet any requirements. With this kind of flexibility, it’s no wonder so many students want to go there. That’s part of the reason their acceptance rate is about 11%.

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22. Cornell University

Ithaca, New York, is the location of Cornell University, which was founded in 1865 by Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White. Cornell is far larger than the previous school on this list in terms of the student body. About 15,100 undergraduate students were enrolled at Cornell as of 2019.  Cornell has over 60 Nobel laureates, 30 Rhodes Scholars, and 55 Olympic Medalists in their alumni network. How cool is that? No matter what your dreams are, there is likely a program of study at Cornell that will fit what you’re looking for, if you can get in–their admissions rate is 11%.

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21. Johns Hopkins University

The average SAT scores of students at Johns Hopkins University right now range from 1480-1550. Located in Baltimore, Maryland, their acceptance rate is only 11%. Yikes! This private research university makes sure that every student there is ready to do big things with their education.  In 2019, 98% of the students who were admitted into this university were in the top 10% of their high school class, and their mean unweighted GPA was 3.92. Their latest undergraduate tuition fees come out to about $55,350.

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20. Claremont McKenna College

Claremont College is one of the youngest schools on this list, but it has quickly become one of the most prestigious schools in the nation. The college was originally founded in 1946 as a men’s college, and it became coeducational in 1976.  Claremont McKenna was the third school to join the Claremont group of colleges, right after Pomona and Scripps. The Claremont University Consortium is now made up of seven colleges. Claremont McKenna’s recent undergraduate class had about 1,400 students, and their acceptance rate is a staggering 10%.

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19. Bowdoin College

Have you ever heard of Bowdoin College? It is a small, private school located in Brunswick, Maine, that was established in 1794. The most recent undergraduate classes capped off at around 1,800 students. Their mascot is a polar bear, in honor of Robert Peary, an alumni who led the first successful trip to the North Pole in 1913.  This college lets students choose from 34 majors and 36 minors. It’s certainly not easy to get into this school, though. For 226 years, the school has sought out new students with the brightest minds. Their acceptance rate today is about 9%. Yikes!

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18. Swarthmore College

Have you heard of Swarthmore College? It is a private liberal arts school that was founded in 1864. There were only about 1,647 undergraduates as of the latest estimate, and just about 207 folks on the academic staff. As you can imagine, the admissions process here is very selective!  With five Nobel Prize winners, 11 MacArthur Foundation Fellows, 30 Rhodes Scholars, 10 Marshall Scholars, 27 Truman Scholars, and 201 Fulbright Grant recipients in their alumni network, Swarthmore is looking for some seriously smart students. Their acceptance rate, just like Bowdoin College, is 9%.

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17. Northwestern University

Northwestern University was established in 1851. They offer both undergraduate and graduate studies, and courses taught by some of the most distinguished professors in the country. Students here can attend school for law, medicine, music, engineering, communication, management, and so much more.  With its main campus on the shores of Lake Michigan in Evanston, Illinois, the location of Northwestern can’t be beaten. Many a Nobel Prize laureate can recall their time at Northwestern (22, to be exact), as well as dozens of Pulitzer Prize winners and about 16 Olympic medalists. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that their acceptance rate is also a mere 9%.

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16. Vanderbilt University

This well-known school is located in Nashville, Tennessee. It as founded in 1873, and it was named in honor of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the extremely wealthy shipping and rail mogul. It was Cornelius Vanderbilt who gave the school its first endowment, which was $1 million. That’s over $27 million in today’s money!  Fifty-four United States Congress members of past and present call this university their alma mater. The same goes for two vice presidents and two Supreme Court Justices. They open their doors to far more students than schools like Swarthmore–their most recent class of undergraduates was made up of a little more than 7,000 students. However, the competition is fierce. Vanderbilt, too, has an acceptance rate of 9%.

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15. Rice University

Rice University in Houston, Texas, is a private research university that was established in 1912. The student body is just a couple thousand strong, and there is a 6:1 student-faculty ratio. Of course, this means their board of admissions is very selective.  Only about 8.7% of applicants are accepted to Rice University each year. Tuition for the 2020-2021 school year will be about $65,607. The school’s initial mission was to be academically rigorous, and free. That was pretty cool for the first students who didn’t have to pay tuition, but about half of the student body failed out after the first semester in 1912. Thankfully, the school has figured out how to find a happy medium where students work hard, but teachers aren’t failing half of the class.

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14. Dartmouth College

The beautifully landscaped Dartmouth College is the ninth oldest institution of higher learning in the United States of America. This private Ivy League school offers 57 interdisciplinary majors to undergraduates in social sciences, natural sciences, engineering, humanities, and much more.  Dartmouth is located in Hanover, New Hampshire. It was founded by Eleazer Wheelock, an American Congregational minister, in 1769. Only about 8% of the applicants to this prestigious school are accepted, making it one of the most difficult schools to get into.

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13. University of Pennsylvania

This Ivy League university is located in Philadelphia, and as such, it’s full of history. The first student union building in the country can still be seen here–it’s called Houston Hall, and it was established in 1896. It is also home to the first double-decker college football stadium.  Notable alumni of the University of Pennsylvania include over 30 U.S. senators, over 45 governors, and over 160 members of the House of Representatives. Eight of the people who signed the Declaration of Independence also went to this school. These days, their acceptance rate is about 8%.

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12. Duke University

Durham, North Carolina is the home of Duke University, which was established in 1838. This school spends more money on academic research than most schools in the nation, and it seems their funds have been well spent. Alumni of this school have gone on to become Nobel laureates and Rhodes Scholars.  Duke is also great for the local community, as it is the second-largest private employer in North Carolina. Over 39,000 people work there! As for people going to school there, though, the admissions process is far more selective. Only about 8% of applicants get in.

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11. Pomona College

Pomona College is a private liberal arts college, and the founding member of the Claremont Colleges consortium. Only about 1,400 undergraduates were part of the most recent class, and they have access to 48 majors and about 650 classes.  Alumni of this college have won Emmys, Tonys, Oscars, Grammys, Pulitzer Prizes, Nobel Prizes, and Olympic medals. It’s one of the most difficult schools in the country to get into, and with such small class sizes, the admissions process is even more competitive. Their acceptance rate is 7%.

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10. Brown University

Brown University is a private Ivy League school located in Providence, Rhode Island. It is one of the oldest universities in the United States. It was chartered before the American Revolution began. It’s only gotten more prestigious over the 256 years it’s been around!  Brown University is notable for having the oldest engineering program in the Ivy League. Eight Nobel Prize winners have also been affiliated with this school. It is becoming increasingly competitive to get into this school; their acceptance rate is about 7%!

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9. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is well known as MIT, was established in 1861. It was originally founded as a response to the increasing industrialization that the country was going through at the time. To counterbalance this trend, the founders’ goal was to design MIT after the European polytechnic university model.  MIT is a member of the Association of American Universities, and they have some exceptionally notable alumni. These include the founders of companies like Intel, McDonnell Douglas, Texas Instruments, Bose, Raytheon, Koch Industries, Rockwell International, Campbell Soup, and Dropbox. Their acceptance rate is about 7%.

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8. University of Chicago

Head to the Hyde Park neighborhood of Illinois to see the University of Chicago in all its glory. Researchers and scholars from this very school have made some of the most important developments in economics, literary criticism, physics, sociology, and law that the country has ever seen.  One hundred Nobel laureates have been affiliated with this university, which is more than most schools in the world can say. About 7,100 students were enrolled in the latest undergraduate class, and everyone who got in had to prove themselves worthy. Their acceptance rate is only 6%!

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7. Princeton University

Princeton was originally founded in 1746 under the name The College of New Jersey. It was one of the first colleges in the United States, one of only nine colonial schools that were chartered before the American Revolution. It was renamed “Princeton” in 1896.  This Ivy League university accepted about 8,500 undergraduate students into its most recent class. As for students of the past, they include two U.S. presidents, 215 Rhodes Scholars, and five Abel Prize winners, just to name a few. Their acceptance rate is 6%.


6. Yale University

This private, Ivy League research university is the third-oldest institution of higher learning in the nation. It was named for the largest benefactor who helped usher the school into being in the first century that it was around. Their most recent class of undergraduates had around 12,100 students.  Located in downtown New Haven, Connecticut, Yale is the alma mater of 31 living billionaires. If that doesn’t make you want to go there, I don’t know what will! You’ll have to get in first, though. Their acceptance rate is about 6%–it’s difficult, but not impossible!

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5. California Institute of Technology

The California Institute of Technology–which is also known as Caltech–was founded on September 23, 1891. One hundred twenty-nine years later, they have become one of the most sought-after schools in the world, especially for students interested in science and engineering.  Located in Pasadena, CA, Caltech is mainly focused on applied sciences. Seventy-six Nobel laureates have been involved with the California Institute of Technology, as well as four Fields Medalists, six Turing Award Recipients, and four Chief Scientists of the U.S. Air Force. Their acceptance rate sits at about 6%.


4. Columbia University

This school’s official name is Columbia University in the City of New York. Very specific, right? I suppose they don’t want anyone thinking this school is located in the South American country of Colombia. That’s why they keep their admissions exclusive–they need their students to be able to handle such confusion!  Considering that students and researchers at this university have helped break new ground in areas like brain-computer interface, nuclear magnetic resonance, plate tectonics, and space studies, they’re looking for undergraduates who are ready to bring it. With a 5% acceptance rate, that’s exactly what they’re going to get.

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3. Harvard University

Harvard University was founded in 1636 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was named after John Harvard, who was a clergyman and the school’s very first benefactor. Harvard has the distinct honor of being the oldest institution of higher learning in the country.  Harvard is known for being an especially difficult Ivy League school to get into. Their most recent undergraduate class was made up of just under 7,000 students, who all gained admission despite the intimidating 5% acceptance rate. You go, Harvard students!

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2. Stanford University

Leland Stanford Junior University, better known simply as Stanford, is one of the most prestigious schools in the world. Founded in 1885, this private research university now has seven schools where students can learn about education, business, law, medicine, and much more.  Stanford has an amazingly impressive list of alumni, including 29 Turing Award laureates, 84 Nobel laureates, eight Fields Medalists, and 139 Olympic Gold Medalists. If you want to go here, you have to get past their 4% acceptance rate first!

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1. Minerva Schools at Keck Graduate Institute

We’re used to seeing schools on this list that were established hundreds of years ago, but this one’s a little different. Minerva Schools at Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) is a university program that was founded in 2012. KGI is a member of the Claremont University Consortium, so as you can imagine, this is not an easy group to gain admission to.  Minerva offers classes in social sciences, the arts and humanities, natural sciences, computational sciences, and business. Unsurprisingly, it’s located in San Francisco, just a short trip away from Silicon Valley. To get into this program, you have to be the best of the best. Their acceptance rate is a shocking 2%!


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