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What Is a Reach School? What Is a Match School? What Is a Safety School? An inner court by Culvery Hall on the campus of the University of Chicago. The area is a quiet area of the campus where traditional architecture prevails. Bruce Leighty / Getty Images By Allen Grove College Admissions Expert Ph.D., English, University of Pennsylvania M.A., English, University of Pennsylvania B.S., Materials Science & Engineering and Literature, MIT Dr. Allen Grove is an Alfred University English professor and a college admissions expert with 20 years of experience helping students transition to college. our editorial process Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Allen Grove Updated July 10, 2019 Here you'll find the most selective colleges and universities in the U.S. ordered by acceptance rate percentage, from lowest to highest. These schools accept a lower percentage of applicants than any others. As you read the list, consider these issues: The list does not include colleges that are essentially free (although many have a service requirement). Nevertheless, College of the Ozarks, Berea, West Point, Cooper Union (no longer free, but still highly discounted), Coast Guard Academy, USAFA, and Annapolis all have extremely low acceptance rates.The list does not include extremely small places like Deep Springs College, Webb Institute, and Olin CollegeThe list does not include schools with a performance- or portfolio-based admissions process such as The Julliard School and the Curtis Institute of Music (but realize some of these schools are even more selective than Harvard).Selectivity alone doesn't explain how hard it is to get into a school. Some schools not on this list have students with higher average GPAs and test scores than some schools on the list. 01 of 23 Harvard University undefined All of the Ivy League schools are highly selective, but Harvard is not just the most selective of the Ivies, but it typically ranks as the most selective university in the United States. As both U.S. and international applications surge, the acceptance rate has steadily declined over the years. Acceptance Rate: 5% (2016 data)Location: Cambridge, MassachusettsEnrollment: 29,908 (9,915 undergraduates)School Type: Private comprehensive university (Ivy League)Explore the Campus: Harvard University Photo TourExplore the Yard: Harvard Yard Photo TourHarvard admissions profileHarvard GPA, SAT and ACT graph 02 of 23 Stanford University Huang Engineering Center at Stanford University. Marisa Benjamin Stanford reveals that selectivity isn't limited to elite East Coast schools. In 2015, the school accepted a lower percentage of students than Harvard, and with the most recent data, it ties the prestigious Ivy League school. Acceptance Rate: 5% (2016 data)Location: Stanford, CaliforniaEnrollment: 17,184 (7,034 undergraduates)School Type: Private comprehensive universityExplore the Campus: Stanford University Photo TourStanford admissions profileStanford GPA, SAT and ACT graph 03 of 23 Yale University Yale University. Photo Credit: Allen Grove Four of the five most selective universities in the country are Ivy League schools, and Yale falls just shy of beating out Stanford and Harvard. Like most of the schools on this list, the acceptance rate has been steadily declining in the 21st century. Over 25% of applicants get a perfect score on the SAT math or SAT critical reading exams. Acceptance Rate: 6% (2016 data)Location: New Haven, ConnecticutEnrollment: 12,458 (5,472 undergraduates)School Type: Private comprehensive university (Ivy League)Yale admissions profileYale GPA, SAT and ACT graph 04 of 23 Princeton University Princeton University Chapel. Lee Lilly / Flickr Princeton and Yale give Harvard some stiff competition for the most selective of the Ivy League schools. You're going to need the full package to get into Princeton: "A" grades in challenging courses, impressive extracurricular activities, glowing letters of recommendation, and high SAT or ACT scores. Even with those credentials, admission is no guarantee. Acceptance Rate: 7% (2016 data)Location: Princeton, New JerseyEnrollment: 8,181 (5,400 undergraduates)School Type: Private comprehensive university (Ivy League)Explore the Campus: Princeton University Photo TourPrinceton admissions profilePrinceton GPA, SAT and ACT graph 05 of 23 Columbia University Low Library at Columbia University. Allen Grove Columbia's selectivity has been climbing faster than many of the other Ivies, and it isn't rare for the school to find itself tied with Princeton. The urban location in Manhattan's Upper West Side is a big draw for many students (for students who don't love the city, be sure to check out Dartmouth and Cornell). Acceptance Rate: 7% (2016 data)Location: New York, New YorkEnrollment: 29,372 (8,124 undergraduates)School Type: Private comprehensive university (Ivy League)Columbia admissions profileColumbia GPA, SAT and ACT graph 06 of 23 MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) The Rogers Building at MIT. Photo Credit: Katie Doyle Some rankings place MIT as the #1 university in the world, so it should be no surprise that it is extremely selective. Among schools with a technological focus, only MIT and Caltech made this list. Applicants will need to be particularly strong in math and the sciences, but all pieces of the application need to shine. Acceptance Rate: 8% (2016 data)Location: Cambridge, MassachusettsEnrollment: 11,376 (4,524 undergraduates)School Type: Private university with engineering focusExplore the Campus: MIT Photo TourMIT admissions profileMIT GPA, SAT and ACT graph 07 of 23 University of Chicago University of Chicago. Luiz Gadelha Jr. / Flickr Highly selective colleges are by no means restricted to the East and West Coasts. The University of Chicago's single-digit acceptance rate makes it the most selective university in the Midwest. It's not an Ivy League school, but the admissions standards are comparable. Successful applicants will need to shine on all fronts. Acceptance Rate: 8% (2016 data)Location: Chicago, IllinoisEnrollment: 15,775 (6,001 undergraduates)School Type: Private comprehensive universityUniversity of Chicago admissions profileUniversity of Chicago GPA, SAT and ACT graph 08 of 23 Caltech (California Institute of Technology) Beckman Institute at Caltech. smerikal / Flickr Located three thousand miles from MIT, Caltech is equally selective and equally prestigious. With under a thousand undergraduates and an amazing 3 to 1 student to faculty ratio, Caltech can deliver a transformative educational experience. Acceptance Rate: 8% (2016 data)Location: Pasadena, CaliforniaEnrollment: 2,240 (979 undergraduates)School Type: Small private university with engineering focusCaltech admissions profileCaltech GPA, SAT and ACT graph 09 of 23 Brown University Brown University. Photo Credit: Allen Grove Like all the Ivies, Brown has gotten more and more selective in recent years, and successful applicants will need an impressive academic record along with true accomplishments on the extracurricular front. The school's campus sits next to one of the country's most selective art schools: The Rhode Island School of Art and Design (RISD). Acceptance Rate: 9% (2016 data)Location: Providence, Rhode IslandEnrollment: 9,781 (6,926 undergraduates)School Type: Private comprehensive university (Ivy League)Brown admissions profileBrown GPA, SAT and ACT graph 10 of 23 Pomona College Pomona College. The Consortium / Flickr Pomona College ranks as the most selective liberal arts college on this list. The school has begun edging out Williams and Amherst in some national rankings of the country's top liberal arts colleges, and it's membership in the consortium of Claremont Colleges provides numerous benefits for students. Acceptance Rate: 9% (2016 data)Location: Claremont, CaliforniaEnrollment: 1,563 (all undergraduate)School Type: Private liberal arts collegePomona admissions profilePomona GPA, SAT and ACT graph 11 of 23 University of Pennsylvania University of Pennsylvania. neverbutterfly / Flickr While Penn's acceptance rate may be a bit higher than several of the other Ivies, the admissions standards are no less intense. The school may have an undergraduate student body that is twice the size of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, but you're still going to need "A" grades in challenging courses, high standardized test scores, and impressive involvement outside of the classroom. Acceptance Rate: 9% (2016 data)Location: Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaEnrollment: 24,960 (11,716 undergraduates)School Type: Private comprehensive university (Ivy League)Penn admissions profilePenn GPA, SAT and ACT graph 12 of 23 Claremont McKenna College The Kravis Center at Claremont McKenna College. Victoire Chalupy / Wikimedia Commons The Claremont Colleges are impressive: four members made this list, and Scripps is one of the top women's colleges in the country. If you're looking for a top-notch small liberal arts college that shares facilities with other top colleges, Claremont McKenna College is an excellent choice. Acceptance Rate: 9% (2016 data)Location: Claremont, CaliforniaEnrollment: 1,347 (all undergraduate)School Type: Private liberal arts collegeClaremont McKenna admissions profileClaremont McKenna GPA, SAT and ACT graph 13 of 23 Dartmouth College Dartmouth Hall at Dartmouth College. Allen Grove The smallest of the Ivy League schools, Dartmouth will appeal to students who want a more intimate college experience in a quintessential college town. Don't let the "college" in the name fool you--Dartmouth is very much a comprehensive university. Acceptance Rate: 11% (2016 data)Location: Hanover, New HampshireEnrollment: 6,409 (4,310 undergraduates)School Type: Private comprehensive university (Ivy League)Explore the Campus: Dartmouth College Photo TourDartmouth admissions profileDartmouth GPA, SAT and ACT graph 14 of 23 Duke University Duke University. Photo Credit: Allen Grove While not a member of the Ivy League, Duke proves that a stellar research university does not need to be in the cold Northeast. You'll need to be a strong student to get in--most admitted students have solid "A" averages and standardized test scores in the top percentile or two. Acceptance Rate: 11% (2016 data)Location: Durham, North CarolinaEnrollment: 15,735 (6,609 undergraduates)School Type: Private comprehensive universityDuke admissions profileDuke GPA, SAT and ACT graph 15 of 23 Vanderbilt University Tolman Hall at Vanderbilt University. Photo Credit: Amy Jacobson Vanderbilt, like all schools on this list, has rather daunting admissions standards. The school's attractive campus, stellar academic programs, and southern charm are all part of its appeal. Acceptance Rate: 11% (2016 data)Location: Nashville, TennesseeEnrollment: 12,587 (6,871 undergraduates)School Type: Private comprehensive universityExplore the Campus: Vanderbilt University Photo TourVanderbilt admissions profileVanderbilt GPA, SAT and ACT graph 16 of 23 Northwestern University Northwestern University. Photo Credit: Amy Jacobson Located just to the north of Chicago, Northwestern University's selectivity and national ranking has climbed steadily over the past couple of decades. While slightly (very slightly) less selective than the University of Chicago, Northwestern is definitely one of the most prestigious universities in the Midwest. Acceptance Rate: 11% (2016 data)Location: Evanston, IllinoisEnrollment: 21,823 (8,791 undergraduates)School Type: Private comprehensive universityNorthwestern admissions profileNorthwestern GPA, SAT and ACT graph 17 of 23 Swarthmore College Parrish Hall at Swarthmore College. Eric Behrens / Flickr Of all of Pennsylvania's many excellent liberal arts colleges (Lafayette, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, Gettysburg...), Swarthmore College is the most selective. Students are drawn to the beautiful campus as well as the combination of a somewhat isolated location that nevertheless has easy access to downtown Philadelphia. Acceptance Rate: 13% (2016 data)Location: Swarthmore, PennsylvaniaEnrollment: 1,543 (all undergraduate)School Type: Private liberal arts collegeSwarthmore admissions profile 18 of 23 Harvey Mudd College Entrance to Harvey Mudd College. Imagine / Wikimedia Commons Unlike MIT and Caltech, Harvey Mudd College is a top-rate technological school with a focus entirely on undergraduates. It is the smallest school on this list, but students have access to the classes and facilities of the other Claremont Colleges. Acceptance Rate: 13% (2016 data)Location: Claremont, CaliforniaEnrollment: 842 (all undergraduate)School Type: Private undergraduate engineering schoolHarvey Mudd College admissions profileHarvey Mudd GPA, SAT and ACT graph 19 of 23 Johns Hopkins University Johns Hopkins University. callison-burch / FLickr Johns Hopkins has a lot to offer: an attractive urban campus, impressive academic programs (especially in biological/medical sciences and international relations), and a central location on the Eastern Seaboard. Acceptance Rate: 13% (2016 data)Location: Baltimore, MarylandEnrollment: 23,917 (6,042 undergraduates)School Type: Private comprehensive universityJohns Hopkins University admissions profileJohns Hopkins GPA, SAT and ACT graph 20 of 23 Pitzer College East and West Residence Halls at Pitzer College. Lauriealosh / Wikimedia Commons Yet another of the Claremont Colleges to make our list of most selective colleges, Pitzer College offers a curriculum that will appeal to socially-minded applicants with its emphasis on intercultural understanding, social justice, and environmental sensitivity. Acceptance Rate: 14% (2016 data)Location: Claremont, CaliforniaEnrollment: 1,062 (all undergraduate)School Type: Private liberal arts collegePitzer College admissions profilePitzer GPA, SAT and ACT graph 21 of 23 Amherst College Amherst College. Photo Credit: Allen Grove Along with Williams and Pomona, Amherst frequently finds itself at the very top of national rankings of liberal arts colleges. Students have the advantage of an intimate academic environment as well as the opportunities afforded by being part of the Five College Consortium. Acceptance Rate: 14% (2016 data)Location: Amherst, Massachusetts (five-college area)Enrollment: 1,849 (all undergraduate)School Type: Private liberal arts collegeAmherst admissions profileAmherst GPA, SAT and ACT graph 22 of 23 Cornell University Upsilon Andromedae / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 Cornell may be the least selective of the eight Ivy League schools, but it is arguably the strongest for fields such as engineering and hotel management. It is also attractive to students who want to be in touch with nature: the huge campus overlooks Lake Cayuga in New York's beautiful Finger Lakes Region. Acceptance Rate: 14% (2016 data)Location: Ithaca, New YorkEnrollment: 22,319 (14,566 undergraduates)School Type: Private comprehensive university (Ivy League)Cornell University admissions profileCornell University GPA, SAT and ACT graph 23 of 23 Tufts University Ballou Hall at Tufts University. Photo Credit: Marisa Benjamin Tufts University made this list for the first time this year, for the university continues to get more and more selective. The campus sits just north of Boston with ready subway access to both the city and two other schools on this list--Harvard University and MIT. Acceptance Rate: 14% (2016 data)Location: Medford, MassachusettsEnrollment: 11,489 (5,508 undergraduates)School Type: Private comprehensive university Tufts University admissions profileTufts University GPA, SAT and ACT graph Cite this Article Format mla apa chicago Your Citation Grove, Allen. "Most Selective Colleges and Universities in the U.S." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/most-selective-colleges-universities-usa-788292. Grove, Allen. (2020, August 27). Most Selective Colleges and Universities in the U.S. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/most-selective-colleges-universities-usa-788292 Grove, Allen. 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