Acceptance rates at top-level universities are primarily determined by the quality of education and the institution’s reputation. Prestigious universities tend to be quite selective because they are well-recognized all over the world. The percentage of new admissions also drops because of the high number of applicants, which exceeds the available slots. Therefore, before you decide on which college to apply for, remember to check out its acceptance rate. Universities listed in this article are very competitive, which means you will need to score very high in all relevant tests to have the slightest chance of being considered. Most of them reject over 90% of applications; in other words, less than ten students are admitted from every group of 100 applicants. This article will discuss the universities in the USA with the lowest acceptance rate. Here we have also included brief descriptions for each institution to help you make an informed decision.

Most Competitive Schools in America

1. Stanford University, California

  • Acceptance rate – 4.7%

Stanford University admitted only 4.7% of all the applicants in 2018. This low acceptance rate makes Stanford University the most competitive university in the United States. However, in the same year, the school announced that it would not publicize its subsequent acceptance rates. The university claims that such information put them in an unnecessary ‘competition’ with other institutions. Based on the number of students accepted in the last few years, it is reasonable to believe that the 4.7% rate will not change significantly any time soon. Therefore, Stanford University remains as the most selective university in the United States.

Due to its highly competitive nature, you will need exceptional grades to be selected. In 2018, all successful applicants had an average GPA of 4.18. It indicates that Stanford University, only students who are primarily “A” average. When it comes to SAT and ACT, your scores should be within a range of 1440-1560 and 32-35, respectively. More than 60% of the applicants prefer to hand in their ACT results while the rest submit SAT scores.

2. Harvard University, Massachusetts

  • Acceptance rate – 5.2%

Harvard University is one of the most prestigious universities in the whole world. It also has a quite high graduation rate of about 97%, which means nearly every student graduates within the stipulated time. In the last admission cycle, Harvard University accepted about 5.2% of the applicants. This makes it the second most selective university in the United States, which means it is quite difficult to be admitted unless you are the highest scorer in the relevant results.

This Massachusetts-based university requires that one attains a GPA of at least 4.04. Like Stanford, Harvard also admits students who average “A” in all their high school results. Applicants can also choose between submitting their SAT and ACT results. The SAT and ACT score ranges are 100-1590 and 32-35, respectively.

3. Columbia University

  • Acceptance rate – 6.1%

Coming third in this list in Columbia University, a private research institute located in New York. It is the oldest university in the state and fifth-oldest in the whole country. It was established in 1754 as King’s College before being renamed to Columbia College thirty years later. In 1896, it gained university status and adopted the current name. Columbia University currently has a population of over 33,000 students (both graduates and undergraduates).

Its reputation and quality of services make its admission quite competitive. The institution accepts only six students from every group of 100 applicants. Therefore, you must outscore more than 94% of the applicants to stand a chance of being admitted. A GPA of around 4.14, an average SAT score of 1515, and ACT score of about 25 points will increase your chances. Columbia University is the university with the third lowest acceptance rate in USA. Note that you can submit either your SAT or ACT scores per application.

4. Yale University

  • Acceptance rate – 6.3%

Another prestigious institution is Yale University, and it accepts students from all over the world. It is one of the oldest higher education institutions (3rd oldest) in the United States. Since its establishment in 1701, it has grown to become one of the best, not only in the U.S. but also worldwide. Despite its reputation, the institution is committed to admitting students regardless of their financial status. Another amazing fact about Yale University is that most students graduate without or with minimal debt in their accounts.

In 2018 it accepted only 6.3% of all applicants, which translates to only six students in every 100 applications. On average, successful applicants usually have an average of 34 and 1550 in their ACT and SAT scores, respectively. A GPA of anywhere above 4.0 will give an upper hand during the selection phase. Therefore, it is evident that education standards are very high at Yale University.

5. Princeton University

  • Acceptance rate – 6.4%

This private research university was founded in 1746, which makes it the fourth oldest university in the United States. It was initially known as the College of New Jersey, but the name was changed to Princeton University in 1896. In the last 18 years, Princeton has been ranked as the best university in the United States by U.S News & World Report. This explains why many students aspire to be part of this dynamic community.

The 6.4% acceptance rate puts in the 5th position on our list of the most selective U.S. universities. In 2018 only 1,940 students were accepted out of a group of 35,000 applicants. Therefore, to be considered in the admission process, you will have to meet all the requirements. One of the filtering factors is the GPA, which averaged 3.91 in the previous cycle. SAT or ACT score of around 1500 or 33 respectively will also give you an upper hand.

6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

  • Acceptance rate – 7.2%

Every student knows or at least has heard, about Massachusetts Institute of Technology (famously known as MIT). It is one of the most innovative universities in the whole world and has nurtured a lot of renown scientists. Its results live up to its Motto, “Mind and Hand,” which makes it even more attractive to both local and international students. It is, however, one of the universities in the USA with the lowest acceptance rate accepting only 7.2% of the applicants.

If you want to be part of MIT, you will need to meet its academic requirements. The average GPA for successful applicants is 4.16, anything less than that will make it difficult to get past the first filter. SAT and ACT scores should average 1528 and 34 respectively, but one can submit either of them per application.

7. California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

  • Acceptance rate – 7.7%

California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is ranked among the best universities in the world. It was started in 1891 as a vocational school and preparatory before the disbandment of such schools in 1921. The institution is primarily devoted to teaching applied sciences and has six colleges with the necessary resources required for the same. Caltech also offers doctorate level programs mostly in engineering and natural science. The amazing fact is that it has the highest percentage of graduates who go on to earn their Ph.D. As such, it receives numerous applications in every admission cycle, which makes it one of the most selective institutions in the United States.

About 7.7% of those who apply to join Caltech are admitted to their preferred programs. In other words, only seven out of a group of 100 applications are likely to be successful. To increase your chances of being selected you should have a composite SAT score of around 1580. If you decide to submit your ACT results, make sure you score above 35 points. Previous successful applicants averaged a GPA of 4.1. However, meeting these requirements does not guarantee you space because there are other factors considered during the process.

8. Pomona College

  • Acceptance rate – 8.4%

Located in Claremont, Pomona College is a four-year undergrad institution offering up to 600 courses in various fields. This private liberal arts college was founded in 1887 and has since grown to become one of the most reputable colleges in the world. Each class holds an average of 15 students, which enhances the learning process. Also, the ratio of faculty members to students is 1:8 making it easier for lecturers to interact with students. Economics, Computer Science, and Mathematics are the three most popular programs offered by Pomona College, according to the 2018 statistics.

Pomona is a famous liberal arts college across the world hence its selective nature. Only 8.4% of the applicants were accepted in the last admission cycle. The small number of students in Pomona makes the acceptance rate at Ponoma even more competitive. Over the past few years, this has been an average acceptance rate of the school, making it the 8th most selective institution in our list. If you are planning on joining Pomona, you will have to meet all the admission requirements to gain the upper hand. On average, a GPA of 4.01, SAT score of 1450, and an ACT score of 32 is required. However, these are not the only factors that will determine your fate, as there are other aspects taken into consideration during the process.

9. University of Chicago

  • Acceptance rate – 8.7%

The University of Chicago was founded in 1890 and is ranked among the top 10 national and international universities. U.S. News and World Report rank it 3rd nationally while Times has placed it in the 10th position worldwide. Some of the popular programs offered at the institution include mathematics, biological sciences, and economics. It boasts of producing leaders in various professional fields such as business, politics, and social development. A number of its alumni have received Nobel prizes for the outstanding work in their respective careers.

Due to its impressive academic quality and reputation, it has since attracted students from all over the world. As such, there is very high competition in the admission process. At the moment, it admits only 8.7% of the total applicants as per the recent statistics, and therefore, making our list of universities with the lowest acceptance rate in USA. During the application, you can decide to either submit your SAT or ACT scores. Most applicants prefer submitting their ACT results, with 47% deciding otherwise. You will need SAT score between 1510 and 1590, and ACT results should be within a range of 32-35. In addition, a GPA of 4.0 will almost guarantee you a position, but it is entirely dependent on the performance of the other students.

10 . Claremont McKenna College

  • Acceptance rate – 9.0%

Claremont McKenna College, famously known as Claremont or CMC, was founded in 1946 as a men’s college. It, however, started accepting both genders in 1976 with a primary focus of offering undergraduate programs. In 2007 it commenced it’s master’s courses in Economics and Finance. Forbes ranks CMC as the 29th best institution in the United States based on academic value. Among liberal arts colleges, it comes in the 9th position according to U.S. News & World Report. Its population is currently just shy of 2,000, which explains why it is quite selective.

If you are interested in joining CMC, you will need to overcome high competition during the admission process. In 2019, the institution accepted only 9.0% of those who applied to be part of this community. As part of the application process, you will be required to either submit your SAT or ACT scores. Most applicants prefer handing in their SAT results and successful ones average 1500 points. Successful applicants who submitted their ACT results had scores ranging between 31 and 34. They also had an average GPA of 4.09, which shows the level of competition that you will face during your application process.

11. Northwestern University

  • Acceptance rate – 9.2%

Northwestern University is an international private research university with campuses within and outside the country. It was founded in 1851 and is currently regarded as one of the country’s most accomplished institution of higher education. The Main Campus is located in  Evanston, Illinois, while others are in Doha, Qatar, and Washington, D.C. It has over 21,000 students enrolled in various programs with the majority being the postgraduates. It is ranked 10th nationally and 24th internationally by U.S. News & World Report.

The institution’s 9.2% acceptance rate is the second-lowest in Illinois. In 2018, there were 37,259 applicants, but only 3,442 were accepted and admitted to the various colleges. As such, the university is very competitive, and you will need to exceed the average requirements to have a higher chance of being selected. In 2018, 35% of applicants submitted their SAT results the successful ones ranged between 1470 and 1570. Those who handed in their ACT results and were selected had their scores ranging between 32 and 34 points. Therefore, you must meet these thresholds and have a GPA of around 4.09 to be part of Northwestern University.

12. Brown University

  • Acceptance rate – 9.3%

Brown University is among the world’s renowned research institutions with more than 6,500 students. With 9.3% acceptance rate, it is the 12th most competitive U.S. university in our list. You will need to outscore most of your fellow applicants to have a chance of being considered in the selection process. Otherwise, you might be among a staggering 90.7% who will receive rejection letters.

Part of the requirements of joining Brown University include SAT or ACT scores, and high school results slip. In the 2018 admission cycle, 49% of the applicants submitted their ACT results. ACT and SAT scores of successful applicants averaged 34 and 1600 points, respectively. Those selected also had a GPA of 4.1 on average. However, high grades are not the only factors that determine a successful application. Brown University considers every applicant’s additional talent like art and music. As such, one can submit their work via a video or any other medium during the application process.

13. University of Pennsylvania

  • Acceptance rate – 9.3%

This Philadelphia-based higher education institution is among the colonial colleges founded before independence, 1740. It was the first one to gain university status in the United States. Its initial curriculum was geared towards training commerce, public, and government service personnel. Its Motto is a perfect definition of its goals which prioritize morals in professional fields. The history associated with Penn makes it one of the most selective universities in the United States.

Currently, the university accepts 9.3% of those who aspire to be part of this dynamic community. This makes the University of Pennsylvania to be one of the universities with low acceptance rate in USA. From the 2015/16 admission cycle, applicants were expected to submit either SAT or ACT results. Math 2 subject test is recommended to those who are applying for programs in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. To be among the selected, your GPA should be at least 3.5 points. Successful applicants had average ACT and SAT scores of 33 and 1490, respectively.

14. Duke University

  • Acceptance rate – 9.90%

Formerly known as Brown School, Duke University was founded in 1838 and located in the town of Trinity. It was, however, moved to Durham in 1892 where it kept on expanding to one of the present-day education giants. Between 2001 and 2011, the university had the 6th highest number of scholarships among private universities in the United States. Currently, more than 60 merit-based scholarships are offered to those who meet the requirements.

Duke University is another very competitive university in the United States, accepting only 9.9% of the applicants. In the last admission cycle, the institution accepted only about 4,000 students out of 41,000 applicants. This competition comes about due to the school’s reputation and the quality of education and research it offers. The institution requires the applicants to hand in either their ACT or SAT scores along with the high school results. To stand a chance of being the next Duke freshman, you ACT and SAT scores should be within the range of 31-35 and 1430-1560 points. A GPA of above 3.91 is also recommended.

15. Dartmouth University

  • Acceptance rate – 10.4%

Dartmouth University was founded in 1769 with the sole aim of teaching Native Americans the Christian way of life. It’s was inevitable throughout the 19th century as more people enrolled in its religious programs. By the turn of the 20th century, it had secularized and introduced a diverse course that was not necessarily related to Christianity. It currently adopts a liberal arts-based curriculum offering over 60 undergrad and graduate programs. The institution also allows its students to enroll in dual degree programs.

It is one of the most selective universities around accepting only 10.4% of the applicants. In 2019 it received approximately 20,000 applications, but only 2,000 students were enrolled to their preferred programs. In general, it accepts those students who are among the top 4% nationally in the high school results. SAT scores of between 1480 and 1570 or ACT results within the range of 30-34 will give you a better chance of having a successful application. Based on statistics, one has to score a GPA of between 3.8 and 4.1 to be accepted to Dartmouth University.

In this list, we compiled a list of 15 universities with the least acceptance rates according to recent statistics. As you have noted, all of them accept at most 10% of the applicants, which makes it quite difficult to overcome the competition during the application process. Recent reports suggest that the acceptance rates at most of the elite colleges are significantly dropping with every passing year. This puts a lot of pressure on the students who look to secure a chance of pursuing their dream careers. Stanford University, for instance, noticed this increasing pressure and decided to stop reporting its annual acceptance rate to the public. Apart from their reputation and prestige, these institutions accept few students because of limited resources and other benefits that come with them.

As reported by the New York Times, the ever-dropping acceptance rates are brought about by an increased number of applications submitted per admission window. The Common App platform launched in 1998 has made it quite simple for students to send their applications to more universities with ease. Therefore, if you are aspiring to be part of any prestigious university in the United States, you will have to score high in both your high school results and the test scores. Successful applicants to the fifteen universities listed above were among the top 10% nationally in their respective high school years. Also, note that some universities consider one’s talent and skills as part of the evaluation process.


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