11 Colleges With the Lowest Admit Rates

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.

Some colleges are extraordinarily difficult to impress. California Institute of Technology and Harvard University in Massachusetts are the two most selective institutions in the U.S. for undergraduate applicants, according to data submitted to U.S. News by more than 1,800 ranked colleges in an annual survey.

Both schools admitted only 3% of applicants who sought entry in fall 2022, and the accepted students who enrolled at either school typically had impeccable academic credentials. At California Institute of Technology, where class ranking is an important factor in admissions decisions, 96% of freshmen ranked in the top 10% of their high school class. Although class rank is not a factor for admission at Harvard, 92% of admitted freshmen finished in the top 10% of their class.

California Institute of Technology is test-blind, meaning an applicant’s SAT or ACT scores aren’t considered even if submitted, so test scores for admitted students are unavailable. Harvard is test-optional, meaning applicants may send their scores but aren’t required to as part of their application. The average SAT score among incoming Harvard students who submitted results was 1520 out of 1600, and the average ACT composite score was 34 out of 36.

Caltech and Harvard aren’t the only schools that reject most of their applicants. The 11 colleges with the lowest acceptance rates, including ties, each admitted no more than 7% of applicants.

Six of these schools are in the Ivy League, a group of East Coast colleges famous for selectivity and often regarded as a gateway into the upper crust of society. Still, many of the non-Ivy schools on this list are academic powerhouses in their own right. All 11 schools rank in the top 20 among National Universities, and all but two rank in the top 10.

All 11 colleges with the lowest acceptance rates are National Universities, schools that are often research-focused and offer a variety of undergraduate majors and a wide range of master’s and doctoral programs. Two schools are based in California while two are located in Massachusetts. Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island are each home to one school on the 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 71.4%, and 37 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 hobbies and personal projects are worth mentioning in a college application, as is any form of employment, since those details tend to humanize an applicant and can illustrate uniqueness.

Below is a list of the 11 colleges that admitted the lowest proportion of their fall 2022 applicants. Unranked schools, which did not meet certain criteria required by U.S. News to be numerically ranked, were not considered for this report.

U.S. News surveyed more than 1,800 colleges and universities for our 2024 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. 30, 2024.

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