These Are the Hardest Colleges to Get Into in the United States

Ever wondered which American universities are the hardest colleges to get into? Whether you love academia yourself or have a child or grandchild applying to college, it’s fun to fantasize about what life would be like at an Ivy League school or another elite college. But if you apply to a school with the lowest acceptance rate in the country, it can be pretty tough to get past the admissions committee.

Below, check out the universities’ whose low acceptance rates make them the hardest colleges to get into in the United States.

20. Dartmouth College

Baker and Rauner Libraries on the Dartmouth College Green

Baker and Rauner Libraries on the Dartmouth College Green | ErikaMitchell/iStock/Getty Images

  • Hanover, New Hampshire
  • Acceptance rate: 11%

Dartmouth College, an Ivy League university in New Hampshire, has one of the lowest acceptance rates in the nation, according to U.S. News. In fact, the college only accepts 11% of the students who apply, according to the data on the class that entered in the fall of 2016 (the most recent year available). U.S. News reports that the college was founded in 1769. It has an undergraduate enrollment of 4,310 students, who have a rural, 237-acre campus to explore. About 90% of them live in on-campus housing, and almost 70% of Dartmouth students are members of Greek organizations.

Next: This military academy ranks as one of the hardest colleges to get into. 

19. United States Military Academy

The Military Academy at West Point, New York.

The Military Academy at West Point, New York. | DepthofField/ iStock/ Getty Images Plus

  • West Point, New York
  • Acceptance rate: 10%

While the United States Military Academy at West Point doesn’t have the lowest college acceptance rate in the nation, it comes pretty close. This public institution, which dates to 1802, accepts just 10% of applicants, according to U.S. News. The academy, about 50 miles north of New York City on the Hudson River, has a suburban campus that stretches to 16,080 acres. It’s the oldest of the nation’s five federal service academies, and its 4,389 students (or cadets) are officers in training, with their tuition funded by the U.S. Army in exchange for an active-service duty obligation.

Next: Only a few applicants get into this engineering college. 

18. Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering | Olin College of Engineering via Facebook

  • Needham, Massachusetts
  • Acceptance rate: 10%

The Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering may not be as famous as an Ivy League school or a military academy. But it has a similarly low acceptance rate, offering admission to just 10% of applicants. U.S. News reports that this private university has an undergraduate enrollment of only 378 students. Most of those students live on the college’s campus 14 miles west of Boston. Students can choose among three majors: electrical and computer engineering, mechanical engineering, or engineering (which encompasses bioengineering, computing, materials science, and systems).

Next: This prestigious school has one of the lowest acceptance rates in the nation.

17. University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia

University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia | F11photo/iStock/Getty Images

  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Acceptance rate: 9%

The University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League institution, may not have the lowest acceptance rate in the nation. But it comes very close, offering admission to only 9% of students who apply. U.S. News reports that this Philadelphia university dates back to 1740. In fact, Benjamin Franklin founded the school. Penn has a total of 10,019 undergraduate students, who study in five of the university’s 12 different schools. (Seven of those schools offer only graduate studies.) More than 25% of the study body is involved in Greek life, which encompasses almost 50 fraternities and sororities.

Next: This small college has a very low acceptance rate. 

16. Pomona College

Pomona College

Pomona College | Pomona College via Facebook

  • Claremont, California
  • Acceptance rate: 9%

U.S. News reports that Pomona College is a private institution that was founded in 1887 and has since become one of the hardest colleges to get into across the United States. Pomona accepts just 9% of applicants and has an undergraduate enrollment of 1,660. The college is located in Claremont, California, 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. According to U.S. News, “Pomona’s founders envisioned ‘a college of the New England type’ when they created this school with small classes and strong student-faculty relationships.”

Next: Pomona ties with another college for the lowest acceptance rate in Claremont. 

15. Claremont McKenna College

Claremont McKenna College

The campus of Claremont McKenna College | Victoire Chalupy/ Wikimedia Commons

  • Claremont, California
  • Acceptance rate: 9%

Another college in Claremont, California, Claremont McKenna College accepts just 9% of applicants. It was founded in 1946, and 1,347 undergraduates are enrolled in this private college, according to U.S. News. Claremont McKenna is part of the seven-college consortium known as the Claremont Colleges, which includes Scripps College, Pomona, Harvey Mudd College, Pitzer College, Claremont Graduate University, and Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences. Students can take classes — and join activities — at any of the institutions.

Next: This Ivy League school admits only a few applicants. 

14. Brown University

Brown University

Brown University | peterspiro/iStock/Getty Images

  • Providence, Rhode Island
  • Acceptance rate: 9%

Most people probably assume that an Ivy League university wins the prize for the lowest acceptance rate, and Brown University comes close. The private university has an acceptance rate of just 9%, according to U.S. News, and has 6,926 undergraduates enrolled. Brown sits on top of College Hill in Providence, Rhode Island, and requires students to live on campus for their first six semesters. There are about 400 student organizations to choose among, and the university all has a “small but vibrant” Greek community, U.S. News reports.

Next: This university has the lowest acceptance rate in the Midwest. 

13. University of Chicago

Cobb Gate, University of Chicago

Cobb Gate, University of Chicago | iStock.com/urbsinhorto1837

  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Acceptance rate: 8%

The University of Chicago dates back to 1890 and has the low acceptance rate you’d expect of such a historic university. (It accepts only 8% of students who apply.) The school’s Hyde Park setting enables it to offer “a rich campus life in a big-city setting,” according to U.S. News. Many of the 5,941 undergraduates enrolled live on campus. Freshmen have to live on campus, and more than 50% of upperclassmen choose to remain on campus, too. Students are placed in “houses” within their dorms, where they develop communities that offer academic and social support.

Next: This school has the lowest acceptance rate among military academies. 

12. United States Naval Academy

Naval Cadet midshipmen in uniform walk in front of Bancroft Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy

Naval Cadet midshipmen in uniform walk in front of Bancroft Hall. | alancrosthwaite/ iStock Editorial/ Getty Images Plus

  • Annapolis, Maryland
  • Acceptance rate: 8%

West Point isn’t the military academy with the lowest acceptance rate. That honor goes to the Naval Academy in Annapolis. This academy dates back to 1845 and has 4,526 undergraduates enrolled, according to U.S. News. It’s the second-oldest of the federal service academies. Its students, known as midshipmen, get their tuition funded by the Navy in return for active-duty service after graduation. They also have to meet physical education requirements all four years to graduate. And they all live in Bancroft Hall, a huge dormitory complex, and receive a monthly stipend.

Next: This specialized school has one of the lowest acceptance rates in the nation. 

11. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Boston Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology | rabbit75_ist/ iStock/ Getty Images

  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Acceptance rate: 8%

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, is well-known as one of the hardest colleges to get into. It was founded in 1861 and has 4,524 undergraduate students, according to U.S. News. You’ll find MIT’s campus just outside of Boston, and the school focuses on scientific and technological research. U.S. News reports, “University research expenditures have exceeded $700 million a year, with funding from government agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Defense.” About 70% of undergrads live on campus.

Next: This Christian college has a very low acceptance rate. 

10. Jarvis Christian College

J.N. Ervin Center at Jarvis Christian College

J.N. Ervin Center at Jarvis Christian College |

  • Hawkins, Texas
  • Acceptance rate: 8%

Many people haven’t heard of Jarvis Christian College in Hawkins, Texas. But that doesn’t make it any easier to get into. This historically black liberal arts college offers admission to just 8% of the students who apply, according to U.S. News. Founded in 1912, the small school has an undergraduate enrollment of about 900. It’s affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). And according to U.S. News, “The College prides itself on providing an education for students, who otherwise, may not have an opportunity to receive a college education.”

Next: This small, focused school has the lowest acceptance rate for universities of its type.  

9. California Institute of Technology

California Institute of Technology

California Institute of Technology | California Institute of Technology via Facebook

  • Pasadena, California
  • Acceptance rate: 8%

The California Institute of Technology was founded in 1891 and has one of the lowest acceptance rates in the nation. U.S. News explains that this private university — colloquially known as “Caltech” — has a small undergraduate enrollment of 979. The school’s academic programs focus on science and engineering. Social and academic life at Caltech “centers on the eight student houses, which the school describes as ‘self-governing living groups,'” according to U.S. News. Students only have to live on campus as freshmen, but more than 80% remain their house all four years.

Next: This Ivy League school is notoriously difficult to get into. 

8. Princeton University

Madison Hall of Rockefeller College in Princeton University.

Rockefeller College at Princeton University | aimintang/ iStock/ Getty Images

  • Princeton, New Jersey
  • Acceptance rate: 7%

Lots of people would probably name Princeton if they had to guess at which schools are the hardest colleges to get into. And it definitely makes the top 10, with an acceptance rate of just 7%. U.S. News reports that Princeton University got its start back in 1746, and it has a historic 600-acre campus in the quiet town of Princeton, New Jersey. About 5,400 undergraduate students study at Princeton, one of the oldest colleges in the nation. Students live in six residential colleges that provide a residential community as well as dining services. And upperclassmen can join one of more than ten eating clubs.

Next: This performing arts school has an incredibly low acceptance rate. 

7. Juilliard School

The Lincoln Center Plaza

Lincoln Center Plaza, home to the Juilliard School as well as the Metropolitan Opera, the NYC Ballet, the NY Philharmonic, and Avery Fisher Hall. | littleny/ iStock Editorial/ Getty Images Plus

  • New York, New York
  • Acceptance rate: 7%

One of the hardest colleges to get into isn’t an Ivy League university at all, but a competitive school that focuses on education in the performing arts. U.S. News reports that the Juilliard School accepts just 7% of applicants and has a total undergraduate enrollment of only 580. Students get a pre-professional education in music, dance, or drama. And they often need to audition to get into the school. Freshmen have to live in university residence halls, and they take liberal arts classes in addition to courses in their major.

Next: This historic university has become one of the hardest colleges to get into across America. 

6. Yale University

Yale University campus

Yale Univesity | f11photo/iStock/Getty Images

  • New Haven, Connecticut
  • Acceptance rate: 6%

Yale University may not have the lowest acceptance rate in the nation, but it comes very close. One of the hardest colleges to get into, Yale dates back to 1701. U.S. News reports that this Ivy League university assigns students “to live in one of 14 residential colleges during their time at Yale. Each college has a head and dean who live in the college and eat with students in the dining halls.” Yale is made up of the College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and 12 professional schools. And the university is well-known for its secret societies, the most famous of which is the Skull and Bones.

Next: Another Ivy League school has an even lower acceptance rate than Yale. 

5. Columbia University

Manhattan's Ivy League university

Columbia University, Manhattan’s Ivy League university | peterspiro/ iStock/ Getty Images

  • New York, New York
  • Acceptance rate: 6%

Columbia University ranks among the top five hardest colleges to get into thanks to its 6% acceptance rate. U.S. News notes that this Ivy, founded in 1754, has 6,113 undergraduate students who study in three undergraduate schools: Columbia College, The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the School of General Studies. More than 90% of students live on Columbia’s campus in upper Manhattan, and the university offers a wide variety of student activities, including 25 Greek chapters.

Next: This school on the west coast is even more selective than Columbia. 

4. Stanford University

Stanford University

Winter break at Stanford University | HaizhanZheng/iStock/Getty Images

  • Stanford, California
  • Acceptance rate: 5%

Stanford University narrowly misses having the lowest acceptance rate in the nation, offering admission to just 5% of the students who apply. U.S. News reports that Stanford has 7,034 undergraduates who study on the university’s “pristine” campus in California’s Bay Area. Four of Stanford’s seven schools offer undergraduate and graduate coursework, and the university hosts a wide range of student organizations. That includes some well-known theatrical and musical groups.

Next: Eight U.S. presidents graduated from this university, one of the hardest colleges to get into in the U.S.

3. Harvard University

Dormitories and Harvard Computer Society BuildingCambridge, United States - April 29, 2015: Dormitories and Harvard Computer Society Building in Harvard Yard of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, MA, USA.

Dormitories and Harvard Computer Society Building in Harvard Yard. | Roman Babakin/ iStock Editorial/ Getty Images Plus

  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Acceptance rate: 5%

If you asked most people to guess the college with the lowest acceptance rate, they’d probably pick Harvard. And with an acceptance rate of just 5%, this Ivy League school is definitely one of the hardest colleges to get into in the nation. U.S. News reports that Harvard’s founders began the school back in 1636. (That could explain why its library system houses the oldest collection in the U.S. and the largest private collection in the world.) Harvard has 13 schools and institutes and has made on-campus housing an integral part of student life.

Next: This college has the lowest acceptance rate in the nation. 

2. Curtis Institute of Music

Curtis Institute of Music

Curtis Institute of Music | Curtis Institute of Music via Facebook

  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Acceptance rate: 4%

The Curtis Institute of Music shares the lowest acceptance rate in the nation with just one other school. This very competitive music conservatory, founded in 1924, accepts just 4% of students who apply. All of its students receive a full scholarship to cover the cost of their tuition, and Curtis limits its enrollment to about 175 students. That’s because the school admits just enough students to maintain a full symphony orchestra and an opera program, plus programs in piano, guitar, composition, and organ.

Next: This college also has the lowest acceptance rate in America. 

1. Alice Lloyd College

Alice Lloyd College

Alice Lloyd College | Alice Lloyd College via Facebook

  • Pippa Passes, Kentucky
  • Acceptance rate: 4%

Alice Lloyd College also has the lowest acceptance rate in the nation, saying “yes” to just 4% of applicants. It’s one of the hardest colleges to get into, but not that many people have heard of it, in part because it has an undergraduate enrollment of just 599 students. Founded in 1923, Alice Lloyd is one of a few “work colleges,” which enable students to fund their education through a mandatory work-study assignment. Further, U.S. News reports that “tuition is guaranteed to qualified students residing in 108 Central Appalachian counties in parts of five states.”

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