What Determines The Hardest College To Get Into?

Because this blog is outlining the hardest colleges to get into, colleges will be ranked based on the statistics mainly focusing on admission rates. 

However, it is important to note that admission rates do not necessarily correlate to the superiority of a college or quality of education they provide. 

Hardest Colleges To Get Admitted To

Harvard University

Harvard is a medium-sized Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. One of the most recognizable colleges in the United States, Harvard is known for their academic excellence. They offer over 3,700 courses according to their admissions page, and have 450 student organizations and 42 varsity sports, the most out of any college. Because of their academic offerings and rigor, alongside their long history, Harvard is one of the most exclusive schools to gain admission into.

Harvard University looks for individuals who will be good educators of their peers and professors. They look for qualities including growth and potential, interests and activities, your personal character, and contribution to the Harvard community. For more information about how to get into Harvard, click here!

For the class of 2026:

  • 61,221 applicants
  • 2,020 applicants admitted
  • Acceptance rate: 3.3%

Over 83% of those admitted chose to enroll at Harvard! 

Columbia University

Columbia University is an Ivy League university located in New York City. Its undergraduate enrollment is around 8,000 students and includes three undergraduate schools as well as fourteen graduate/professional schools. Like Harvard, Columbia is an extremely selective school with a low admission rate.

Columbia admits students based on a holistic approach meaning they do not have a “cutoff” GPA or test scores. When they review your application they are looking for academic preparation, curiosity to investigate ideas and solve problems, engagement with others, your individual voice, and a knowledge of Columbia and its many aspects. For more information about Columbia’s admission requirements click here!

For the class of 2026:

  • 60,377 applicants 
  • 2,253 applicants accepted 
  • Acceptance rate: 3.73%

This includes both early and regular decision, but it is important to note that the admission rate was significantly higher for those that applied for early decision.

California Institute Of Technology

The California Institute of Technology is a private university located in Pasadena, California. Unlike Harvard and Columbia, Caltech is specifically a science and engineering institute. Additionally, Caltech is smaller than Harvard and Columbia, with around 1,000 undergraduates. This means that the California Institute of Technology has one of the US’s lowest student to faculty ratios, meaning there is an emphasis on faculty access, learning opportunities, and hands-on research.

In terms of academics, Caltech looks for applicants who are strong in STEM with a love for math, chemistry, and physics, as well as an appreciation for social sciences. In addition to your academic record, this institute seeks to admit students who are resilient, creative, collaborative, determined, and have an outlet for self care involving something you are passionate about. This school is currently test-blind until 2025, meaning they do not consider standardized test scores as part of the admissions process.

For the class of 2025:

  • 13,026 applicants
  • 510 applicants admitted
  • Acceptance rate: 3.92%

Stanford University

Stanford University is a private university located in Stanford, California. The school has an undergraduate population of around 7,700 undergraduates. Stanford offers 67 major fields of study in their undergraduate program and are known for their academic rigor: undergraduates complete at least 180 units, writing and rhetoric requirements, and one year of foreign language. Like Caltech, Stanford boasts a small student to faculty ratio (5:1).

Stanford University looks for students who are dedicated and have an interest in expanding their intellectual capacity through curiosity, enthusiasm, and energy in seeking out opportunities. When reviewing applications they look for academic excellence, extracurricular activities, and context which includes your background and work and family responsibilities. It is important to note that like Columbia there are no minimum GPA or test score requirements. 

For the class of 2025:

  • 55,471 applications 
  •  2,190 applicants admitted 
  • Acceptance rate: 3.95%.

Massachusetts Institute Of Technology

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. MIT boasts an extremely low undergraduate student to faculty and instructional staff ratio of 3:1, meaning students who attend MIT can expect ample access to educators and hands-on learning opportunities. Focusing on STEM fields, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one of the most rigorous universities in the US. 

MIT looks for applicants who have a collaborative spirit, take initiative, are risk-takers, creative, curious, and have an excitement to learn. They look for students who make the world a better place, take care of others around them, and know how to balance their studies with activities simply for pleasure. For more information about the MIT admission requirements click here!

For the class of 2026:

  • 33,767 applicants
  • 1,337 applicants admitted
  • Acceptance rate: 3.96%

Princeton University

Princeton University is a private Ivy League university located in Princeton, New Jersey. Princeton has an undergraduate population of around 5,500 students and has a 5:1 student to faculty ratio. The University has a focus on arts and humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering and has 36 different academic departments for students to explore.

Princeton is known for having very high expectations for academic success and rigor of their accepted applicants. In addition, they look for students with intellectual curiosity who have strong extracurricular and personal accomplishments. 

For the class of 2025:

  • 37,601 applicants 
  • 1,498 applicants admitted 
  • Acceptance rate: 3.98%

Yale University

Yale University is a private Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut. Yale has an undergraduate population of around 6,500 students and is a large research university with a variety of different programs, departments, schools, centers, museums, and other affiliated organizations. 

Yale above all focuses on academic strength with your high school transcripts being an extremely important piece of your application. Although they look for academic rigor and take into account what you brought to the classroom through your recommendation letters, there are no score cut-offs for standardized tests. Yale seeks to admit students who will make the most out of the talents they possess and the university itself. For more information about the Yale admission process click here!

For the class of 2026: 

  • 50,015 applicants 
  • 2,234 applicants admitted 
  • Acceptance rate: 4.46%

Brown University

Brown University is a private Ivy League university located in Providence, Rhode Island. Brown has an undergraduate Open Curriculum approach to education that is flexible and highly rigorous. At Brown, students develop a personalized course of study meaning they have a large degree of freedom to choose what they study, as well as a lot of flexibility to explore and discover what they are interested in. Most undergraduate students at Brown University are able to sample courses in a variety of different subjects before settling on one of over 80 academic concentrations for the rest of their time at Brown.

Brown typically has a high percentage of admitted students who are in the top 10% of their class which shows the importance they place on academic achievement. In addition, Brown seeks to admit students who have different extracurricular interests and bring a spectrum of ideologies to the school. 

For the class of 2026:

  • 50,649 applicants 
  • 2,546 applicants admitted
  • Acceptance rate: 5%

University of Chicago

The University of Chicago is a private, four year university located in Chicago, Illinois. UChicago is one of the world’s leading research institutions and is known for its academic rigor and opportunities. UChicago values a diversity of people, thought, and ideas and is known for its quirky campus traditions like a school-wide scavenger hunt. The University of Chicago supplemental essays are known for their creative prompt and they encourage students to think outside of the box.

The University of Chicago seeks well-rounded students with a unique perspective on life and extracurriculars in different subject areas.

For the class of 2026:

  • 37,552 applicants
  • 2,041 applicants admitted
  • Acceptance rate: 5.4%

University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania is a private Ivy League university located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. UPenn has four different undergraduate schools and is grounded in the liberal arts and sciences. The University of Pennsylvania has a large class size, with an undergraduate population of 10,412 full time students and a 6:1 student to faculty ratio. One of the most famous schools under the University of Pennsylvania is the Wharton school of business, which is one of the most rigorous undergraduate business programs in the US. 

UPenn looks for applicants who seek to develop their talents within UPenn’s unique “liberal arts-based, practical, and interdisciplinary learning environment.” 

For the class of 2026:

  • 54,588 applicants
  • 3,300 applicants admitted
  • Acceptance rate: 6%

Dartmouth University

Dartmouth University is a private Ivy League university located in Hanover, New Hampshire. Dartmouth features over 40 different academic departments and programs for students so undergraduates can explore the arts and sciences before declaring their majors. With a 7:1 undergraduate student to faculty ratio, Dartmouth has an undergraduate population of around 6,500 students. Known for their large (269 acre) main campus, Dartmouth’s campus is perfect for nature lovers. 

At Dartmouth, the foundation of admission to this institution is through a holistic review. They value the sum of all parts of your application regardless of GPA, class rank, and standardized test scores. Dartmouth seeks to admit students who bring a unique set of qualities, point of view, and experiences that are not exhibited by other students. This is not to say that academic rigor and other indicators of academic achievement are not important; instead, they will strengthen your application but not detract from it if you explain your reasons for a dip in grades or low test score.

For the class of 2026:

  • 28,336 applicants
  • 1,767 applicants admitted
  • Acceptance rate: 6.2%

Duke University

Duke University is a private, four year university located in Durham, North Carolina. Duke University has around 6,500 undergraduate students and a 8:1 student to faculty ratio. Over half of Duke undergraduates participate in faculty mentored research project, and over 85% go beyond their majors to explore different concentrations. Known for their basketball culture as well, Duke University offers a variety of different athletic teams for student athletes as well.  

Duke looks for the following qualities in students: ambition, curiosity, talent, persistence, energy, and humanity. Duke weighs both your academic and personal qualities and seeks to find students who will respond to the opportunities handed to them as a member of this university.

For the class of 2026:

  • 50,008 applicants applied
  • 3,126 applicants admitted
  • Acceptance rate: 6.3%

Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins University is a private research university located in Baltimore, Maryland. Johns Hopkins is number one in the United States for research investment and has an undergraduate population of around 5,300 students. The university offers almost 500 student led organizations and reports that 98% of students have at least one research or internship experience. Johns Hopkins is perhaps best well known for their medical school, which is one of the most rigorous and prestigious in the country. 

John Hopkins is a highly competitive school that usually admits applicants who exhibit academic excellence with 99% of admitted students being in the top 10% of their high school class. They look for students who demonstrate resourcefulness, initiative, and show individuality with the potential to be an instrumental part of a bigger community.

For the class of 2026:

  • 37,150 applicants
  • 2,407 applicants admitted
  • Acceptance rate: 6.5%

Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University is a private research university located in Nashville, Tennessee. Vanderbilt has a 7:1 student to faculty ratio and is ranked #2 on Princeton Review’s list of happiest college students. It offers over 70 undergraduate majors across 10 schools and colleges, with many opportunities for students to explore different concentrations. 

Vanderbilt University values the following pieces of your application; academic achievement, standardized test scores, extracurriculars, recommendation letters, and your personal essay. They look for applicants who challenge themselves academically, engage in meaningful activities outside of the classroom, and show commitment of time and effort as well as leadership skills.

For the class of 2025:

  • 47,174 applicants
  • 3,162 applicants admitted
  • Acceptance rate: 6.7%

Pomona College

Pomona College is a private liberal arts college living in Claremont, California. Pomona has a total undergraduate  enrollment of around 1,800, making it a fairly small college. Therefore, it is a relatively close knit community with small class sizes so students and faculty can build close relationships. More than half of Pomona students work with professors in research projects, which enables them to take a deeper and more hands on approach to learning. 

Pomona college seeks to admit applicants who have a strong academic drive, are well-rounded, and have a goal of making a positive impact on the world. Pomona seeks to create a class of students who are as “varied as they are talented” to form a community that thrives off of collaboration, mentorship, and intellectual growth.

For the class of 2026:

  • 10,663 applicants
  • About 736 applicants admitted
  • Acceptance rate: 7%
SchoolLocationAcceptance RateSAT Middle 50%ACT Middle 50%Retention RateGraduation RateTuition(annual)
Harvard UniversityCambridge, Massachusetts3.3%1480-158033-3699%86%- 4 years975- 6 years$57,261
Columbia UniversityNew York City, NY3.73%1490-158033-3597%86%- 4 years95%- 6 years$65,524
California Institute of TechnologyPasadena, California3.92%1510-157035-3699%86%- 4 years92.5%- 6 years$60,816
Stanford UniversityStanford, California3.95%1470- 157032-3598%77%- 4 years96%- 6 years$57,692
MITCambridge, Massachusetts3.96%1520-158035-3699%85%- 4 years93.8%-6 years$55,878
Princeton UniversityPrinceton, New Jersey3.98%1450-158033-3598%89.5%- 4 years97.57%- 6 years$57,410
Yale UniversityNew Haven, Connecticut4.46%1460-158033-3599%88%- 4 years$64,700
Brown UniversityProvidence, Rhode Island5%1500-157034-3697%86%-4 years95%-6 years$62,680
University of ChicagoChicago, Illinois5.4%1510-156034-3599%91%- 4 years$61,179
University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania6%1510-156034-3698%96%- 6 years$56,212
Dartmouth UniversityHanover, New Hampshire6.2%1440-156032-3597%86%- 4 years$60,687
Duke UniversityDurham, North Carolina6.3%1500-156033-3598%91%- 4 years$63,054
Johns HopkinsBaltimore, Maryland6.5%1520-156034-3597%87%- 4 years$60,480
Vanderbilt UniversityNashville, Tennessee6.7%1510-158034-3697%89%- 4 years$58,130
PomonaClaremont, California7%1520 (median)33 (median)94%86%- 4 years$61,906

Things To Consider When Choosing The School You Attend

There are many factors to consider when choosing the school you will attend for the next four (or more) years of your life. It is important to note that a lower acceptance rate should not be the deciding factor when choosing between schools. More importantly, the academic rigor and variety of classes you will be able to take should be taken into account and considered heavily. Tuition and the price of living is also important to consider. Depending on how much you are willing or able to spend this may be one of the most important factors you take into account. More than anything else, you should imagine yourself going to that college and determine if it is the right fit for you. Talking to alumni or students who currently attend the school are great ways of understanding the student dynamic and learning about the student life from those who have experienced it personally. Taking into account all of these factors it is of utmost importance to make sure that you will be happy at the school of your choice.

Final Thoughts On The Hardest Colleges To Get Into

While this blog ranked the hardest colleges to get into based on their acceptance rates, it is important to note that this does not mean that schools with lower acceptance rates are superior to those with slightly higher acceptance rates. All of the schools listed here are world-class institutions that provide an exceptional education to their students. Because of the increase in applicants to these prestigious schools over the years, it has become increasingly competitive for students who are applying. Keep in mind the type of applicants each school is looking for as well as other statistics such as test score ranges and graduation rates when choosing the right school for you. It is also worthy to note that many schools have become test-blind in recent years, and at most institutions the acceptance rate is much higher for students who apply for early decision/early action.

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About The Author

Isabella Arias is a junior from Florida majoring in Health Science at the University of Florida. She scored a 1480 on her SATs, loves weightlifting, and enjoys baking/cooking all sorts of recipes in her free time! Outside of school she volunteers with organizations aimed at providing healthcare resources to the homeless community in Gainesville as well as improving literacy skills and providing tutoring support to elementary students in Alachua County.

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