What Determines The “Hardest Colleges” 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 Schools To Get Into in the US

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

Harvard University

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 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

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 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

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 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 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 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 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 or “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

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 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

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 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 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%

Things To Consider When Choosing A School

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.

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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.

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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