Special Report

Hardest Colleges to Get Into in Every State

Detailed Findings

Future success depends primarily on the individual, and it is possible to receive an excellent education at the vast majority of higher education institutions — and to proceed to high-earning careers. Still, there is an association between students’ alma maters and their future earnings, which means stakes are high for college applicants.

For example, the typical annual income of an Ivy League graduate 10 years after starting college is well over $70,000. The median is approximately $34,000 for graduates of all other schools.

It is important to note that colleges whose degrees seem to lead to high paying jobs down the road enroll students who tend to arrive well prepared for college. Such students often come from wealthier families and have more advantages compared to their peers at less competitive universities.

The most selective schools also tend to charge higher tuition than less selective schools. Looking at the 50 most selective schools in the nation, 47 charge in-state tuition of $40,000 or more per school year. The in-state tuition at the most selective school in 34 states exceeds the average tuition of $23,101 per year across all four-year public institutions.

While the sticker price at these institutions tends to be relatively high, grants and scholarships frequently help offset the high tuition. The net price of attendance at the most selective institution in 27 states exceeds the average net price of approximately $19,000. “The selective institutions tend to give out more merit aid so the tuition discount is higher,” Reeves said.

It may be that because of the demand from greater numbers of applicants, selective institutions are able to charge higher tuition. Reeves clarified this relation, pointing out that the competitiveness of these universities is likely due to offering better campus and education services than other schools. In other words, “[These selective colleges] are hiring high-end faculty and offering better services for the students, which makes them more desirable to go to.”


To identify the hardest colleges to get into, 24/7 Wall St. created and index of admission rates (percentage of students admitted out of total applications) and SAT and ACT composite scores at the 25th and 75th percentiles among accepted students. The admission rate was given a full weight, while each SAT and ACT component was given a quarter weight.

Admission rate and test scores, as well as the net price of attending the 2015-2016 school year in a postsecondary institution came from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), a program for the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The schools reviewed were only four-year, degree-granting public or private for-profit and non-profit postsecondary institutions. Net price is tuition less any grant aid (federal, state, local, or institutional) that may be awarded to a student, and it represents the best estimate of what is paid by students. All other forms of financial aid are not included when calculating net price. Net price data is based on payments by first-time, full-time degree-seeking students and is intended to reflect what traditional students, those who enroll immediately after high school, pay for college in their first year. IPEDS consists of 12 surveys, which collect data directly from institutions that participate in federal aid programs.