Hardest Colleges to Get Into in Every State

February 9, 2018 by Thomas C. Frohlich

Source: aimintang / iStock

Completing college on time is a significant achievement that can set the stage of a young person’s entire life. The application process itself is a major undertaking, as applicants grapple with finances, paperwork, and scheduling campus visits — on top of what are likely already busy high school schedules. And acceptance is no guarantee. The College Board recommends applying to between five to eight colleges, from “safety” schools, to highly selective “reach” schools.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed education data across thousands of four-year, degree-granting institutions to determine each state’s most selective college. We indexed acceptance rates, as well as SAT and ACT scores of admitted students, to measure the difficulty of being accepted to those universities and colleges.

In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Richard Reeves, administrative data division chief at the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), noted that selecting a college is an extremely personal decision. “[The choice] has to do with where the student will be successful, and success is defined by learning a lot, finishing on time, and being able to be gainfully employed to pay off any debt that may have been incurred,” he said.

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.

The most selective schools on this list tend to be relatively small, private colleges. They come with higher sticker prices, more merit-based aid, high-end faculty, and better services for students. Notably, while it is not unusual for the most selective universities in the country to report acceptance rates of less than 10% or even 5%, such low rates are not especially common across states. The hardest school to get into in 12 states accepts a majority of applicants.

Click here to see the hardest colleges to get into in every state.
Click here to see our detailed findings and methodology.

Source: Altairisfar / Wikimedia Commons

1. Alabama
> Most selective college: Spring Hill College
> Admission rate: 43.5% (No. of applicants: 8,534)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1000 and 1190
> Annual net price: $20,441
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 99%

[in-text-ad]

Source: Burntorange72 / Wikimedia Commons

2. Alaska
> Most selective college: University of Alaska Fairbanks
> Admission rate: 73.5% (No. of applicants: 1,557)
> Admitted students SAT at 25th and 75th percentile: 950 and 1200
> Annual net price: $9,097
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 43%

Source: Courtesy of Prescott College / YouTube

3. Arizona
> Most selective college: Prescott College
> Admission rate: 68.5% (No. of applicants: 314)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 920 and 1200
> Annual net price: $25,280
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 82%

Source: Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau / Flickr

4. Arkansas
> Most selective college: University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
> Admission rate: 41.9% (No. of applicants: 6,353)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 838 and 1065
> Annual net price: $7,840
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 90%

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: Wikimedia Commons

5. California
> Most selective college: California Institute of Technology
> Admission rate: 8.1% (No. of applicants: 6,855)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1510 and 1600
> Annual net price: $26,839
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 60%

Source: mtcurado / iStock

6. Colorado
> Most selective college: United States Air Force Academy
> Admission rate: 15.1% (No. of applicants: 9,894)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1220 and 1410
> Annual net price: $.
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: !Syntax Error, ..%

[in-text-ad]

Source: Thinkstock

7. Connecticut
> Most selective college: Yale University
> Admission rate: 6.3% (No. of applicants: 31,445)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1420 and 1600
> Annual net price: $18,319
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 52%

Source: Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture / Wikimedia Commons

8. Delaware
> Most selective college: Delaware State University
> Admission rate: 40.6% (No. of applicants: 8,529)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 820 and 970
> Annual net price: $12,221
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 75%

Source: gregobagel / iStock

9. Florida
> Most selective college: University of Miami
> Admission rate: 37.7% (No. of applicants: 32,528)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1210 and 1390
> Annual net price: $37,424
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 67%

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: Daderot / Wikimedia Commons

10. Georgia
> Most selective college: Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus
> Admission rate: 25.8% (No. of applicants: 30,528)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1320 and 1500
> Annual net price: $13,340
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 62%

Source: Daniel Ramirez / Flickr

11. Hawaii
> Most selective college: Brigham Young University-Hawaii
> Admission rate: 27.1% (No. of applicants: 2,950)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 973 and 1158
> Annual net price: $12,319
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 82%

[in-text-ad]

Source: knowlesgallery / iStock

12. Idaho
> Most selective college: University of Idaho
> Admission rate: 75.9% (No. of applicants: 5,953)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 930 and 1170
> Annual net price: $14,787
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 67%

Source: Thomas Barrat / Shutterstock.com

13. Illinois
> Most selective college: University of Chicago
> Admission rate: 7.9% (No. of applicants: 31,484)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1450 and 1600
> Annual net price: $31,068
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 64%

Source: Matthew Rice / Wikimedia Commons

14. Indiana
> Most selective college: University of Notre Dame
> Admission rate: 18.7% (No. of applicants: 19,505)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1350 and 1540
> Annual net price: $26,683
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 62%

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: Aureliusxv / Wikimedia Commons

15. Iowa
> Most selective college: Grinnell College
> Admission rate: 20.2% (No. of applicants: 7,370)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1320 and 1530
> Annual net price: $30,010
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 90%

Source: Courtesy of Sterling College / facebook.com

16. Kansas
> Most selective college: Sterling College
> Admission rate: 37.4% (No. of applicants: 1,033)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 880 and 1030
> Annual net price: $19,219
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 86%

[in-text-ad]

Source: Nyttend / Wikimedia Commons

17. Kentucky
> Most selective college: Alice Lloyd College
> Admission rate: 22.2% (No. of applicants: 6,337)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 910 and 1130
> Annual net price: $14,200
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 100%

Source: Rauluminate / iStock

18. Louisiana
> Most selective college: Tulane University of Louisiana
> Admission rate: 25.5% (No. of applicants: 32,006)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1240 and 1410
> Annual net price: $32,515
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 69%

Source: Nickline4 / Wikimedia Commons

19. Maine
> Most selective college: Colby College
> Admission rate: 18.7% (No. of applicants: 9,833)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1270 and 1470
> Annual net price: $21,032
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 41%

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: Thinkstock

20. Maryland
> Most selective college: Johns Hopkins University
> Admission rate: 12.8% (No. of applicants: 27,852)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1400 and 1570
> Annual net price: $27,352
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 50%

Source: Thinkstock

21. Massachusetts
> Most selective college: Harvard University
> Admission rate: 5.4% (No. of applicants: 39,041)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1430 and 1600
> Annual net price: $16,205
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 44%

[in-text-ad]

Source: jha4ceb / Wikimedia Commons

22. Michigan
> Most selective college: University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
> Admission rate: 28.6% (No. of applicants: 55,504)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1310 and 1500
> Annual net price: $16,107
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 51%

Source: jenniferphotographyimaging / iStock

23. Minnesota
> Most selective college: Carleton College
> Admission rate: 22.6% (No. of applicants: 6,485)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1320 and 1540
> Annual net price: $28,587
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 65%

Source: Mississippi College / Wikimedia Commons

24. Mississippi
> Most selective college: Mississippi College
> Admission rate: 49.5% (No. of applicants: 2,175)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 940 and 1243
> Annual net price: $16,804
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 91%

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: gnagel / iStock

25. Missouri
> Most selective college: Washington University in St Louis
> Admission rate: 16.5% (No. of applicants: 29,197)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1400 and 1570
> Annual net price: $28,824
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 48%

Source: Cromely / Flickr

26. Montana
> Most selective college: Carroll College
> Admission rate: 71.5% (No. of applicants: 3,005)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 990 and 1220
> Annual net price: $25,449
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 96%

[in-text-ad]

Source: Troy Johnson / Wikimedia Commons

27. Nebraska
> Most selective college: Creighton University
> Admission rate: 70.7% (No. of applicants: 10,352)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1050 and 1280
> Annual net price: $30,353
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 92%

Source: Courtesy of Sierra Nevada College / YouTube

28. Nevada
> Most selective college: Sierra Nevada College
> Admission rate: 51.5% (No. of applicants: 851)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 850 and 1050
> Annual net price: $26,370
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 89%

Source: Thinkstock

29. New Hampshire
> Most selective college: Dartmouth College
> Admission rate: 10.6% (No. of applicants: 20,675)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1350 and 1560
> Annual net price: $21,177
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 54%

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: peterspiro / iStock

30. New Jersey
> Most selective college: Princeton University
> Admission rate: 6.5% (No. of applicants: 29,303)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1400 and 1590
> Annual net price: $17,732
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 58%

Source: Atomic Energy505 / Wikimedia Commons

31. New Mexico
> Most selective college: New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
> Admission rate: 23.5% (No. of applicants: 1,663)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1110 and 1350
> Annual net price: $13,331
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 73%

[in-text-ad]

Source: mizoula / iStock

32. New York
> Most selective college: Columbia University in the City of New York
> Admission rate: 6.8% (No. of applicants: 37,009)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1410 and 1590
> Annual net price: $22,973
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 45%

Source: hawnko / iStock

33. North Carolina
> Most selective college: Duke University
> Admission rate: 10.8% (No. of applicants: 31,671)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1380 and 1570
> Annual net price: $19,950
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 55%

Source: Courtesy of University of Jamestown

34. North Dakota
> Most selective college: University of Jamestown
> Admission rate: 57.3% (No. of applicants: 1,560)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 890 and 1140
> Annual net price: $16,944
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 94%

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: Cbc717 / Wikimedia Commons

35. Ohio
> Most selective college: Kenyon College
> Admission rate: 26.6% (No. of applicants: 6,403)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1230 and 1440
> Annual net price: $28,192
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 56%

Source: Courtesy of University of Tulsa

36. Oklahoma
> Most selective college: University of Tulsa
> Admission rate: 37.0% (No. of applicants: 8,089)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1100 and 1390
> Annual net price: $27,264
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 83%

[in-text-ad]

Source: Courtesy of Reed College

37. Oregon
> Most selective college: Reed College
> Admission rate: 31.3% (No. of applicants: 5,705)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1280 and 1480
> Annual net price: $27,805
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 48%

Source: pkujiahe / iStock

38. Pennsylvania
> Most selective college: University of Pennsylvania
> Admission rate: 9.4% (No. of applicants: 38,918)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1380 and 1570
> Annual net price: $22,944
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 54%

Source: Thinkstock

39. Rhode Island
> Most selective college: Brown University
> Admission rate: 9.3% (No. of applicants: 32,390)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1370 and 1570
> Annual net price: $25,264
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 48%

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: Streeter Lecka / Getty Images

40. South Carolina
> Most selective college: Clemson University
> Admission rate: 50.5% (No. of applicants: 23,506)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1150 and 1340
> Annual net price: $17,797
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 72%

Source: Courtesy of Augustana University

41. South Dakota
> Most selective college: Augustana University
> Admission rate: 69.1% (No. of applicants: 1,464)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 930 and 1230
> Annual net price: $19,974
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 96%

[in-text-ad]

Source: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

42. Tennessee
> Most selective college: Vanderbilt University
> Admission rate: 10.7% (No. of applicants: 32,442)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1420 and 1590
> Annual net price: $23,150
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 64%

Source: aimintang / iStock

43. Texas
> Most selective college: Rice University
> Admission rate: 15.3% (No. of applicants: 18,236)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1410 and 1570
> Annual net price: $22,061
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 63%

Source: legacyimagesphotography / iStock

44. Utah
> Most selective college: Brigham Young University-Provo
> Admission rate: 51.2% (No. of applicants: 12,739)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1160 and 1380
> Annual net price: $12,864
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 72%

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: Christopher Capozziello / Getty Images

45. Vermont
> Most selective college: Middlebury College
> Admission rate: 16.1% (No. of applicants: 8,819)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1280 and 1495
> Annual net price: $21,437
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 43%

Source: wellesenterprises / iStock

46. Virginia
> Most selective college: Washington and Lee University
> Admission rate: 23.6% (No. of applicants: 5,101)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1320 and 1460
> Annual net price: $23,867
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 57%

[in-text-ad]

Source: Courtesy of University of Washington

47. Washington
> Most selective college: University of Washington-Seattle Campus
> Admission rate: 45.3% (No. of applicants: 43,517)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1120 and 1370
> Annual net price: $10,068
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 44%

Source: Courtesy of Alderson Broaddus University

48. West Virginia
> Most selective college: Alderson Broaddus University
> Admission rate: 41.4% (No. of applicants: 4,103)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 870 and 1030
> Annual net price: $18,233
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 94%

Source: Darren Hauck / Getty Images

49. Wisconsin
> Most selective college: University of Wisconsin-Madison
> Admission rate: 52.6% (No. of applicants: 32,839)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 1200 and 1420
> Annual net price: $15,874
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 41%

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: Brian Bahr / Getty Images

50. Wyoming
> Most selective college: University of Wyoming
> Admission rate: 95.1% (No. of applicants: 4,883)
> SAT at 25th and 75th percentiles: 960 and 1210
> Annual net price: $13,155
> Undergraduate students awarded grant aid: 72%

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.”

Methodology

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.