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.