Special Report

The Hardest Colleges to Get Into

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There are nearly 15 million Americans attending college full time. These students are working towards a degree that they hope could help them land a job in their chosen field and boost their earning potential.

Not all bachelor’s degrees are equally valuable, though. Some college degrees are more highly regarded, based on the institution that granted it. Rightly or wrongly, certain colleges and universities are believed to provide a higher quality of education. These institutions often have low admission rates and can admit students with the highest levels of academic success.

To identify the hardest colleges to get into, 24/7 Wall St. constructed an index using data from the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education to measure the relative exclusivity of four-year, private and public degree-granting colleges and universities. We indexed both acceptance rates and SAT test scores of admitted students as of fall 2019 to measure the difficulty of being accepted.

Many of the hardest colleges to get into are Ivy League Schools or well-known technical colleges. Selective and prestigious colleges with a history of producing successful alumni do have an advantage over other schools in that new graduates have access to an extensive alumni network that can help them navigate the job market.

Though average earnings of school graduates vary widely between the highest and lowest rated colleges, it is likely more important what type of degree someone earned than where they earned it. Many careers that require college degrees pay relatively low wages, while other degree fields have median incomes of over $100,000. These are the college majors that pay off the most.

Click here to see the hardest colleges to get into
Click here to see our detailed methodology

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50. Grinnell College
> Acceptance rate: 23.1%
> Median SAT score: 1,450
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Average net price of attendance: $22,486
> Location: Grinnell, Iowa

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Source: Courtesy of Webb Institute via Facebook

49. Webb Institute
> Acceptance rate: 24.0%
> Median SAT score: 1,465
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Average net price of attendance: $15,684
> Location: Glen Cove, New York

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48. Wellesley College
> Acceptance rate: 21.6%
> Median SAT score: 1,445
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 7:1
> Average net price of attendance: $22,087
> Location: Wellesley, Massachusetts

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47. Boston University
> Acceptance rate: 18.9%
> Median SAT score: 1,425
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 10:1
> Average net price of attendance: $30,259
> Location: Boston, Massachusetts

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46. Emory University-Oxford College
> Acceptance rate: 19.8%
> Median SAT score: 1,438
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 10:1
> Average net price of attendance: $25,921
> Location: Oxford, Georgia

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45. Washington and Lee University
> Acceptance rate: 18.6%
> Median SAT score: 1,430
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Average net price of attendance: $22,615
> Location: Lexington, Virginia

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44. United States Naval Academy
> Acceptance rate: 8.3%
> Median SAT score: 1,350
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Average net price of attendance: $.
> Location: Annapolis, Maryland

Source: Courtesy of Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art via Facebook

43. Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
> Acceptance rate: 15.4%
> Median SAT score: 1,418
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Average net price of attendance: $14,118
> Location: New York, New York

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42. Carleton College
> Acceptance rate: 19.1%
> Median SAT score: 1,450
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Average net price of attendance: $31,133
> Location: Northfield, Minnesota

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41. University of California-Berkeley
> Acceptance rate: 16.3%
> Median SAT score: 1,430
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 19:1
> Average net price of attendance: $15,329
> Location: Berkeley, California

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40. New York University
> Acceptance rate: 16.2%
> Median SAT score: 1,440
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Average net price of attendance: $39,772
> Location: New York, New York

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Source: Courtesy of Hamilton College via Facebook

39. Hamilton College
> Acceptance rate: 16.4%
> Median SAT score: 1,445
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 9:1
> Average net price of attendance: $25,440
> Location: Clinton, New York

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38. University of California-Los Angeles
> Acceptance rate: 12.3%
> Median SAT score: 1,415
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 18:1
> Average net price of attendance: $14,279
> Location: Los Angeles, California

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37. Northeastern University
> Acceptance rate: 18.1%
> Median SAT score: 1,465
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 14:1
> Average net price of attendance: $31,093
> Location: Boston, Massachusetts

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36. Emory University
> Acceptance rate: 15.6%
> Median SAT score: 1,445
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 9:1
> Average net price of attendance: $23,734
> Location: Atlanta, Georgia

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35. Middlebury College
> Acceptance rate: 15.4%
> Median SAT score: 1,445
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Average net price of attendance: $25,656
> Location: Middlebury, Vermont

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34. Amherst College
> Acceptance rate: 11.3%
> Median SAT score: 1,415
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 7:1
> Average net price of attendance: $18,524
> Location: Amherst, Massachusetts

33. Haverford College
> Acceptance rate: 16.3%
> Median SAT score: 1,460
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Average net price of attendance: $22,991
> Location: Haverford, Pennsylvania

32. Barnard College
> Acceptance rate: 11.8%
> Median SAT score: 1,430
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 9:1
> Average net price of attendance: $28,204
> Location: New York, New York

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31. Tulane University of Louisiana
> Acceptance rate: 12.9%
> Median SAT score: 1,440
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Average net price of attendance: $37,841
> Location: New Orleans, Louisiana

30. Tufts University
> Acceptance rate: 14.9%
> Median SAT score: 1,465
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 10:1
> Average net price of attendance: $30,744
> Location: Medford, Massachusetts

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29. University of Notre Dame
> Acceptance rate: 15.8%
> Median SAT score: 1,475
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 9:1
> Average net price of attendance: $33,025
> Location: Notre Dame, Indiana

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28. Georgetown University
> Acceptance rate: 14.4%
> Median SAT score: 1,465
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 11:1
> Average net price of attendance: $28,909
> Location: Washington, District of Columbia

27. Claremont McKenna College
> Acceptance rate: 10.3%
> Median SAT score: 1,435
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Average net price of attendance: $22,161
> Location: Claremont, California

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26. University of Southern California
> Acceptance rate: 11.4%
> Median SAT score: 1,445
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 9:1
> Average net price of attendance: $29,528
> Location: Los Angeles, California

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25. Colby College
> Acceptance rate: 9.7%
> Median SAT score: 1,450
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 10:1
> Average net price of attendance: $17,777
> Location: Waterville, Maine

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24. Williams College
> Acceptance rate: 12.6%
> Median SAT score: 1,480
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 6:1
> Average net price of attendance: $19,480
> Location: Williamstown, Massachusetts

Source: Courtesy of Olin College of Engineering via Facebook

23. Franklin W Olin College of Engineering
> Acceptance rate: 15.7%
> Median SAT score: 1,510
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 6:1
> Average net price of attendance: $20,540
> Location: Needham, Massachusetts

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22. Carnegie Mellon University
> Acceptance rate: 15.4%
> Median SAT score: 1,510
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 5:1
> Average net price of attendance: $34,508
> Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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21. Swarthmore College
> Acceptance rate: 8.9%
> Median SAT score: 1,460
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 7:1
> Average net price of attendance: $19,184
> Location: Swarthmore, Pennsylvania

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20. Cornell University
> Acceptance rate: 10.9%
> Median SAT score: 1,480
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 9:1
> Average net price of attendance: $40,126
> Location: Ithaca, New York

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19. Pomona College
> Acceptance rate: 7.4%
> Median SAT score: 1,465
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 6:1
> Average net price of attendance: $17,458
> Location: Claremont, California

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18. Washington University in St Louis
> Acceptance rate: 13.9%
> Median SAT score: 1,520
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 7:1
> Average net price of attendance: $26,869
> Location: Saint Louis, Missouri

17. Harvey Mudd College
> Acceptance rate: 13.7%
> Median SAT score: 1,530
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Average net price of attendance: $32,727
> Location: Claremont, California

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16. Johns Hopkins University
> Acceptance rate: 11.2%
> Median SAT score: 1,510
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 6:1
> Average net price of attendance: $29,342
> Location: Baltimore, Maryland

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15. Northwestern University
> Acceptance rate: 9.1%
> Median SAT score: 1,495
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 6:1
> Average net price of attendance: $24,664
> Location: Evanston, Illinois

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14. Dartmouth College
> Acceptance rate: 7.9%
> Median SAT score: 1,500
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 7:1
> Average net price of attendance: $33,574
> Location: Hanover, New Hampshire

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13. Vanderbilt University
> Acceptance rate: 9.1%
> Median SAT score: 1,510
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Average net price of attendance: $19,432
> Location: Nashville, Tennessee

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12. University of Pennsylvania
> Acceptance rate: 7.7%
> Median SAT score: 1,505
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 6:1
> Average net price of attendance: $25,802
> Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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11. Brown University
> Acceptance rate: 7.1%
> Median SAT score: 1,505
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 6:1
> Average net price of attendance: $29,392
> Location: Providence, Rhode Island

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10. Rice University
> Acceptance rate: 8.7%
> Median SAT score: 1,520
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 6:1
> Average net price of attendance: $16,999
> Location: Houston, Texas

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9. Columbia University in the City of New York
> Acceptance rate: 5.5%
> Median SAT score: 1,505
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 6:1
> Average net price of attendance: $23,306
> Location: New York, New York

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8. Duke University
> Acceptance rate: 7.6%
> Median SAT score: 1,525
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 6:1
> Average net price of attendance: $27,020
> Location: Durham, North Carolina

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7. Yale University
> Acceptance rate: 6.1%
> Median SAT score: 1,515
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 4:1
> Average net price of attendance: $17,549
> Location: New Haven, Connecticut

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6. Princeton University
> Acceptance rate: 5.8%
> Median SAT score: 1,515
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 4:1
> Average net price of attendance: $11,317
> Location: Princeton, New Jersey

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5. Stanford University
> Acceptance rate: 4.3%
> Median SAT score: 1,505
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 4:1
> Average net price of attendance: $11,496
> Location: Stanford, California

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4. Harvard University
> Acceptance rate: 4.6%
> Median SAT score: 1,515
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 5:1
> Average net price of attendance: $15,386
> Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Source: Rick Seidel / Wikimedia Commons

3. University of Chicago
> Acceptance rate: 6.2%
> Median SAT score: 1,535
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 5:1
> Average net price of attendance: $27,315
> Location: Chicago, Illinois

Source: John Phelan / Wikimedia Commons

2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
> Acceptance rate: 6.7%
> Median SAT score: 1,540
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 3:1
> Average net price of attendance: $16,636
> Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

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1. California Institute of Technology
> Acceptance rate: 6.4%
> Median SAT score: 1,545
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 3:1
> Average net price of attendance: $24,274
> Location: Pasadena, California

Methodology

To identify the hardest colleges to get into, 24/7 Wall St. constructed an index using data from the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education to measure the relative exclusivity of four-year, private and public degree-granting colleges and universities. We indexed both acceptance rates and SAT test scores of admitted students as of fall 2019 to measure the difficulty of being accepted.

The annual net price listed is for full-time, first-time undergraduates paying the in-state or in-district tuition rate and who received grant or scholarship aid from federal, state, local, or institutional sources. The net price is generated by subtracting the amount of aid from the total cost of attendance, which is the sum of published tuition, required fees, books and supplies, the average room and board, and other expenses. Net price data is for the 2018-2019 school year. Schools that had no data on SAT and ACT scores were excluded from consideration. All data is for the most recent period available for all schools.

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