Special Report

The Hardest College To Get Into In Every State

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Deciding where to go college is the first major life decision many Americans make. And while there are multiple factors to weigh when selecting a school – including cost and distance from home – many of the 16.6 million American college students today chose to enroll in the best school they could get into. 

It is generally believed that graduates of elite colleges and universities are better positioned for success later in life. And there is plenty of evidence to back this claim. According to one study conducted between 1996 and 2014, about 38% of Fortune 500 CEOs and 45% of billionaires attended elite schools. (This is where the 25 richest American billionaires went to college.)

However, because of both the quality and rigor of academic programs offered at elite colleges and universities, these schools receive far more applications each year than they can accept. As a result, many of the best schools in the country are also the most selective. It is worth noting that those who graduate from top-tier institutions are high achievers to begin with, and therefore, any career success cannot be attributed to their college education alone. 

Using data from the U.S. Department of Education, 24/7 Wall St. identified the hardest college to get into in each state. Colleges and universities were ranked based on an equally weighted index of median SAT scores among the school’s enrolled students in the 2020-2021 academic year and the school’s acceptance rate in the fall 2021 semester. Only schools with available data and at least 1,000 applicants for fall 2021 enrollment were considered. In both Alaska and Wyoming, only one school had available data, and it ranks as the most competitive by default only. 

Despite ranking on this list, not all of these schools are considered elite. While there are several Ivy League institutions and other schools of comparable stature on this list, many states are not home to any top-tier colleges and universities. In over a dozen states, even the most selective school accepts over 50% of all applicants. For context, none of the eight Ivy League schools have an acceptance rate above 10%. 

Still, even for those who cannot get into an elite college or university or do not want to travel out of state, the benefits of a college degree from most schools – particularly those on this list – are undeniable. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical college graduate earns about 65% more in the workforce than those with only a high school diploma. Additionally, college graduates are nearly half as likely to be unemployed than those with no more than a high school education. (Here is a look at the highest paying college majors). 

Click here to see the hardest college to get into in every state.

Click here to see our detailed methodology.

Alabama: Tuskegee University
> Location: Tuskegee
> Schools considered in state: 17
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 34.2%
> Median SAT score of student body: 953 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 8,597
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 2,184
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $40,750

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Alaska: University of Alaska Fairbanks
> Location: Fairbanks
> Schools considered in state: 1
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 64.7%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1160 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 1,402
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 5,844
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $19,135

Because the University of Alaska Fairbanks is the only school with available data and over 1,000 applicants in Alaska, it ranks as the hardest school to get into in the state by default.

Arizona: Ottawa University-Surprise
> Location: Surprise
> Schools considered in state: 5
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 30.5%
> Median SAT score of student body: 981 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 1,232
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 896
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $45,139

Arkansas: Lyon College
> Location: Batesville
> Schools considered in state: 12
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 27.2%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1091 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 2,444
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 579
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $41,396

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California: California Institute of Technology
> Location: Pasadena
> Schools considered in state: 53
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 3.9%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1555 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 13,026
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 987
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $74,763

Colorado: United States Air Force Academy
> Location: USAF Academy
> Schools considered in state: 13
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 12.4%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1325 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 11,687
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 4,181
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $N/A

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Connecticut: Yale University
> Location: New Haven
> Schools considered in state: 14
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 5.3%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1520 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 47,240
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 6,536
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $76,645

Delaware: University of Delaware
> Location: Newark
> Schools considered in state: 2
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 72.3%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1240 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 34,111
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 19,410
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $28,708

Florida: University of Florida
> Location: Gainesville
> Schools considered in state: 27
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 30.1%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1375 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 51,207
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 34,876
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $21,151

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Georgia: Emory University
> Location: Atlanta
> Schools considered in state: 29
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 13.1%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1455 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 33,435
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 7,130
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $72,604

Hawaii: University of Hawaii at Manoa
> Location: Honolulu
> Schools considered in state: 5
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 70.0%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1175 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 19,607
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 14,120
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $23,405

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Idaho: The College of Idaho
> Location: Caldwell
> Schools considered in state: 6
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 56.3%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1145 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 3,464
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 1,119
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $45,607

Illinois: University of Chicago
> Location: Chicago
> Schools considered in state: 39
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 6.5%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1535 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 37,974
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 7,636
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $81,531

Indiana: University of Notre Dame
> Location: Notre Dame
> Schools considered in state: 27
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 15.1%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1475 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 23,642
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 8,973
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $74,172

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Iowa: Grinnell College
> Location: Grinnell
> Schools considered in state: 20
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 10.5%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1446 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 10,513
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 1,748
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $70,346

Kansas: Sterling College
> Location: Sterling
> Schools considered in state: 9
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 47.4%
> Median SAT score of student body: 990 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 2,574
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 686
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $40,406

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Kentucky: Berea College
> Location: Berea
> Schools considered in state: 18
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 33.0%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1180 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 1,736
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 1,468
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $54,866

Louisiana: Tulane University of Louisiana
> Location: New Orleans
> Schools considered in state: 15
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 9.6%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1420 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 45,525
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 8,700
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $75,628

Maine: Colby College
> Location: Waterville
> Schools considered in state: 5
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 8.9%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1450 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 15,857
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 2,262
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $73,600

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Maryland: Johns Hopkins University
> Location: Baltimore
> Schools considered in state: 12
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 7.5%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1515 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 39,515
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 6,132
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $74,001

Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
> Location: Cambridge
> Schools considered in state: 37
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 4.1%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1545 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 33,240
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 4,638
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $73,160

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Michigan: University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
> Location: Ann Arbor
> Schools considered in state: 25
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 20.2%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1430 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 79,743
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 32,282
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $30,926

Minnesota: Carleton College
> Location: Northfield
> Schools considered in state: 19
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 17.5%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1425 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 7,915
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 2,044
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $74,275

Mississippi: Mississippi College
> Location: Clinton
> Schools considered in state: 8
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 49.0%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1200 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 2,339
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 2,523
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $34,918

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Missouri: Washington University in St Louis
> Location: Saint Louis
> Schools considered in state: 20
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 13.0%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1520 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 33,634
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 8,034
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $76,910

Montana: The University of Montana-Western
> Location: Dillon
> Schools considered in state: 6
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 33.3%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1005 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 1,278
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 1,399
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $17,790

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Nebraska: University of Nebraska-Lincoln
> Location: Lincoln
> Schools considered in state: 6
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 81.1%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1215 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 17,775
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 19,552
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $24,400

Nevada: University of Nevada-Las Vegas
> Location: Las Vegas
> Schools considered in state: 2
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 83.5%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1140 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 13,025
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 25,312
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $18,756

New Hampshire: Dartmouth College
> Location: Hanover
> Schools considered in state: 3
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 6.2%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1500 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 28,356
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 4,556
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $77,152

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New Jersey: Princeton University
> Location: Princeton
> Schools considered in state: 19
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 4.4%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1510 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 37,601
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 5,321
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $74,150

New Mexico: Eastern New Mexico University-Main Campus
> Location: Portales
> Schools considered in state: 4
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 32.5%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1055 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 1,480
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 3,756
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $17,897

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New York: Columbia University in the City of New York
> Location: New York
> Schools considered in state: 81
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 4.1%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1515 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 61,110
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 8,832
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $79,750

North Carolina: Duke University
> Location: Durham
> Schools considered in state: 41
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 5.9%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1520 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 49,703
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 6,883
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $77,846

North Dakota: University of Mary
> Location: Bismarck
> Schools considered in state: 4
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 78.8%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1110 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 1,532
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 2,579
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $30,194

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Ohio: Case Western Reserve University
> Location: Cleveland
> Schools considered in state: 38
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 30.2%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1430 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 33,232
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 5,792
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $69,526

Oklahoma: Oklahoma Baptist University
> Location: Shawnee
> Schools considered in state: 11
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 55.7%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1105 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 2,603
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 1,430
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $42,983

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Oregon: Corban University
> Location: Salem
> Schools considered in state: 13
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 37.5%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1080 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 2,136
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 886
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $45,919

Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania
> Location: Philadelphia
> Schools considered in state: 61
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 5.9%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1515 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 56,332
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 11,292
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $78,186

Rhode Island: Brown University
> Location: Providence
> Schools considered in state: 6
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 5.5%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1500 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 46,568
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 7,349
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $77,490

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South Carolina: Clemson University
> Location: Clemson
> Schools considered in state: 22
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 49.2%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1300 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 47,007
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 21,653
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $32,254

South Dakota: Augustana University
> Location: Sioux Falls
> Schools considered in state: 7
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 71.8%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1223 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 2,257
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 1,715
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $47,710

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Tennessee: Vanderbilt University
> Location: Nashville
> Schools considered in state: 23
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 7.1%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1520 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 47,152
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 7,111
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $73,148

Texas: Rice University
> Location: Houston
> Schools considered in state: 54
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 9.5%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1515 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 29,544
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 4,247
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $67,102

Utah: Brigham Young University
> Location: Provo
> Schools considered in state: 5
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 59.2%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1305 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 11,608
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 31,642
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $18,936

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Vermont: Middlebury College
> Location: Middlebury
> Schools considered in state: 3
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 13.4%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1430 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 11,906
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 2,858
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $74,248

Virginia: Washington and Lee University
> Location: Lexington
> Schools considered in state: 33
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 18.8%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1425 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 6,621
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 1,857
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $73,900

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Washington: University of Washington-Seattle Campus
> Location: Seattle
> Schools considered in state: 14
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 53.5%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1327 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 48,840
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 36,201
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $26,825

West Virginia: University of Charleston
> Location: Charleston
> Schools considered in state: 12
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 69.7%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1073 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 1,984
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 2,162
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $43,829

Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin-Madison
> Location: Madison
> Schools considered in state: 13
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 60.4%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1360 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 53,781
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 34,561
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $26,393

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Wyoming: University of Wyoming
> Location: Laramie
> Schools considered in state: 1
> Acceptance rate, fall 2021: 96.8%
> Median SAT score of student body: 1140 out of 1600
> Applicants for fall 2021 admission: 5,645
> Total undergraduate enrollment, fall 2021: 8,869
> Avg. annual cost of attendance: $20,258

Because the University of Wyoming is the only school with available data and over 1,000 applicants in Wyoming, it ranks as the hardest school to get into in the state by default.

Methodology

To identify the hardest college to get into in every state, 24/7 Wall St. created an index of two measures – acceptance rate and median SAT scores. The acceptance rate reflects the share of applicants who were offered admission for the fall 2021 school year and is from the National Center for Education Statistics. Median SAT scores are the sum of the critical reading and math median SAT scores among enrolled students in the 2020-2021 academic year and are out of a possible 1600. Data on SAT scores are from the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard. Acceptance rates and median SAT scores were weighted equally in the index. 

We also considered several supplementary measures, including total number of applicants for admission in fall 2021, total undergraduate enrollment in fall 2021, and average cost of attendance for the 2020-2021 school year. 

The number of applicants and total undergraduate enrollment are from the National Center for Education Statistics, while average cost of attendance is from the College Scorecard. Average cost of attendance is for full-time, first-time, undergraduates who receive Title IV aid. Attendance costs include tuition and fees, books, supplies, and living expenses less aid received. 

Only schools with available data and at least 1,000 applicants in fall 2021 were considered in this ranking. 

In both Alaska and Wyoming, only one postsecondary institution had available data and at least 1,000 applicants for the fall 2021 academic year. As a result, the schools listed in these states rank as having the most competitive admissions process by default only. 

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