Special Report

The 50 Hardest Colleges and Universities to Get Into, Ranked

InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA / Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to deciding where to attend college, there are a number of factors to weigh and consider – and many of them are subjective. These include size, proximity to home, campus atmosphere, and housing options. But for some portion of the nearly 82 million American adults with a bachelor’s degree, the right school was simply the best one they could get into. (Here is a look at the 50 best college towns in America.)

The quality of education offered at the thousands of colleges and universities in the U.S. varies considerably. And while a college education in itself can meaningfully increase lifetime earning potential and improve job security, the school that issues the degree can be almost as important as the degree itself.

The United States is home to many of the most renowned colleges and universities in the world. These schools have a reputation for preparing students for post-graduate life and putting their graduates on a fast-track for rewarding careers. As such, many of these top-ranked colleges review tens of thousands of applicants a year, and only a small portion of them can be accepted.  

Using data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 24/7 Wall St. identified the hardest colleges and universities to get into. The schools on this list were identified using a two-part index composed of the acceptance rate – the share of applicants who are offered admission – and the median SAT score among students admitted in the fall of 2020. 

Among the schools on this list, acceptance rates range from about 20% to under 5%, and median SAT scores range from 1350 to 1545 out of a possible 1600. The exact criteria these schools use to decide who is accepted varies but generally include personal statements, high school transcripts, extracurricular activities, and standardized test scores – like the SAT. 

These schools include well known Ivy League institutions, like Harvard and Yale, major research institutions like Carnegie Mellon, and small liberal arts colleges, like Colby and Middlebury. 

While the benefits of earning a degree from any one of the schools on this list can extend beyond the working world, incomes among former students underscore the high standing graduates from these schools have in the job market. Average incomes among graduates 10 years after enrollment exceeds $80,000 for the majority of colleges and universities on this list. For context, the typical college graduate earns $59,600 a year, according to the NCES. (Here is a look at where America’s 25 richest billionaires went to college.)

These are the hardest to get into.

Source: RickSause / Getty Images

50. Colgate University
> Acceptance rate: 17.2%
> Median SAT score: 1415 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 9:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $24,500
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $81,100
> Location: Hamilton, NY

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49. Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus
> Acceptance rate: 16.0%
> Median SAT score: 1405 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 19:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $17,360
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $85,900
> Location: Atlanta, GA

48. Emory University-Oxford College
> Acceptance rate: 19.8%
> Median SAT score: 1438 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 10:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $33,780
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: N/A
> Location: Oxford, GA

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47. Washington and Lee University
> Acceptance rate: 18.8%
> Median SAT score: 1430 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $26,063
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $93,300
> Location: Lexington, VA

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46. Vassar College
> Acceptance rate: 20.1%
> Median SAT score: 1445 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $27,249
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $61,500
> Location: Poughkeepsie, NY

Source: SeanPavonePhoto / iStock via Getty Images

45. United States Naval Academy
> Acceptance rate: 8.4%
> Median SAT score: 1350 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: N/A
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: N/A
> Location: Annapolis, MD

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

44. Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
> Acceptance rate: 14.7%
> Median SAT score: 1418 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $20,757
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $68,600
> Location: New York, NY

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43. Carleton College
> Acceptance rate: 17.5%
> Median SAT score: 1450 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $31,718
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $67,900
> Location: Northfield, MN

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42. University of California-Berkeley
> Acceptance rate: 14.4%
> Median SAT score: 1430 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 19:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $17,652
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $79,000
> Location: Berkeley, CA

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41. Wellesley College
> Acceptance rate: 16.2%
> Median SAT score: 1445 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 7:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $21,862
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $71,800
> Location: Wellesley, MA

Source: aimintang / iStock via Getty Images

40. Haverford College
> Acceptance rate: 17.8%
> Median SAT score: 1460 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $24,462
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $75,100
> Location: Haverford, PA

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39. Northeastern University
> Acceptance rate: 18.4%
> Median SAT score: 1465 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 14:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $38,927
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $74,200
> Location: Boston, MA

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38. University of California-Los Angeles
> Acceptance rate: 10.8%
> Median SAT score: 1415 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 18:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $13,393
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $73,200
> Location: Los Angeles, CA

Source: Courtesy of Hamilton College via Facebook

37. Hamilton College
> Acceptance rate: 14.1%
> Median SAT score: 1445 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 9:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $26,803
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $74,300
> Location: Clinton, NY

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36. New York University
> Acceptance rate: 13.0%
> Median SAT score: 1440 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $50,991
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $78,600
> Location: New York, NY

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35. Middlebury College
> Acceptance rate: 13.4%
> Median SAT score: 1445 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $26,958
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $71,900
> Location: Middlebury, VT

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34. Barnard College
> Acceptance rate: 11.5%
> Median SAT score: 1430 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 9:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $28,366
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $69,700
> Location: New York, NY

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33. Emory University
> Acceptance rate: 13.1%
> Median SAT score: 1445 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 9:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $28,367
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $84,400
> Location: Atlanta, GA

32. University of Southern California
> Acceptance rate: 12.5%
> Median SAT score: 1445 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 9:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $26,021
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $88,800
> Location: Los Angeles, CA

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31. Claremont McKenna College
> Acceptance rate: 11.2%
> Median SAT score: 1435 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $21,663
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $93,200
> Location: Claremont, CA

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30. Amherst College
> Acceptance rate: 8.7%
> Median SAT score: 1415 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 7:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $18,809
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $83,300
> Location: Amherst, MA

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29. University of Notre Dame
> Acceptance rate: 15.1%
> Median SAT score: 1475 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 9:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $30,513
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $98,400
> Location: Notre Dame, IN

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28. Tulane University of Louisiana
> Acceptance rate: 9.6%
> Median SAT score: 1440 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $45,048
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $86,300
> Location: New Orleans, LA

Source: Wolterk / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

27. Grinnell College
> Acceptance rate: 10.5%
> Median SAT score: 1450 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $37,423
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $61,000
> Location: Grinnell, IA

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26. Georgetown University
> Acceptance rate: 12.0%
> Median SAT score: 1465 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 11:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $23,049
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $125,200
> Location: Washington, DC

25. Tufts University
> Acceptance rate: 11.4%
> Median SAT score: 1465 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 10:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $31,630
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $103,300
> Location: Medford, MA

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24. Colby College
> Acceptance rate: 8.9%
> Median SAT score: 1450 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 10:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $17,912
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $71,000
> Location: Waterville, ME

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23. Swarthmore College
> Acceptance rate: 7.8%
> Median SAT score: 1460 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 7:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $19,733
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $70,000
> Location: Swarthmore, PA

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22. Carnegie Mellon University
> Acceptance rate: 13.5%
> Median SAT score: 1510 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 5:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $37,450
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $103,000
> Location: Pittsburgh, PA

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21. Williams College
> Acceptance rate: 8.8%
> Median SAT score: 1480 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 6:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $14,487
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $89,800
> Location: Williamstown, MA

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20. Cornell University
> Acceptance rate: 8.7%
> Median SAT score: 1480 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 9:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $24,262
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $101,200
> Location: Ithaca, NY

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19. Pomona College
> Acceptance rate: 6.6%
> Median SAT score: 1465 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 6:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $17,000
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $77,300
> Location: Claremont, CA

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18. Washington University in St Louis
> Acceptance rate: 13.0%
> Median SAT score: 1520 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 7:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $28,298
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $87,900
> Location: Saint Louis, MO

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17. Northwestern University
> Acceptance rate: 7.0%
> Median SAT score: 1495 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 6:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $29,999
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $93,400
> Location: Evanston, IL

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16. Rice University
> Acceptance rate: 9.5%
> Median SAT score: 1520 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 6:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $18,521
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $91,600
> Location: Houston, TX

15. Harvey Mudd College
> Acceptance rate: 10.0%
> Median SAT score: 1530 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $33,838
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $104,200
> Location: Claremont, CA

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14. Johns Hopkins University
> Acceptance rate: 7.5%
> Median SAT score: 1510 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 6:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $20,680
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $89,300
> Location: Baltimore, MD

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13. Dartmouth College
> Acceptance rate: 6.2%
> Median SAT score: 1500 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 7:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $24,078
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $110,200
> Location: Hanover, NH

Source: SeanPavonePhoto / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

12. Vanderbilt University
> Acceptance rate: 7.1%
> Median SAT score: 1510 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 8:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $27,553
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $86,200
> Location: Nashville, TN

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11. University of Pennsylvania
> Acceptance rate: 5.9%
> Median SAT score: 1505 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 6:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $14,578
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $131,600
> Location: Philadelphia, PA

Source: Wolterk / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

10. Brown University
> Acceptance rate: 5.5%
> Median SAT score: 1505 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 6:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $25,028
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $89,100
> Location: Providence, RI

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9. Columbia University in the City of New York
> Acceptance rate: 4.1%
> Median SAT score: 1505 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 6:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $12,411
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $115,600
> Location: New York, NY

Source: f11photo / iStock via Getty Images

8. Yale University
> Acceptance rate: 5.3%
> Median SAT score: 1515 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 4:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $20,605
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $124,400
> Location: New Haven, CT

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7. Stanford University
> Acceptance rate: 3.9%
> Median SAT score: 1505 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 4:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $14,402
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $141,300
> Location: Stanford, CA

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6. Duke University
> Acceptance rate: 5.9%
> Median SAT score: 1525 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 6:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $27,297
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $114,500
> Location: Durham, NC

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5. Princeton University
> Acceptance rate: 4.4%
> Median SAT score: 1515 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 4:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $20,908
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $116,300
> Location: Princeton, NJ

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4. University of Chicago
> Acceptance rate: 6.5%
> Median SAT score: 1535 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 5:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $33,727
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $103,000
> Location: Chicago, IL

Source: jorgeantonio / iStock via Getty Images

3. Harvard University
> Acceptance rate: 4.0%
> Median SAT score: 1515 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 5:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $13,910
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $139,100
> Location: Cambridge, MA

Source: diegograndi / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
> Acceptance rate: 4.1%
> Median SAT score: 1540 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 3:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $30,958
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $153,600
> Location: Cambridge, MA

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1. California Institute of Technology
> Acceptance rate: 3.9%
> Median SAT score: 1545 out of 1600
> Student-to-faculty ratio: 3:1
> Avg. net price of attendance: $30,162
> Avg. annual earnings 10-yrs. after entry: $106,300
> Location: Pasadena, CA

Methodology

To determine the hardest colleges to get into, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data on acceptance rates and SAT scores for over 6,500 U.S. colleges and universities. Colleges were ranked based on an index composed of acceptance rates for the 2020-2021 academic year and the median SAT scores of admitted students in fall 2020. Data on acceptance rates and SAT scores came from the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education. Only colleges and universities with at least 1,000 applicants in the 2020-2021 academic year were considered.

Supplemental data on the student-to-faculty ratio as of fall 2020 and the average net price of attendance 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 during the 2020-2021 academic year also came from the Department of Education. 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 and is calculated by the NCES. Data on median earnings in 2015 of students who entered university in the 2004-05 academic year also came from the NCES.

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