There are tens of thousands of institutions of higher learning in the world. All of these institutions are unique and have their own standards for which students they select. Some colleges are happy to have almost anyone so long as they pay their tuition,but most have some very basic standards that ensure that their incoming freshman are ready for the challenges that college presents. Some have a much higher standards. These colleges are well known for their academic rigor and intellectual environments. In order to ensure their students will be successful in such a challenging environment, and to maintain their stellar reputations, these insinuations only want the best of the best among high school students. Combine this with the sheer volume of applications these institutions often receive due to their prestige. name recognition, and superior job placement and earning potential, must go to great lengths to choose the students who are right for them, but which are the hardest?
There are several different types of selective colleges so we will discuss give you a bit of information about each before starting the top 10 list.
When considering prestige, name recognition, and academic rigor the Ivy League Conference schools are the first to come to mind. Ivy League Schools are massive institutions with huge endowments, often in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Despite relatively small undergraduate populations they offer a full range of academic opportunities. Most also include many graduate and pre-professional schools and programs such as Law, Medicine, etc. Comprised of eight of the most selective and challenging universities in the world, the Ivy League colleges have admissions rates ranging from 6-18%. That means that between 82 and 94% of people who apply to these colleges are denied. The Ivy league schools are Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown, Cornell, and the University of Pennsylvania.
Other Top 25 Private Schools:
There are several schools in the annual US News top 25 with both academic records and selectivity that rivals the Ivies. They are similarly comprehensive and have large endowments and many academic and research opportunities. The most well known of these schools is Stanford, with an admission rate near 7% rivaling even the most selective Ivies. Other key players in this group are University of Chicago, Washington University in St. Louis, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Harvey Mudd, etc.
Selective Liberal Arts Colleges:
These are much smaller colleges, where the entire undergraduate population is smaller then a single incoming class at most colleges. Often these colleges only accept a few hundred to maybe a thousand applicants in a year. Couple this with very strong and prestigious academic records and these schools can be very difficult to get in to. Liberal Arts Colleges are able to offer this high standard in a more intimate environment by focusing on what is called a liberal arts core curriculum. They teach critical thinking through literature, mathematics, philosophy, language, science, and history. The most selective of these colleges are often referred to as the “Little Ivies”. These include Amherst, Pomona, Swathmore, Bowdoin, Williams, Middlebury, Washington and Lee, Vassar, and Davidson. These colleges have acceptance rates nearly as low as the Ivies, ranging from 12-25%.
Selective Public Universities
Although the stereotype of prestigious and selective universities usually includes a pricey private institution, a few state schools have been able to enter this field with acceptance rates around 30% and lower and similar academic standards to their best private peers. Many of these colleges are a part of California’s UC system. California has four Universities with sub-4-% admissions rate, but them most selective are UC Berkley, also known as CAL, and UCLA. Also in this category are the University of Virginia, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and the College of William and Mary.
These schools have high academic standards similar to other selective universities, but focus on a narrow range of topics. This area includes technical schools such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California Institute of Technology, which will be included in this ranking due to their variety and strength of academic offerings, as well as more specialized schools such as Juilliard, Curtis Institute of Music, Cooper Union (Architecture) etc. which will be eliminated from this ranking for their dissimilarity to other institutions.
The Rankings (Courtesy of US News and Report, edited to include LAC’s-Methodology Here):
1. California Institute of Technology
CalTech has a 13% admissions rate, higher then some other schools but procures this ranking due its extremely high standardized test scores for its admitted applicants. The 25th-75th percentile range (how these scores are released) for the SAT is 2180-2360, or 34-35 for the ACT. It is worth noting that the ACT factors in both Math and Science, while the SAT does not have a dedicated science section, so focused Math and Science schools have a bit of an advantage in that category.
Yale’s admit rate is a very low 8%. Their test score ranges are 2100-2370 for the SAT and 30-34 for the ACT. US News also factors in the percentage of admitted applicants that are in the top 10% of their class. This data is not available but with Yale ranking above Harvard it must be very high.
Harvard has a 7% admit rate, but this is somewhat deflated because Harvard’s name recognition means that they inevitably receive a few more non-serious applicants with basically no chance of admission. Their standardized test score ranges are 2100-2390 SAT and 31-34 ACT.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has an admit rate of 10%. This is obviously low, but their ACT and SAT score ranges are even more impressive. They are 2080-2330 for the SAT and 32 to 35 for the ACT.
Princeton is usually considered to be the third “Big Three” school finishing out the trio with Harvard and Yale. It holds its own here as well with an admissions rate of 9%. Their SAT range is 2100-2370 and ACT range is 31-35.
Outside the Big Three, Columbia is the best of the rest as far as Ivies are concerned. They have a 10% admit rate. Their score ranges are slightly lower then the schools so far with 2050-2320 for the SAT and 31-34 for the ACT.
7. Washington University at St. Louis
Washington U. lies firmly in the Midwest, and as such have an elite range for ACT score of 32-34 since the ACT is a most predominant in the Midwest. They have a high(relatively) admit rate of 22%. Their SAT range is 2080-2280. Presumably they also finished very high in students from the top 10% of the class to make up for the higher admit rate.
8. Harvey Mudd
Like MIT and CIT, is a school focused highly on math and science as its main program is engineering. This means high math and science standards, making for an SAT range of 2080-2320, and ACT range of 33-35. This helps drive it on to this list even with a 22% admit rate.
9. University of Pennsylvania
Penn, another Ivy League school is helped out significantly by its Wharton School of Business. It is the only Ivy with a business school for undergraduates, and Wharton is one of the nations most selective programs with about a 7% admissions rate. This helps the overall college obtain a fairly low 14% admission rate. Their SAT and ACT ranges are 2030-2300 and 30-34.
Swathmore is the only LAC to crack the top 10, and rightfully so. With its 17% admit rate it is definatly selective and when it comes to test scores Swathmore holds its own with the bigger universities, with an SAT range of 2010-2290 and ACT range of 30-33.
Honorable Mention: Stanford
Stanford is often regarded in the same light as our top contenders Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. The numbers back this up. Stanford’s admit rate is a ridiculously low 7%. Their ACT and SAT ranges are also very competitive at 31-34 and 2040-2330. They are likely hurt in the top 10% of the class ranking due to California’s large and competitive public schools since many applicants come from elite schools where everyone is a candidate for selective admissions. They may also be hurt because, unlike Ivies, they have athletic scholarships and may make more exceptions for recruited athletes then other schools though this is only speculation.
The Best of the Rest (Specialized Schools)
Performing Arts:Juilliard with an admit rate traditionally between 6-8% they are the Harvard of Dance, Drama and Music.
Music: Curtis Institute of Music- They admit only enough people to fill one orchestra and opera company, thus have traditionally and an admissions rate around 5%.
Architecture and Art: Cooper Union- They offer the finest education in fine art and architecture, and also have a strong engineering program. They also have an admit rate around 5%.