The Most Difficult Colleges to Get Accepted Into in the Country

By Jake Schroeder
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Submitting college applications is one of the most stressful experiences in life. Perhaps you love a college and know it’s "the one." However, it’s a competitive game against other applicants. How will your application stand out from the others?

Drawing research from Niche and the U.S. Department of Education, we have compiled a list of the 30 most challenging colleges to get accepted into in the U.S. If you’re applying to these colleges, good luck!

Carnegie Mellon University

Located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania., Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) has world-class programs in the creative arts, business, humanities, engineering and science. Founded by famous American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1900, CMU has high standards.

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With a 22 percent acceptance rate, applicants must score at least between 1,430 and 1,560 on their SAT scores to be considered for the university. But if they’re lucky enough to be accepted, students are exposed to rich culture and art during their undergraduate education. They leave with passion and connections to succeed in life. Does it get any better than that?

Haverford College

Pennsylvania has many historic colleges and universities, including Haverford College in Haverford, Pennsylvania. One of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges, students are surrounded by a close-knit intellectual community of faculty and peers who are passionate about visual arts, culture and media.

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But it’s difficult to get accepted into this liberal arts school. With a 20 percent acceptance rate, hopeful applicants must have an SAT score between 1,390 and 1,530. However, if you’re an intellectually curious and independent learner who values collaboration, don’t be afraid to apply here. You may be just the kind of student Haverford is looking for.

University of Notre Dame

The University of Notre Dame is Indiana's most difficult school to get accepted into. It is also the top Catholic university in the United States. The university strives to be a place of excellence for finance, accounting and economics majors.

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If you’re interested in these majors, feel free to send in an application, but expect competition. With an 18 percent acceptance rate, applicants must score between 1,370 and 1,520 on their SATs. If you’re able to get accepted into this prestigious university, consider yourself lucky.

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Williams College

Williams College is one of the most prestigious private liberal arts colleges in the nation. While receiving their education, students explore diversity, examine cultures, take special classes and challenge themselves to grow as individuals in unexpected ways.

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Because Williams College (located in Williamstown, Massachusetts) is so prestigious, you need an impressive application to be considered for enrollment. With an 18 percent acceptance rate, applicants must have an SAT score between 1,400 and 1,570. However, if you’re lucky enough to attend the college, you’ll surely have a bright and rewarding future. The school has a 94 percent graduation and job placement rate.

Georgetown University

Georgetown University is located in the heart of Washington, D.C. Popular majors include political science, government, international relations and finance. The university strives to be an educational home for the mind and the heart. You can’t help but get involved in politics while studying there.

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Rated A+ for academics, Georgetown University has a 17 percent acceptance rate. Applicants must receive a score between 1,350 and 1,520 on their SATs. However, if you are accepted into the school, don’t hesitate. You couldn’t find a better school for political science and government studies.

Washington University in St. Louis

Washington University in St. Louis is often regarded as the Ivy League school of the Midwest. The research school is committed to learning and exploration. Professors encourage students to make an impact through majors including finance, psychology, computer science and more.

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With a 17 percent acceptance rate, applicants must earn a score between 1,470 and 1,570 on their SATs to be accepted. Washington University was named the best college campus in 2019. We wouldn’t blame you for desperately wanting to attend the school. Make sure your application is as impressive as possible to get in here.

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Rice University

Located in Houston, Rice University is Texas' most challenging school to get accepted into. Known for its popular majors in economics, chemical engineering and information science, the university is also ranked by Niche as the best school to study physical therapy.

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If you want to apply, you should know that it won’t be easy. With a 15 percent acceptance rate, applicants should have an SAT score between 1,490 and 1,580. It is difficult to get accepted into the school, but if you want to become a physical therapist, there is no better place to be.

Tufts University

Known as an elite public research school, Tufts University is located in Medford, Massachusetts and prepares future leaders to change the world. This premier university provides students with a personal experience they will never forget as they study science, technology and liberal arts.

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With a 14 percent acceptance rate, you’ll have to fight other applicants to earn a spot as a freshman. Applicants must have an SAT score between 1,410 and 1,540. If you’re able to get accepted into the school, count yourself lucky. Anyone would love to attend a university Niche awarded an A+ rating for academics.

Amherst College

Located in Amherst, Massachusetts, Amherst College is home to the largest collection of Emily Dickinson’s poetry in the world as well as the Emily Dickinson Museum. With such a prestigious collection, it shouldn’t be surprising that Amherst College is one of the top private liberal arts colleges in the country. The college offers majors in English, history, art, theater, various sciences and more.

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The school has a 14 percent acceptance rate. Accepted students typically have an SAT score between 1,400 and 1,560. Knowing it’s a competitive school, many applicants also apply to Williams College, Bowdoin College or Middlebury College to keep their options open. Good idea.

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Cornell University

Cornell University is an Ivy League research university in Ithaca, New York that offers exceptional education for undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students alike. Named by Niche as the best college for agricultural sciences, the university encourages students to think outside the box.

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With a 14 percent acceptance rate, Cornell University expects applicants to achieve a score between 1,390 and 1,500 on their SATs. After all, the university has worked incredibly hard to maintain its reputation as an elite research school. Students must hold up their end of the bargain and show determination in their fields of study.

Swarthmore College

Swarthmore College was one of the earliest coeducational colleges in the U.S. Located in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, the private liberal arts school has given students the knowledge, skills and experience to become future leaders. At Swarthmore College, there’s a major for everyone, including English, political science, medieval studies, astronomy and gender and sexuality studies.

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It’s not easy getting accepted into the school. With a 13 percent acceptance rate, applicants must earn an SAT score between 1,380 and 1,540. This might be stressful, but if you aren’t accepted into Swarthmore, there are plenty of other prestigious colleges to attend.

Harvey Mudd College

Located in Claremont, California, Harvey Mudd College is one of the top undergraduate engineering schools in the country. It also excels at providing an education in mathematics and the sciences and the tools necessary to succeed in such professions.

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With a 13 percent acceptance rate, applicants should earn a score between 1,470 and 1,570 on their SATs to be considered. Students must make sure their application is impressive since nearly every hopeful engineer on the West Coast applies. Prospective students also often apply to California Institute of Technology, Claremont McKenna College and Pomona College.

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Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins University is one of the most prestigious universities for medical research and is located in the bustling city of Baltimore. This private university is offer prestigious majors in public health, nursing and other medical fields. If you want to become a doctor, it’s best to receive your undergraduate degree at Johns Hopkins University.

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The university has a 13 percent acceptance rate, and applicants must have an SAT score between 1,450 and 1,570. You want to make sure your application is one of the very best since nearly every future doctor applies to the university.

Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University has grown in popularity in recent years and is regarded by Niche as the best college to study education and the third-best university for psychology. The university is located in Nashville, Tennessee and offers a rich culture. Popular areas of study include economics, social science research methods and many majors within the liberal arts and humanities.

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Because Vanderbilt University is the best school for education majors, it has a highly competitive application process. With an 11 percent acceptance rate, applicants typically have an SAT score between 1,440 and 1,570. If your score matches, send in an application. Hopefully, you’ll be studying in Music City.

Duke University

Duke University is known as much for its athletics as its academics. Ranked as the top college for student-athletes, this university in Durham, North Carolina is an elite private school for students majoring in economics, computer science, public policy analysis and many other fields.

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With an 11 percent acceptance rate, hopeful applicants should have an SAT score between 1,380 and 1,540. Regarded as North Carolina’s most prestigious school, you should know that every high school senior in the state is probably applying to Duke University. Make sure your application stands out from the others in the pile.

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Dartmouth College

This Ivy League research university is the ninth-oldest institution in the U.S. and was founded in 1769 in Dartmouth, New Hampshire. Dartmouth College offers students a quality education in majors including economics, political science, government, computer science and many other fields.

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That said, you need an impressive application and transcript to get accepted into the historic college. Dartmouth College has a 10 percent acceptance rate, and applicants should have an SAT score between 1,430 and 1,560. However, if you’re accepted into Dartmouth College, you’ll have a bright future. The college has a 97 percent graduation and employment rate.

Claremont McKenna College

Located in Claremont, California, Claremont McKenna College (CMC) is one of the most prestigious liberal arts schools in the state. Known for its emphasis on economics, political science, finance, international relations and public affairs, CMC teaches students to know that they can be leaders who make a different in the world.

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With a 9 percent acceptance rate, students should receive a score between 1,340 and 1,510 on their SATs if they want to be viable applicants. Because the college is so selective, it has fewer than 1,400 full-time undergraduate students. It’s a small school, but it’s a perfect fit for many students. Maybe even you.

Northwestern University

Northwestern University, located in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Illinois, offers a highly collaborative environment for students. This innovative research school prepares students for personal and intellectual growth in a diverse community. Best known for its communications major, the university also offers excellent degrees in music, art and applied sciences.

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With a 9 percent acceptance rate, Northwestern University wants only the best students. Applicants should have an SAT score between 1,420 and 1,560 to be accepted. If you’re lucky enough to get in, you’ll have fun learning and growing as an individual in Chicago. Does it get any better than that?

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United States Naval Academy

The United States Naval Academy is a competitive school to get into because admissions staff review both academic successes and military performances. Based out of Annapolis, Maryland, this federal service academy educates future officers for the U.S Navy and Marine Corps.

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The academy has a 9 percent acceptance rate. Applicants typically score between 1,410 and 1,600 on their SATs. This might seem discouraging, but if you’re passionate about the military, you can also apply to the U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania is located in Philadelphia and is the top school to attend for business. Popular majors include finance, economics, nursing and others. If you live in Pennsylvania, chances are you wish you could attend UPenn.

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Even so, it’s difficult to get accepted into this Ivy League school. With a 9 percent acceptance rate, tUPenn expects applicants to have scored between 1,420 and 1,560 on their SATs. However, as one of the nation’s oldest universities — it was founded in 1740 — students are surrounded by rich culture and history daily. You can’t ask for anything better.

Pomona College

If you thought it was difficult to get accepted into Claremont McKenna College, try getting accepted into Pomona College, also located in Claremont, California. This private liberal arts college has a New England college vibe and excels in providing a variety of liberal arts majors, including English, media studies and theater. Psychology is also a strong option.

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With an 8 percent acceptance rate, Pomona College expects applicants to have an SAT score between 1,370 and 1,530, so consider keeping your options open by also applying to Claremont McKenna College.

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Brown University

Located in Providence, Rhode Island, Brown University offers the education you’d expect from an Ivy League school. According to Niche, the university has the best professors in the U.S. Students come out equipped with an outstanding education in fields such as biology, economics, computer science and more.

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Because it’s such a prestigious school, Brown University takes only the best students. With an 8 percent acceptance rate, applicants must have an SAT score between 1,405 and 1,570. If you write an award-winning essay and have quality letters of recommendation, your application may give you positive results.

University of Chicago

The University of Chicago is the most difficult university to get accepted into in the state of Illinois. Located in Chicago’s historic Hyde Park, the private research university offers the best education for students wishing to major in economics, mathematics or biology. You can’t escape the world of STEM at the University of Chicago.

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With an 8 percent acceptance rate, applicants need an impressive application and academic transcript to earn a spot in the freshman class. They typically need an SAT score between 1,480 and 1,580. If you go to the University of Chicago, be prepared for chilly, windy days.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Consider yourself lucky if you’re accepted into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Located in Cambridge, the research university was named by Niche as the best college in the U.S. in 2019. The school was ranked number one for academics. Who wouldn’t want to attend a school like that?

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With a 7 percent acceptance rate, applicants must have an SAT score between 1,490 and 1,570. If you want to become an engineer or scientist, MIT is no doubt your dream school. Just be sure not to put all your eggs in this basket.

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California Institute of Technology

Maybe you want to become an engineer but don’t want to attend school on the East Coast. In that case, California Institute of Tech (CalTech), located in Pasadena, may be a better option. Known for its excellent degrees in natural science and engineering, CalTech is one of the world’s top-10 universities.

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You might have the opportunity to attend the school — as long as your application is outstanding. With a 7 percent acceptance rate, applicants must have an SAT score between 1,530 and 1,590. Like MIT, CalTech is sure to provide the best education available.

Princeton University

Everyone knows Princeton University is a prestigious Ivy League school. Founded in 1746, it’s the fourth-oldest institution in the country. Through its teaching and research, Princeton University allows students to pursue multiple interests, whether they're in politics, law, comparative literature, science or any other field.

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With a 6 percent acceptance rate, Princeton University is one of the more difficult schools to get accepted into. Applicants must have an SAT score between 1,430 and 1,570. Most applicants are valedictorians and salutatorians of their senior class, so be sure to make your application stand out from the crowd.

Columbia University

Columbia University is the most prestigious university in the state of New York. It allows students to explore New York City while receiving an Ivy League education, often in economics and other business majors.

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Admissions staff at the university are very selective in who they admit. The university only has a 6 percent acceptance rate. Hopeful applicants should have received an SAT score between 1,410 and 1,570. If you’re accepted into Columbia University, consider yourself lucky. Thousands of high school seniors would love to be in your shoes.

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Yale University

If you love history, Yale University is probably your dream school — it was voted by Niche as the best school for history majors. Yale also offers majors in economics, history, political science, government and more.

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Because it’s an Ivy League school, Yale University is very selective. With a 6 percent acceptance rate, the university expects only the best students to apply. Applicants must have an SAT score between 1,460 and 1,580. If you’re accepted into Yale University, don’t hesitate. It’s a dream-come-true for thousands of applicants.

Stanford University

Located in the Bay Area, Stanford University is the Harvard of the West Coast. It’s the best and most prestigious university in the state of California. Stanford University is ranked by Niche as the second-best college in the U.S. in all categories of academics and campus life.

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Popular majors include computer science, biology and engineering. With a 5 percent acceptance rate, applicants typically have an SAT score between 1,390 and 1,540. If you’re accepted into this Ivy League school, pack your bags and don’t think twice. You couldn’t find a better school.

Harvard University

You had to know Harvard University was going to be the most difficult college to enter. Located in Cambridge, MA, the university has been the most elite American research school since its founding in 1636. Famous alumni include President Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, Ralph Waldo Emerson, W.E.B. Du Bois and others.

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Because Harvard University is so prestigious, you need a perfect application and near-perfect SAT score to be accepted into this Ivy League school. However, if you’re accepted, you can be sure that you’re getting the best education possible.

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