The 25 Hardest Schools to Get Into in 2024

You're going to have to get creative to walk some of these hallowed halls.
Some colleges have a door-mostly-closed policy.
Some colleges have a door-mostly-closed policy. / Sean De Burka/The Image Bank via Getty Images

Choosing where to attend college remains one of the most important decisions of a person’s life. The right school can carve out a path toward a rewarding career; the wrong one can leave a graduate with debt and regret. (One easy benchmark test: Whether a school can produce students who earn more on average than a high school graduate. Many, but not all, do.)

Some aim for colleges that are notoriously difficult to breach on the premise that a better education from an institution can mean better career opportunities. Recently, education advocacy site Niche examined the current crop of schools that are among the most difficult to gain admission to. Generally, this means a low acceptance rate and a high bar for credentials. Here are the 25 that are the most selective when it comes to handing out acceptance letters:

  1. Minerva University (San Francisco, California) // 1 Percent
  2. California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, California) // 4 Percent
  3. Stanford University (Stanford, California) // 4 Percent
  4. Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts) // 4 Percent
  5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Massachusetts) // 4 Percent
  6. Columbia University (New York, New York) // 4 Percent
  7. Princeton University (Princeton, New Jersey) // 4 Percent
  8. Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut) // 5 Percent
  9. Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island) // 6 Percent
  10. University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) // 6 Percent
  11. Duke University (Durham, North Carolina) // 6 Percent
  12. Dartmouth College (Hanover, New Hampshire) // 6 Percent
  13. University of Chicago (Chicago, Illinois) // 6 Percent
  14. Pomona College (Claremont, California) // 7 Percent
  15. Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois) // 7 Percent
  16. Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tennessee) // 7 Percent
  17. Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Maryland) // 8 Percent
  18. Swarthmore College (Swarthmore, Pennsylvania) // 8 Percent
  19. United States Naval Academy (Annapolis, Maryland) // 8 Percent
  20. Cornell University (Ithaca, New York) // 9 Percent
  21. Amherst College (Amherst, Massachusetts) // 9 Percent
  22. Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine) // 9 Percent
  23. Williams College (Williamstown, Massachusetts) // 9 Percent
  24. Colby College (Waterville, Maine) // 9 Percent
  25. Rice University (Houston, Texas) // 9 Percent

The list has changed somewhat since Niche’s 2023 rankings, which placed Harvard at the top of the list. (It’s now ranked number four.) Coming in first is Minerva University, which is somewhat of an anomaly in higher education. The school is small—it turned out 400 graduates as of 2021—and sends students to different continents as part of its curriculum. Part of the school’s admissions process is a “series of online challenges designed to measure” how applicants “think and communicate.”

The California Institute of Technology, or CalTech, comes in second. The science and engineering-heavy hub has a favorable student-to-faculty ratio of 3:1. According to U.S. News and World Report, a high school class ranking is considered important for applicants.

Stanford University relies heavily on the GPA and SAT scores of applicants. Less than 5.5 percent of new students have an SAT score below 1400.

Acceptance rates don’t tell the complete story. Prospective students are still evaluated based on their merits. Beyond grades, selections can come down to expressing a desire to learn and overcome challenges and expressing individuality beyond rote essays. And, of course, being able to pay tuition.

If selectivity is not for you, you can always consider schools with more forgiving acceptance rates. In 2022, Adams State University in Alamosa, Colorado, welcomed 100 percent of applicants.

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[h/t Niche]