For many U.S. students, going to college is a lifelong goal and one that they feel is easily within reach. There are thousands of colleges in the U.S., from the most modest community colleges to the most prestigious four-year universities. However, some educational establishments are extremely choosy and notoriously difficult to get accepted into. Here are the colleges that represent the gold standard.
Harvey Mudd College
Harvey Mudd College may not be a household name like Harvard University or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but Harvey Mudd is an extremely prestigious school that only accepts a small portion of its annual applicants. The college, which opened in 1957, is one of the top liberal arts schools in the nation. Only about 13% of the students that apply to Harvey Mudd College are accepted.
Not to be confused with Iowa’s Cornell College (which is also a difficult school to get into), Cornell University of Ithaca, N.Y., has an acceptance rate of just 15%. Since 1865, Cornell University has been one of the most prestigious universities around. It is also an establishment that has been on the right side of history, being among the first U.S. universities to accept men and women alike. Notable alumni include Jane Lynch, Christopher Reeve, and Gillian Anderson.
Another school that was very progressive and ahead of its time was Amherst College. Way back in 1821, Amherst College was founded and immediately allowed students of all races and religions, as long as they were qualified academically. Although the school’s first black graduate accepted his diploma in 1826, female students didn’t attend until 1975. These days, just 14% of applicants to Amherst are accepted.
Founded way back in 1873, Vanderbilt University has long been a bit part of the South in general and Tennessee in particular. The school was originally part of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Although women were never officially barred from enrolling, the school was not listed as a coeducational facility upon its inception. The school has an acceptance rate of just 12%.
Northwestern University is a Big Ten school situated in the heartland and perched on 379 acres of land. Although the school had just ten students in 1853, it has grown to much larger size over the last 150+ years. One thing that hasn’t changed is the prestige of the school, which has just a 13% acceptance rate. Famous Northwestern alumni include Julia Louis-Dreyfus, David Schwimmer, and Stephen Colbert.
Pitzer College is one of the seven Claremont Colleges. The educational institution was founded in 1963 as a liberal arts college that only accepted women, although that changed quickly and men were accepted starting in 1970. Located in California, Pitzer College is notoriously choosy when it comes to its student body. That’s why only 13% of applicants to Pitzer are accepted.
Like Harvey Mudd College and Pitzer College, Pomona College is one of the nation’s seven Claremont Colleges. Pomona College actually helped to create the Claremont College consortium back in 1920. The school was first created back in 1887 and has remained a highly regarded learning institution. The school’s acceptance rate is a meager 10%.
Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering
Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering is one of the more well-regarded engineering schools in the entire United States. Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering is relatively new, having been founded in 1997. However, it has already developed a reputation for excellence, leading many of the nation’s best and brightest students to apply. Only the top students get in, as Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering has a 10% acceptance rate.
Dartmouth College is one of the oldest colleges in U.S. history. How old? It actually predates U.S. independence! Dartmouth College was created in 1769 as part of efforts to educate Native Americans. It was also part of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case in 1819, which provided private educational institutions with greater independence from the federal government. Only 11% of applicants to Dartmouth are accepted. Graduates of Dartmouth include Dr. Seuss, Connie Britton, and Mindy Kaling.
Duke University was founded back in 1838. When Duke University began, it was a one-building university. Now, it is a large, sprawling campus in a new location with 14,500 students. Not only is Duke known for its academic rigors, but also for the success of its men’s basketball team. Many students apply to Duke University each year, but only 11% actually get in.
Claremont McKenna College
Of the most exclusive schools in the U.S., Claremont McKenna College is one of the newest, having been founded in 1946. The school was originally a college for men only, although that changed in 1976 when Claremont McKenna started accepting female students. However, this California school doesn’t accept that many students of either gender, with an enrollment of just over 1,000 students and acceptance rates of 11%.
University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania was founded just a few years after the United States declared its independence from Britain. The school was actually the first public university in the U.S., as in 1791 it turned from Franklin’s College of Philadelphia to the University of Pennsylvania. Although the school has statistically produced more billionaires than other colleges, it’s tough to get in: just 10% of applicants are accepted. Celebrities such as Elizabeth Banks and John Legend attended this university.
United States Military Academy
The United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., was founded in 1802 by President Thomas Jefferson. Usually referred to simply as West Point, the coeducational facility offers bachelor’s degrees within a military environment. The school also participates in athletics. If you get into West Point, you should be very proud, as only 9.5% of all applicants are accepted.
University of Chicago
In 1890, the American Baptist Education Society used a huge donation from John Rockefeller himself to found the University of Chicago. Today, the university is known for its many professional schools and emphasis on the arts and sciences. To say that the University of Chicago is prestigious is an understatement. Only 8% of hopefuls have their applications accepted each year.
California Institute of Technology
California Institute of Technology, which is usually referred to as Cal Tech, was founded in 1891 by Amos G. Throop. Unlike most of the schools on this list, Cal Tech has a relatively narrow focus, as its specialties lie in science and engineering. Although it is a smaller school than many of its contemporaries, the list of notable alumni to graduate from Cal Tech is long. Only 9% of applicants are accepted.
The long, storied history of Brown University began in 1764. That’s when the Rhode Island-based university was founded. It was notable right away from the fact that students of all religions were accepted. The Ivy League school accepts only 9% of the students that apply each year. Brown University has a list of alumni that include eight billionaires, seven Nobel Prize winners, and countless celebrities such as Emma Watson and John Krasinski.
College of the Ozarks
Among all of the fancy Northeastern schools and Ivy League colleges, you may be surprised to see a college located in the Missouri Ozarks to be listed here. However, College of the Ozarks has earned a name for itself since its establishment in 1907. The school is notable not only for its academic prowess but also its tuition-free policy. Full-time students work and receive donations instead of paying tuition.
United States Naval Academy
The United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, was founded in 1845. Since then, the service academy has educated thousands of officers for the Navy and Marines. Its 338-acre campus is home to one of the top colleges in the country and 500 very talented faculty members. Only 7.9% of all of the applicants to the United States Naval Academy are accepted, making it one of the hardest colleges to get into in the world.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Better known as M.I.T., the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been providing future engineers and scientists with an award-winning education since 1860. The 168-acre campus is situated on the River Charles Basin bank and includes five schools and one college. Over 80 Nobel Laureates and 34 astronauts are counted among its impressive alumni roster. M.I.T accepts only 7.9% of applicants.
There are few universities older than Princeton University, which was founded in 1746. The Ivy League school offers both undergraduate and graduate coursework, though it’s difficult for students at any level to get in with an acceptance rate of just 7.4%. The New Jersey school is among the top schools in the entire world, and its alumni include a pair of U.S. presidents. Notable alumni include Michelle Obama, David Duchovny, and Ellie Kemper.
Alice Lloyd College
Alice Lloyd College was co-founded by Alice Lloyd and June Buchanan in 1923. The Kentucky-based liberal arts college is one of just eight work colleges in the U.S. What that means is that all of its students are required to participate in its work-study program. Though the school has been around for decades, it has only offered bachelor’s degrees since the 1980s. Only 7% of all applicants are accepted to the school.
Columbia University has one of the choicest locations of any U.S. college, as it is found in the New York City borough of Manhattan. The Ivy League school was first known as King’s College when founded in 1754. Although Columbia University has a large student body of nearly 30,000 students, only 7% of all applicants are accepted, which gives you an idea of the hundreds of thousands of applications the school gets each year. Some that were able to make the cut include Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Lauren Graham.
Way back in 1701, Yale University was founded in New Haven, Connecticut. The university actually includes 12 distinct colleges, with each faculty developing its own curriculum. The school’s success is clear when considering its endowment, which is $25.6 billion. That’s pretty well endowed, indeed! Of course, it’s not easy to get into a school with alumni that include five presidents and 13 billionaires. Only 6.3% get in. Alumni that received their degree from Yale include Edward Norton and Claire Danes.
Harvard University is the oldest higher education institution in the U.S., with a history that goes all the way back to 1636. The Ivy League school is the most famous college in perhaps the entire U.S. and is regularly brought up as the main example of a rigorous school that’s hard to get into. Only 6% of all applicants get into Harvard, which has alumni that include eight presidents and 62 living billionaires.
With an acceptance rate of just 7%, Stanford University is certainly one of the hardest schools in all of the U.S. to get accepted into. The California-based school regularly rivals Harvard University, Yale University, and others regarding educational prestige. It’s also one of the largest campuses in the world, with a sprawling 8,180 acres to its name and an endowment of $21.4 billion.
Johns Hopkins University
As a private research university that is linked to the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Johns Hopkins University accepts only 14% of its annual applicants. If you want to be a doctor, Johns Hopkins is the place to be, as the university’s school of medicine is the most famous in the nation. Johns Hopkins has provided many of the best doctors in the nation with the education they needed.
St. Louis, Missouri, is home to Washington University. Washington University is a private research school that has been around since 1853 and has produced an incredible 25 Nobel laureates since its inception. The focus of the school includes law, social work, public health, and medicine. Students of all disciplines clamor to get in, but the school accepts just 17% of all applicants.
Texas’ Rice University accepts only 16% of the students that apply for admission each year. The Houston-based university was founded in 1912 and has higher admission standards than any other school in the state. Science is top-notch at Rice, which has been linked with many NASA projects over the years. Also, many Rice business graduates have gone on to become top CEOs for U.S. companies.
Bowdoin College is a private liberal arts school found in Brunswick, Maine. Since being founded in 1794, Bowdoin College has expanded its offerings to include 33 majors. The school is recognized as the sixth best liberal arts school in the nation and accepts only 15% of all applicants. Its 318-acre campus is quite picturesque and certainly helps attract hopeful students each year.
Finally, we have Williams College, a private liberal arts school situated in the Massachusetts town of Williamstown. Established in 1793, Williams College was named after Ephraim Williams, whose generous investment helped the college get off to its start. The humanities are strong at Williams, with several alumni having won the Pulitzer Prize. Just 18% of all applicants get into Williams College.