10 Amazing Colleges With Low Acceptance Rates

Each year, the most prestigious universities are bound to receive far more applications than there are seats. 

With hundreds of thousands of students seeking admission to top-ranked schools, elite colleges have to implement stringent standards to select the best students from the applicant pool.

Many students looking to attend a prestigious college apply to a number of schools in order to increase their odds of acceptance to at least one of them. 

In fact, according to a report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, less than a quarter of prospective college students apply to only one school, while the majority apply to several.

With many students applying to numerous different schools, acceptance rates at prestigious schools drop even lower. As a result, many of the most highly-revered universities have average acceptance rates well under 10%.  

Among these schools are some of the best academic institutions in the world, each of them boasting top-tier academic offerings, student organizations, faculty members, and resources. 

Here, we have compiled information about 10 amazing colleges with some of the lowest acceptance rates in the country. Read on to learn more about each of these elite schools and what they have to offer.

Curtis Institute of Music (Philadelphia, PA)

Curtis Institute of Music
Public domain photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

Founded in 1924, the Curtis Institute of Music is a private music conservatory located in Philadelphia, PA. 

According to US News and World Report, the Curtis Institute of Music had an acceptance rate of just 2% in the fall of 2021, making it the single most selective college in the United States.

Curtis offers two different degree programs: the bachelor of music and the master of music in opera. 

There are also two non-degree programs, one being a performance diploma and the other being a professional certificate in opera.

One reason that the Curtis Institute of Music draws in far more applicants than they have room for is the unbeatable cost of attendance. All students who are admitted to the conservatory are awarded full-tuition scholarships.

Yale University (New Haven, CT)

Yale University Saybrook College
Helpfullguy99, Saybrook College Courtyard, CC BY-SA 4.0

Founded in 1701, Yale University is the third oldest institution for higher education in the United States. One of the eight Ivy League universities, Yale is recognized across the world as one of the most prestigious schools out there. 

It is tied for #3 in the country according to US News and World Report’s annual list of best colleges. 

With such a reputation, it comes as little surprise that Yale has an acceptance rate of  just 5%. 

For the most recent admission cycle, the average high school GPA for students who were offered admission to Yale University was 4.14

In other words, the majority of students who get into Yale are at the top of their class, earning mostly or all As in several AP and honors courses.

University of Chicago (Chicago, IL)

University of Chicago
Nicomachian, Harper Quadrangle, CC BY-SA 4.0

A private school that was established in 1890, the University of Chicago is one of the most prominent collegiate research institutions in the world. 

As of fall 2021, University of Chicago has an acceptance rate of 6%. 

The school is home to over 140 research centers and institutes, such as the internationally-acclaimed Marine Biological Laboratory. 

The university is also affiliated with two US Department of Energy laboratories, Fermilab and the Argonne National Laboratory.

University of Chicago also maintains a handful of international campuses, located in Paris, London, Hong Kong, Beijing, and Delhi.

U Chicago has an undergraduate enrollment of just over 7,000 students, with an additional 10,000+ graduate students. 

The school also has a network of more than 190,000 living alumni across the globe, among whom are no less than 97 Nobel Prize laureates.

California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, CA)

California Institute of Technology
Antony-22, Guggenheim Laboratory Caltech 2017, CC BY-SA 4.0

With an acceptance rate of 4%, the California Institute of Technology is another one of the most selective schools in the country. 

A private university that was established in 1891, California Tech has an undergraduate enrollment of just under 1,000 students. 

Being a smaller school, it follows that the admissions department is very selective. 

Although the school does not require that applicants have a certain minimum GPA in order to be considered for admission, they have stated that competitive applicants will have at least a 3.5, placing them in the top 5-10% of their high school class.

According to the 2023 edition of US News and World Report’s annual college rankings, CIT is the #9 best college in the United States. 

California Tech currently has seven Nobel laureates in residence, a complement to the school’s highly educated faculty.

Harvard University (Cambridge, MA)

Harvard University Comstock Hall
Harvard University Comstock Hall – Public domain photo via Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

An institution whose name has come to be nearly synonymous with academic prestige, Harvard University is widely revered as one of the best colleges in the world. 

It was the very first institution for higher education to be established in the American colonies, with a history stretching all the way back to 1636.

According to Niche, Harvard is among the most challenging colleges to get into in the United States, with an acceptance rate of just 5%. 

The average high school GPA of students who are offered admission to Harvard’s first-year class is an impressive 4.18

This means that in order to be a competitive applicant, students should strive to earn straight As in a variety of challenging courses.

Niche has also ranked Harvard first in the nation in terms of its program offerings in the areas of art, biology, political science, math, philosophy, economics, and several others. 

Stanford University (Stanford, CA)

Stanford University Department of Psychology
Emma Pease, Jordan Hall, Stanford University, CC BY-SA 4.0

Established in 1885, Stanford University is a private research university with an enrollment of over 17,000 students. It is among the best higher education institutions in the world, coming in third place in the QS World University Rankings.

Being the prestigious institution that it is, Stanford University’s acceptance rates are well under 10%, with the school admitting just 4% of applicants during the fall of 2021.

Stanford boasts a student-to-faculty ratio of just 5:1 — among the lowest of any college in the country. On top of that, 68% of classes at the school have fewer than 20 students.

The school’s suburban campus is one of the largest in the US, spanning over 8,180 acres. It is conveniently located in close proximity to Silicon Valley in the Bay Area.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Public domain photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology — more commonly referred to as MIT — is an excellent private research university located in Cambridge, MA. 

Since 2012, it has been ranked as the #1 school in the world by QS World University Rankings every single year.

MIT received a total of 33,240 applications for their incoming first-year class of 2025. 

The school offered admission to only 1,365 students from this pool of applicants, making the acceptance rate for this year just 4.1%.

It is home to over 60 research labs, programs, and centers, which are widely-acclaimed as some of the foremost research institutions in the country. MIT boasts affiliation with 98 Nobel laureates, 79 MacArthur fellows, and 59 National Medal of Science winners, not to mention many other highly successful students, alumni, and faculty.

Brown University (Providence, RI)

Brown University
Kenneth C. Zirkel, Alumnae Hall, Brown University (edited), CC BY-SA 4.0

One of the eight elite private universities known collectively as the Ivy League, Brown University is another one of the most selective colleges in the country with an acceptance rate of 6%. 

With a 95% graduation rate and a student-to-faculty ratio of just 6:1, it comes as little surprise that admission to this prestigious school is extremely competitive. 

One of the many benefits of attending Brown is that the school is known for offering students extensive freedom in crafting their plan of study while at the school. Aside from two writing courses, the school does not mandate a particular core curriculum for undergraduate students. 

On top of that, students are given the option to take any or all of their courses on a credit/no credit basis, meaning that it is not even a requirement to earn grades at the school.

Columbia University (New York, NY)

Columbia University Hall
Beyond My Ken, 2014 Columbia University Earl Hall from north, CC BY-SA 4.0

Columbia University is a prestigious private research university with an undergraduate enrollment of over 8,000 students. 

Founded in 1754, it is the oldest institution for higher education in New York state, as well as the fifth oldest in the country.

As of the fall of 2021, the school has an average acceptance rate of 6%, placing it among the nation’s most selective schools.

According to Times Higher Education, Columbia University is the #11 best college in the world.

A significant benefit of attending Columbia is the fact that it is located in New York, NY. Being the largest city in the United States in terms of population, the Big Apple is home to a plethora of opportunities, from internships, employment, recreation, and so much more. 

Princeton University (Princeton, NJ)

Princeton University Department of Economics
Sonny415, Julis Romo Rabinowitz Building, CC BY-SA 4.0

Another school that boasts membership in the prestigious Ivy League, Princeton University has an acceptance rate of merely 4%. As one can see, admission to the college is in high demand, a natural result of the world-class academic offerings that Princeton has come to be known for.

It has been ranked #1 on US News and World Report’s annual list of the best colleges in the United States a dozen times, with the 2022-32 rankings marking another consecutive year in the school’s streak.

Princeton boasts a student-to-faculty ratio of 5:1, allowing professors to provide ample academic support to students during class time.

With 76% of classes at Princeton having 20 or fewer students, students at the school are guaranteed to have the opportunity to get to know their instructors and classmates in an intimate classroom environment.