The 35 Hardest U.S. Colleges to Get Into in 2020

College student in a mask
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When it come to college admissions, some schools are a much more difficult — if not seemingly impossible — nut to crack.

The toughest U.S. college to get into has an acceptance rate of just 7% and its enrolled-student SAT scores are typically in the range of 1530 to 1580, according to the latest annual rankings by academic review site Niche.com.

The rankings are based on acceptance rates and SAT/ACT test score data from the U.S. Department of Education.

Here are the hardest colleges to gain admission to in America.

35. U.S. Naval Academy

U.S. Naval Academy
Polina LVT / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Annapolis, Maryland

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 9%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1150-1370

The U.S. Naval Academy is among the colleges where tuition is free for all students. USNA students even receive free room and board, free medical and dental care costs, and monthly stipends for certain expenses. In return, students agree to give the U.S. Navy five years of active duty service upon graduation.

34. Barnard College

Barnard College
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Main location: New York, New York

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 14%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1330-1500

33. Colby College

Colby College
Popova Valeriya / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Waterville, Maine

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 13%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1350-1510

32. University of California Berkeley

University of California Berkeley
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Main location: Berkeley, California

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 15%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1320-1530

31. University of Southern California

University of Southern California
Kit Leong / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Los Angeles, California

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 13%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1350-1530

30. Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University
Jay Yuan / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 17%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1450-1550

Students who manage to get accepted to and graduate from Carnegie Mellon University likely will be rewarded in the form of a fatter salary thereafter, according to PayScale’s 2019 College Salary Report.

As we detail in “25 Colleges With the Highest-Earning Graduates,” the report ranks CMU No. 18 in the nation for graduates’ salaries — which reach a median of $136,100 by mid-career.

29. University of Notre Dame

University of Notre Dame
Chuck W Walker / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Notre Dame, Indiana

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 18%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1400-1550

28. Georgetown University

Georgetown University
Andriy Blokhin / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Washington, D.C.

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 15%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1370-1530

27. Tufts University

Tufts University
Kevin D. Walsh / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Medford/Somerville, Massachusetts

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 15%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1380 -1530

26. Amherst College

Amherst College
Mark Yarchoan / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Amherst, Massachusetts

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 13%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1330-1530

25. Bowdoin College

Bowdoin College
Paul Rhee / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Brunswick, Maine

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 10%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1360-1510

24. Williams College

Williams College
Colin D. Young / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Williamstown, Massachusetts

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 13%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1410-1550

23. Claremont McKenna College

Claremont McKenna College
Barbara Kalbfleisch / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Claremont, California

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 9%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1350-1500

22. Washington University in St. Louis

Washington University in St. Louis
Evan Meyer / Shutterstock.com

Main location: St. Louis, Missouri

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 15%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1470-1570

21. Swarthmore College

Swarthmore College
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Main location: Swarthmore, Pennsylvania

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 9%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1380-1550

20. Harvey Mudd College

College student in a mask
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Main location: Claremont, California

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 14%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1490-1560

Students who manage to get accepted to and graduate from Harvey Mudd College stand to be handsomely rewarded in the form of a high salary, judging by PayScale’s 2019 College Salary Report.

As we detail in “25 Colleges With the Highest-Earning Graduates,” the report ranked HMC the No. 1 college in the nation based on graduate salaries — which soar to a median of $158,200 by mid-career.

19. Cornell University

Cornell University
Lewis Liu / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Ithaca, New York

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 11%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1390-1540

Cornell doesn’t just teach its students. The university also offers free classes to the public, as we detail in “8 Ivy League Colleges That Offer Free Online Courses.”

18. Johns Hopkins University

George Peabody Library at Johns Hopkins University
Andrea Izzotti / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Baltimore, Maryland

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 11%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1450-1560

The George Peabody Library at Johns Hopkins University is not to be missed, whether you are a student or just passing through Baltimore. As we explain in “The Library You Need to See in Every State and D.C.“:

“This architectural masterpiece with five tiers of wrought-iron balconies and a skylight 61 feet above the floor contains 300,000 volumes. Opened in 1878, it is also a prized venue for weddings and other high-brow events. Definitely worth a visit.”

17. Pomona College

Pomona College
Deborah Kekone / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Claremont, California

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 8%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1400-1540

16. Rice University

Rice University
HansPhotoFactory / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Houston, Texas

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 11%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1450-1560

15. Minerva Schools at Keck Graduate Institute

College student during the pandemic
Zigres / Shutterstock.com

Main location: San Francisco, California

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 2%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: N/A

Minerva’s application process does not take standardized test scores into consideration. The institution explains on its website:

“An extensive review of existing admissions processes, focusing on those of other top-tier universities, revealed that none comprehensively identify all the qualities we seek in our students. To provide a truly equitable alternative, we developed our own three-part, merit-based admissions process. The process, which does not include standardized tests like the SAT, is interactive, challenging, and does not require lengthy preparation, or expensive consultants.”

14. Dartmouth College

Dartmouth College
Dan Lewis / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Hanover, New Hampshire

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 9%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1420-1560

13. University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania
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Main location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 8%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1420-1550

12. Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt Unversity
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Nashville, Tennessee

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 10%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1450-1560

11. Brown University

Brown University
Tupungato / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Providence, Rhode Island

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 8%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1420-1550

10. Northwestern University

Northwestern University
Eugene Moerman / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Evanston, Illinois

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 8%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1430-1550

9. Duke University

Duke University
Bryan Pollard / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Durham, North Carolina

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 9%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1450-1570

8. Columbia University

Columbia University
The World in HDR / Shutterstock.com

Main location: New York, New York

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 6%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1450-1560

Five American Founding Fathers and 34 of the world’s presidents and prime ministers have attended Columbia University.

7. University of Chicago

University of Chicago
Blanscape / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Chicago, Illinois

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 7%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1470-1570

6. Princeton University

Princeton University
Jay Yuan / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Princeton, New Jersey

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 5%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1440-1570

5. Yale University

Yale University Library
Jose L Vilchez / Shutterstock.com

Main location: New Haven, Connecticut

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 6%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1460-1570

The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University draws scholars from across the world, as we report in “The Library You Need to See in Every State and D.C.

4. Stanford University

Stanford University
jejim / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Stanford, California

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 4%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1420-1570

3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Marcio Jose Bastos Silva / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 7%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1500-1570

2. Harvard University

Harvard University
Jorge Salcedo / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 5%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1460-1580

Even if you can’t get into Harvard, you can still take advantage of the world-class education it offers. The university has an extensive collection of free online classes, as we report in “8 Ivy League Colleges That Offer Free Online Courses.”

1. California Institute of Technology

California Institute of Technology
EQRoy / Shutterstock.com

Main location: Pasadena, California

Acceptance rate for first-time students: 7%

Enrolled students’ SAT score range: 1530-1580

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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