The 35 Hardest U.S. Colleges to Get Into in 2019

College students under tree campus, studying exams
Motortion Films /

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 5% and its enrolled-student SAT scores are between 1460 and 1590, according to a 2019 ranking by academic review site

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. Military Academy — West Point, New York

Soldiers on parade ground at West Point.
Joseph Sohm /

Acceptance rate: 10%

SAT range: 1180-1400

The mission of this school, established under President Thomas Jefferson in 1802, is to educate and train cadets to serve as officers in the U.S. Army. West Point, as the school is known, is alma mater to many of the country’s most famous generals. Today, students can major in more than a dozen fields. Women were first allowed to attend West Point in 1976.

34. Barnard College — New York City

Barnard College, New York City
Popova Valeriya /

Acceptance rate: 15%

SAT range: 1310-1500

Barnard, founded in 1889, has more than 2,500 undergraduate students. The top liberal arts college for women located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan has a historic relationship with nearby Columbia University; students at each can take courses at the other and enjoy access to 22 libraries.

33. University of California — Berkeley, California

David Litman /

Acceptance rate: 17%

SAT range: 1260-1480

“Cal,” which overlooks San Francisco Bay, has a giant population — almost 30,853 undergraduate students and 11,666 graduate students, studying in more than 350 degree programs. And yet, 71% of undergraduate classes have fewer than 30 students, according to the university.

If you can manage to get into UC Berkeley, though, it will likely be worth it. We recently cited Berkeley in “The 25 Colleges With the Best Return on Your Money in 2019.”

32. Middlebury College — Middlebury, Vermont

Bruce Weber /

Acceptance rate: 17%

SAT range: 1320-1510

Middlebury calls itself a “classic liberal arts college that also offers graduate and specialized programs operating around the world.” The college located in Vermont’s Champlain Valley, with the Green Mountains to the east and the Adirondacks to the west, was founded in 1800.

31. The Cooper Union — New York City

Ryan DeBerardinis /

Acceptance rate: 13%

SAT range: 1310-1530

The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, established in 1859, is 160 years old this year. It was founded by industrialist, philanthropist and inventor Peter Cooper, who believed education was the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

The school’s focus is on art, architecture and engineering, humanities and social sciences. It’s also one of the best colleges for the return on students’ investment.

30. U.S. Naval Academy — Annapolis, Maryland

U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland
Sean Pavone /

Acceptance rate: 8%

SAT range: 1150-1370

The four-year U.S. Naval Academy prepares men and women to be officers in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. They earn bachelor of science degrees and are commissioned as Navy ensigns or second lieutenants in the Marine Corps, serving at least five years after graduation.

29. Georgetown University — Washington, D.C.

Andriy Blokhin /

Acceptance rate: 16%

SAT range: 1350-1520

Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic and Jesuit academic institution in the U.S., was established in 1789. At Georgetown, the emphasis is on research, scholarship, faith and service. The school has about 6,300 undergraduate students from the 50 U.S. states and some 130 countries.

28. University of Notre Dame — Notre Dame, Indiana

Gino Santa Maria /

Acceptance rate: 19%

SAT range: 1370-1520

This private Catholic university was founded in 1842 by French priests of the Congregation of Holy Cross. It is located near South Bend, Indiana. Today it has more than 8,500 undergraduate students and nearly 4,000 graduate students.

27. Williams College — Williamstown, Massachusetts

Colin D. Young /

Acceptance rate: 15%

SAT range: 1400-1570

Williams is a private, residential, liberal arts school. Established in 1793, it has an undergraduate student body of about 2,000. It also has graduate programs in art history and development economics.

The college meets “100 percent of every admitted student’s demonstrated financial need for four years,” the school says. Perhaps it’s no wonder we recently cited Williams College in “The 25 Colleges With the Best Return on Your Money in 2019.”

26. Bowdoin College — Brunswick, Maine

hxdbzxy /

Acceptance rate: 14%

SAT range: 1360-1510

Bowdoin, with an enrollment of about 2,000 students, is another historic liberal arts college and was founded in 1794. The school says it seeks to nourish and encourage critical thinkers who help create “a just and sustainable world.”

25. Tufts University — Medford, Massachusetts

Goddard Chapel, Tufts University
Kevin D. Walsh /

Acceptance rate: 15%

SAT range: 1410-1540

Founded in 1852, Tufts has 11,449 students, about half of them undergraduates. Its graduate programs include schools of medicine, veterinary medicine, dental medicine on campuses in Medford, Boston and Grafton, Massachusetts. The school also has a campus in Talloires, France.

24. Swarthmore College — Swarthmore, Pennsylvania

Frannyanne /

Acceptance rate: 11%

SAT range: 1380-1540

Swarthmore, a small liberal arts college, was founded in 1864 by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). It “prides itself on an intimate, personal learning environment,” the school says.

23. Amherst College — Amherst, Massachusetts

Mark Yarchoan /

Acceptance rate: 13%

SAT range: 1400-1560

Amherst reports that about 80% of its alums say they’ve gone to graduate or professional school. Of first-year students in 2017, 86% were in the top 10th of their high school graduating class and 57% received financial aid.

Amherst is also among the colleges with the best return on your money in 2019.

22. Cornell University — Ithaca, New York

Lewis Liu /

Acceptance rate: 13%

SAT range: 1390-1550

Cornell University, a privately endowed federal land grant institution, has about 23,600 students. It was founded in 1865 and comprises 15 schools, including eight undergraduate units and graduate and professional schools in Ithaca, New York City and Doha, Qatar.

21. Washington University in St. Louis

Evan Meyer /

Acceptance rate: 16 percent

SAT range: 1470-1570

Washington University in St. Louis, founded in 1853, boasts an 8 to 1 student-to-faculty ratio. The faculty on the Missouri campus includes nine Pulitzer Prize winners, four U.S. Poet Laureates and 15 awarded with a National Medal of Science.

20. Rice University — Houston

HansPhotoFactory /

Acceptance rate: 16%

SAT range: 1490-1580

Rice, located in Houston’s Museum District, in fall 2018 had 3,962 undergraduate and 3,027 graduate students. The school says it has a 6 to 1 student-to-faculty ratio and 70% of undergrad courses have fewer than 20 students.

19. Claremont McKenna College — Claremont, California

Barbara Kalbfleisch /

Acceptance rate: 10%

SAT range: 1340-1510

Claremont McKenna, a liberal arts college, is one of seven independent colleges that share a campus in Claremont, in eastern Los Angeles County. Students may cross-register to attend classes at the other schools, which include Harvey Mudd, Pitzer, Pomona and Scripps colleges. Together, the Claremont colleges have an enrollment of 8,500 students and offer 11 research institutes for student-faculty research.

18. Johns Hopkins University — Baltimore, Maryland

Richard Thornton /

Acceptance rate: 13%

SAT range: 1450-1570

Johns Hopkins’ global reach means that students have research, training and education opportunities at over 1,300 sites in more than 150 countries, including campuses on three continents. The university has nine academic divisions in addition to its Applied Physics Laboratory in nearby Laurel.

17. Minerva Schools at Keck Graduate Institute — Claremont, California

students walking college campus
Jacob Lund /

Acceptance rate: 2%

SAT range: Not given

The Keck Graduate Institute is part of the seven-school Claremont Colleges Consortium. Keck focuses on life and health sciences, engineering, business, pharmacy and genetics.

Minerva Schools, established in 2012 within the Keck Institute, offers undergraduates an opportunity to study in small seminars. Minerva students hail from about 60 countries, and classes take place in seven cities around the globe. In fall 2017, for example, second- and third-year students studied in Seoul, South Korea, and in spring 2018 they studied in Hyderabad, India, according to the school.

16. Harvey Mudd College — Claremont, California

Syda Productions /

Acceptance rate: 15%

SAT range: 1470-1570

Harvey Mudd is both a liberal arts college and a premier college of engineering, science and mathematics. It is one of the seven highly ranked Claremont Colleges in that California city.

Mudd’s Clinic Program, a collaboration between industry and the college, lets juniors and seniors work in industrial companies, helping solve real-world technical problems.

15. Pomona College — Claremont, California

Juli Hansen /

Acceptance rate: 8%

SAT range: 1370-1530

Pomona, a well-regarded liberal arts college of about 1,670 students, prides itself on its “need-blind” admissions policy and need-based financial aid. Pomona is another of the seven Claremont Colleges.

14. Dartmouth College — Hanover, New Hampshire

Dan Lewis /

Acceptance rate: 10%

SAT range: 1430-1560

Dartmouth was founded in 1769, before American independence, “to educate Native students, English youth, and others.” Today, some 4,400 undergraduate and 2,100 graduate students are enrolled. Graduate programs include the Tuck School of Business, Geisel School of Medicine, School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, and Thayer School of Engineering.

13. Northwestern University — Evanston, Illinois

Tupungato /

Acceptance rate: 9%

SAT range: 1420-1560

With 21,000 graduate and undergraduate students, Northwestern is spread across three campuses, in Evanston, Illinois, and Chicago, and in Doha, Qatar. It has numerous highly regarded graduate programs, including Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, the Pritzker School of Law, the Kellogg School of Management and the McCormick School of Engineering & Applied Science.

12. Duke University — Durham, North Carolina

Bryan Pollard /

Acceptance rate: 10%

SAT range: 1380-1540

Duke has roughly 7,000 undergraduate students among its total enrollment of nearly 16,000. The school’s most popular majors are computer science, economics, public policy, biology and psychology. Duke says 50% of its students receive some financial aid.

11. Brown University — Providence, Rhode Island

Tupungato /

Acceptance rate: 8%

SAT range: 1400-1570

Brown, another historic liberal arts college, was founded in 1764, before U.S. independence. It is an independent, co-ed institution, with 81 undergraduate concentrations of study, 32 master’s programs and 51 doctoral programs.

10. University of Pennsylvania — Philadelphia

f11photo /

Acceptance rate: 9%

SAT range: 1420-1560

The University of Pennsylvania — or Penn, as it’s known — was founded in 1740 as a charity school. Soon, though, American Founding Father Benjamin Franklin became influential in guiding the school’s ambitious direction. He served as president of the institution until 1755 and continued to serve as a trustee until his death in 1790.

Now, Penn has 165 research centers and institutes on 302 acres in West Philadelphia. Its Wharton School of Business, founded in 1881, was the first collegiate business school in the world, according to the university.

9. Vanderbilt University — Nashville, Tennessee

Sean Pavone /

Acceptance rate: 11%

SAT range: 1440-1570

Vanderbilt has almost 13,000 students, about half of whom are undergraduates, but the student-to-faculty ratio is 7:1. This top-tier university places great emphasis on helping students afford college, and 65% of undergraduates receive financial aid that does not include loans.

8. Columbia University — New York City

The World in HDR /

Acceptance rate: 7%

SAT range: 1410-1570

This powerful university, founded in New York City in 1754, has about 33,000 graduate and undergraduate students. Five American Founding Fathers and 34 of the world’s presidents and prime ministers have attended Columbia University.

7. University of Chicago

Acceptance rate: 8%

SAT range: 1480-1580

UChicago is the home to much groundbreaking research in numerous departments and disciplines, as well as over 150 institutes and centers. A few recent examples include the introduction of hormonal cancer treatment, the discovery of dinosaur species and pioneering work in economics and in demonstrating the existence of black holes.

6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology — Cambridge, Massachusetts

Marcio Jose Bastos Silva /

Acceptance rate: 7%

SAT range: 1490-1570

MIT, incorporated in 1861, says cutting-edge research and education are inseparable for its more than 1,000 faculty members. More than 4,600 undergrads and nearly 7,000 graduate students come from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, four U.S. territories and 127 foreign countries.

The Cambridge campus must be a nerd’s paradise. As the school says:

“We are fun and quirky, elite but not elitist, inventive and artistic, obsessed with numbers, and welcoming to talented people regardless of where they come from.”

5. Princeton University — Princeton, New Jersey

EQRoy /

Acceptance rate: 6%

SAT range: 1430-1570

This famed university, the fourth-oldest college in the U.S., has more than 5,200 undergraduates and nearly 3,000 graduate students. In the last decade, 23 Princeton students have been Rhodes Scholars. Among its alumni are two U.S. presidents, three Supreme Court justices and 17 winners of the Nobel Prize.

4. Yale University — New Haven, Connecticut

f11photo /

Acceptance rate: 7%

SAT range: 1460-1580

A local college established in the 1640s by colonial clergymen was the beginning of what would become, in 1701, this famous Ivy League university. Today, more than 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students are enrolled.

3. California Institute of Technology — Pasadena, California

EQRoy /

Acceptance rate: 8%

SAT range: 1530-1590

Computer science is the most-popular major at Caltech, a famed engineering and science institute with a 3:1 student-faculty ratio. About 90% of the 948 undergraduates are involved in research. Caltech manages the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a leader in robotic exploration of the solar system, for NASA and is currently operating 25 spacecraft missions.

2. Stanford University — Stanford, California

jejim /

Acceptance rate: 5%

SAT range: 1390-1540

In 1885, as a memorial to their only child, Leland Jr., who died of typhoid, railroad magnate Leland Stanford and his wife, Jane Lathrop Stanford, founded Leland Stanford Junior University on a 8,180-acre farm near Palo Alto.

Now the university embraces seven schools and 18 interdisciplinary institutes with some 16,000 students and 1,800 postdoctoral scholars. With more than a century of scientific innovation and achievements, Stanford’s engineers, scholarship and research have been instrumental in building Silicon Valley.

1. Harvard University — Cambridge, Massachusetts

Jannis Tobias Werner /

Acceptance rate: 5%

SAT range: 1460-1590

Harvard University, established in 1636, is the oldest higher education institution in the country. With a total 2017-28 enrollment of 36,012, Harvard has about 6,700 undergraduate students and more than 13,000 graduate students. Among its honors, the school claims 48 Nobel Laureates, 32 heads of state and 48 Pulitzer Prize winners.

Do you have experience applying to colleges? What was it like? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

How to find cheaper car insurance in minutes

Getting a better deal on car insurance doesn't have to be hard. You can have The Zebra, an insurance comparison site compare quotes in just a few minutes and find you the best rates. Consumers save an average of $368 per year, according to the site, so if you're ready to secure your new rate, get started now.

Read Next
7 Reasons You Should Not Move for Retirement
7 Reasons You Should Not Move for Retirement

Sunny skies and warm breezes sound great. But in reality, you might be better off retiring closer to home. Here’s why.

10 Things That Can Ding Your Social Security Benefit
10 Things That Can Ding Your Social Security Benefit

Here are 10 things that could mean less money in your pocket during retirement.

Grow Your Savings in 2020 With These 5 Tricks
Grow Your Savings in 2020 With These 5 Tricks

Saving money doesn’t have to be painful. Here are some ways to game yourself into stashing more cash.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started


Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.

Trending Stories