What Makes a College Competitive?
Most colleges in America admit more students than they reject. This is good news if you are applying to most colleges. If you are applying to one or some of the most competitive US colleges, then your chances of being accepted are much lower than average.
The colleges at the top of the list are universities that everyone has heard of. They are known for offering a world-class education and have some of the best professors and degree programs around. They have some of the highest average SAT/ACT scores and average GPAs of incoming freshmen. They also tend to charge some of the highest tuition in the country.
Most Competitive Private Colleges
For 2010, the most competitive private colleges in America all had an acceptance rate of under 15% of applicants. In the list below, we will also look at the interquartile range for SAT scores (meaning the range of scores for the middle 50%) or median SAT scores and high school academic performance for incoming freshmen.
- Harvard – 6.9% of applicants accepted. SAT score range: 2080-2370; 95% of applicants graduated in the top 10% of their high school class. They also accepted 266 National Merit Scholars in 2010.
- Stanford – 7.2% of applicants accepted. SAT score range: 660-760 for critical reading, 680-780 for math, and 670-760 for writing. ACT composite score range: 31-34.
- Princeton – 8.2% of applicants accepted. SAT score ranges: 650-760 for reading, 680-780 for math, and 670-760 for writing. 92% of students graduated in the top tenth of their high school class.
- Columbia – 8.3% of applicants accepted. SAT score ranges: 680-770 for critical reading, 690-780 for math, and 680-770 for writing. ACT score range: 30-34.
- Yale – 8.6% of applicants accepted. SAT score range: 700-800 for critical reading, 700-770 for math, and 700-790 for writing. ACT score range: 30-34.
- Brown – 9.3% of applicants accepted. SAT score range: 96% of accepted students were in the top ten percent of their class, and 38% were either valedictorian or salutatorian.
- MIT – 9.7% of applicants accepted. SAT score ranges: 650-760 for critical reading, 720-800 for math, and 660-760 for writing.
- Dartmouth – 11.5% of applicants accepted. Mean SAT scores: 733 for verbal, 741 for math, and 740 for writing. 95% graduated in the top ten percent and over 50% were valedictorian or salutatorian.
- University of Pennsylvania – 14.2% of applicants accepted. SAT score range: 660-750 for critical reading, 690-780 for math, and 670-760. ACT score range: 30-34.
- Pomona College – 14.7% of applicants accepted. Median SAT scores: 730 reading, 740 math, 740 writing. Median ACT score: 33. 2% of applicants graduated in the top ten percent of their class.
Most Competitive Public Colleges
Although the most competitive colleges for admission in the US are private, there are some very competitive public colleges as well. Several of the schools on the list are considered "public Ivies." The average combined math and verbal SAT scores for the ten schools listed below is 1280, and 89% were in the top ten percent of their graduating class.
- University of California-Berkeley (Berkeley, CA) – 21% admitted
- University of California-Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA) – 23% admitted
- University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA) – 32% admitted
- College of New Jersey (Ewing, NJ) – 32% admitted
- Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo (San Luis Obispo, CA) – 33% admitted
- College of William and Mary (Williamsburg, VA) – 34% admitted
- University of North Carolina At Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC) – 34% admitted
- SUNY Col. Arts & Science-Geneseo (Geneseo, NY) – 35% admitted
- University of California-San Diego (La Jolla, CA) – 40% admitted
- University of California-Irvine (Irvine, CA) – 49% admitted
Although the same schools tend to end up on the the list of most competitive US colleges year after year, it is possible for the acceptance rates to change year by year. If a college receives a very large endowment, for example, the number of applicants may increase as more students apply in hopes of getting a scholarship. Be sure to remember that just because a college is one of the most competitive does not necessarily mean it is the best fit for you. Many less competitive colleges offer first-rate educations and opportunities.
College Profiles. https://collegeapps.about.com/od/collegeprofiles/College_Profiles.htm.
Lawrence, Carolyn Z. "2010 Admission Rates at the Most Competitive Colleges." https://www.admissionsadvice.com/2010admitrates.
Spearling's Best Places. "Most Competitive Colleges." https://www.bestplaces.net/docs/studies/competitivecolleges.aspx.