22 Universities With the Lowest Acceptance Rates in the World

Acceptance rates are crucial when choosing where to apply for college, often seen as an indicator of a school’s quality.

While this is generally true, some colleges have low acceptance rates for reasons not related to the academic caliber of their students.

In this article, we will discuss the college with the lowest acceptance rate, explore why certain colleges have such low rates, and provide a list of schools with the lowest acceptance rates.

Colleges with Low Acceptance Rates (Non-Specialized)

Colleges with Low Acceptance Rates (Non-Specialized)

This list includes colleges that do not cater to a specific subset of students and have acceptance rates below 10%. These schools, including Ivy League institutions and other highly regarded colleges, maintain rigorous academic standards and enjoy widespread popularity.

Meeting the average academic requirements does not guarantee acceptance. These schools receive numerous applications from highly competitive students, and acceptance often requires exceptional achievements in high school.

Any college with an acceptance rate below 15% should be considered a reach school for all students.

School Name # of Applicants* Acceptance Rate Average SAT Average ACT
Rice 29,544 9.4% 1530 35
Cornell 67,380 8.7% 1500 34
Johns Hopkins 39,515 7.5% 1530 35
Northwestern 47,636 7.0% 1510 34
Vanderbilt 47,152 7.1% 1530 35
Dartmouth 28,356 6.2% 1510 34
UChicago* 37,947 6.4% 1550 34
Duke 39,603 7.9% 1530 34
Brown 46,568 5.5% 1540 34
UPenn** 37,947 5.8% 1530 35
Yale 47,240 4.6% 1520 34
Harvard 40,248 5.0% 1520 34
Princeton** 37,601 4.4% 1500 34
MIT** 33,240 4.0% 1540 35
Columbia** 60,551 3.9% 1530 35
Stanford** 55,471 3.9% 1520 35

Specialized Colleges with Low Acceptance Rates

This list includes schools tailored for specific types of students, each with an acceptance rate of 15% or less.

These include music schools, military academies, and institutions with unique financial requirements that contribute to their selectivity and popularity.

Curtis Institute of Music

Curtis Institute of Music - Low Acceptance Rate

  • Undergraduate Enrollment: ~160
  • Acceptance Rate: 2%
  • Average GPA/SAT/ACT: Not reported

Curtis bases admission on artistic promise alone, accepting only the most talented musicians. With highly limited spots (only 27 students accepted for 2019-2020) and full-tuition scholarships for all students, competition is intense.

The Juilliard School

  • Acceptance Rate: 7.4%
  • Average GPA/SAT/ACT: Not reported

Juilliard seeks exceptionally talented students, requiring auditions as part of the application process according to their website. The performance standards are extraordinarily high.

US Naval Academy

The US Naval Academy Has a Low Acceptance Rate

  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 4,594
  • Number of Applicants: 14,727
  • Acceptance Rate: 8.5%
  • Average GPA: 3.94
  • Average SAT/ACT: 1380 / 29

Admission requires a nomination from a representative, senator, or vice president, as well as passing a physical fitness assessment and medical examination. High academic standards further reduce the acceptance rate.

US Military Academy (West Point)

  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 4,536
  • Acceptance Rate: 11%
  • Average GPA: 3.73
  • Average SAT/ACT: 1360 / 30

West Point requires excellence beyond test scores and grades. Applicants must pass a physical fitness assessment and secure a nomination from a congressperson, senator, or the vice president.

The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 806
  • Acceptance Rate: 13%
  • Average GPA: 3.50
  • Average SAT/ACT: 1420 / 33

Cooper Union offers a half-tuition scholarship to every student and highly specialized programs in architecture, fine arts, and engineering. Admission involves “home tests” to evaluate creative abilities and academic achievement.

Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

  • Undergraduate Enrollment: 310
  • Number of Applicants: 902
  • Acceptance Rate: 10%
  • Average GPA: 3.90
  • Average SAT/ACT: 1510 / 35

Olin provides a half-tuition scholarship and meets 100% of demonstrated financial need, making competition fierce for the 90 spots available each year. Students must excel academically and in subjects like calculus and physics, with opportunities to take classes at nearby Babson, Brandeis, and Wellesley.

Reasons Behind Low College Acceptance Rates

Reasons Behind Low College Acceptance Rates

Colleges can have low acceptance rates for several reasons, the most common being a combination of high academic standards and popularity among prospective students. This is often seen at Ivy League schools and institutions like Stanford and MIT, which are renowned both in the U.S. and internationally.

Due to their strong reputations, these schools attract a large number of applicants each year. To maintain their high standards and prestige, they can only admit a small fraction of these applicants.

For instance, in the 2022-2023 application cycle, Stanford received 56,378 applications but accepted only 2,075 students, resulting in an acceptance rate of just 3.7% according to Crimson Education.

Low acceptance rates are also found at schools with very specific admission criteria or unique appeal. Military academies like West Point and the US Naval Academy have low acceptance rates because they require applicants to meet strict criteria beyond academic qualifications, such as physical fitness and obtaining a nomination from a public official.

Similarly, music schools like Juilliard have low acceptance rates because they only admit students who demonstrate exceptional talent in their field.

Some schools also offer free tuition or require students to meet specific financial need qualifications, making them highly sought after. However, the stringent criteria for these programs mean that only a small subset of applicants is accepted.

How to Get Into Colleges with Low Acceptance Rates

How to Get Into Colleges with Low Acceptance Rates

Getting into colleges with low acceptance rates requires significant effort and strategic planning during your high school years.

For highly selective schools, you must maintain an excellent GPA and achieve top standardized test scores. Beyond academics, it’s crucial to identify your true academic and extracurricular passions and turn those into tangible achievements.

To stand out, you need to demonstrate that you are capable of more than just good grades and test scores. These schools seek students who will make a meaningful and positive impact on the world. For more detailed tips, refer to our expert guide on getting into the most selective schools.

For specialized colleges with low acceptance rates, successful admission often hinges on effective planning and understanding the specific requirements of each institution.

If you are aiming for a prestigious music school, you must be dedicated to daily practice and thoroughly prepare for your audition. For military academies, applying for a nomination from a government official well before the application deadline is essential.

Public universities, typically more affordable than their private counterparts, offer a broader range of financial aid options, making higher education accessible to a wider demographic.

Although these schools are difficult to get into, with proper planning and dedication, it’s achievable. Remember, reaching these goals will require significant effort and commitment.