First, the good news: The average acceptance rate at U.S. colleges and universities is around 65 percent. However, some institutions receive so many applications for their allotted spots that even highly qualified valedictorians who captained their high school swim team may get rejected. Based on acceptance rates, standardized test scores, and obstacles that make admission difficult, these colleges may be considered “reach” schools for just about anyone.
While prospective students need not worry about standardized test scores, applicants can still expect plenty of pre-admission butterflies. Competition to get into this prestigious music, dance, and drama school gets fierce. Juilliard holds auditions both on campus and at select locations around the country. With an acceptance rate of only 8.4 percent, you’ll have to be outstanding in your discipline to grace halls that have seen the likes of John Williams, Robin Williams, Yo-Yo Ma, and Jessica Chastain.
President Barack Obama had what it takes to catch the eye of the admissions committee at Columbia back in the 1980s. The respected university continues to attract exceptional students from throughout the country, perhaps in part because of its financial aid policy. Columbia meets the full need of every student admitted as a first-year with grants instead of loans. But with only a 7 percent acceptance rate, your application needs to be stellar.
With an average SAT score of 1545 (critical reading and math) and an ACT of 34, Caltech students place among the highest in the nation on these exams. No surprise, they also did quite well in high school – 99 percent ranked in the top tenth of their senior class. But it’s what these science and engineering scholars might go on to do after earning their degree that’s truly exciting. Caltech alum, after all, founded Intel, Compaq, and Hotmail.
Only 7.9 percent of aspiring Midshipmen get accepted at this esteemed institution. In addition to being an outstanding student, applicants need to receive a nomination from an official source, such as a U.S. Congressman. Be prepared, too, to demonstrate your physical fitness. The Academy assesses performance of the one-mile run, a shuttle run, a kneeling basketball throw, abdominal crunches, push-ups, and pull-ups/flexed-arm hang. Whew!
“Joan of Arkansas. Queen Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Babe Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Mash up a historical figure with a new time period, environment, location, or occupation, and tell us their story.” Yes, that’s an essay prompt. If this ignites your creativity and your SAT critical reading/math scores fall around 1515, University of Chicago might be the place for you. Did we mention a high school transcript filled with exceptional performance in honors/AP classes wouldn’t hurt either?
Considering the average starting salary for a person with an undergrad degree from MIT is nearly $75,000, it’s not hard to see why so many high school students clamor to secure a spot. But with an acceptance rate of only 7.9 percent, techies may want to have a few back-up choices too.
Fittingly, the nation’s fourth-oldest college comes in at number four. To be part of this place with a long history of excellence, however, requires presenting an exceptional candidacy. For starters, an SAT critical reading/math score around 1505 wouldn’t hurt. Follow that up with glowing letters of recommendation and a poised interview detailing why your aspirations and this institution are a good match. Then, keep your fingers crossed—Princeton’s undergraduate admission rate in 2015-16 was a miniscule 7.1 percent.
Imagine working in the admissions office at Yale. To select members for the Class of 2018, the staff had to pour through 30,932 applications! They evaluated grades, test scores, recommendations, and “student qualities such as motivation, curiosity, energy, leadership ability, and distinctive talents.” Roughly 2,000 prospective Bulldogs eventually opened their mailboxes to receive the letter of their dreams. To do the math for you, that’s an acceptance rate of less than 6.5 percent.
Nope, the Ivy’s don’t have a lock on all the top positions. With an acceptance rate of 5.1 percent, gaining a spot at this West Coast gem can feel like winning the lottery. And with winter daytime temps in the 50s and 60s, you’ll look like a genius compared to your New England counterparts come January. The admissions committee says that those they accept “represent the best and brightest young people from around the world, selected from an extraordinary array of candidates from every conceivable background.” About three-fourths of candidates accepted for admission in fall 2015 boasted a 4.0 GPA or higher in high school, and many showed extraordinary initiative through independent research, community leadership, and the like. Prepare to dazzle to stand a fighting chance.
Founded in 1636, Harvard remains the name that most readily comes to mind when one thinks of hard-to-get-into colleges. More than 37,000 students tried their hand at becoming members of the Class of 2019. About 2,100 got admitted (55 percent of these through Harvard’s single-choice early action program). SAT scores averaged 2229 out of a possible 2400 for combined critical reading, writing, and math. The admissions committee can’t provide a magic formula but notes that it gives careful, individual attention to each applicant and what the person has to offer. The school’s ultimate goal: “Identifying students who will be the best educators of one another and their professors—individuals who will inspire those around them during their College years and beyond.” While being a legacy may gain you an extra glance, keep in mind that 16 percent of entering freshmen report being the first in their family to go to any college.