Hardest School to Get into in the World: Top 10 List

When applying to some of the top colleges and universities, you expect that it will be difficult to get into. But there are a select few so competitive that they are especially notoriously hard to get an acceptance letter from. Their admissions standards are extremely rigorous and only the best of the best become admitted students. These schools can afford to be highly selective about who they choose to admit because of the high number of applications they receive for only a few available seats.

Currently, Minerva University topped the list with a whopping 1% acceptance rate in 2022! That’s harder to get into than many of the Ivy League schools!

Around the world, here are the hardest schools to get into.

College# of Applications in 2022# of Students Accepted‍ in 2022Acceptance Rate in 2022
Minerva University20,816208‍1%
California Institute of Technology16,626448‍2.70%
Harvard University61,2211,984‍3.20%
Stanford University56,3782,075‍3.70%
Columbia University60,8792,404‍4%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology33,7671,337‍4%
Yale University50,0602,289‍4.60%
Brown University50,6492,562‍5.10%
University of Chicago37,5222,039‍5.40%
Princeton University38,019‍2,1675.70%

Why Are These Colleges and Universities Hard to Get Into?

As you will see in the list below, most of the world’s hardest universities to get into have been around for several years. They have built their prestigious reputation slowly and steadily by focusing on academic excellence, research opportunities, and extracurricular activities. All faculty members are highly accomplished and hand-picked for excellence and recognition in their field. Another factor all of these universities have in common are their world-famous alumni.

At the moment, all of the world’s hardest universities to get into are located in the U.S. Of these, Ivy League schools with their low admission rates regularly earn the top spots on this list. Each offers high-quality education, and, as a result, look for high academic requirements among its applications. The combination of these factors result in competitive acceptance rates.

What Do these Top Hardest Colleges Have in Common

Aside from receiving thousands of applications from well-rounded students, these highly selective higher education institutions also have some other things in common:

  • 7 of the 10 colleges on this list are also on the top 10 best colleges in 2024
  • 5 on this list are Ivy League Schools
  • The University of Chicago is the only school on this list that isn’t on the east or west coasts of the United States
  • Almost every school on this list looks for a 34 or higher on the ACT or a 1,490 or higher on the SAT
    • Minerva University doesn’t release their students’ test averages, however.
  • Colleges and universities look for high GPAs (usually above 4.0), participation in extracurricular activities, leadership, and other unique skills in applicants.
  • Every school on this list is a private not-for-profit.
  • Every school on this list, except Minerva University, has a Carnegie classification of Doctoral/Research Universities – Extensive.

Top 10 Hardest Universities to Get Into In The World

1. Minerva University

Currently, the most difficult school to get into in the world is Minerva University, located in San Francisco, California. Part of the reason for this is the fact that the school has only 613 undergraduate students, yet received nearly 21,000 applications in 2022. Only 208 of those students were accepted, coming in at a 1% acceptance rate.

Minerva University is also entirely online, with only 19 students in each class. Students attending the school will travel to and live in a new country every semester, including San Francisco, India, the United Kingdom, Germany, and others. All classes follow a unique learning method that are based on deep cognitive tasks.

2.California Institute of Technology

Flickr user Tobin

California Institute of Technology, or Caltech, comes in second, with an acceptance rate of just 2.7% in 2022. 16,626 applications were received at and only 448 of students received acceptance letters that year. It’s a very small school, with only 2,401 students total on campus. The school has produced at least 46 Nobel laureates, 58 U.S National Medal of Science recipients, and 11 National Medal of Technology recipients. And, in the past, visiting professors have included Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking.

Students interested in attending Caltech will need to be in the top of their class with a schedule that demonstrates academic rigor. Accepted students tend to have between a 35 and 36 on the ACT or a 1,540 and 1,590 on the SAT.

3. Harvard University

Flickr user Ian Lamont

Harvard is the ‘Holy Grail’ of universities not just for students in the United States. Students from all over the world aspire to get into this top-notch school. They know the weight a certificate from this prestigious university lends to their resume. Besides, it helps when your alma mater is the same as 8 United States Presidents and 130 Nobel Laureates. No other university in the world can say the same.

It should come as no surprise that getting into Harvard is not easy. This Ivy League school is super selective about who they admit into their school. The admission process is as rigorous as you would expect and the Harvard acceptance rate is a competitive 3.2%. You have to be at the top of your game to get into this school. Many successful students start preparing years in advance.

4. Stanford University

Stanford University

Source: Flickr user naotakem.

Stanford University has been featured on this list for several years. Academic excellence aside, it’s hard to compete with a university that boasts 60 Nobel Laureates, 17 astronauts, and 30 billionaires as its alumni. And who can forget that some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley also call Stanford their alma mater.

Its admission rate for 2021 was 3.9%. Academic achievement is one of the main factors Stanford uses in their admissions process. But admissions officers also look closely at each applicant’s extracurricular accomplishments and their contribution to the community. Personal essays are scrutinized in detail to get a better sense of how an applicant may contribute to the school.

5. Columbia University

Columbia University, another Ivy League school, also makes this list with an acceptance rate of just 4% in 2022. This school takes a truly holistic approach when assessing applications. Admissions officers don’t just look at the applicants’ grades. They also take into consideration the rigor and variety of classes that the student has taken. In addition, they assess each applicant’s extracurricular activities and unique experiences.

One factor that weighs heavily into the final decision is the level of involvement both inside and outside the school. This speaks volumes about the student’s potential to make a positive contribution to the school. Columbia University considers this an important trait in all of its students.

6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Flickr user Stacey Kizer.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one of the leading technical colleges not just in the US but in the world. Some of the most well-known IT giants in Silicon Valley are graduates from this prestigious IT school.

MIT has a low admission rate of 4%. The same as Columbia. Academic grades and test scores are a primary consideration when evaluating applications. But, more important than academic achievement is the student’s overall fit with the school. Most courses that MIT offers are collaborative in nature and students who are comfortable working as part of a team are given preference. To get into this university, you highlight your competitive nature while also demonstrating your cooperative spirit.

7. Yale University

Flickr user m01229

Another Ivy League school, Yale University has many firsts to its name. The first 3 Ph.D. degrees were awarded by this school, earning it the reputation as the birthplace of doctoral education in the US.

Yale University has an admissions rate of 4.6%. So what does it take to get into this world-famous university and what makes it one of the hardest schools to get into?

Yale University assesses applications quite differently from other Ivy League schools. Admissions officers scrutinize each applicant’s personal essay and letters of recommendation looking for answers to two questions. Does the applicant have the ability to contribute to the school’s community? Is the applicant resourceful enough to make the most of what the school offers? Of course, academic grades, test scores, and rigor of classes taken are just as important to get admission.

8. Brown University

Flickr user thurdl01

In 2022, Brown University accepted only 5.1% of students. The 7th oldest institution of education in the United States (founded in 1764), Brown has produced 11 Nobel prize winners, 27 Pulitzer Prize winners, 21 billionaires, over 100 members of the U.S. Congress, and 38 Olympic medalists.

Students applying to this college should know that the school admissions offers do look at grades, but they’re also looking for mastery over certain skills such as problem solving, curiosity, ability to express oneself, and more. Brown is also looking for students who stand out and can bring something unique to the school, but states that they will look at the student’s application in context. This means they take the resources and opportunities that were available to you into account.

9. University of Chicago

Flickr user Don Burkett

A top rated school in the United States, the University of Chicago also has a very low admissions rate. The school received over 37,500 applications in 2022 – accepting only 2,039 of them, or 5.4%. UChicago is known for its strong foundation in liberal arts, research opportunities, and hands-on experience.

UChicago looks at an entire student’s application from grades to test scores and work experience to extracurricular activities. Previously accepted students received a 34 to 36 on the ACT or a 1,500 to 1,570 on the SAT.

10. Princeton University

Flickr user Jon Niola

Princeton University offers free tuition for students whose families make less than $100,000 per year.. An Ivy League school and the fourth oldest university in the United States, Princeton University welcomes admissions from students around the world. Receiving thousands of applications every year allows this school to be super selective. It has maintained a low acceptance rate for several years, with a 5.7% in 2022.

To get into Princeton, students must have an impressive academic record not just in terms of scores but in terms of rigor of classes. Only applicants who challenge themselves with rigorous AP classes and honors get accepted into this highly competitive academic institution. In addition, students must demonstrate their commitment to contributing positively to the school and its community. Preference is given to students with notable extracurricular achievements.

The list of the world’s hardest universities to get into may look daunting. But don’t let those low acceptance rates dissuade you from applying. With some hard work and determination, you could be one of those select few students to get accepted. The key is to do your homework in advance and shortlist the universities you’d like to attend. Make a note of their admissions criteria and work consistently towards meeting those requirements. You can do it!

Looking for the right college for you? College Raptor’s College Match tool is FREE and helps you determine your admission chances based on your ACT/SAT percentile and results, GPA, extracurriculars, and more!

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