List of College Acceptance Rates

List of College Acceptance Rates
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Top university admissions are extremely competitive, and students often apply to a considerable number of schools to increase their chances of acceptance. Only around 24% of students apply to one college, according to the latest college statistics by the National Association for College Admission Counselling. However, applying to multiple colleges comes with its own set of difficulties. With so many educational institutions to choose from, it can be difficult to determine the right one. Creating a college list to choose from is an important step in the process, but one must consider critical factors in choosing the right school. One of these factors is the college acceptance rate.

Acceptance rates provide important insights into an institution’s level of selectivity in choosing an applicant for admission. This piece discusses what acceptance rates are and presents a list of college acceptance rates to serve as a guide for students in selecting the best fit higher educational institution for them.

List of College Acceptance Rates Table of Contents

  1. What do acceptance rates mean?
  2. List of College Acceptance Rates
  3. How do college acceptance rates work?
  4. What to consider when researching college acceptance rates
  5. Does the acceptance rate matter?

In 2017, based on National Association for College Admission Counselling data, 36% of college applicants applied to seven or more colleges, more than doubling the data from the previous 10 years (Clinedinst, 2019; Birch, 2022). This can be attributed to the low admission rates of top schools.

Additionally, since A.Y. 2019-2020, public colleges and universities have reported a 24% increase in common applications, compared to 17% for private institutions (National Center for Education Statistics, 2022). Reports also show that college acceptance rates became even more competitive for students in 2022 (Selingo, 2022).

With these data in mind, one can only conclude that applicants feel pressured to beat the deadlines for college applications to more schools to improve their chances.

number of colleges students apply to

However, choosing the right university from among a vast range of institutions may be challenging. Most students refer to a college acceptance rates list to choose from prospective schools. But what is a college acceptance rate and how should it help a student in selecting a good-fit institution?

What do acceptance rates mean?

A college acceptance rate is the ratio of applicants to students accepted (Clinedinst, 2019; Longlois & Sage, n.d.). A related term is admission rate. Both acceptance and admission rates refer to the percentage of applicants accepted, or admitted, into a specific college or university in a given year. On the other hand, the concept is different from yield rate, or the ratio of admitted students who decide to enroll. Education experts usually refer to yield rates to better interpret acceptance rates.

Acceptance rates are typically expressed as percentages, making the ratio simple to understand. To calculate acceptance rates in the college, the total number of admitted students is divided by the total number of applicants.

For example, University A admitted 1,500 students out of a total of 5,000 applicants. Thus, the acceptance rate is 1,500 divided by 5,000, which is equal to 0.3. Expressed as a percentage, the acceptance rate is 30%.

Acceptance rates are becoming increasingly more competitive, as the overall submissions to the common application for college admissions to the class of 2026 increased by 21.3% (Freeman et al., 2022). Thus, educational institutions across the country are scrambling to accommodate these numbers.

college application submissions increase

The number of available spots determines college admissions. Therefore, a large school with more open spots tends to have higher acceptance rates than a smaller school, which has fewer spots. Similarly, a smaller school with lower acceptance rates tends to have smaller student bodies and fewer openings every admission cycle.

List of College Acceptance Rates

Acceptance rates for colleges can vary greatly between institutions. Many students would like to attend a prestigious college or university, but available spots here frequently fall short of applicant demand. While some colleges and universities only admit a certain percentage of applicants, others take pride in admitting as many students as possible each year. Below are lists of institutions with high and low acceptance rates.

Top 20 Institutions with Highest Acceptance Rates

Acceptance rates at less competitive schools are frequently greater than 50%. Many colleges with high acceptance rates tend to have greater economic and ethnic diversity. The following is a list of U.S. colleges with high acceptance rates.

SCHOOLLOCATIONACCEPTANCE RATE
Liberty University


Lynchburg, VA99%
Marshall University



Huntington, WV98%
University of New MexicoAlbuquerque, NM97%
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS96%
University of MaineOrono, ME96%

North Dakota State UniversityFargo, ND95%

University of Memphis
Memphis, TN95%

University of UtahSalt Lake City, UT95%

East Carolina University
Greenville, NC94%
University of Kentucky
Lexington, KY94%

University of Oregon
Eugene, OR93%
University of Texas at ArlingtonArlington, TX
93%

Utah State University
Logan, UT93%

Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA92%
University of KansasLawrence, KS92%

Iowa State UniversityAmes, IA
91%

Colorado State UniversityFort Collins, CO
90%

University of MississippiUniversity, MS
90%

West Virginia University
Morgantown, WV
90%

Miami UniversityOxford, OH
89%

Liberty University, the only private institution on the list, is the college with the highest acceptance rate among popular U.S. higher education institutions.

Top 20 Institutions with Lowest Acceptance Rates

While most schools admit the majority of applicants, many of the most selective colleges report an acceptance rate of less than 10%. These are some of the most difficult U.S. colleges to gain admission to.

SCHOOLLOCATIONACCEPTANCE RATE
California Institute of TechnologyPasadena, CA
4%

Harvard University

Cambridge, MA4%

Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridge, MA4%

Princeton University
Princeton, NJ
4%

Stanford University
Stanford, CA
4%

Yale University
New Haven, CT
5%

Brown University
Providence, RI
6%

Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH
6%

Duke University
Durham, NC
6%

University of ChicagoChicago, IL
6%

University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA
6%

Northwestern University
Evanston, IL
7%

Vanderbilt University
Nashville, TN
7%

Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, MD
8%

Cornell University
Ithaca, NY
9%

Rice University
Houston, TX
9%

Tulane University
New Orleans, LA
10%

Tufts University
Medford, MA
11%

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)Los Angeles, CA
11%
Georgetown University
Washington, D.C.12%

Among the institutions on the list, UCLA is the only public university. The rest of the U.S. higher educational institutions with low acceptance rates are privately-owned.

Top 20 Global Universities Acceptance Rates

According to the QS World University Rankings 2023, the top 20 universities in the world with their respective acceptance rates are as follows. Please take note that the acceptance rate does not correspond to the global ranking of universities. That is, a high ranking does not necessarily imply a low acceptance rate.

QS RANKINGSCHOOLLOCATIONACCEPTANCE RATE
1
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Cambridge, US
4%

2
University of Cambridge
Cambridge, UK
21%

3
Stanford University
Stanford, US
4%

4

University of OxfordOxford, UK
18%

5
Harvard University
Cambridge, US
4%

6
California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
Pasadena, US
4%

7
Imperial College London
London, UK
33%

8
University College London (UCL)
London, UK
43%

9
ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)
Zürich, Switzerland
27%

10
University of Chicago

Chicago, US6%

11
National University of Singapore (NUS)
Singapore, Singapore
5%

12

Peking UniversityBeijing, China
15%

13
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, US
6%

14

Tsinghua UniversityBeijing, China
2%

15
The University of Edinburgh
Edinburgh, UK
10%

16
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)
Lausanne, Switzerland
20%

17
Princeton University
Princeton, US
4%

18
Yale University
New Haven, US
5%

19

Nanyang Technological University (NTU)Singapore, Singapore
26%

20
Cornell University
Ithaca, US
9%

Looking at the tables above, with their low acceptance rates, one can presume that the top U.S. educational institutions are more stringent in selecting students for admissions that their counterparts in other parts of the world. Leukhina, Hendricks, and Koreshkova (2021) described this condition as the “highly meritocratic college admissions in the United States.”

In their paper titled “Selective College Admissions: Implications for Equity and Efficiency,” the researchers discussed that “meritocracy produces more human capital overall if higher ability students learn more in college and if they learn more in higher quality colleges. This leads to a higher overall level of earnings (i.e. greater efficiency, loosely speaking). On the other hand, more meritocracy generates a higher degree of earnings inequality.” In the paper, the authors “quantify this efficiency-equality tradeoff via changing admission rules. Initial endowments are not the only variables that matter for college entry, college choice, and graduation. Financial constraints and admissions rules, i.e., the ranking of students, play an important role in college entry decisions and student sorting across colleges.”

How do college acceptance rates work?

As defined, the college acceptance rate is the ratio of the total number of applicants to the total number of accepted students. Typically, it is determined by the number of available spots in the institution. The number of available spots is the maximum number of applicants who can be admitted to that class of graduates, and it is not subject to change based on the volume of applicants. On the other hand, depending on the volume of applications, acceptance rates for colleges can change over time.

For example, if an elite university accepts 2,500 students out of the 50,000 applications they receive, the college acceptance rate is 5%. In comparison, if another university accepts the same 2,500 students but they only received 5,000 applications, the acceptance rate rises to 50%. Hence, even though the two universities accepted the same number of students, their respective acceptance rates are vastly different because of the difference in the number of applications each received and not on the allocated open spots.

This reasoning applies to both private and public universities. Because public colleges are typically larger institutions, they will admit a larger number of students, resulting in higher acceptance rates. However, an increase in the number of applicants has had an impact on public colleges.

In fall 2021, the number of applications for admission from first-time, degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students received by postsecondary institutions was 12,167,779.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, 2022

Changes in trends in higher education, such as an increase in student interest in a specific institution, will have an overwhelmingly large impact on college acceptance rates at smaller institutions. If a school receives a lot of interest and many students apply, the denominator grows. Because of this, the acceptance rate is likely to be lower, making the school even more desirable due to the created notion of being a “highly selective” institution.

A study by Marto and Wittman (2022) titled “College Admissions and the (Mis)Allocation of Talent,” shows that “lower-income students apply to selective colleges at lower rates because of expectations that they will not receive sufficient financial aid. Since higher-ability students expect higher average application signals, only the highest ability among low-income students apply to selective colleges. This makes the selective colleges confident that their low-income applicants are of high ability, justifying the high levels of financial aid.”

Such “selectivity” trends, as discussed in the mentioned study, contribute to developing further interest among students in institutions with lower acceptance rates.

What to Consider When Researching College Acceptance Rates

Acceptance rates are only one piece of information about a school. To understand the acceptance rate better, applicants should consider other factors such as the total number of applicants, the actual enrolment rate, and the total college cost. Nonetheless, students should consider the potential benefits of acceptance rates, both high and low, to their academic and graduation prospects in creating a list of college acceptance rates.

What is the average acceptance rate for colleges?

The average college acceptance rate in the United States is 68%, with more than half of all U.S. colleges and universities reporting rates of 67% or higher. In preparing a list of college acceptance rates, one should evaluate if the prospective institutions have an acceptance rate of around the average. These institutions generally have qualification requirements matching most applicants’ profiles. Therefore, the chances of admission to these colleges are good, if not better.

What is a high acceptance rate for a college?

An acceptance rate of 50% or higher is considered a high acceptance rate. Students may also regard acceptance rates above the average as high rates. Institutions with high acceptance rates take in the majority of their applicants. They are also considered less selective in choosing applicants for admission.

Benefits of Schools with High Acceptance Rates

Students can benefit from a high acceptance rate in a variety of ways. At a less-selective school, students with a strong application may be more likely to receive scholarships or merit-based financial aid. Likewise, schools with higher admission rates typically enroll a more economically diverse student body and do a better job of improving the economic prospects of low-income students. As applicants are more likely to get in, a school with a high acceptance rate can help these students achieve their academic and professional goals.

In preparing the college acceptance rate list, students must consider including a number of schools with high acceptance rates. This will improve their chances of being admitted to their chosen programs.

What is a low acceptance rate for college?

An acceptance rate of 10% or lower is typically considered low. Low acceptance rates are usually associated with university prestige and name recognition. When an institution has a low acceptance rate, they are considered selective. Most top universities in the United States have a low acceptance rate, such is the likes of Harvard University. For the Class of 2026, Harvard University received 61,221 applicants and accepted 1,984, with an acceptance rate of 3.2% (Harvard University Admission Statistics, 2022).

Harvard University admissions

Benefits of Low College Admittance Rates

The colleges with the lowest acceptance rates usually have the most prestige and name recognition, thus, attending a selective school can lead to networking and career opportunities after graduation. Attending a prestigious selective school may also result in a higher salary upon completion of a college education. Furthermore, low acceptance rates are often associated with high graduation rates.

Including selective colleges in the list of college acceptance rates may be a good move for students as these institutions offer the best college majors to pursue and great opportunities after graduation. Still, it is always wise to manage expectations with selective institutions as the competition is tighter in this segment.

Is a higher or lower acceptance rate better?

Based on the previous discussion, there is no such thing as a good or bad acceptance rate. In general, schools with low acceptance rates are more selective, have high standards, or have thousands of students applying for a limited number of admission spots. But that does not mean that schools with higher acceptance rates are inferior schools compared to those with lower acceptance rates. These institutions may simply have less stringent admission requirements or larger campuses that can accommodate more freshman students.

Likewise, acceptance rates do not inherently speak to the quality of students who applied, only the quantity. Furthermore, acceptance rates do not reflect the quality of education that each student will receive at a specific university.

It is important to note that college is more than just prestige or good name recognition. Although some elite universities have acceptance rates of less than 10%, a low acceptance rate does not automatically translate into higher quality education, nor does it determine one’s success after college. Large universities typically have higher acceptance rates, but they may also perform well on other measures.

Why the acceptance rate may sometimes be misleading or confusing

The acceptance rate has a crucial role in the admission game among institutions, especially with the increasing competition among them. In a study by Bound, Hersbein, and Long (2009) for The Journal of Economic Perspectives titled “Playing the Admissions Game: Student Reactions to Increasing College Competition,” the researchers observed that “[t]he overall demand for a college education amongst high school graduates has grown, and this has resulted in increasingly fierce competition for admission to the more selective colleges.”

Furthermore, the study contended that “[t]he increased competition that currently exists for admission to a more selective college might have real benefits if it were to increase learning amongst high school students. The increased resources parents and students are able to use to improve their odds of admission at top colleges put low-income students at a disadvantage. The huge gap in resources available to students at selective relative to less-selective schools seems too large to be justifiable on grounds of either efficiency or equity.”

Many students believe that the most selective colleges with their low acceptance rates offer the best education. However, admission selectivity does not always imply academic quality and rigor. Other metrics, such as alumni performance and faculty qualifications, provide more relevant data about an institution’s academic quality.

Additionally, high selectivity does not indicate a student’s fit with the school. Factors such as the school’s size, location, and on-campus housing policies can tell prospective students more about their college experience than the acceptance rate.

Attending a school with the lowest acceptance rate does not guarantee academic or professional success. While admission rates measure the number of students each institution accepts, the school’s retention and graduation rates provide more direct information about whether current students thrive at the school.

Does the acceptance rate matter?

Acceptance rates are only one aspect of a school’s profile. Other information, such as the number of applicants to the school, the school’s average GPA and SAT scores, the enrollment rate, and other data should be considered by applicants to fully understand the acceptance rate.

Universities frequently accept more students than they can accommodate because not all accepted students enroll. Evaluating the percentage of those who enroll versus those who are accepted provides additional information. If a school has a 50% acceptance rate but 90% of students enroll (45% of total applicants), one may have a different perspective on the college because the majority of accepted students want to attend.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, 2022

For instance, in the school year 2020-2021, there were a total of 2,713.484 students enrolled for the first time in postsecondary institutions in the United States (National Center for Education Statistics, 2022). However, looking closely, that is 60.7% of the first-time applicants granted admission to enroll (National Center for Education Statistics, 2022).

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, 2022

Why acceptance rate is important

College acceptance rate is important for students in creating a viable list of prospective higher education institutions. Creating a college list is one of the most important steps in the college application process. Considering how much college applications cost, the college list must include balanced choices to optimize the chances. To create a balanced list, consider whether the schools can be classified as a safety, right fit, or stretch. A balanced college list, according to conventional wisdom, should include:

  • Stretch Schools. These are schools that would be difficult but not impossible to get into based on the applicant’s academic and activity profile.
  • Right Fit Schools. These are schools where the applicant’s profile matches that of admitted students.
  • Safety Schools. These are schools where the applicant should easily gain admission based on their academic and activity profile.

Manage Expectations and Find the Right Academic Match

While many prestigious schools are also among the most difficult to get into, this does not imply that an acceptance rate makes a school better or worse. Consider university acceptance rates primarily as a tool for building a list of prospective institutions to apply to. Acceptance rates are simply numbers that are affected by a variety of factors, and it’s important to understand why some schools have low acceptance rates while others have high ones.

Colleges with high acceptance rates are not inherently bad, nor are the most difficult to get into the best. In the end, most universities will provide high-quality educational opportunities. Therefore, the list should be based on other variables as well: faculty, employment rates, the school’s location and atmosphere, the cost of getting a bachelor’s degree in the college, and the availability of opportunities.

Ideally, every institution on the prepared list of colleges should be one that the applicant would be eager to attend if accepted. In addition, acceptance rates in college should not be used to determine whether a school is “good” enough. No statistic should prevent anyone from attending the school that will best meet one’s needs.

 

References:

  1. BigFuture. (n.d.). 5 Steps to Creating a College List. Retrieved November 4, 2022, from https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/plan-for-college/find-your-dream-college/choose-a-college/5-steps-to-creating-a-college-list
  2. Birch, L. (2022, March 21). Improving admissions yield in a “new normal”. Cialfo. Retrieved from https://www.cialfo.co/blog/improving-admissions-yield
  3. Bound, J., Hershbein, B. & Long, B.T. (2009). Playing the Admissions Game: Student Reactions to Increasing College Competition. The Journal of Economic Perspectives 23(4):119-146. Retrieved from https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/jep.23.4.119
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  7. Harvard University. (2022). Admission Statistics. Retrieved from https://college.harvard.edu/admissions/admissions-statistics
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  9. Longlois, T. & Sage, A. (n.d.). College Acceptance Rates and the Admissions Process. College Advisor. Retrieved November 4, 2022, from https://www.collegeadvisor.com/resources/college-acceptance-rates-admissions-process/
  10. Marto, R. & Wittman, Y. (2022). College Admissions and the (Mis)Allocation of Talent. The University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved from https://www.ricardomarto.com/files/College_Admissions_Misallocation_Talent.pdf
  11. Meyers, N. (2022, August 10). Top 14 Q&As about Acceptance Rates. BookScouter. Retrieved from https://bookscouter.com/blog/top-14-qas-about-acceptance-rates/
  12. National Center for Education Statistics. (2022). Admissions. Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/trendgenerator/
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  15. Selingo, J. (2022, April 18). The College-Admissions Process Is Completely Broken. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/03/change-college-acceptance-application-process/627581/

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