30 Of The World's Most Exclusive Universities

Published 1 year ago on January 23, 2019
By Hugo

Getting accepted to these esteemed learning establishments isn't easy. Even a 4.0-grade point average wouldn't be enough. In fact, to have any chance at all, you will be required to possess an awe-inspiring SAT score, a long list of extracurricular activities and perhaps most importantly, a family who can afford the extortionate tuition and accommodation fees.

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Of course, there are always scholarships on offer, but competition for them is fierce, with even the brightest kids in the country unable to be guaranteed a place at some of these schools. Thus, to give you better insight into these uber-competitive colleges, we've compiled a list of the hardest universities to get into, some of which have been calculated by the lowest acceptance rates and the highest SAT and ACT test scores based from data gathered in 2018. 

The list is in no particular oder.

1. Harvey Mudd College

Opened in 1957, Harvey Mudd College's reputation hasn't always been stellar. When it first opened, the classrooms were temporary, while professors even went as far as opening up their homes to students to accommodate the space shortage.

Over 60 years later, however, and Harvey Mudd now has an acceptance rate of only 13%, with only 800 students on its books at one time. One of the seven Claremont Colleges, Harvey Mudd is one of the most esteemed liberal arts colleges in America.

2. Cornell University

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At just 15%, Cornell University's acceptance rate is one of the lowest in the world. Founded in 1865, it ironically had the biggest entering class of any university in America when it first opened.

As well as boasting Ivy League status, the university is famed for being one of the first US universities to allow both men and women into their classes.

3. Amherst College

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While Cornell was one of the first colleges to open its doors to both sexes, Amherst College made waves when it was founded in 1821 as it allowed students of all religion and races to attend.

Five years later, their first African American student graduated. That said, the college didn't hire female educators until 1962. 

With an acceptance rate of 14%, you need to have some serious brains to win a place here.

4. Vanderbilt University

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Located in the heart of the country music scene, Vanderbilt University is situated in the urban city of Nashville, Tennessee, although its campus is a national arboretum, housing over 300 different species of trees and shrubs. Founded in 1873, the college was initially part of the Methodist Episcopal Church. 

Today, Vanderbilt has an acceptance rate of just 12% and is lauded for its impressive alumni, which includes 12 governors, seven billionaires, three Nobel Prize laureates, two Vice Presidents of the United States, and a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. 

5. Northwestern University

After 379 acres of land were purchased by the founders of Northwestern University in 1853, it was turned two years later into a small educational institute with just ten students and two faculty members.

Over 150 years later, Northwestern is a shadow of its former self, with thousands of students attending the 12 schools and living on the 3 campuses. With a 13% acceptance rate, applicants applying to Northwestern face an uphill battle to secure a place.

6. Dartmouth College

Dartmouth College first opened its doors in 1769 and was intially intended to teach Native Americans. Now a fully fledged Ivy League school, Dartmouth paved the way for educational institutions to have greater autonomy from state interference after winning a landmark 1819 U.S Supreme Court Case.

With an acceptance rate of 11%, Dartmouth is popular with students not only for its exclusivity and academic excellence but also because of its size, with its total student enrollment of about 6,400 making it the smallest of the Ivy League colleges.

7. Duke University

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Like many colleges on our list, Duke University's beginnings were humble, with the university starting out in 1838 with only one small schoolhouse.

Coming along way since its founding, Duke has actually changed locations and names many times, with its current location situated in Durham, North Carolina. The university has over 14,500 students enrolled but only an 11% acceptance rate. Considered one of America's best colleges, it also boasts a premier NCAA basketball team in the Duke Blue Devils. 

8. University of Pennsylvania

Founded in 1740, the University of Pennsylvania is America's fourth oldest university after Benjamin Franklin established a college (initially in his name) to prepare students for business and public service careers.

Franklin’s College of Philadelphia, as it was first called, was then turned into the University of Pennsylvania between 1779 and 1791, making it America’s first university for both undergraduates and graduates. The school currently has an acceptance rate of 10% and has a knack for producing many famous billionaires, especially at undergraduate level.

9. United States Military Academy

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While it might be a surprise to some, the United States Military Academy is one of the most lauded educational institutes in North America.

Found in West Point, New York, the United States Military Academy is coeducational and was established way back in 1802 following approval of President Thomas Jefferson. Successful applicants can achieve a Bachelor of Science degree and learn vital military leadership skills and take part in their competitive athletics programme. 

However, with an acceptance rate of just 9.5%, winning a place is no walk in the park. 

10. University of Chicago

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The University of Chicago’s rich history spans back to 1890 after being established by the American Baptist Education Society thanks to a large donation from the famed American tycoon John D. Rockefeller.

Known for its arts and sciences, particularly, its esteemed school of economics, the University of Chicago boasts incredible alumni from various disciplines, and, as such, the acceptance rate is a mere 8%.

11. California Institute of Technology

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Founded in 1891, California Institute of Technology- at least to many schools on this list- is a relatively new university. Acknowledged to most by its nickname, Caltech, it places a significant emphasis on science and engineering, with the two departments possessing some of the most esteemed researchers in the world

Despite the university's relatively small size,  a host of leading figures in the science world have graced the classrooms of Caltech, including 6 Turing Award winners, 4 Chief Scientists of the U.S. Air Force and 71 recipients of United States National Medal of Science or Technology. 

Unsurprisingly, the acceptance rate is around 9%.

12. Brown University

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Being one of the oldest schools in the USA (1764), Brown's reputation is bettered by only a handful of other universities and was the first American university to welcome all religions. It also boasts glittering alumni, including the Hollywood actress Emma Watson.

The selective institute only accepts 9% of all applicants, with its graduates landing jobs in some of the most prestigious companies in America. Brown also has a reputation for having a more free-spirited, bohemian atmosphere compared to other Ivy League schools.

13. Stanford University


While it is not an Ivy League college, Stanford, according to recent figures, is more competitive than most, with an acceptance rate of just 7%. This low number makes it one of the most competitive American colleges.

Founded by Leland Stanford in 1885, Stanford began the process of accepting students six years later. Over one hundred years later, the main campus is located in Santa Clara Valley, which is an incredible 8,180 acres. With an endowment of $21.4 billion, Stanford is a wealthy and exclusive university.

14. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Known to most by the abbreviation M.I.T, Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts and is considered one of the leading maths and science universities in the world. As well as boasting world-class teaching facilities, its campus is one of the most scenic in America, with the sprawling, 168-acre plot of land overlooking the bank of the River Charles Basin.

The university houses 5 schools and 1 college and boasts 82 Nobel Laureates and 34 astronauts from its distinguished alumni. In recent years, the university has plowed more focus into social and natural sciences as well as the sciences. At the time of writing, there is a 7.9% rate of acceptance, one of the lowest on our list.

15. Yale University

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Along with Harvard, Yale is considered the best university in America, and a place of learning that only the most gifted can apply to. 

Situated in New Haven, Connecticut, Yale's campus is spread across 12 constituent schools, with each faculty responsible for their own curriculum. 

As one of the world’s wealthiest universities, the library is one of the biggest academic libraries in the country with 15 million volumes to choose from. 5 U.S presidents have walked through Yale's student doors, and those wishing to follow in such illustrious footsteps face an uphill battle, with the acceptance rate currently 6.3%.

16. Harvard University

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Situated in the liberal college state of Massachusetts, Harvard University is unquestionably one of the most celebrated universities in the world and often ranks above Britain's Oxford and Cambridge universities in the global university rankings list. And with world-renowned teachers, multi-billion dollar endowments and acceptance rate of only 6%, it isn't hard to see why.

The Ivy League research university's history goes back to 1636; making it Ameria's oldest higher education institution. Divided into 11 academic units, it has campuses around Boston. The main campus is Harvard Yard and measures an astonishing 209 acres and pips Yale to the accolade of the world's most extensive university library. 

Harvard's notable alumni include an incredible 8 U.S presidents and 62 living billionaires.

17. University of Oxford

The oldest University in the English-speaking world, Oxford has grand and dreaming spires and numerous gardens and arboretums dotted throughout the ancient city. So old is it that no one is quite sure when it was founded but records dating back as far as 1097 suggest it was a center of education before then.

With Britains largest academic library, that has the right to request every single book published in Britain and Ireland, it has long been seen as one of the best Universities on the planet. 

18. University of Cambridge

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Formed in the 13th century after some academics at the University of Oxford fell out with locals and fled further North East to start another University, it rapidly grew into something to rival the prestige of the former and the two have enjoyed a fierce yet friendly rivalry ever since.

On the banks of the river Cam where tourists and students alike punt through the riverways of the city, it has English-gothic buildings accentuated by stained glass windows giving it an imperious and stately air.

19. Pepperdine University

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Overlooking the Pacific ocean, it draws its architectural inspiration from the Mediterranean and is situated in the luxurious locale of Malibu.

Stunning coastline views greet attendees and its Theme tower has become an iconic symbol of the university that was only founded in 1937.

20. Peking University


Built on the original grounds of the former imperial gardens from the Qing dynasty, this stunning university is argubally China's most exclusive and historic universities, It has tried to incorporate much of the original architecture and landscaping into its campus and has maintained a feel of regal grandeur with the repurposing of historical buildings and pagodas as places of education and study.

Truly an awe-inspiring place to expand your knowledge and go out into the world from.

21. London School of Economics

Specializing in the social sciences, London's premier university is world-renowned, with many of its student intake coming far and wide in the hopes of gaining a degree at one of the world's most competitive universities.

LSE's courses cover a wide range of social and political issues, gearing their students up for a career in high-profile industries such as finance and the law. Spread across one campus in Holborn, central London, the school is served with an array of transport links.

22. Imperial College London

Imperial College London is argubally the best university in Britain for engineering, medicine, and business. Its dedicated efforts to these fields ensure students a world-class experience that sees some of the world's brightest minds lecture in their theatres. 

Like L.S.E., Imperial caters to an international student-base, and also attracts the best researchers from around the world, with many comparing Imperial as the British equivalent of M.I.T. owing to its focus on engineering.

23. University of St Andrews

Scotland's leading university has always maintained a high place in the world's hierarchy of top universities. A leading research and teaching center which goes back over 600 years, the university is known for offering students a flexible degree structure.

The Scottish institution is also famed for being the place of study of Prince Wiliam and the Duchess of Cambridge, who met at St. Andrews as first-year students.

24. University College London

Another university blessed with being in the heart of London is University College London. As England's third oldest higher education facility- it was founded in 1826 – UCL has garnered a high level of academic clout over the years. Its courses range from history and biology right through to politics and maths.

UCL has also expanded its reach. In 2012, it joined forces with the School of Pharmacy. Two years later, UCL formed another partnership, this time with the Institute of Education to establish the UCL Institute of Education.

25. Durham University

The scenic beauty of Durham University is a delight to anyone fortunate to set foot on its sequestered grounds. Established in 1832, Durham is a regular fixture in Britain's definitive university rankings guide.

The historic institution is also a mainstay in the world top 100 university league table conducted by QS World University Rankings.

26. Loughborough University

Loughborough University is argubally the world's premier university specializing in sports science. It is unsurprisingly large owing to its sports-focus, with a wonderful 440-acre single-site campus in the English Midlands housing its students and awe-inspiring facilities.

Loughborough also offers more traditional subjects, with each student, provided the option of a year in industry as part of the degree. One of the world's greatest student experiences according to various polls, Loughborough is certainly not your average by the book university.

27. Warwick University

The University of Warwick is another campus university based in the Midlands. With an international reach, Warwick's student-base is refreshingly varied, with the university itself considered one of the best in the world.

A regular top-tenner in the UK university league tables, Warwick's academic prowess is matched by few others in its homeland, despite only being formed 54 years ago. In recognition of its 50th anniversary, Warwick was awarded 'University of the Year' by The Times and Sunday Times.

28. Bristol University

The University of Bristol has long been considered a respectable alternative to Oxbridge should students come up short in the infamously grueling interview stage. Founded in 1876, Bristol ranks as one of the top 60 universities in the world.

And with nearby bucolic woodlands and a quaint harbor close to the city center, the south-west of England university spawns one of the most positive student experiences in the country. 

29. Edinburgh University

The University of Edinburgh is renowned for its teaching, with over 86% of graduates leaving university with a 1st or 2:1 in their respective courses. Edinburgh offers more than 400 undergraduate programmes, some of which are paired together. 

Found in the heart of Edinburgh, this beautiful, landmark city sees students far and wide applying to the university, with the city itself regularly voted one of the most desirable places to live.

30. Queen's University


Northern Ireland's foremost university attracts a cosmopolitan demographic, with their course in medicine deemed one of the best in Europe. Aesthetically pleasing, the Belfast university regularly makes the list of the world's most beautiful university campuses.

This is largely thanks to the signature Lanyon building, which has become the face of the university. Although not all other buildings on campus match this style, they do have a magnificent red brick hue to add to the magical surroundings.

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