Are Colleges with Low Acceptance Rates Better?

What is a low acceptance rate, and are low acceptance rate colleges academically better than other colleges? Keep reading to learn all about acceptance rates.

TCM Staff

22nd September 2021

If you’re applying to college, you’ve probably seen some statistics about a school’s admissions process, whether they are advertised on a college website or printed in some college rankings list. Each year, colleges release basic information about their recently accepted students, including test score averages, demographics, total applicants, and acceptance rates.

The acceptance rates might be the most striking statistic. Many students believe that the acceptance rate is the most trusted indicator of a college’s likelihood to admit them. Especially now, newspapers are loaded with headlines and information about the growing competitiveness of colleges and declining acceptance rates, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Wondering, “what is an acceptance rate,” and “what is considered a low acceptance rate?” We’ll discuss all of this, and share information about low acceptance rate colleges and what uni has the lowest acceptance rate. 


What Is an Acceptance Rate?

A college’s acceptance rate is the rate at which applicants are accepted or admitted into the college. To find the acceptance rate, take the number of admitted students and divide it by the total number of applicants.

Here’s an example: a college that has 200,000 applicants and accepts 10,000 students has an acceptance rate of 5%. 10,000 divided by 200,000 is 0.05, which is the equivalent of 5%. 

Another college has 20,000 applicants and also accepts 10,000 students. However, with a larger number of applicants, the acceptance rate is 50%, not 5%. Although both the colleges accepted the same number of students,  their acceptance rates are very different.

Acceptance rates depend on a few factors, like a school’s admission requirements, and the volume of applicants. Since COVID-19 made it easier for students from out-of-state to apply to more schools, the volume of applicants naturally decreased the acceptance rates for many schools. \


What Is Considered a Low Acceptance Rate?

The standard set by US News marks any acceptance rate under 20% a low acceptance rate. Their list of 2022 colleges with the lowest acceptance rates includes schools with acceptance rates between 4% and 20%. 


On the other hand, some schools have notoriously high acceptance rates, even 100%. 


Are Schools With Low Acceptance Rates Better?

A low acceptance rate tells you that a college typically receives far more applicants than it can accept. It also tells you that a college might be more selective in its admissions process than other colleges. It doesn't necessarily tell you about the school’s quality of education, although some of the more prestigious Ivy Leagues are typically low acceptance rate colleges. 

Acceptance rates certainly don't tell you about the types of students that graduate, or if the students graduate at all— for that information, you’ll want to look at graduation rates and other graduation statistics. 


Two female college students strolling through campus.

Quality and Selectivity

Renowned colleges, like Ivy Leagues, tend to have lower acceptance rates because they have more applicants. Popularity among applicants paired with a high level of selectivity make more prestigious colleges have lower acceptance rates. The Curtis Institute of Music and Harvard University are this year’s colleges with the lowest acceptance rates at 4% and 5%, respectively. Other schools like Stanford, Columbia, Julliard, and Princeton also have notoriously low acceptance rates. While these schools are typically known for their high academic standards, you can find schools with slightly higher acceptance rates that have great reputations, like the University of California Berkeley and Northeastern University


Tips for Applying to Low Acceptance Rate Colleges


Prepare a List of the Colleges to be on the Safe Side

Lower acceptance rates make the chances of your admittance statistically lower. But, that doesn’t always determine your success. If you meet the college’s criteria and have an impressive college application, you can certainly get into a low acceptance rate college. To be on the safe side, make a list of the colleges you want to apply to. Research their acceptance rates, and try to include one or two colleges that have higher acceptance rates for you to apply to.


Think About Which College Fits You Best

Don’t apply to colleges just because you associate a low acceptance rate with high academic quality. Exclusivity and brand names shouldn’t dictate one of the biggest decisions of your life! Take a well-rounded approach and examine all of a college’s features, not only its acceptance rate.



Low acceptance rate colleges are generally prestigious; but, you shouldn’t just look at acceptance rate when assessing a college’s fit with your needs. Remember, when thinking about “what is a low acceptance rate,” don’t automatically assume it’s a positive thing for colleges. An acceptance rate alone doesn’t give you any meaningful information about an institution’s impact on its students. Instead, it only tells you about how many students it accepts each year. Choose colleges based on their programs, affordability, staff, and student life, in conjunction with acceptance rate and other requirements.

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