What is acceptance rate?

A college’s overall quality and prestige are determined in part by its selectivity of the applicants. Learn more about what it really means, factors affecting and colleges with different acceptance rates.

Updated by Avinash H on 23rd March 2021

If you're applying to any institution, chances are you're going to want to find out as much as you can about that college first. One of the most important college stats you'll find is that institution's acceptance rate.

An acceptance rate is the percentage of applicants who are accepted to a university.

The acceptance rate is usually shared as a percentage, and it's calculated based on the number of students admitted compared to the number of students who actually applied that year.

In this guide, we'll explain acceptance rates, what it means when a college has a high acceptance rate or a low acceptance rate, why acceptance rates are hyped so much, and everything in between.

What is an acceptance rate?

A college acceptance rate is the percentage of applicants who are accepted to a university.

Acceptance rates are calculated by taking the total number of accepted students and then dividing that by the total number of applicants.

This is generally one of the first things students should look at when they're trying to weigh their chances of getting into a particular school.

Bearing that in mind, there are a few important points you should consider when looking at acceptance rates.

  • A lower overall acceptance rate indicates a selective school. This means that fewer applicants have successfully gotten in.

  • Although there's a lot of hype around acceptance rates, the truth is they don't actually tell you much about the quality of a school.

  • Acceptance rates are a measure of a school's exclusivity — not necessarily its quality or worth.

  • Most highly selective colleges now have acceptance rates in the single digits. That means fewer than 10% of students applying to the college are ultimately going to be accepted

  • Generally speaking, a school that attracts loads of applicants will have the lowest acceptance rate.

  • Small schools tend to have the most competitive acceptance rates. This is because they have comparatively fewer spaces to offer.

  • College acceptance rates can be important depending on the student's interests and achievements.

What factors should you consider other than a college acceptance rate?

To be honest, it's pretty difficult to predict all the factors a particular college uses to develop its "acceptance rate."

But, if you want to do a deeper dive and try to figure out your chances of acceptance beyond that number, there are a few things you should bear in mind.

  • First and foremost, it's vital to see how you perform against the average SAT score and GPA of the college you want to apply to.

  • Second, you should try to figure out the acceptance percentage compared to actual enrollment for understanding the selection procedure of a particular college or university.

  • Try to get some context around the acceptance rate proportion compared to the school's tuition, fees, and financial aid.

  • Finally, compare every college's acceptance rate to that of other, similar colleges.

As you might have guessed, it's usually going to be tougher to get into a college with the lowest acceptance rate. That's because lower acceptance rates mean you can expect tough competition if you're trying to get admitted into a selective college.

In the next section, let's take a look into some of the things you can do to maximize your chances of getting into a selective school with a low acceptance rate.

What does a super-low acceptance rate say about a college?

To be honest, a low college acceptance rate doesn't tell you a whole lot about a school. The only thing a low acceptance rate will tell you is whether that school normally gets way more applications than the college admissions team ultimately accepts as students.

Although this might tell you something about the type of students that school attracts, it's not an indicator of the type of students who graduate.

Translation: getting into the college with the lowest acceptance rate doesn't mean you'll get the best education. Likewise, choosing the school with a high acceptance rate doesn't necessarily mean you'll get shortchanged.

Remember: acceptance rates should normally be taken with a grain of salt.

Applying to colleges and universities with low acceptance rates

There's no magic formula for applying to college. The admissions process can vary dramatically from one school to the next. As an applicant, you should simply focus on doing your best to show off all the hard work you've already put in toward your future.

That being said, there are a few things you simply can't ignore when applying to college.

Those are:

  • Your GPA

  • Standardized test scores like your SAT score and ACT score

But again, it's worth pointing out that a lot of selective colleges and universities — especially an ivy league school — will expect way more from prospective students than just a high GPA or good results in an SAT subject test.

If you want to be part of a selective college's admitted class, you'll also need several letters of recommendation, or a worthy portfolio that showcases your participation in extracurricular and social activities.

What are the benefits of schools with a high acceptance rate?

At the end of the day, you shouldn't limit your college search based on admissions statistics.

You've got to consider a school's specialized programs, unique location, social opportunities, and everything in between.

The more open-minded you are at the start of your search, the more chances you'll have to discover a college that works for you.

But if you do find a college with a high acceptance rate, your chances of getting in are statistically better.

That's why picking a college with a higher acceptance rate might be a good choice for students with relatively lower grades, lower test scores, or those who're looking for colleges that provide better certainty from a college admissions point-of-view.

Colleges with lower and higher acceptance rates

OK, so we've already explored what acceptance rates are and what they do — and don't — mean. Now, let's take a look at some top colleges and universities alongside their respective acceptance rates.

Schools with the lowest acceptance rates

A college with a very low acceptance rate means it is an extremely selective school.

Here are some of the most well-known colleges that have low acceptance rates.

Institution

Acceptance Rate

Harvard University

6%

Yale University

6.30%

Columbia University

7%

Alice Lloyd College

7.10%

Princeton University

7.40%

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

7.90%

United States Naval Academy

7.90%

College of the Ozarks

8.30%

Schools with the highest acceptance rates

Having a 100% acceptance rate doesn't necessarily mean a college is bad.

To be honest, colleges with 100% acceptance rates usually just have an open standard of admission or have their admission standards aligned with the applicant pool.

Let's explore a few of the most popular colleges with a higher acceptance rate.

Institution

Acceptance Rate

Academy of Art University

100%

Bismarck State College

100%

Boston Architectural College

100%

City University of Seattle

100%

CUNY–College of Staten Island

100%

Dixie State University

100%

Granite State College

100%

Indian River State College

100%

Metropolitan State University

100%

Montana State University-Northern

100%

Conclusion

At the end of the day, it's important to remember that acceptance rates are not the be-all and end-all of the college admissions process.

Acceptance rates simply tell you how many students are competing for admission to one particular college.

Stiff competition getting in doesn't mean you'll leave college with a better degree — and so you shouldn't lose much sleep over a college acceptance rate or any other piece of admissions data.

There are lots of alternative high-quality colleges out there, and the overall national acceptance rate is actually increasing.

Just remember to do your best, ask questions, and do plenty of research.