60 Most Selective Colleges & Universities
What is a research university?
A research university is an institution that includes both undergraduate & graduate students and has a focus on both educating undergraduate students & doing cutting edge research with its professors & graduate students. Though exceptions exist, most elite research universities are medium or large in size, private, and are made of up of between 30-70% undergraduate students.
What is a liberal arts college?
In comparison, liberal arts colleges are institutions that are completely are nearly completely focused on the undergraduate education. They are small institutions usually ranging from just 1000-3000 students that are focused on the undergraduate experience & education. Size and undergraduate focus are the two areas that set research universities & liberal arts colleges apart.
Size & Location
Size of Liberal Arts Colleges
Size is one of the main factors that sets liberal arts colleges apart from larger universities. Liberal Arts Colleges are by rule much smaller than national universities-- that is half of their value proposition-- the idea that the best undergraduate academic experience is at a small institution with small class sizes, with almost every class taught by a tenure-track professor (not by an adjunct or graduate student), and with that professor & the entire institution focused primarily on undergraduate education (rather than supervising graduate students).
Selectivity & Financial Aid
What is Selectivity?
Selectivity is simply a measure of how hard it is to be accepted at a university. Different universities have different standards for admissions, but the most selective American universities look for applicants with high grades (GPA), a challenging academic curriculum, and (usually) high SAT or ACT test scores, as well as strong recommendations, essays, and extracurricular activities. To put it shortly, the most selective universities want the best students.
Applying Early Decision/Action
It's as simple as that. If you want the best chance to be accepted at one of the top colleges in the U.S., your best chance is to apply Early Decision. Yes, it is a binding commitment, but if the Net Price Calculator on their website shows an affordable price, and you visit to know that you will like it, then don't leave it up to Regular Decision. Apply early and give yourself the best chance!
Diversity and Student Body
Diversity and the student experience
While many students are wrapped up in getting in and rankings, they often forget to give thought to their college experience. Diversity is a big part of the college experience for many students, and it's even more important at small colleges in more rural settings. Data is great, but make sure you try to visit some of the colleges that you are interested in and get an idea of how you find the campus environment & culture.
Whether or not a college has you major is clearly an important part of your college, but too often we see students discount liberal arts colleges because they don't have a specific major such as biochemistry or accounting. In fact, You will notice that none of these liberal arts colleges have common professional programs like Architecture, Health, and Law Enforcement, and few have programs in Engineering, Agriculture, Education, Communications, or even Business.
Before you stop considering liberal arts colleges, remember that the strength of these colleges is the high quality, holistic education that they provide. Liberal arts colleges teach you how to think, read, and write at the highest language-- and you can apply these skills to be successful in any professional field. Liberal Arts graduates often study the basic fields such as biology instead of environmental science, or English instead of communications and find that they are well prepared to make the jump into the professional world or into more specific graduate programs.
The Bottom Line
Sure everyone knows the elite national universities like Stanford, Columbia, Harvard, and Duke, but what are your chances of actually getting admitted? Because everyone knows about them, everyone applies; and that means that very few get accepted. Liberal arts colleges, including the 30 most selective ones profiled here, provide a unique educational experience built upon a close knit community of students living together for four years, being taught by professors who are dedicated to teaching (and research) in small classes. What they lack in diversity majors they make up for in the breadth and quality of education that they provide. In addition, because they are less well known and receive fewer applications per slot, they are typically slightly less selective than their national university counterparts, making them a wise choice for high achieving students.