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College Acceptance Rates & College Admission Rates

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Once you’ve found your dream school, the question becomes: will I get in? It’s hard to predict accurately, but a college’s acceptance rate can give you an idea of your chances.

This guide will cover everything you need to know about college acceptance and admission rates. And we wrap things up by telling you how you can find your chances of being accepted into any college or university. 

Acceptance rates basics - what does acceptance rate mean? 

Understanding acceptance rates is essential when planning for college applications, but what exactly are they? Simply put, a school’s acceptance rate is the percentage of admitted applicants compared to the total number of applicants in a given class or year. 

To calculate acceptance rates, you divide the number of accepted students by the total number of applicants. Here is the formula: 

Acceptance rate = (Number of students accepted / Total number of applicants) x 100

For example, if a college receives 10,000 applications and accepts 2,000 students, the acceptance rate would be 20%.

College acceptance rates vary considerably from school to school because many unique factors influence them. 

Factors that influence acceptance rate

The first factor is the school’s own standards and internal processes. All schools filter applicants based on criteria such as high school GPAs, standardized test scores, recommendations, and essays.

The nation’s most prestigious schools tend to have loftier standards in all these categories and more applicants in general, leading us to our second factor: volume. 

If a school has tens of thousands of applicants each year, it will have a lower acceptance rate than schools with only a few thousand applicants, assuming those schools are the same size.

However, schools vary considerably in size, so that’s something to consider, too. The lowest acceptance rate colleges are small, prestigious schools with many applicants. Colleges with the highest acceptance rates have large student bodies, low or average admissions standards, and relatively low applicant numbers.

When you submit your application also matters. If you apply during an early action or early decision window, your application is reviewed before the flood of regular decision applications comes in. Being among a smaller group, your achievements may be more noticeable, and the comparison to the existing pool might be more favorable.

Some schools also offer an ongoing or rolling application window. If you apply early in these rolling application windows, you are more likely to be admitted, too. 

How to find a college's acceptance rate

It’s easy to find out the number of people getting into the school you’re interested in—just check out their profile on Appily. In each of our college profiles, we show you how many people are applying to a school in any given year, how many are getting admitted, and which demographics those admitted students fall into.

Armed with this data, you can make a more educated decision about which colleges you want to put on your list. In the guide below, we answer some of your most-asked questions about college acceptance rates.

Are admission rate and acceptance rate the same thing? 

Yes, the admission rate and acceptance rate are the same thing. They both refer to the percentage of applicants accepted (or admitted) into a certain college or university in a given year.


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What’s a good acceptance rate?

While we introduced the idea of “prestige” in the opening section, the notion that a school with a low acceptance rate is prestigious is a myth. Here’s why:

There’s no such thing as a good or bad acceptance rate.

In general, schools with low acceptance rates (lower than 10 percent) are more selective or have high standards, or have tens of thousands of students applying for relatively few spots. This can be good if you seek a more rigorous academic program or want to be part of a more competitive and prestigious student body.

Alternatively, a higher acceptance rate can indicate that a college or university is much bigger, less selective, and more likely to admit a wider range of applicants. This can be great if you are an applicant with a lower GPA or test scores or if you are seeking a more flexible or less competitive academic environment.

Ultimately, your "right" acceptance rate will depend on your circumstances and goals. It's important to consider a range of factors, including the quality of the academic program, the availability of financial aid, and the overall fit with your educational and career goals.

What is the average college acceptance rate?

For applications submitted in the fall of 2022, the average acceptance rate for four-year colleges (in the United States) was around 73%. Public colleges tended to have a slightly higher acceptance rate (around 78%) than private colleges (around 70%).

This average changes from year to year. For instance, for applications submitted in the fall of 2021, the average acceptance rate was 72.6%. In the fall of 2020, the average was 70%.

Colleges with the highest acceptance rates

As we said, college acceptance rates can vary from year to year. When it comes to high acceptance rates, schools from states across the country all contend for the top spot. Size, geographic location, and academic focus can all play roles in keeping acceptance rates high, so these schools aren’t necessarily “safety” schools.

Take a look at some 2022-2023 colleges and universities with the nation’s highest acceptance rates (in no particular order), according to U.S. News & World Report data. These colleges all have a 100% acceptance rate. 

  • Academy of Art University
  • Broward College
  • Cameron University
  • Florida Southwestern State College
  • Lewis-Clark State College
  • Montana State University - Billings
  • New England College
  • Pensacola State College
  • Utah Valley University
  • Wayne State College

Colleges with the lowest acceptance rates 

As we’ve mentioned several times in this guide so far, college acceptance rates are anything but concrete. They vary yearly, sometimes deviating considerably from era to era.

That said, many colleges in the nation have held remarkably low acceptance rates for decades (even centuries). In most but not all cases, these are some of the most prestigious schools out there. According to U.S. News & World Report, the 2022-2023 colleges and universities with the lowest acceptance rates are here. 

  • Harvard University
  • Yale University
  • Princeton University
  • Brown University
  • Stanford University
  • Columbia University
  • University of Chicago
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • California Institute of Technology
  • Pomona College
  • Dartmouth College
  • Juilliard School

Which colleges should I apply to?

That’s up to you! Choosing which colleges to apply to is an important decision that can significantly impact your future. We suggest considering your academic interests and career goals, each school's campus, budget, potential financial aid, and possible extracurricular opportunities.

However, to maximize your chances of getting into a school you love, you should always put safety, reach, and match schools on your college list. By adding schools with different acceptance rates, you’re guaranteed to end up at a great college.


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Find your acceptance chances with Appily!

Armed with more information about acceptance rates, you are now one step closer to creating an intelligent list of colleges for your future. But don’t stop there.

Sign up for a free Appily account to find schools, or check out your chances of getting accepted into any college or university. It's easy with our comprehensive database and online tools. 

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