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BY THE NUMBERS

New data show how hard it was to get into an elite US college this year

A Harvard University student cheers during the 135th playing of "The Game" against Yale University, at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., November 17, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder - RC140C5D1500
Reuters/Brian Snyder
Watch your back! Harvard had an even lower acceptance rate for the class of 2023.
  • Kevin J. Delaney
By Kevin J. Delaney

Founding editor

Elite US universities have been accepting smaller and smaller percentages of applicants in recent years, and this year the admission rate at many top schools declined even further.

Many selective colleges have now notified applicants of their status and begun publishing their admissions statistics for the class that will graduate in 2023. A wave of schools, including members of the Ivy League, notified applicants the evening of March 28.

Harvard University’s already-low acceptance rate dropped even further, as it admitted just 4.5% of its 43,330 applicants for admission. Admissions rates declined at most other super-elite schools, with the exceptions of Princeton University and Cornell University, which both saw declines in the number of applicants.

Here’s a table with the class of 2023 acceptance rates released so far. They’re listed below as 2019 acceptances, with the class of 2022 listed as 2018 acceptances.

2019 accept rate2019 accepted2019 applicants2018 accept rate2018 applicants
Harvard4.5%1,95043,3304.6%42,749
Columbia5.1%2,19042,5695.5%40,203
Princeton5.8%1,89532,8045.5%35,370
Yale5.9%2,17836,8436.3%35,306
Brown6.6%2,55138,6747.0%35,438
MIT6.6%1,41021,3126.7%21,706
U. of Pennsylvania7.4%3,34544,9608.4%44,482
Duke7.4%3,07841,6008.6%37,330
Dartmouth7.9%1,87623,6508.7%22,033
Swarthmore8.7%99511,4009%10,749
Bowdoin8.9%830*9,33210.3%9,081
Cornell10.6%5,18349,11810.3%51,328
Amherst11.0%1,14410,56712.8%9,722
Williams12.4%1,2059,71512.2%9,559
Stanford******4.3%47,451
Caltechn/an/an/a6.6%8,208
U. of Chicago5.9%n/an/a7.3%32,283

*calculated based on other data released by the university.

Stanford University last year said it would no longer publicize its acceptance rate, in order to help reduce the focus on such data. “That is not a race we are interested in being a part of, and it is not something that empowers students in finding a college that is the best match for their interests, which is what the focus of the entire process should be,” Stanford provost Persis Drell said at the time. Critics of a focus on acceptance rates also often note that universities can increase their perceived selectivity by boosting the volume of applications received via aggressive marketing and other tactics.

The latest admissions announcements come amid increasing criticism of top universities’ processes for selecting students, in the wake of a national US scandal involving parents and students cheating to get into top-tier schools. That has also prompted a discussion about the pressures that parents and kids feel to get into elite universities, at the same time those schools are admitting lower percentages of applicants.

Quartz’s Jenny Anderson recently reviewed research into whether attendance at a highly selective university makes a real difference. Her conclusion: “The prestige of a university does not determine what a student learns, their happiness at school, or how satisfied they are with their lives after graduation.”

Table updated April 1 to include the University of Chicago’s reported acceptance rate. 

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