University applications are nerve-wracking at the best of times; often coming at the same time as final year school exams, students are under the extra pressure of deciding on a subject they might like to specialise in, along with a university in which to do the specialising, and filling in what feels like several thousand forms before even being considered for entrance to a specific institution.
This is the level of stress inherent in trying to get into just about any university but the entire process becomes hugely more challenging when trying to gain admission into the world's more exclusive universities. Some universities have an incredibly high acceptance rate — the University of Kansas, for example, had an acceptance rate of 92.3% in 2012, while Boston Architectural College accepted 100% of its applicants the same year. Universities with low acceptance rates tend to be those with a large emphasis on practical abilities, such as music-focussed institutions, or historically prestigious colleges, like the Ivy Leagues.
Admission criteria differs from institution to institution, but the grades that a student has achieved while at school are generally of huge import in terms of their applications to university. On top of this, other areas examined by an institution can include a student's involvement with extracurricular activities within their school, any involvement with volunteer or charity work, and skills pursued and developed outside of the school environment. There may also be an interview or an audition, depending on the course for which the student is applying. Most students who stand a chance of entering these institutions have been working towards that acceptance letter since the beginning of their academic career, forming a perfectly well-rounded academic and extracurricular record that sets them apart from hundreds of other applicants.
Below, we've detailed ten of the most exclusive universities worldwide, as assessed by their application-to-acceptance ratio in the last academic year. It's worth noting that all but one of these universities are located in America; that could be because of the huge volume of applications these world-renowned universities receive from both national and international students yearly and the limited spaces available. What does it take to make into one of these 10 most elite universities in the world? Read on to find out.
10 University of Oxford: 19% acceptance rate
One of the best-known universities in the world, the University of Oxford had a 19% acceptance rate in the last academic year. Oxford was the first university to be established in the English-speaking world, and while there is no definitive date of its founding it is assumed to have been functioning in some capacity since the year 1096. It has been a fully-fledged institution of academia since 1167, and consistently places high in various worldwide university rankings. To enter Oxford, you'll need to have reached the highest attainable grade boundaries in final year exams, while most subjects require passing a rigorous interview process and challenging course-specific entrance exam before potential students are even made an offer.
9 California Institute of Technology: 12% acceptance rate
The California Institute of Technology, or Caltech, is one of the most renowned institutes of technology in the world. The university had a 12% acceptance rate last year, and is most famed for its science and engineering research. The college is comparatively modern in relation to Oxford, having been founded in 1891 in Pasadena as Throop University, and renamed the California Institute of Technology in the year 1920. The university only accepts those with an exemplary track record academically, with 98% of its student body placing in the top tenth percentile of their high school's graduating class. Some of the university's top-class facilities include a jet propulsion laboratory and a seismological laboratory.
8 Dartmouth: 10.05% acceptance rate
At number eight, with just over a 10% acceptance rate in the past year, is Dartmouth College. The ninth-oldest college in the USA, Dartmouth was founded in the year 1769. Dartmouth is a member of the prestigious Ivy League and is a liberal arts college situated in Hanover, New Hampshire. The college is renowned for its wide variety of programmes, including Earth Sciences, Native American Studies, and Studio Art.
7 Massachusetts Institute of Technology: 8.2% acceptance rate
Possibly the most famous institute of technology in the world is at number seven. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT, was founded in the year 1861, a mere and unfortunate two days before the start of the Civil War. The university was founded by William Barton Rogers, and had its first female graduate, Ellen Swallow Richards, in 1873. She graduated with a degree in chemistry, and went on to establish the Women's Laboratory in the college. As such, the institution is renowned for its forward-thinking approach, and is the ultimate in third level education prospects for many students of science.
6 Princeton: 7.29%
Situated in New Jersey, Princeton University is at number six. With an acceptance rate last year of 7.29%, Princeton was chartered in 1746 and is as such the fourth-oldest third level institute in the United States. The university is an Ivy League college, and offers a choice of thirty-four programs, which include Slavic Language and Literature, Philosophy and Plasma Physics. The school prides itself on its inclusionary and non-discriminatory attitude to the financial state of its applicants, with up to 60% of the university's students receiving financial aid.
5 Columbia: 6.89% acceptance rate
At number five is the University of Columbia, in New York City, with an acceptance rate of under 7%. One of the Ivy Leagues, the college was founded as King's College by the royal charter of English King George II in 1754, and is the fifth-oldest third level institution in the United States. The college, after some upheaval, reopened as Columbia in the year 1784, naming itself as such as a sign of the university's patriotism. The college has a wide range of departments, including Barnard College; a women's liberal arts institution which was one of the first colleges in the country to allow women to receive the same level of education as men. Columbia's admissions criteria imply a well-rounded approach to prospective students: it does not simply focus on a person's grades, but also their extracurricular interests and personal backgrounds.
4 Yale University: 6.72%
Another Ivy League university is at number four, with the University of Yale in Connecticut having had an acceptance rate of 6.72% in its most recent class of undergraduates. The existence of Yale can be traced back to the 1640s, and it has been active under the name by which it is known today since the year 1718. In the early twentieth-century the structure of the university changed its approach to students' education as a result of the influence of English universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, in order to create a smaller and closer-knit schooling atmosphere for students, while still allowing access to reams of academic material. Yale's selection process for admissions depends a lot on school performance, and favours those who have the ability and willingness to push themselves to their absolute limits.
3 Juilliard: 6% acceptance rate
At number three is one of the most famous institutes of music, dance and drama in the world: Juilliard, in New York. With a 6% acceptance rate over the last year, Juilliard prides itself on its high calibre of musicians, dancers and actors. Applicants must go through an extensive audition process to even be considered for enrolment in the school, although no maximum or minimum age limit is enforced. The institution was founded in 1905 by Dr. Frank Damrosch as the Institute of Musical Art. The college was originally created with the express function of equalling the music institutions in Europe at the time, and has more than achieved its goal since.
2 Harvard University: 5.9% acceptance rate
The penultimate university on this list is Yale's arch-rival, the University of Harvard, with the slightly more exclusive recent acceptance rate of the two: 5.9%, as of March 27th 2014. Harvard admits to placing emphasis on the academic prowess of its prospective students, with roughly 13,5000 of its potential students for this year scoring seven hundred or above on the SAT critical reading test, and 3,400 ranking first in their high school classes. The university was established in 1636 and has educated a staggering 32 heads of state and 48 Pulitzer Prize winners.
1 Stanford University: 5.7% acceptance rate
Number one on the list is Stanford University, fractionally more exclusive than Harvard with its most recently documented acceptance rate standing at 5.7%. Situated in California, Stanford was established in 1891. The university is a notably politically concerned one; it was heavily involved in the civil rights movements of the 1960s and '70s, hosted Martin Luther King Jr. during the '60s, and is credited as being the first university to establish a group advocating the rights of the gay and lesbian community. The school operates on a need-blind basis, meaning that a student's financial status will not affect or influence their application to the university; rather, selection is made on the basis of the depth and range of their high school curriculum, and how highly they have achieved throughout their high school career.