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50 Most Affordable Competitive Colleges and Universities 2017

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Great Value Colleges - Most Competitive
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By Gabrielle Kratsas
July 2017

Don’t think of a college with the lowest acceptance rate as a bad thing; take it as a challenge to earn yourself a life-changing degree from an institution that works hard each year to offer a distinctive academic experience that it doesn’t want to share with just anyone.

These colleges and universities, a number of which are in the Ivy League, have acceptance rates as low as 5 percent, but for good reason. Most of the academic programs offered at these universities are incredibly rigorous and, as a result, carry internationally-known reputations and offer a high return on the student’s investment. At the same time, many of these schools have need-blind admissions policies, offering plenty of financial aid, free tuition or covered costs to those whose family incomes sit below a certain mark.

So if you’re a hard worker willing to put in the sweat and dedication it takes to graduate from some of these affordable colleges and universities, look no further. We’ve taken the time to list the top 50 cheapest colleges with the lowest acceptance rates because they are absolutely worth giving a try.

To create this ranking, we started with U.S. News & World Report’s list of the top 100 colleges and universities with the lowest acceptance rates. We then narrowed that list down to the 50 cheapest colleges and universities using the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator Database.

Finding an affordable college degree at the best colleges and universities is important to us; therefore, placement in this ranking is focused solely on the “net cost” of each school, as reported by NCES. Additionally, we included the student retention rate to show that while some of these schools are difficult to get into, they’re so rewarding that the accepted and enrolled students choose to keep coming back. Finally, we sourced and highlighted general “about” and admissions information from each of the schools’ websites.

All Net Costs and Retention Rates are sourced from College Navigator, unless otherwise stated. The few tuition-free federal service academies are ranked according to their acceptance rates, with the lowest rate scoring the lower number ranking. Also keep in mind that the university acceptance rate does not always speak to the admissions process of individual degree programs.

50. University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA

Of the 38,918 applications to join the Class of 2020 at the University of Pennsylvania, just 3,674 hopeful students were offered admission into this prestigious institution.
Acceptance Rate: 9.4%, according to UPenn’s website
Net Cost: $22,944
Student Retention Rate: 98%

The most “expensive” college on this list, the University of Pennsylvania is a private Ivy League research university with 21,358 total students on its 299-acre west Philadelphia campus. To get an idea of the competition one faces for Penn admission, a whopping 97 percent of students admitted for fall 2016 came from the top 10 percent of their high school graduating class. Service is huge here, as well, with almost 14,000 students, faculty and staff participating in a few hundred Penn volunteer/community service programs each year.

49. Barnard College in New York, NY

Barnard College’s location in the center of New York City and next door to Columbia University offers students an incredible number of unique academic, internship and employment opportunities.
Acceptance Rate: 20%
Net Cost: $22,815
Student Retention Rate: 96%

Founded in 1889, Barnard College is a private liberal arts university and today’s only women’s college in New York City. With a total undergraduate student enrollment of 2,500, Barnard offers the intimacy of a small college, but additionally shares resources with Columbia University, just steps away from campus. Acceptance and admission into Barnard means access to 22 libraries and two universities’ worth of available courses to choose from.

48. Memphis College of Art in Memphis, TN

At Memphis College of Art, admitted undergraduate students can choose to earn a BFA in fine arts, design arts, photography, animation, art education and more.
Acceptance Rate: 23%
Net Cost: $22,689
Student Retention Rate: 78%

Established in 1985, Memphis College of Art is a small, private college committed to teaching the practice, history and appreciation of visual art and design. The student body at MCA is less than 500 students and 67 full and part-time faculty members bring the student-faculty ratio to 10:1. The average class size is 17 students. MCA awards more than $5 million annually in institutional aid to its well-deserving students. Those talented enough to earn a place on this campus have access to free gallery exhibitions and artist lectures throughout the year.

47. Colgate University in Hamilton, NY

Alumni of Colgate University include the president of NBC Universal and COO of News Corporation, the CEO of NYSE Euronext, leaders at the Glimmerglass Opera, the Green Bay Packers and more.
Acceptance Rate: 27%
Net Cost: $22,463
Student Retention Rate: 94%

A private liberal arts institution founded in 1819, Colgate University offers 55 majors to its 2,900 undergraduate students in Central New York. The student-faculty ratio is 9:1, average class size is 17 students and the average total award for students receiving financial aid is $52,075. What makes Colgate special enough to have a competitive admissions process? Global reach, sustainability, entrepreneurship programs, undergraduate research and alumni success, to name a few.

46. University of Richmond in Richmond, VA

Within just six months of graduation, 94 percent of those who earned degrees at the University of Richmond find employment.
Acceptance Rate: 31%
Net Cost: $22,400
Student Retention Rate: 93%

The University of Richmond is a private liberal arts college that will pay 100 percent of what the family of an admitted student can’t cover. The University has a 4,181 total student enrollment, an 8:1 undergraduate student-faculty ratio, 45 alumni chapters around the world and more than 60 undergraduate majors. An interesting distinction, The Richmond Guarantee promises a fellowship of up to $4,000 for one summer research or internship experience for every undergraduate.

45. Rice University in Houston, TX

Rice University may be difficult to get into, but 99 percent of its full-time instructional faculty have doctorates or terminal degrees in their fields.
Acceptance Rate: 16%
Net Cost: $22,061
Student Retention Rate: 96%

Chartered in 1891, Rice University is a private research institution that offers both undergraduate and graduate degree programs, but has a distinctive commitment to undergraduate research and education; about 65 percent of undergrads participate in research prior to graduation. With 3,879 undergraduate students (fall 2016), Rice received 19 applications for every available spot in its freshman class. Rice may not have the highest student retention rate on this list, but The Princeton Review ranked the university No. 1 for happiest students.

44. Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY

As a leader in producing PhD candidates, Vassar College capitalizes on how hard its students are willing to work.
Acceptance Rate: 26%
Net Cost: $21,933
Student Retention Rate: 96%

Established in 1861, Vassar College is a selective, independent liberal arts college known for its beautiful 500-acre arboretum campus of manicured lawns, shaded woodland paths, the Shakespeare Garden and two buildings registered as National Historic Landmarks. Almost 100 percent of the 2,450 students live on campus where they enjoy an 8:1 student-faculty ratio and close quarters with the 70 percent of faculty who live on or near campus. Well-earned resources at Vassar include a huge and well-equipped library, seven pipe organs, the 32-inch reflecting telescope that tied as the largest in the state, a laboratory nursing school and more.

43. Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK

In fall 2016, ORU enrolled 3,852 total students who represent all 50 states and 90 countries around the world.
Acceptance Rate: 22%
Net Cost: $21,595
Student Retention Rate: 82%

Oral Roberts University is a Christ-centered liberal arts university, offering more than 76 undergraduate majors online and on its 263 acres in the “economically dynamic metropolis” that is Tulsa. A few examples of how admission into ORU can set you up for success: 100 percent of graduates of the History, Humanities and Government department were accepted into law school, 100 percent of Pre-Med Honor Students were accepted into medical school and 100 percent of the College of Education graduates were employed within three months of commencement.

42. Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA

According to the school’s website, the “MIT Nation” is equivalent to the 10th-largest economy in the world.
Acceptance Rate: 8%
Net Cost: $21,576
Student Retention Rate: 98%

Known as one of the most prestigious universities in the nation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a private research institution that has been significant enough to receive an electrical engineering gift from Thomas Edison back in the day. Founded in 1861, MIT has inspired a slew of scientific breakthroughs and technological advances like the creation of GPS and the invention of encryption systems that enable e-commerce. That low acceptance rate is no joke, but MIT alumni are incredibly successful, having launched more than 30,000 active companies.

41. Middlebury College in Middlebury, VT

Middlebury College’s admissions may be competitive, but they run on a need-blind policy, which means a student’s financial status doesn’t influence admission.
Acceptance Rate: 17%
Net Cost: $21,437
Student Retention Rate: 94%

Middlebury College was founded in 1800 and operates today as a residential college committed to educating students in the tradition of the liberal arts. It’s no surprise that this beautiful campus is hard to get into; Middlebury is located in Vermont’s Champlain Valley, with the Green Mountains to the east and the Adirondacks to the west. The approximately 2,500 undergraduate students get the benefits of small class sizes and an 8:1 student-faculty ratio, but can choose from 44 different majors and 31 NCAA varsity sports teams.

40. Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH

The education one earns at Dartmouth College is worth the stress of getting in; its documented 20-year return-on-investment (ROI) is $822,600.
Acceptance Rate: 11%
Net Cost: $21,177
Student Retention Rate: 96%

Founded in 1769, Dartmouth College is a private research university and member of the prestigious Ivy League, hence its incredibly competitive Ivy League acceptance rate. Its three leading professional schools are the Geisel School of Medicine, Thayer School of Engineering and the Tuck School of Business. About 6,300 total students go to Dartmouth, with a majority choosing from the 40+ academic departments and programs. Classified by the Carnegie Foundation as a “research university with very high research activity,” Dartmouth has extensive intellectual reach and competitive strength.

39. Haverford College in Haverford, PA

Founded in 1833, Haverford College expects all of its select students to be involved in research.
Acceptance Rate: 25%
Net Cost: $21,144
Student Retention Rate: 97%

The small, private intellectual community of Haverford College consists only of undergraduates, and 98 percent of them live on the beautiful arboretum campus that has 200 acres of award-winning architecture and landscaping. The 1,290 students enjoy a 9:1 student-faculty ratio and a campus involvement unlike most other schools; they write and govern the college’s Honor Code, serve on hiring committees, manage budgets and run the 140+ clubs and organizations. Too bad they can’t up that acceptance rate.

38. Colby College in Waterville, ME

While Colby College’s prospective students have been working hard to make it through this low university acceptance rate, Colby became the fourth institution of higher education in the country to achieve carbon neutrality.
Acceptance Rate: 23%
Net Cost: $21,032
Student Retention Rate: 93%

Founded in 1813, Colby College is one of the oldest private liberal arts colleges in the country, located on 714 picturesque acres that overlooks downtown Waterville and the Kennebec River Valley. Distinctive to Colby and its 2,000 students, the college offers an “exploratory” Jan Plan term, three of which are mandatory, but most of Colby’s hard-working students go for four. While this college is small, students get to choose from 58 majors and 32 minors, as well as 32 varsity athletic teams.

37. Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT

Despite Wesleyan University’s continuous growth, this low admission rate college keeps its community tightly-knit with an 8:1 student-faculty ratio.
Acceptance Rate: 22%
Net Cost: $20,490
Student Retention Rate: 94%

Founded in 1831, Wesleyan University is a private liberal arts college that offers 45 major fields of study for BA and graduate degrees to its 3,140 enrolled students. This small college can still definitely feel big with its 250 student-run groups, 29 varsity sports teams and 300 annual arts events. The most popular industries in which Wesleyan graduates are finding employment are tech/engineering/sciences, education, media and communications, financial services, leisure, arts and entertainment and consulting.

36. Thomas University in Thomasville, GA

For the more athletic applicants, Thomas University offers the newly renovated Nighthawk basketball gymnasium, a state-of-the-art student fitness center and a cutting-edge sports medicine facility.
Acceptance Rate: 32%
Net Cost: $20,295
Student Retention Rate: 50%

Originated in 1950, Thomas University is a private, not-for-profit university located on 75 acres just 30 miles from Tallahassee, but admitted students have the opportunity to utilize the university’s global reach and take part in partner programs that are available through other schools and organizations worldwide. The fall 2015 enrollment of 1,182 students allowed for a 10:1 student-faculty ratio and an average class size of 12.

35. Wellesley College in Wellesley, MA

The acceptance rate at Wellesley College is low, but the admissions process is need-blind, and 100 percent of students’ demonstrated need is met.
Acceptance Rate: 30%
Net Cost: $20,013
Student Retention Rate: 96%

Founded in 1870, Wellesley College is a private, nonprofit liberal arts college for women offering over 50 departmental and interdepartmental majors, as well as a picturesque campus across 500 acres. It currently enrolls 2,350 students, 86 percent of whom graduate within the traditional four years. This low acceptance rate college may be difficult to get into, but graduates of Wellesley include two secretaries of state, presidents of Duke, Mills, Vassar and Trinity, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, a NASA astronaut, Korea’s first female ambassador and more.

34. Duke University in Durham, NC

Comedian, actor and physician Ken Jeong made it through the rigorous Duke University admissions process to become an alumnus; we should all aspire to be more like him.
Acceptance Rate: 12%
Net Cost: $19,950
Student Retention Rate: 97%

Founded in 1838, Duke University is in the “Ivy Plus” category, included for sharing similar values around academic and professional excellence, intellectual curiosity, leadership and civil engagement. Duke’s main campus sits on almost 9,000 acres in Durham with additional campuses in Singapore and China. In fall 2016, Duke enrolled 6,449 undergraduate students with about five out of 10 students receiving financial aid, which has an average award of nearly $45,074.

33. Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, PA

Swarthmore College is a member of the Tri-College Consortium with Bryn Mawr and Haverford to expand its academic offerings.
Acceptance Rate: 12%
Net Cost: $19,641
Student Retention Rate: 97%

Founded in 1864, Swarthmore College is a private college that offers a liberal arts and engineering curriculum, as well as a student-faculty ratio of 8:1. Swarthmore’s campus is a 425-acre arboretum that’s just 11 miles southwest of Philadelphia, which Garden Design magazine dubbed “the most beautiful campus in America.” This college is full of overachievers: About one-third of the student population spend their academic career in Swarthmore’s Honors Program.

32. Catawba College in Salisbury, NC

The select students who go to Catawba College can choose from unique majors distinctive to the College, like sustainable business and community development, athletic training and music business.
Acceptance Rate: 32%
Net Cost: $19,275
Student Retention Rate: 72%

Catawba College is a small, private liberal arts college that’s affiliated with the United Church of Christ and supports individualized learning for its 1,300 students. Catawba was founded in 1851 and now offers over 70 academic fields of study, a 13:1 student-faculty ratio and a 276-acre campus centrally located 45 minutes from the greater Charlotte area. A promising 100 percent of Catawba students receive some type of financial aid, and the College made it among the top 100 in Forbes’ Grateful Graduates Index 2016 for its long-term value or return-on-investment.

31. Amherst College in Amherst, MA

A competitive admissions process leads to a more-intimate student environment, like Amherst College’s 8:1 student-faculty ratio.
Acceptance Rate: 14%
Net Cost: $19,055
Student Retention Rate: 96%

Founded in 1821, Amherst College is a private liberal arts college where the small percentage of admitted students receive access to 40 majors, the Five College Consortium from which students can choose more than 6,000 courses and an open curriculum. Amherst refers to its core-omitted curriculum as “one of the boldest, most productive experiments in higher education,” as it is also free of distribution requirements. The quaint Class of 2020 has a modest enrollment of 471 students, and by next year, those lucky ducks will reap the benefits of the brand new science center and residence halls.

30. California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo in San Luis Obispo, CA

On the other side of that low acceptance rate, Cal Poly offers a 1,321-acre main campus and a comprehensive education that joins technical and professional curricula with arts and humanities.
Acceptance Rate: 31%
Net Cost: $18,530
Student Retention Rate: 95%

California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo is a nationally-ranked public university located halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. At 31 percent, the acceptance rate isn’t too daunting, especially once applicants learn about Cal Poly’s 97 percent employment rate and average starting salary of $51,000. The admissions process is so highly competitive that the university received a record of 40,904 undergraduate applications for fall 2010, but only had 4,000 spots to offer.

29. Yale University in New Haven, CT

Those lucky and talented enough to score admission to this competitive university get access to unique amenities like the Leitner Observatory, Peabody Museum of Natural history and the Yale farm.
Acceptance Rate: 7%
Net Cost: $18,319
Student Retention Rate: 99%

Founded in 1701, Yale University is a large Ivy League research institution that’s home to 5,4,53 undergraduate students, 15 million library holdings and an expansive variety of academic departments and schools, centers, museums and more. For the Fall of 2015, Yale received 30,236 applications, admitting just 6.7 percent. The average need-based scholarships and grants award from just Yale sources is $43,285, and 2,734 undergraduates received an award from the school.

28. Williams College in Williamstown, MA

Out of the 6,985 hopefuls who applied to Williams College last fall (2016), only 553 entered the Class of 2020.
Acceptance Rate: 18%
Net Cost: $18,167
Student Retention Rate: 97%

Established in 1793, Williams College is a private, residential liberal arts college with an undergraduate enrollment of about 2,000 students. The 7:1 student-faculty ratio is beneficial to students in any of the 36 majors because they’re getting the individualized college experience that they worked so hard for. And that hard work doesn’t stop upon admittance; a little less than half of the students who graduate from Williams do so as double majors.

27. Pomona College in Claremont, CA

Among those admitted to Pomona College, about 52 percent of students conduct research with faculty.
Acceptance Rate: 10%
Net Cost: $18,140
Student Retention Rate: 97%

Established in 1887, Pomona College is a private liberal arts college and a founding member of the Claremont Colleges consortium, offering the perks of both a small college and the resources of a larger university. Just 35 miles east of Los Angeles, Pomona offers 48 majors, and 8:1 student-faculty ratio and a 140-acre campus to its small community of 1,640 students. For an idea of where you could go in your academic career after making it in that 10 percent, 83 percent of graduates attend graduate school within 10 years, 37 seniors from the class of 2016 won post-graduate fellowships and 2016 graduates gained employment with companies like ABC Studios, Goldman Sachs and National Institutes of Health.

26. Princeton University in Princeton, NJ

Accepted and enrolled students at Princeton University have the opportunity to follow in the big footsteps of alumni who serve as U.S. Supreme Court justices, served as U.S. presidents and won the Nobel Prize.
Acceptance Rate: 7%
Net Cost: $17,732
Student Retention Rate: 98%

Princeton University, yet another research university among the Ivy League schools with their Ivy League acceptance rates, was founded in 1746 and currently enrolls 5,277 undergraduates. The average financial aid award is an incredible $50,240, and about 60 percent of undergrads receive some sort of aid. This competitive acceptance rate comes with a delightfully-intimate 5:1 student-faculty ratio, over 400 international internship opportunities, 36 academic departments and 500 acres of one of the country’s most beautiful campuses.

25. University of California-Berkeley in Berkeley, CA

For a university as big as UC Berkeley, it’s impressive that 73 percent of undergraduates remain small enough to have fewer than 30 students.
Acceptance Rate: 15%
Net Cost: $17,160
Student Retention Rate: 97%

Founded in 1868, the University of California-Berkeley is a public research university where feats like developing the flu vaccine, inventing the first wetsuit, discovering the demise of the dinosaurs and inciting the Free Speech Movement are regular accomplishments of students and faculty. UC Berkeley offerers 170 academic departments and programs through its 14 colleges and schools to its nearly 40,000 students.

24. Stanford University in Stanford, CA

Acceptance Rate: 5%
Net Cost: $16,695
Student Retention Rate: 98%

Opened in 1891, Stanford University is a private research university that sits on one of the largest campuses in the U.S. at 8,180 acres. Stanford has the No. 1 lowest acceptance rate in the country, according to U.S. News’ list. It currently has 16,437 students enrolled, and it admits about about 1,700 freshman and 30 transfer students each year. Fun fact: if your family income is below $125,000, you get free tuition; if it’s under $65,000, the school covers room and board as well.

23. Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens, FL

Florida Memorial University was established by and closely affiliated with the Baptist Church.
Acceptance Rate: 23%
Net Cost: $16,655
Student Retention Rate: 60%

With traditions reaching back to 1879, Florida Memorial University has become the only historically black university in southern Florida. FMU offers 41 undergraduate degrees, four master’s programs and financial assistance to over 90 percent of enrolled students. As is with most of the schools on this list, the low acceptance rate is worth trying your luck with, considering FMU graduates enjoy the sixth highest starting salaries in the state.

22. Paine College in Augusta, GA

Paine College has one of the highest acceptance rates among our cheapest colleges with the lowest acceptance rates.
Acceptance Rate: 22%
Net Cost: $16,530
Student Retention Rate: 35%

Founded in 1882, Paine College is a private, historically black college that’s affiliated with the United Methodist Church and Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. Available degree programs include arts and sciences, as well as professional studies, through which students can earn a BA or BS. Paine is a tiny college, with a headcount of 534 enrolled students, 95 percent of whom receive financial aid.

21. Harvard University in Cambridge, MA

Harvard University is the crème de la crème among ivy league schools and one of the hardest schools to get into.
Acceptance Rate: 6%
Net Cost: $16,205
Student Retention Rate: 97%

Established in 1636, Harvard University is the oldest higher education institution in the country and has the third-lowest acceptance rate on U.S. News’ list. While admissions isn’t generous with its acceptance letters, Harvard’s financial aid program awards over $160 million to more than 60 percent of undergraduate students. The 22,000 total enrolled students will continue to follow the impressive steps of current Harvard alumni, who are Nobel laureates, heads of state and Pulitzer Prize winners.

20. University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI

In 2016, the University of Michigan enrolled 6,689 freshmen out of the 55,504 applications it received.
Acceptance Rate: 26%
Net Cost: $16,107
Student Retention Rate: 97%

Founded in 1817, the University of Michigan is a public research university–the best, according to National Science Foundation–that enrolled 63,031 students in fall 2015. From taking part in the discovery and excavation of a rare mammoth skeleton to developing interactive social sensory services to improve motor skill development in autistic children, these UM students are earning their place. This massive university offers 19 degree-granting schools and colleges that cover most professions and more than 1,300 student organizations.

19. University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA

UVA offers a combination of scholarships, grants, work-study and need-based loans to offer admission based on intellect and talent rather than a student’s ability to foot the bill.
Acceptance Rate: 30%
Net Cost: $15,945
Student Retention Rate: 96%

Thomas Jefferson Founded the University of Virginia in 1819, which is now comprised of 11 schools on the main campus and another college in Southwest Virginia. Virginia’s acceptance rate isn’t that bad compared to others on this list, especially for a school that U.S. News & World Report dubbed the No. 2 best public university for this year (2017). Almost 16,000 undergraduate students are on campus, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage site for 28 years and a national historic landmark for 55 years.

18. University of California-Los Angeles in Los Angeles, CA

For the fall of 2015, UCLA received a whopping 92,000 freshman applications; no wonder its acceptance rate is so low!
Acceptance Rate: 17%
Net Cost: $14,236
Student Retention Rate: 97%

University of California-Los Angeles UCLA has an impressive reputation that works in step with that low acceptance rate; it is the most applied-to university in the nation. If you’re looking for competition, look no further. The average GPA for admitted incoming freshmen is 4.39, and the average SAT score lands between 1940 and 2240. However, the juice is absolutely worth the squeeze. At UCLA, about 38 percent of undergraduates receive Pell Grants, which is among the highest percentages of the top-tier schools in the U.S. Graduates have gone on to become an Internet Hall of Famer, the first Chinese-born astronaut, an Academy Award-winning composer and an actor who also practices neuroscience.

17. Medaille College in Buffalo, NY

Medaille College offers a great value to those students who make it through its low acceptance rate.
Acceptance Rate: 29%
Net Cost: $14,205
Student Retention Rate: 64%

Founded in 1937, Medaille College is a private, low acceptance rate college that makes its selectivity worth it with a whopping 95 percent job placement rate. Medaille has campuses in Buffalo, Rochester and online, and its undergraduate and graduate degree programs come with a hands-on, practitioner-based curriculum. The approximately 1,500 total enrolled students choose from programs in applied and social sciences, business and leadership, counseling and psychology, liberal arts and general studies, veterinary technology and natural sciences, and education.

16. Jarvis Christian College in Hawkins, TX

Jarvis Christian College has a net cost under $14,000 and an acceptance rate under 15 percent.
Acceptance Rate: 14%
Net Cost: $13,363
Student Retention Rate: 49%

Opened in 1913, Jarvis Christian College is a Christian and historically black college located on 1,000 acres of a wooded campus within accessible reach of neighboring metropolitan areas. Solely conferring undergraduate degrees, this college keeps its enrollment under 1,000 so that the students can get individual attention and personalized academic assistance.

15. Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, GA

Who cares about Georgia Institute of Technology being one of the hardest schools to get into? Tech has won four National Championships in football, and the team has one of the nation’s best bowl game records.
Acceptance Rate: 32%
Net Cost: $13,340
Student Retention Rate: 97%

Opened in 1888, the Georgia Institute of Technology’s campus is, despite being in the economic and cultural hub of Atlanta, located on 400 acres of wooded greenery. The campus’ Midtown neighborhood is actually considered an “Innovation District” where the 15,142 enrolled undergraduates can take advantage of one-of-a-kind internship and employment opportunities. According to the school’s Career Services, the top interviewing companies in 2015 were Microsoft, Airwatch, Schlumberger and ExxonMobil among others.

14. New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro, NM

All of the hard work pays off at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, where 80 percent of graduating students have held paid research jobs as undergraduates.
Acceptance Rate: 24%
Net Cost: $13,331
Student Retention Rate: 77%

New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology is a small school that offers associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in science and engineering. NMT describes its curriculum as intense and focused, and hands-on learners traditionally thrive because of the wide variety of research opportunities available. The 2,150 enrolled students enjoy a 12:1 student-faculty ratio, which is especially helpful at a university where mechanical engineering, petroleum engineering and computer science with engineering are the top three majors.

13. College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, MO

Although the College of the Ozarks has one of the lowest acceptance rates, at least three different sources, including Forbes, consider it one of the “best buy colleges.”
Acceptance Rate: 12%
Net Cost: $13,308
Student Retention Rate: 74%

Founded in 1906, the College of the Ozarks is a Christian college on a stunning 1,000-acre campus that overlooks Lake Taneycomo and is 40 miles south of Springfield. Not only does this intimate college enroll 1,500 students with a 13:1 student-faculty ratio, but it covers the cost of its hardworking full-timers. “Instead of paying tuition,” according to the college, “All full-time students work campus jobs to defray the cost of education.” Once they’ve finished the Work Education Program, C of O covers the rest of the cost and produces debt-free graduates.

12. Fort Valley State University in Fort Valley, GA

About 92 percent of students at Fort Valley State University receive grant or scholarship aid with an average award amount just under $7,000.
Acceptance Rate: 21%
Net Cost: $12,484
Student Retention Rate: 75%

Founded in 1895, Fort Valley State University is a historically black, state land-grant university, sending more students of African descent to medical and dental programs than any other state school. With an enrollment of 3,000, this smallish school offers 70 student organizations and academic degree programs through the College of Arts and Sciences, College of Education, College of Agriculture, graduate studies and online education.

11. Chicago State University in Chicago, IL

Chicago State University’s prime location and low tuition makes the college’s low acceptance rate worth a try.
Acceptance Rate: 30%
Net Cost: $11,293
Student Retention Rate: 52%

Starting as a teacher training school in 1867, Chicago State University is Chicago’s oldest accredited public university, as well as an urban institution on 161 residential acres in the city’s Southside. CSU offers its almost 7,200 enrolled students 38 undergraduate, and 30 graduate degree programs at its five colleges: Health Sciences, Arts and Science, Business, Education and Pharmacy.

10. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Chapel Hill, NC

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has been described as a “public ivy,” and it appropriately has an ivy league acceptance rate.
Acceptance Rate: 30%
Net Cost: $10,077
Student Retention Rate: 96%

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is a public research university that welcomed its first student in 1795, making it the nation’s first university to open its doors and the only degree-granting public university in the 18th century. Carolina received a record 31,955 applications for fall 2015, but only enrolled 4,081 students, almost 77 percent of whom graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. For those hard workers who can’t afford an average net cost around ten grand, eligible low-income students can still graduate Carolina debt-free through The Carolina Covenant.

9. CUNY Baruch College in New York, NY

For New York State residents who qualify, the low acceptance rate of Baruch College means little now that they can utilize the Excelsior Scholarship, the nation’s first accessible college program program.
Acceptance Rate: 32%
Net Cost: $9,510
Student Retention Rate: 91%

Baruch College is just a couple miles from Midtown and Wall Street, so it makes sense that Forbes ranked it among the “Best Value Colleges 2017: 300 Schools Worth the Investment”. The 18,000+ students who conquer Baruch’s admissions reap the benefits of unique internship and employment opportunities, an incredibly diverse student environment and 29 undergraduate majors. This low acceptance rate college’s degree programs lie across three schools: Weissman School of Arts & Sciences, Marxe School of Public & International Affairs, and the Zicklin School of Business.

8. Rust College in Holly Springs, MS

Rust College may have one of the lowest acceptance rates in the country, but its net cost is under $10,000!
Acceptance Rate: 16%
Net Cost: $9,360
Student Retention Rate: 62%

A historically black liberal arts school, Rust College was established in 1866, making it the state’s second-oldest private college. This competitive college is related to the United Methodist Church, and it’s located on 126 acres in the northern part of the city. Rust is undergraduate-only, enrolling just over 1,000 students, and about 99 percent of full/first-time students receive some kind of financial aid.

7. CUNY Lehman College in Bronx, NY

Although Lehman college has a low acceptance rate, U.S. News ranked it No. 5 out of all of the schools in the North for graduates with the least amount of debt.
Acceptance Rate: 30%
Net Cost: $6,159
Student Retention Rate: 86%

A member of the The City University of New York system, Lehman College is a liberal arts college that was founded in 1968 and now offers 51 undergraduate majors along with graduate degree programs, certificates and doctoral programs. This college sits on 37 acres in the northwest Bronx, and enrolls over 12,000 students. If the low tuition doesn’t encourage you to give admissions a try, consider some of the alumni this college has produced, like former Verizon CEO and Chairman Ivan Seidenberg (’72).

6. Southern University at New Orleans in New Orleans, LA

Southern University at New Orleans is among the cheapest colleges on this list, making its selectivity that much more rewarding.
Acceptance Rate: 21%
Net Cost: $5,909
Student Retention Rate: 47%

Opened in 1959, Southern University at New Orleans is a public institution in the Southern University System located just seven miles from downtown New Orleans. The 2,420 enrolled students can choose from a number of academic degree programs through the College of Education & Human Development, the College of Business & Public Administration and the School of Social Work. SUNO’s low admissions rate and notable alumni are testaments to the fact that the school seeks out intellectually curious and hardworking students.

5. United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy has the highest acceptance rate of the other federal service academies on this list, and students enter employment for at least five years right after graduation.
Acceptance Rate: 15%
Net Cost: $4,548
Student Retention Rate: 93%

United States Merchant Marine Academy is a federal service academy that awards academy graduates with a bachelor of science degree, a U.S. Coast Guard license and an officer’s commission in the U.S. Armed Forces. Founded in 1943, USMMA has a difficult curriculum to go along with it’s low acceptance rate; it requires more credit hours for a degree than any other federal service academy. All of that hard work pays off when it comes to the almost-guaranteed employment immediately after graduation.

4. United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT

The U.S. Coast Guard Academy “will be challenging and fun,” according to Admissions Director Captain Robert McKenna.
Acceptance Rate: 18%
Net Cost: “Tuition, room, and board at the Coast Guard Academy are paid for by the government,” according to the Academy’s website.
Student Retention Rate: 92%

The United States Coast Guard Academy was founded in 1876 and today offers a beautiful 103-acre campus along the Thames River, free tuition and a curriculum that includes academics, physical fitness, character and leadership. The 912 enrolled cadets will earn BS degrees and officer commissions in the Coast Guard upon graduation. For the class of 2019, just 291 cadets were admitted out of the 1,948 applicants; about 96 percent of those admitted were in the top 50 percent of their high school classes. After graduation, the newly-commissioned ensigns report to their awaiting careers aboard cutters and at sector offices in ports around the nation.

3. United States Air Force Academy in USAFA, CO

Want to be paid to be a student? Ignore the U.S. Air Force Academy’s dauntingly low acceptance rate, and see if you have what it takes to become an airman!
Acceptance Rate: 17%
Net Cost: USAFA actually pays you to be a cadet, according to its website.
Student Retention Rate: 94%

Founded in 1954, the United States Air Force Academy’s campus is set up like most other Air Force bases and has over 4,000 cadets, 32 academic disciplines and a rigorous curriculum. Out of more than 12,000 applicants, the Academy selects about 1,000 cadets for admission each year. They go on to graduate as commissioned second lieutenants in the U.S. Air Force. This school is hard to get into and enrolled students face a tough curriculum, but it’s completely free and offers interesting programs like the Academy Center for Cyberspace Research, where cadets use simulations to practice attack, exploitation and defense techniques.

2. United States Military Academy in West Point, NY

The U.S. Military Academy keeps its admissions rate low because it aims to produce only the most qualified leaders for the Army.
Acceptance Rate: 10%
Net Cost: Tuition, room and board, and expenses are fully paid, according to USMA’s website.
Student Retention Rate: 95%

The United States Military Academy, also known as West Point Prep, sits just above USNA with its unfriendly admissions rate. But when it comes to an all-expenses-paid college experience that has a job patiently awaiting your graduation, why wouldn’t you submit that application? The oldest federal service academy on our list with a founding date of 1802, West Point is “entwined with the history of our nation,” and it offers 40 different academic majors. The academic program awards students with a BS degree upon graduation, the physical program includes four years of physical education and the military program prepares students to become leaders in the U.S. Army.

1. United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD

At less than 10 percent, the U.S. Naval Academy acceptance rate is the lowest among all of the federal service academies.
Acceptance Rate: 9%
Net Cost: “ALL students who attend the Naval Academy do so on a full scholarship in return for 5 years of active duty service upon graduation,” according to USNA’s website.
Student Retention Rate: 98%

The United States Naval Academy has the lowest acceptance rate out of the federal service academies on this list, but all graduates earn BS degrees and commissions as ensigns in the Navy or second lieutenants in the Marine Corps. Founded in 1845, the USNA has an 86 percent graduation rate, an intimate 8:1 student-faculty ratio, 25 majors and 33 varsity sports. Not only does the government foot the bill for tuition, room and board, but midshipmen earn a monthly pay, which increases annually.