5 Hidden Gems with Acceptance Rates Over 50%

Girl Asking For Silence On A White Background

With acceptance rates at highly selective colleges dropping down to single digits, some going as low as 2% (Carnegie Mellon Computer Science Department), it’s no wonder parents are reaching for ways to give their children an advantage (sometimes, even an illegal one) in the competitive college admissions process. In fact, on a recent meeting with a dean of admissions at one such selective school, I was told that the application process has become so competitive that some admissions professionals are tossing around the idea of simply randomizing acceptances in a “lottery” style process in an attempt to even out the playing field.  While it is unlikely that the race to gain a coveted spot in the freshman classes of elite institutions like Yale, Stanford, USC and Wake Forest won’t significantly cease any time soon, it is important to note that there are many incredible schools where your student will get the same (or even higher) quality education without the competition.

Here are five schools that I think are simply fantastic and admit over 50% of applicants:

1. Chatham University

Pittsburgh, PA – Acceptance Rate: 53%

Chatham Cbs Local Pittsburgh Cropped
Photo: CBS Local, Pittsburgh

On a recent visit to Pittsburgh, I had at the privilege of exploring Chatham University.  Once an all-girls institution, this school has really embraced the drivers of innovation and transformation that the city of Pittsburgh has employed to successfully morph from depressed steel mill center to a thriving hub of healthcare, technology and arts. With over 60 undergraduate and graduate programs, Chatham, now co-ed, has most recently been recognized as a leader in sustainability (Environmentalist, Rachel Carson, is an alumna) and has built the nation’s first campus fully dedicated to its study.  Nestled on an idyllic 39-acre campus originally part of Mellon’s summer estate, Chatham is just a 5-10 minute walk from downtown Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh, where students may also take classes.  The university offers many educational opportunities including integrated degrees, which allow students to graduate with both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in just 5 years, as well as a program dedicated to Global Focus which  brings a selected country to campus each year through a series of targeted events, food, culture and visiting dignitaries (this year is Ireland).  And, did I mention its campus is classified as an arboretum? www.chatham.edu

2. Eckerd College

St. Petersburg, FL – Acceptance Rate: 72%

Photo: Eckerd College

Situated on 188 acres of bay-front property in sunny St. Petersburg, boasts the most comprehensive collegiate waterfront program in the Southeast, where students can check out paddle boards, kayaks, sailboats, fishing gear, wake boards and can even join the volunteer student coast guard.  Often referred to as “Camp Eckerd,” the pet-friendly campus houses approximately 300 pets in student housing. But, don’t let the relaxed vibe fool you; Eckerd has a strong focus on academics, as well. The school has been recognized in the top 50 colleges whose graduates who go on to get doctorates in both sciences and humanities.  Eckerd was a pioneer of the 4–1–4 term schedule, in which students work on a single project for credit each January. Every student has a faculty mentor and many take advantage of the Academy of Senior Professionals which pairs retired senior citizen mentors with undergrads who are eager to benefit from their experience and connections. First-years also take a yearlong course called Human Experience which focuses on influential books and students are required to explore the theme “Quest for Meaning” through a senior capstone project.  The dean aptly describes Eckerd students as “intellectuals in sandals.” www.eckerd.edu

3. Furman University

Greenville, SC – Acceptance Rate: 61%

Photo: Furman Alumni News

Founded in 1826, Furman is the oldest private university in South Carolina and is sometimes dubbed the “Country Club of the South.” The lush campus, rolling hills and swans – yes – swans in the lake may have something to do with this nickname but the rigorous academic curriculum should not be underestimated. Students follow a 4-4-1 academic plan which allows them to delve wholly into a topic of their choice or study abroad during the optional “Maymester.” The faculty are among the most creative and invested in student success as I have found.  On my last visit, I met an Anthropology professor who designed a new class, The Anthropology of Food, where students convened in the kitchen on Thursday evenings to cook dinner which they ate together while attending class.  An Art professor boldly convinced engineering students to “come to the dark side” where, together with art students, they worked on Industrial Design projects. Furman’s tight-knit community is, in part, due to having almost all students live on campus in various residence halls and engaged living communities where students live with others who have similar interests and values, such as commitment to environmental sustainability. www.furman.edu


4. Goucher College

Baltimore, MD – Acceptance Rate: 79%

Goucher College By The Daily Record
Photo: The Daily Record

Goucher may be a small liberal arts college but it is big on creativity and innovation (it was ranked Top 10 Most Innovative Colleges by US News and World Report).  A pioneer in the “upside down classroom,” a teaching philosophy that has been adopted by high schools and colleges across the nation, Goucher students leverage classroom time for active debate and group problem solving rather than lectures and note-taking which can be done at home. Goucher is the first college to require participation in study abroad before a student is eligible to graduate and is noted for its “video” application which allows applicants to submit a short video in lieu of the traditional Common Application™.  Located on 287 acres in a Baltimore suburb, Goucher Gophers take advantage of cultural activities, dining experiences and professional internships in surrounding Baltimore and Washington, DC.  For students who want to expand beyond the campus of this small liberal arts institution, they can cross-register at nearby Johns Hopkins, giving them the additional experience of studying at a large research institution. www.goucher.edu

5. Sewanee – University of the South

Sewanee, TN – Acceptance Rate: 65%

Photo: Sewanee, University of the South

Standing in the middle of Sewanee’s campus, surrounded by Gothic buildings and faculty and honors students who proudly don the black robes of “academic dress,” one might easily think they had been transported to Oxford or Cambridge in England.  But, make no mistake, the culture is unmistakably “southern prep,” where students might be seen in the odd seersucker suit or pearl necklace and where professors (who typically live on campus) adhere to traditional porch light tradition, inviting students in for lemonade and casual conversation by lighting their porch lantern. Located on 13,000 acres of natural bluff halfway between Nashville and Chattanooga, Sewanee’s campus is a natural classroom for its five majors in environmental science and a playground for outdoorsy students who like to hike, rock climb and kayak. Tennessee Williams, American playwright and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, left his estate to the university in 1996, which includes all copyrights to his plays, screenplays, poems, letters and stories (meaning every time your school does a production of The Glass Menagerie or A Streetcar Named Desire, Sewanee gets a royalty). Flush with funding, it’s no wonder that Sewanee has a exceptional creative writing department and hosts Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the Sewanee Young Writers’ Conference (for high school students), among the top writing workshops in the nation. www.new.sewanee.edu


With so many marvelous colleges and educational opportunities in the US, I can’t fathom why so many students focus on gaining admission to the same, oversubscribed, few.  As you consider your college list, think beyond the obvious and look for institutions that will support – and challenge – your growth on all dimensions.

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