What colleges are in tier 1, tier 2, and tier 3?

I was wondering where the ivies, University of California system, NYU, Duke, Penn State etc. fall?

In quality or selectivity? For what kind of person in what kind of major?

There is no official listing of tiers. It all depends on how much you value prestige.

overall and in quality

You could sort colleges by rough selectivity if you would like:



The value, however, of analyses such as these resides mostly in their inclusion of a wide range of schools, including those that may not previously have been familiar to you.

You are asking for generalities. Just look at the USNWR if you simply want a ranking of general public perception.

As far as I can tell, US News stopped making the “tier” distinctions at some time in the past decade.
Before that, for at least a year or two, Tier 1 + Tier 2 (collectively) referred to any college with an assigned rank. Even before that, as I vaguely recall, Tier 1 referred to the top 50 national universities and top 50 national LACs (or something like that). I’m not finding good references for those old definitions.

A rather different set of “tier” distinctions may have been associated in the past with the Carnegie classification framework. I believe it was a distinction of functions/features (such as the granting of doctorates and level of research activity), not a quality distinction per se. Again, in a quick-and-dirty Google search, I’m not coming up with good references.

At any rate, there doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus about what “tier 1” and 'tier 2" even mean, let alone which colleges belong in each category. Even if we could agree that “tier 1” refers only to the top N colleges according to some ranking system or metric, then the distinction between N and N+1 would have to be rather arbitrary.

What you need to do is get away from rankings and focus on a school that matches your strengths and interests, that you can afford. Most of US News ranking criteria is perception, in other words, “Dude! that school ROCKS and like SMART people go there!” is a good measure on what they go on. These are not reliable polls.

I am sure people will disagree with this method of tiering but it is the best relative representation of demand for a competitive consumer product. In this case the product is an educational opportunity at an elite school. The applicants are the potential consumers who are willing to offer 4 years, opportunity cost vs other schools, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and hours upon hours of studying, test taking and application completion.

You can segment however you want but the lower the admissions rate the greater number of buyers relative to those that are offered the opportunity to purchase. Simple easy way to gauge relative value of a golden ticket.

Generally on CC people hate arbitrary rankings and highlight fit. The aforementioned methodology however is the one entirely subjective “free market” method of calculating relative demand and or value of matriculation spots at school’s.

And yes it has flaws when trying to decipher a specific ranking. Some schools are bigger, finances vary, geography etc. I still think this is a close approximation however broader demand and consequently is an ideal way to use broad strokes in tiering.

Stanford (RD+SCEA) 2,040 out of 47,450 (4.3%)
Harvard (RD+SCEA) 1,962 out of 42,749 (4.6%)
Princeton (RD+SCEA) 1,941 out of 35,370 (5.5%)
Columbia (RD+ED) 2,214 out of 40,203 (5.5%)
Yale (RD+SCEA) 2,229 out of 35,306 (6.3%)
Caltech (RD+EA) 532 out of ~8,200 (6.5%)
MIT (RD+EA) 1,464 out of 21,706 (6.7%)
Pomona (RD+ED) 713 out of 10,245 (6.9%)
Brown (RD+ED) 2,566 out of 35,438 (7.2%)
UChicago (RD+EA+ED1+ED2) 2,329 out of 32,291 (7.2%)
Duke (RD+ED) 3,097 out of 37,390 (8.3%)
Penn (RD+ED) 3,731 out of 44,491 (8.4%)
Northwestern (RD+ED) 3,392 out of 40,425 (8.4%)
Dartmouth (RD+ED) 1,925 out of 22,033 (8.7%)
Claremont McKenna (RD+EDI+EDII) 558 out of ~6,270 (8.9%)
Swarthmore (RD+ED) 980 out of 10,749 (9.1%)
Johns Hopkins (RD+ED) 2,894 out of 29,128 (9.9%)
Cornell (RD+ED) 5,288 out of 51,328 (10.3%)
Bowdoin (RD+ED1+ED2) ~935 out of 9,081 (10.3%)
Rice (RD+ED) 2266 out of 20,898 (10.8%)
Williams (RD+ED) 1,163 out of 9,559 (12.2%)
Amherst (RD+ED) 1,244 out of 9,722 (12.8%)
USC 8,258 out of 64,256 (12.9%)
Colby 1,602 out of 12,313 (13.0%)
Pitzer (RD+EDI+EDII) 577 out of 4,358 (13.2%)
Barnard (RD+ED) 1,088 out of 7,897 (13.8%)
Olin 125 out of 882 (14.2%)
Harvey Mudd (RD+ED) 594 out of 4,101 (14.5%)
Georgetown (RD+EA) 3,327 out of 22,897 (14.5%)
Tufts (RD+EDI+EDII) ~3,139 out of 21,502 (14.6%)
WashU (RD+ED) 4695/31300 (15%)
Tulane ~6,598 out of 38,813 (17%)
Wesleyan (RD+EDI+EDII) 2,233 out of 12,788 (17.5%)
Notre Dame (RD+EA) 3,586 out of 20,370 (17.6%)
Middlebury (RD+ED, likely excluding Febs) 1,696 out 9,230 (18.4%)
Emory (RD+ED, excl. Oxford-only apps) ~5,135 out of 27,759 (18.5%)
Davidson ~1,066 out of 5,700 (18.7%)
Haverford 877 out of 4682 (18.7%)
Wellesley ~1,267 out of 6,670 (19%)
Northeastern (RD+EDI+EDII+EA) ~11,830 out of 62,268 (19%)
Carleton (RD+ED) ~1,377 out of < 7,100 (19.4%)
NYU (RD+ED1+ED2) 15,722 out of 75,037 (< 21.0, incl. 19% for NY campus)
Hamilton (RD+EDI+EDII) 1,300 out of 6,240 (20.8%)
Lehigh (RD+ED1+ED2) 3,418 out of 15,623 (21.9%)
BU ~14,184 out of 64,473 (22%)
Georgia Tech (RD+EA) ~7,832 out of 35,600 (22%)
Scripps (RD+EDI+EDII) 761 out of 3,198 (23.8%)
Vassar (RD+ED1+ED2) ~1,994 out of 8,312 (24%)
UVA 9,850 out of 37,222 (26.5%)
BC (RD+EA) 8,400 out of >31,000 (< 27.1%)
VIllanova (RD+EA+ED) 6,545 out of 22,727 (28.8%)
American (RD+EDI+ED2) ~5,500 out of 18,950 (29%)
William and Mary (RD+ED) ~5,270 out of 14,640 (36%)
Florida 14,866 out of 40,849 (36.4%)
Union (RD+EDI+EDII) 2,550 our of 6,713 (38.0%)
Macalester (RD+EDI+EDII) 2,453 out of 5,985 (41.0%)
GWU (RD+ED1+ED2) ~11,100 out of ~27,000 (41.8%)
Georgia (RD+EA) < 12,700 out of 26,500 (< 47.9%)
Santa Clara (RD+ED) ~ 7,954 out of 16,233 (49%)

@Nocreativity1 Hmm…where’s Vanderbilt?

Frothyshake- Sorry old list I guess. Best I had. Vanderbilt I suspect easy top 15. Amazing school and very very selective! Please fill in the actual number if you have it.

Just opinion/guess is peer to Duke to Dartmouth range?

I was talking methodology more than actually defining. Do you disagree with the approach in principal?

Methodology is fine but what is it really telling you? Probably only that these are the most popular schools to apply to, but that is certainly a valid method. Other factors need to be put in and…now your back to USNWR.

CU123 point taken and agreed but I think popular would be if you only took the number of applications side of the equation. The true measure for tiering purposes I think has to involve the effort and resources expended versus the inverse relationship of acceptance.

As an example their are several cal schools that routinely get 75,000+ applicants. That is a measure of popularity but is driven by a variety of economic and geographic reasons. The number of applicants is actually distorted higher not by prestige, or perceived educational opportunity.

The list of admissions percentages while not anywhere near perfect science does show an expenditure for possiblility that is based on the entire picture. Stated differently it is the difference between people playing the lottery because they think they will win and it’s cheap versus people who are willing to spend a few bucks because they value the life changing opportunity of winning although they know the odds are against them.

I do not know which schools are Tier One, Tier Two & Tier Three without more criteria. But, for prestige purposes, my totally subjective impression is :

That among the top group of most prestigious US colleges & universities are:

Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, MIT, Penn-Wharton School, Caltech, Juilliard, Curtis School of Music, US Military Academy at West Point, US Naval Academy-Annapolis, US Air Force Academy-Colorado Springs. ( Also, "an Ivy–as in: “I went to an Ivy League school for undergrad.”)

The next tier:

Columbia University, Univ. of Chicago, Northwestern University, Duke, Penn, Johns Hopkins, UCal-Berkeley, Cornell, Dartmouth College, Brown, Williams College, Amherst College, Wellesley College, Swarthmore College, Pomona College. (Also Georgetown School of Foreign Service & Univ. of Michigan-Ross School of Business.)

And, finally, the “this will make me enemies” next tier:

University of Michigan, Rice University, Vanderbilt University, University of Notre Dame, WashUStL, Georgetown, UCLA, Bowdoin College, NYU- Stern, NYU- Tisch, NYU (philosophy), Georgia Tech & Carnegie Mellon University.

OP: Although prestige is largely subjective, it is a very real factor for many employers. This is especially true with respect to graduate business (MBA) schools & law schools.

Ranking law schools in three tiers makes sense with respect to employment prospects. The first tier of law schools is recruited nationally, the second tier regionally & the third tier locally.

Very important with respect to graduate business schools.

MBA Schools: The top tier are the M-7. Harvard, Stanford, Penn-Wharton, Northwestern-Kellogg, Chicago, MIT, & Columbia—but, even among the ultra prestigious M-7, Harvard, Stanford & Penn-Wharton are considered to be in a class by themselves.

The next tier is composed of: Duke, UCal-Berkeley & NYU, Michigan & Dartmouth-Tuck.

Yet, with respect to obtaining lucrative employment within 3 months of graduation, the University of Washington-Foster School of Business leads them all with 98% job placement.

To muddy the water further, it also depends on the major/area of study.

I’d argue that yield is as significant as fit. A college that is picky in admissions but that few admits actually commit to shouldn’t be viewed as being more desirable than one that is less selective but yields a higher ratio of its admits. Perhaps the ratio (quotient) admit rate / yield would be better than admit rate alone. If anyone wants to produce a list based on that criterion, I’d love to see it. I’d bet there would be at least some reshuffling.


As a benchmark these are the most recent yield stats I could find for Ivies (class of 2021) source IVYWISE.

Brown 56%
Columbia 60.0%
Cornell 52.7%
Dartmouth 53%
Harvard 80%
Princeton 68%
Penn 68%
Yale 70%

Georgetown and the like are all in the 45-55% ranges
Stanford, MIT around 75-80%

I would suggest any school with sub 5% acceptance and 75%+ yield (H,Y, M, S) stand alone top top tier.

Top tier sub 8%-9% acceptance rates 55%ish plus yield U Chicago, Columbia, Brown, Duke, and Penn with arguably Cornell, Vandy, Dartmouth right there but slightly below on both matrices.

Sure I have missed a few and in no way scientific or exact. A ton of great schools remain in the super elite category.

If you’re talking Computer Science, the Big 4 is Cal-Berkeley, Carnegie-Mellon, MIT and Stanford in no particular order. Then you have a group of about 12-15 that you could consider second tier: UDub, UIUC, GaTech, Harvard, Princeton, Cornell, UCLA, Maryland, Wisconsin, Purdue, Columbia, Michigan, UT, UPenn. Then a bunch of third tier, many of whom could easily be considered in the second tier, such as Northeastern, USC, UCSD, Northwestern, UMass-Amherst, etc.

@Nocreativity1 : Not certain, but Dartmouth’s most recent yield is closer to 60%–if I recall correctly.