Graduate School Acceptance Rates: Can You Get In?


Even the most qualified and confident applicants worry about getting into grad school. But don’t panic! Graduate school acceptance rates, which give the percentage of applicants that were admitted to a particular school or program in an academic year, can help you determine how likely you are to get into a given program. But where can you find grad school admissions statistics?

In this article, we’ll first investigate the trends and factors associated with graduate school acceptance rates. Then, we’ll take a look at some of the current acceptance rates and give you expert tips on how to find acceptance rates for your programs. Finally, we’ll show you how to determine your odds of getting into grad school.


Graduate School Acceptance Rates: Factors and Trends

Grad school acceptance rates are the same as any other acceptance rate: the lower the acceptance rate, the more selective the school or program is. Similarly, the higher the acceptance rate, the less selective the school or program is. As with undergrad acceptance rates, grad school acceptance rates vary widely, from extraordinarily selective (less than 5 percent) to incredibly lenient (nearly 100 percent).

Unlike undergrad rates, though, grad school acceptance rates are usually calculated for specific programs or departments and not for entire universities. This is because with grad school, you are essentially applying to an individual program rather than an overall institution (as you did for undergrad).

Now that we’ve covered all of the basics, let’s look at a few key trends. Our research indicates there are three major factors that help determine grad school acceptance rates:

    • School or program prestige
    • Degree type
    • Amount of funding

Let’s look at how each of these factors influences grad school acceptance rates.


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#1: School or Program Prestige

How prestigious a particular grad school or program is can affect its overall competitiveness and selectivity. In general, the more prestigious a program is, the more competitive it’ll be and thus the lower acceptance rate it’ll have.

An easy way to determine school or program prestige is to consult official rankings, such as those listed on U.S. News. (Grad schools are typically ranked by field or program and not by overall institution.)

For example, a 2017 U.S. News list of the best political science grad programs ranked Duke’s political science program at #7 and Northwestern’s at #23. Because both of the programs have fairly high rankings, it’s safe to assume they’re probably quite selective.

And this is true: in 2016, Duke reported a mere 10 percent acceptance rate to its political science doctoral program, while Northwestern reported a 12 percent acceptance rate.




#2: Degree Type

Another major factor is degree type. Generally, doctoral programs tend to be more selective than master’s programs (though this isn’t always the case as I’ll explain in a moment). This trend is likely due to the fact that doctoral programs often look for higher-quality applicants with proven academic track records and more relevant experience in their fields.

For example, in 2016 University of Michigan’s math doctoral program had a 17.2 percent acceptance rate, whereas its master’s program had a much higher 31.8 percent rate. In this case, the doctoral program is clearly tougher to get into than the master’s program.

Still, master’s programs can have lower acceptance rates than doctoral programs. If we were to take the University of Michigan’s grad programs in computer science and engineering, we’d find that the doctoral program has a 15 percent acceptance rate and the master’s an even lower 8 percent acceptance rate.

Additionally, M.F.A. programs are particularly cutthroat. In 2015, the creative writing M.F.A. program at UT Austin’s James A. Michener Center for Writers only admitted 12 out of 678 applicants — that’s a mere 1.8 percent acceptance rate!


#3: Amount of Funding

Funding, too, plays a big role in how selective a grad program is.

Well-funded programs typically receive more applications than those offering little to no aid, thereby raising their selectivity. Competition is especially fierce for fully funded programs — possibly because fewer people are willing to go into debt for grad school.

Compared to fully funded doctoral programs, fully funded master’s programs are somewhat rare and thus pretty competitive. UT Austin’s Creative Writing M.F.A. program, for instance, is not only a prestigious program but also one of the most well-funded Creative Writing M.F.A. programs in the country: it offers full tuition remission and a $27,500 stipend per academic year. It’s no wonder, then, that its acceptance rate is below 2 percent!




What Are the Current Graduate School Acceptance Rates?

For this section, we’ve scoured the internet to bring you a robust assortment of acceptance rates for popular U.S. grad schools.

Before we dive in, note that not all institutions calculate grad school acceptance rates using the same methodologies. Some offer only a single acceptance rate for all of their grad schools put together, while others offer individual rates by school, field, or program.

Now, let’s see how selective these schools really are!

University School / Program Acceptance Rate
Cornell All programs (2016) Computer Science Ph.D.: 16.4%
English Language and Literature Ph.D.: 13.2%
History Ph.D.: 14%
Dartmouth All schools (2016) Arts and Sciences: 30%
Thayer School of Engineering (M.S. and Ph.D.): 15%
Tuck School of Business: 22%
Duke All programs (2016-17) Computer Science M.S.: 12%
Computer Science Ph.D.: 15%
English Ph.D.: 6%
History Ph.D.: 9%
Harvard Business School 10.7% (2015)
John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences 9.9% (2014)
T.H. Chan School of Public Health Master of Public Health (M.P.H.): 52.9% (2014)
MIT All grad admissions 13% (2016)
NYU Stern School of Business (2014-17)* Accounting Ph.D.: 2.1%
Economics Ph.D.: 2%
Marketing Ph.D.: 2.2%
Northwestern All doctoral fields and programs (2016) Arts and humanities: 11.1%
Life sciences: 20.9%
Physical sciences, mathematics, and Engineering: 17%
Social and behavioral sciences: 11.5%
All master’s fields and programs (2016) Arts and humanities: 19.9%
Life sciences: 31.1%
Physical sciences, mathematics, and Engineering: 30.1%
Social and behavioral sciences: 46.2%
Notre Dame All programs (2013) Computer Science and Engineering Ph.D.: 24.9%
English Ph.D.: 6.6%
History Ph.D.: 8%
Princeton All fields (2016-17) Humanities: 11%
Natural Sciences: 15%
School of Architecture: 13%
School of Engineering and Applied Science: 13%
Social Sciences: 8%
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs: 13%
Stanford Graduate School of Business 6.1% (2015)
UC Berkeley College of Engineering 14.4% (2014)
UCLA All programs (2009-13) Computer Science M.S. and Ph.D.: 22%
English Ph.D.: 11%
History Ph.D.: 20%
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor All doctoral programs (2016) Computer Science and Engineering Ph.D.: 15%
English Language and Literature Ph.D.: 16.4%
History Ph.D.: 16.9%
All master’s programs (2016) Computer Science and Engineering M.S.: 8%
Creative Writing M.F.A.: 3.7%
Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.): 71.1%
University of Texas – Austin All programs (2015-16) English Ph.D.: 11.5%
History Ph.D.: 16.6%
University of Washington – Seattle College of Arts and Sciences (2016) Arts: 17%
Humanities: 20.4%
Sciences: 18.6%
Social sciences: 22.8%
Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science 14% (2014)

*Statistics for NYU are based on the number of enrolled students and not the number of admitted students. Therefore, expect actual acceptance rates to be slightly higher.




How to Find Graduate School Acceptance Rates: 4 Methods

Unfortunately, grad school admissions statistics tend to be more difficult to find than undergrad acceptance rates. But there are ways to search for them — you just have to do a lot of digging and possibly a little reaching out.

Below are our top four methods for finding grad school acceptance rates for the programs you’re applying to.


#1: Consult School Websites

By far the most reliable resources for grad school admissions statistics are school websites.

Start your search by consulting program and departmental pages, particularly admissions and FAQ pages. Look out for any statistics-related keywords or phrases, such as “admission(s) rates,” “acceptance rates,” “enrollment,” “facts and figures,” etc. Use ctrl+F to move swiftly through large chunks of text.

Not all schools publish grad admissions information online, and those that do don’t always report it in the same way as others. For example, Princeton offers a handy PDF containing acceptance rates for all academic fields of study. On the other hand, Notre Dame gives separate admissions charts for each of its grad programs (which you can access by selecting a program and then clicking “Admissions Statistics”).

Additionally, many schools release admissions statistics without explicitly publishing acceptance rates. In this case, it’s your job to take the statistics provided and use them to calculate an acceptance rate. To find the acceptance rate of a school or program, you’ll need the following information:

  • The total number of applicants in a year
  • The total number of applicants granted admission that year

The acceptance rate equals the total number of applicants offered admission divided by the total number of applicants and then multiplied by 100, or:

$$\acceptance \rate = {\number \of \applicants \offered \admission}/{\total \number \of \applicants}100$$

Be sure to avoid conflating the number of students who were offered admission with the number of students who accepted their offers of admission. These two concepts sound alike but are actually different. What you’re looking for is the first statistic — that is, the number of admitted students (regardless of whether they decided to enroll).

If you’re having trouble finding admissions statistics by browsing school websites, search on Google for “[Your School] graduate acceptance rate” and see if any relevant school pages appear. While searching for acceptance rates to use in the table above, I consistently swapped “acceptance rate” with similar phrases, such as “admission(s) rate,” “facts and figures,” “student statistics,” “admittance rates,” and “admission(s) statistics.”

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Don’t be afraid to get creative! You can also use phrases like “Ph.D. admissions statistics” or “master’s admissions statistics” to narrow your search even further. Try to think outside the box as you do your research. What are other ways people talk about acceptance rates?


#2: Check U.S. News

If your school or program doesn’t offer any admissions statistics on its website, go to U.S. News. This website offers official rankings of grad programs as well as lists of the most (and least) selective programs in various fields.

For example, I found a 2016 list of the most competitive online M.B.A. programs and a 2015 list of the most competitive online graduate engineering programs.

If U.S. News doesn’t offer any relevant lists for you to use, try skimming the current grad school rankings to gauge how competitive your program is compared with others in the same field.




#3: Search Other Websites

One less reliable method for looking up grad school admissions statistics is to look for (unofficial) websites discussing acceptance rates for your school or program.

The Grad Cafe’s admissions results section is a solid place to start. Here, applicants post whether they’ve been accepted, rejected, or waitlisted for grad programs.

Search for your program to get a rough feel for how many acceptances and rejections go out each year. You might notice that certain types of applicants are more active than others. Creative Writing M.F.A. applicants, for example, are prolific posters in winter and spring (during admissions season).

Occasionally, Google itself will provide you with grad school acceptance rates, but this only appears to work consistently for well-known law schools, medical schools, and business schools.

Additionally, while using Google, don’t assume that any acceptance rates that pop up are directly connected to your search terms. For example, when I searched “stanford graduate acceptance rate,” Google gave me this result:


This 4.8 percent acceptance rate is not the acceptance rate for Stanford’s grad programs (what I searched for) but rather the acceptance rate for undergrads. So always cross-check any statistics Google gives you.

You can also consult grad school data websites such as Peterson’s and StartClass. Take their grad school acceptance rates with a grain of salt, though — their data isn’t always verifiable online. If possible, try to compare any data you find on these types of websites with the school websites themselves or U.S. News.


#4: Contact Schools

If the internet isn’t giving you the help you need, call or email your schools. Be polite but upfront: ask whether the school calculates acceptance rates for grad programs and where you can find this information online (if available).

If a school refuses to divulge admissions statistics or simply doesn’t report acceptance rates, see if they can give you estimates for how many applications they receive each year, or for how many acceptances they usually extend to applicants in your program.




Graduate School Acceptance: What Are Your Odds?

By this point, you might be wondering how likely it is you’ll actually get into the grad program you wish to attend. After all, acceptance rates are pretty broad — they tell you what everyone’s odds are but not your odds specifically.

Below are three easy steps for determining your odds of getting into grad school, including advice on when it’s better to go for it or choose another program.


Step 1: Check Program Requirements

First, go to your program’s website and pinpoint the admissions requirements page. Now, ask yourself: do you meet all of the program’s basic requirements? If not, you’ll likely wind up with a rejection (and might not even be able to apply).

However, if you’re still interested in applying, contact the program and ask if they’ll make an exception for you. Your chance of getting accepted is still low, but you’ll at least have your application considered.

If your program strongly recommends qualities you lack, don’t interpret this as an automatic rejection. Sometimes, applicants can make up for deficiencies in other ways. For example, if your undergrad GPA is 3.1 and your program recommends applicants have a minimum 3.2, don’t write off the program — you might still have a shot at getting in as long as the rest of your application is solid.

On the other hand, even if you meet all of a program’s requirements, you’re not necessarily a shoo-in. Remember, all other applicants have met these requirements, too, so you’ll need to find a unique way to make your application stand out.




Step 2: Find Average GRE Scores and GPAs

Your next step is to look up your program’s average GRE scores and GPA to see how your own scores and GPA compare with those of previously admitted applicants.

You can usually find GRE score information on admissions requirements or FAQ pages. You can also search on Google for “[Your School] [Your Program] average GRE scores.” For step-by-step instructions on how to find average GRE scores, check out my article on average GRE scores by school.

For GPAs, you can use the same basic methodology. Check admissions requirements and FAQ pages and use ctrl+F to search for “GPA.” If GPA information is available, you’ll most likely come across minimum GPAs or average GPAs (or both). For more tips on how to find GPA information for your grad schools, read our guide.

Now, compare your own GRE scores and GPA with the averages you’ve found. Below are all possible scenarios and what they mean for you and your odds of getting into the program:

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  • Your GRE scores and GPA are both higher than your program’s averages: Congratulations! You have an excellent chance of getting accepted, especially if the rest of your application is equally impressive. Keep up the great work!
  • Your GRE scores and GPA are both about the same as your program’s averages: You’re doing pretty well! You are just the type of applicant your program is looking for. The only drawback is that you probably won’t stand out as much from other applicants who have similar GRE scores and GPAs. So take time to make your application sparkle (I’m looking at you, statement of purpose).
  • Your GRE scores and GPA are both lower than your program’s averages (or just one of the two is lower): It ain’t over ’til it’s over! You can still make up for your deficiencies in other ways. While you can’t change your GPA, you can retake the GRE. If your GPA is low, a great strategy for combating this is to discuss it in your statement of purpose, taking care to highlight any external factors that contributed to the low GPA as well as any attributes of yours that prove you’re indeed ready for grad school.


Step 3: Decide Whether to Apply

Now, we get to the final question: do you apply to the program or not? This is a vague question that’s difficult to answer as is. The real questions you should be asking yourself are as follows:

  • Do I meet all of the program’s basic requirements?
  • Do I meet most or all of the program’s expectations of applicants (in terms of GRE scores, GPA, etc.)?
  • Is the program’s acceptance rate extremely low?
  • Do I really like this program?

Although acceptance rates and GRE/GPA comparisons are helpful, don’t base your decision to apply solely on how difficult the program is to get into. We can’t know for sure what kind of applicant a grad program is looking for or who they’re willing to make an exception for.

Take a moment to think deeply about how interested you are in this particular program. Be realistic about your chances of getting in — but don’t cross the line into pessimism. If you don’t meet most or all of a program’s expectations and you’re not super invested in it, consider applying elsewhere.

But if you meet some, most, or all of a program’s expectations and you’re extremely interested in enrolling, give the application a go. Remember, it’s totally normal (and even encouraged) to have a few reach schools. Plus, you’ll never get in if you don’t apply!




Key Takeaways: Graduate School Acceptance Rates

Grad school acceptance rates quantify for us the selectivity of grad schools and programs. More specifically, acceptance rates tell us what percentage of applicants were offered admission to a particular grad school or program. 

With grad school, acceptance rates are often reported for individual schools or programs, not entire universities. Acceptance rates can vary widely depending on program prestige, the type of degree you’re seeking, and how much (or how little) funding a program offers.

Unlike undergrad acceptance rates, grad school acceptance rates are somewhat difficult to locate online. You can look for them using any of the following four methods:

  • Peruse school websites
  • Check grad school facts and lists on U.S. News
  • Browse other websites and forums such as The Grad Cafe
  • Call or email your schools

When trying to determine your odds of getting into a program, look at your program’s requirements as well as the average GPA and GRE scores of previously admitted applicants to your program. If your GRE scores and GPA are comparable to those of your program, you have a decent shot at getting accepted. If one or both are lower than your program’s averages, however, you can always try to raise your GRE score with a retake or address your GPA in your statement of purpose.

At the end of the day, what ultimately matters isn’t that you get accepted to a highly competitive grad program but that you make the right decision for you and you alone!


What’s Next?

Need help with your grad school application? Learn about the most common grad school requirements and get tips on how to write a grad school CV or resume!

Is your GPA good enough for grad schoolRead our in-depth guide to learn how you can make up for a less-than-stellar GPA and ultimately raise your chances of getting into the school of your dreams.

Do you have to take the GRE for grad school? When are grad school deadlinesCheck out our guides for answers to these questions and more.

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Author: Hannah Muniz

Hannah graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in English and East Asian languages and cultures. After graduation, she taught English in Japan for two years via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.

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