MONEY College

The 10 Top Colleges Students Really Want to Attend

Stanford University
If you're accepted at Stanford University, chances are you'll go. iStock

A new study of which schools high school seniors actually pick turns up prestigious names you know. Good thing these colleges also offer good value.

Not surprisingly, if you get into an elite college, chances are high you’ll say yes. But which of the elite schools are most likely to be students’ first choice? In a new analysis of acceptance and enrollment data, Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton top the list for this fall,

Parchment, a company that specializes in transferring student records from high schools and colleges, analyzed the college acceptances of 27,723 high school seniors who filled out the company’s survey this spring and summer. The company’s analysis, says chief executive officer Matthew Pittinsky, reveals which schools students are flocking to—and from.

Overall, the typical student in the study reported being accepted by three or four colleges. By comparing the schools the high schoolers got into with the ones they picked and rejected in the end, Parchment calculated a popularity score for 726 schools. Of the 265 colleges for which Parchment had records of at least 100 decisions, the 10 below are the most popular.

This report provides a slightly different and more up-to-date view of college popularity than the standard federal statistics on the percentage of admitted students who enroll. By those numbers, Harvard, with 81% of the admitted students enrolling in 2013, was the most popular elite school in the country. On this list, it’s No. 3.

Some of Parchment’s most popular schools are somewhat surprising given their official acceptance stats. Almost 100 members of the study group got into the University of Chicago and at least one other college, for example. And those students generally chose Chicago, where just about half of accepted students say yes, over almost every other school.

The good news is that these 10 most popular schools, while elite and expensive, also offer some of the best bangs for the tuition buck in the country, according to Money’s new college value rankings, which take into account net total costs after scholarships and grants as well as typical post-graduation earnings.

And some of the more expensive schools in the country appear to be students’ safety or backup schools in Parchment’s analysis. More than 100 members of the study group got into Drexel University (where only 8% of accepted students enroll) and at least one other college, for example. But most of those students opted for another choice.

In Money’s rankings of the 665 schools with graduation rates at or above the median and enough data for Money to examine, Drexel ranked 596th, in part because of its high cost. Money estimates a degree from Drexel, after all costs are included and grants or scholarship from the college are subtracted, will cost current freshmen about $218,000. That’s $72,000 more than a typical degree from highly popular Princeton University, for example, and $20,000 more than a degree from Chicago.

Popularity rank* % accepted who enroll College Money value ranking Net cost of a degree
1 76% Stanford University 5 $168,800
2 72% Massachusetts Institute of Technology 3 $154,700
3 81% Harvard University 6 $181,200
4 66% Yale University 15 $182,800
5 65% Princeton University 4 $146,200
6 63% University of Pennsylvania 11 $201,600
7 42% Duke University 32 $192,800
8 60% Columbia University 22 $206,800
9 53% University of Chicago 101 $188,800
10 58% Brown University 19 $192,000

*Of schools with at least 100 decisions.

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