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By Giulia Pines
November 11, 2020
Courtesy of James Maden University

If rejection makes your stomach do backflips, and you’d do anything not to receive that thin letter in the mail, you’re not alone. There are plenty of aspiring college students out there who aren’t focused on prestige and bragging rights; they just want to get in and do the work.

Yet reading news headlines about college admissions might lead you to believe that it’s nearly impossible to get into college today. In reality, there are hundreds of quality colleges where the acceptance rate is larger than the rejection rate. Advisors, teachers, and fellow students may tell you attending one of those colleges means lowering your standards, but many of them have stats that are just as impressive as more selective colleges.

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Some of these are state universities where large class sizes mean the numbers will always be in your favor, while others are small and specialize in something specific, which trims the starting number of applicants significantly. Of course, there’s no such thing as a guaranteed acceptance, but at these colleges, the majority of applicants do get it, so the odds are in your favor. Check out the top 10 below and see the full list here.

1. Texas A&M University-College Station

Texas A&M University Division of Marketing & Communications
  • Acceptance rate: 68%
  • Est. price with average grant: $20,000
  • Average student debt: $18,500

Big and boisterous, with 53,000 undergraduates and over 5,000 acres worth of college campus, Texas A&M University-College Station is in many ways the embodiment of the American college experience. About a fifth of the student body plays a sport or participates in a club, and both football and the military are long-running and richly celebrated traditions.

2. California State Polytechnic University-Pomona

Tom Zasadzinski / Cal Poly Pomona
  • Acceptance rate: 55%
  • Est. price with average grant: $13,300
  • Average student debt: $17,790

In spite of its name, California State Polytechnic University-Pomona — or Cal Poly Pomona — offers a wide range of subjects going far beyond the technical fields. Students here study hospitality, apparel merchandising, agriculture, and, in a tasty twist that seems perfect for the college years, craft beer-making at an on-campus brewery. With its 55% acceptance rate and high graduation rate, an application here is a solid bet not only for college acceptance, but also for a successful post-college future.

3. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Grainger Engineering
  • Acceptance rate: 62%
  • Est. price with average grant: $16,500
  • Average student debt: $19,000

With more than 150 majors and a high budget for research, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is a great place for those who get fired up by delving really deeply into a subject — the kind of curiosity that can sometimes be overlooked in the breadth of high school classes. The university boasts a library second in size only to Harvard's, along with a growing array of international students who offer global perspectives on campus that will only become more valuable in the future.

4. Purdue University

Matt Thomas / Purdue Marketing & Media
  • Acceptance rate: 58%
  • Est. price with average grant: $12,400
  • Average student debt: $19,500

Of Purdue University’s 43,000 students, more than half come from its home state of Indiana, so the student body is made up of those with deep roots and a lot of state pride. The university hasn't raised tuition in 9 years, and for in-state students, Purdue is a standout for affordability. The engineering school is big here, with nearly a third of students enrolled, but with 200 majors, you can expect to find something that suits your interests no matter where you’re from.

5. San Jose State University

David Schmitz / SJSU
  • Acceptance rate: 55%
  • Est. price with average grant: $15,200
  • Average student debt: $15,720

If you’ve got tech on the brain and you’d rather head straight to Silicon Valley than spend four years on a college campus, San Jose State University may be just the ticket to combine the two. With a 55% acceptance rate and a location amid all the tech world’s movers and shakers, this school puts its students on the fast track to jobs with Apple, Paypal, Intuit, and more. Alumni from these companies visit campus frequently to keep the ties strong, and internships with new startups are a great way to test the tech waters.

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6. Virginia Military Institute

Courtesy of Virginia Military institute
  • Acceptance rate: 51%
  • Est. price with average grant: $15,500
  • Average student debt: $21,630

Big state universities are able to admit thousands of students due to sheer size. Virginia Military Institute is a standout exception. With its traditions of cadets living in barracks, wearing uniforms, and marching in formation, it caters to a very specific subset of students, which explains its 51% acceptance rate even for a student body of less than 2,000. Still, you don’t have to be interested in a military career to go here, and majors are as wide ranging as civil engineering and modern languages.

7. University of Wisconsin Madison

Jeff Miller / UW-Madison
  • Acceptance rate: 52%
  • Est. price with average grant: $14,800
  • Average student debt: $20,500

With over 30,000 undergraduates, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is truly massive. In spite of that, the school breaks down into much more manageable groups, with students finding a home away from home on sports teams, in fraternities and sororities, or even in political activism; something the school is known for. With an acceptance rate of 52%, aspiring students will essentially have a 1-in-2 chance of getting in, after which they can choose from a mind-boggling array of 230 majors.

8. Massachusetts Maritime Academy

Courtesy of Massachusetts Maritime Academy
  • Acceptance rate: 89%
  • Est. price with average grant: $16,000
  • Average student debt: $26,650

In a big win for the charmingly specific, the Massachusetts Maritime Academy accepts nearly everyone who professes a deep love for all things nautical. Even if you don’t think that’s you, a look at some of the perks might change your mind: students spend a portion of a semester training aboard a ship, and they learn seaworthy subjects like marine engineering and emergency management. Landlubbers still get a whiff of the normal college lifestyle with plenty of sports teams and clubs.

9. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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  • Acceptance rate: 65%
  • Est. price with average grant: $19,200
  • Average student debt: $22,900

If you’re numbers-minded, you’ll find a welcoming home at Virginia Polytechnic and State University, better known as Virginia Tech. College administrators and professors go out of their way to make math, engineering, computer programming, and technology fun, with a Math Emporium in a former department store, and a professor called “The Plaid Avenger” who also runs a wine bar. Overall, Virginia Tech students exemplify working hard to play hard, and at an acceptance rate of 65%, you’ve got a 2-out-of-3 chance of joining in.

10. James Madison University

Courtesy of James Maden University
  • Acceptance rate: 71%
  • Est. price with average grant: $18,500
  • Average student debt: $20,500

This former teacher’s college has retained the generous spirit of its early educators with a civically minded student body dedicated to volunteer work and political engagement. What’s more, it balances its fairly large student body of 20,000 with mostly small class sizes. So that 71% acceptance rate can help you join a large freshman class, but once you’re in, you’ll feel like you’re part of a small and loyal family. What’s more, the school’s beautiful location in the Shenandoah Valley is one of its main draws.

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