This for-profit college startup has a 1.9% acceptance rate, making it tougher to get into than Harvard

Minerva Project office
The Minerva offices — where all employees work at open-plan stations — recall a typical tech start-up far more than they do an academic building. Ike Edeani / The Atlantic

For-profit college startup Minerva Schools — whose students explore up to seven cities during four years of study — has received
16,000 applications for 306 available places this year, The Financial Times reported.
That acceptance rate for the unconventional college, at 1.9%, is far lower than at any schools in the Ivy League, as well as Stanford.

This year, Harvard University — the most competitive school in the Ivy League — accepted 2,037 students from 39,041 applicants, for an acceptance rate of 5.2%.

Stanford accepted an even lower 2,063 students out of a pool of 43,997 applicants — a 4.69% acceptance rate.

But while Minerva’s acceptance rates seem to be an overt challenge to the Ivy League establishment, the startup, created in 2012, doesn’t aim to be another elite private school. Instead, its model is vastly different from what four years of school in the prestigious Ivy League resemble.

For one thing, students don’t stay in one place during their four-year education. They spend time in up to seven residence houses in San Francisco, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Seoul, Bangalore, Istanbul, and London.

“As you travel the world with a tight-knit cohort of classmates, you will establish weekly rituals and organise interest- and activity-based groups,” the school’s website reads. “By exploring each new place together, you form lasting friendships and a collective identity — one defined by shared values and a common sense of purpose.”

Seventy-eight per cent of Minerva’s students come from outside of the US. The Ivy League’s percentages are roughly the inverse of that figure, with roughly 10%-15% international students.

The admissions process at Minerva also appears different from the Ivies. Minerva’s website stresses that acceptance is “based purely on merit, so there is no favoritism or majority student group of any kind.”

Ben Nelson
Ben Nelson. The Minerva Project

To that end, Minerva does not accept any standardised test scores, calling them an unfair and biased depiction of true potential. Instead, they have their own set of assessments.

“Since Minerva assessments are not something you can study for, you can take them on your own schedule, as you move through the admissions process,” the admissions page reads.

One of the biggest draws to Minerva may be its annual tuition and charges, which it highlights is much lower than other elite schools. That’s true; for the 2016-2017 school year, Harvard lists its total tuition, room and board, and additional fees at $66,900.

But while lower, attending Minerva still comes with a relatively hefty price tag. Its website lists annual tuition and other fees at $28,450.

Still, founder and former Snapfish President Ben Nelson believes schools like Minerva will start to create competition in the higher education arena. “Students are realising that institutions can’t just sit on their brands that they have built over decades or centuries and deliver the same ineffective experience,” Nelson told the Financial Times.

“Much like in technology, the service industry, travel, entertainment, transportation, or any other field you can think of, when an undeniably better offering comes around, people flock to it.”

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