Harvard is one of the most prestigious universities in the world.
The Cambridge, Massachusetts, school accepted just 5.2% of roughly 40,000 applications for its class of 2021. As Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust said in 2014, “We could fill our class twice over with valedictorians.”
The school seeks out students who not only have high grades, but also have outstanding achievements under their belts — from overcoming homelessness to starting their own nonprofits. The students who manage to catch the attention of admissions officers overcome exceptional odds, but they should probably maintain some perspective.
Many things in life — for instance, landing a job at some Walmart locations — are even harder to achieve than getting into that prestigious university.
A job at this hedge fund
Landing a job on Wall Street is notoriously hard.
But gaining employment at hedge fund giant Citadel seems to be nearly impossible.
Founder and CEO Ken Griffin — who’s also a Harvard alum — noted on CNBC in 2015 that the hedge fund planned to interview 10,000 candidates to fill 300 job openings.
That’s equates to a mere 3% acceptance rate.
The top 50 posts on a friend’s Newsfeed
When Facebook compiles your Newsfeed, it chooses from roughly 1,500 different posts.
The company uses an algorithm based on the popularity and relevance of posts, along with other factors, to decide what goes where.
As a result, there’s a 3.3% chance a certain post finds its way into the top 50 stories on someone’s Newsfeed.
If you want to boost your chances, posts with photos do far better than links or text-based posts.
A job at some Walmart locations
Met with both merriment and protest, Walmart came to Washington, D.C., at the end of 2013.
The store received more than 23,000 applications but hired just 600 associates, NBC Washington reported. That’s a 2.6% acceptance rate — almost twice as selective as Harvard.
While many Harvard graduates can expect a six-figure income, Walmart employees pocket an average of $11.83 an hour or nearly $25,000 annually, according to the company.
The American dream
A report from researchers at Harvard and Berkeley Universities shows that in many major US cities, it’s very hard to achieve a rags-to-riches success story.
The report analyzes the number of people who were born into the lowest income quintile but ended up in the highest income quintile. The results don’t bode well for upward socioeconomic mobility.
The chances were below 5% in Atlanta, Georgia; Charlotte, North Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; Columbus, Ohio; Dayton, Ohio; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Indianapolis, Indiana.
Even at the top of the list, people in San Jose, California, showed just a 12.9% chance of living the American dream.
The Secret Service
Protecting the president of the US isn’t a job for any run-of-the-mill bodyguard or security detail.
The full responsibilities of the Secret Service are, well, secret, but agents remain with the president and his or her family 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Other important government officials, like the vice president and his or her family, also receive protection, usually even after they leave their positions.
For these reasons, the Secret Service accepted about 1% of its 27,000 special-agent applications in 2015, USA Today reported.
Some prestigious New York City public high schools
Some of New York’s most in-demand public high schools are actually harder to get into than Harvard.
For 2016 admission, 16,962 students listed the Brooklyn Latin School as a choice on their application, according to the New York City Department of Education. However, less than 2.4% were accepted.
Meanwhile, the High School of American Studies in the Bronx has an acceptance rate of less than 1%, as does the Queens High School for the Sciences at York College.
A green card
Up to 15 million people apply to the US green card lottery every year, all hoping for a chance at a life in America, The Wall Street Journal has reported.
But only about 50,000 green cards are available.
The odds of obtaining a green card (known officially as a Diversity Visa) vary depending on the applicant’s region. If you’re not from Australia, New Zealand, or a Pacific island, however, the odds aren’t good.
Fewer than 2% of applicants around the world end up getting a visa. The rate is about 6% in Oceania (because of fewer applications and relatively higher quotas).
The Indian Institute of Management
While Harvard lets in about 5.2% of applicants, not even 1% got accepted to India’s top business school for the class of 2014, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.
The Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad (IIM-A) received 173,866 applications for its 2012-2014 class. The university has the luxury of being extra choosy because of India’s large population and the vast number of students with outstanding grades and test scores.
Delta’s Flight Attendant corps
You have less than a 1% chance becoming a Delta Flight Attendant, according to Bloomberg.
In 2013, Delta received 44,000 applications for 400 jobs.
Foreign-language skills are highly valued by the company, with as many as 30% of hires speaking a second language.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Actually, Harvard isn’t even the toughest university to gain acceptance into in the US.
Stanford University, with its acceptance rate of 4.7% for the class of 2021, takes the top spot.
Stanford accepted 2,050 students from 44,073 applicants, including those who applied and were accepted early decision to Stanford in December.
Ben Winsor and Christina Sterbenz contributed to a previous version of this post.