Reach, Target and Safety Schools

When you start thinking about building your college list, the terms reach, target, match and safety will be used. However, what do these terms really mean? They refer to the type of colleges you should consider.

Safety School
A safety school is one that will most likely accept your application for admission. The college is most likely to accept you if your high school grades and test scores are well above the school’s average.

Target or Match School
A target or match school is one that will probably accept your application for admission. Your high school grades and test scores will fall into the middle range when looking at the school’s profile.

Reach School
A reach school is a college that you might have a chance of getting into, but something in your academic profile is on the low side when looking at the school’s profile.

Far Reach School
While a reach school is one that you might have a slight chance of acceptance, a far reach school is one that is very unlikely to offer admission. Your academic profile will fall short of the admissions averages when looking at the school’s profile.

School Profile?
You should be able to find the school’s academic profile somewhere on their website, usually in the admissions section. Another place you can find this information is Collegeboard’s Big Future website. Not only does it provide a college matching search engine, it has admissions statistic provided directly from the colleges.

Now that the types of schools have been defined, college applicants need to understand that there is no guarantee that a student will be admitted to any school – safety, target or reach.

  • Deadlines are important. If even one part of your application is not turned in on time, your application may not be considered at some colleges.
  • You must follow directions. Admissions committees are looking for specific items and if you do not follow directions, it can ruin your chances of being admitted.
  • The holistic admissions approach considers a lot more than the numbers. While GPA and test scores are important, many colleges consider more. In addition to the essay, extracurricular and volunteer activities and interview, other things may be considered. Did you know that things such as your social media presence and your expressed interested in a college could come into play in the admissions decision? Holistic admissions decisions can be very subjective.

Note About Top Colleges and Universities
Many of the top colleges and universities in the United States have very low acceptance rates. For example, Stanford University had the lowest acceptance rate in 2014, accepting only five percent of the students who applied. While many of the students probably met and/or exceeded the average GPA and test scores of the previous year’s accepted students, many were not admitted. Therefore, top colleges and universities with low acceptance rates should never be considered a safety or target school.

How Many Of Each College Should Students Apply?
There is no specific rule that says that a student should apply to a certain number of schools. Some students apply to only one, while others apply to many more. There was even a recent article that that told the story of a student who applied to 43 colleges. Most students apply to 5 – 7 colleges. These numbers are much more realistic.

There is also no rule that says you need to apply to a specific number of safety, target and reach schools. While I do not think you have to apply to a reach school, you should definitely have a few target and safety schools on your list. Reach schools are a dream, and if you think there may be a shot, I say go for it! You do not want to ask yourself in the future, “What if?”

If you ever have questions about your chances, get someone else’s opinion. Your guidance counselor or an educational consultant should have some insight into your chances of admission. You can also reach out to the admissions office at the colleges you are considering. The admission counselors at many colleges make the admission decisions, or at least play a role in the decision process. Reach out to them and ask questions not only about the college, but also about your chances. Some counselors will be more open than others, but most will give you some information.

Last Piece of Advice
Do not select a safety school just because you have to have a safety college on your list. While I hope you get into your first choice, it might not happen. All of the colleges on your list should be places you feel you will enjoy. Dig deep – a college that could be a considered a safety school for you could be the best fit. Research and visit colleges to make sure they feel right for you.

If you need any help building your college list, I can help you build your list. Contact me with your questions.


Above photo credit  – “Matthew Hall, Harvard Yard” by Ian Lamont licensed by CC BY 2.0

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