As you are building your college list, there are many things to consider. In addition to finding colleges that are good fits academically, socially, and financially, there are other things to consider as well. As you are putting colleges on your list, you need to place the colleges in categories: reach, target/match, or safety. However, what do these terms mean?
- Safety School. A safety school is one that will most likely accept your application for admission. If your grades and test scores fall well above the school’s average, you’re likely to be admitted
- Match or Target School. A match or target 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 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. You can also find this information at College Board’s Big Future and College Navigator. Both websites allow you to search colleges and see the GPA and test scores of a previous class.
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. Here are some things to consider:
- Deadlines are important. Even if 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 affect your chances of being admitted.
- Holistic admissions approaches consider a lot more than numbers. While GPA and test scores are important, many colleges consider more. The essay, extracurricular activities, volunteer activities, interview, and other items may be considered. Holistic admissions decisions can be very subjective.
- Low acceptance rates. Many of the top colleges and university in the United States have very low acceptance rates. For example, Stanford University has recently had an acceptance rate of five percent. Only five percent of the students who applied were offered admission. While many of the students probably met or exceeded the average GPA and test scores of the previous year’s accepted students, many were not admitted. Therefore, colleges and universities with low acceptance rates should never be considered a safety or target school.
A common question students have is, “how many colleges should I apply to?” There is no specific rule that says students should apply to a certain number of schools. Some students apply to only one, while others apply to many more. Most students apply to five, six, or seven colleges. In addition, there is no rule that says you need to apply to a specific number of safety, target, or 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 school 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 admissions counselors at many colleges make the admissions decision, or at least place 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.
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Thank you for this. As a parent of a current junior we were wrestling with how many colleges she should apply to, you just gave us a road map.
I am so happy to help!
Quick question that is related to this; if your student has been contacted by an “ivy” league and went to an information session for them. Wouuld that be a considered a reach or one that she hasn’t been contacted by?
Yes, any institution with a lower acceptance rate should be considered a reach school. For example, Harvard had about a 6% acceptance rate for Fall 2015. They received just over 37,000 application. 6% of 37,000 applications is just over 2,000 students admitted. Just think about it like this – there are over 30,000 high school in the United States – if every top student applied to Harvard, only a small percentage would be admitted.
All colleges contact many more students than they will probably admit. This doesn’t mean that your student isn’t qualified. They are probably contacting the student because the student matches something they feel is a good fit for their school. Once students apply, the college will be able to review all of their applications and then build the class however is best for them (specific majors, activities, etc.)
I hope this helps!