Safety schools are a weird topic, for lack of a better term, for many people. The conversation carries an air of settling for a school that’s somehow lesser than, but settling should be so far removed from your thought process. Every college applicant needs a safety school. 

A safety school isn’t a bad or lesser than school, by any means. In fact, a safety school is simply a school in which your academic credentials exceed those of the average freshman and has a high admissions rate.

As you start to assemble the list of schools you’d like to apply to, many counselors will advise you to drop them into three buckets:

  1. Match Schools – your credentials meet the expectations of the average freshman.
  2. Reach Schools – your credentials are (slightly) below the expectations of the average freshman.
  3. Safety Schools – your credentials exceed the expectations of the average freshman.

We’ll discuss the other two categories in another post. For now, let’s focus on safety schools.

How do you determine what a safety school is for you?

There are three main points to explore when you determine what a safety school will look like for you. Your GPA, your ACT/SAT scores, and the admissions rate. As a rule of thumb, your credentials should fall within the top 75th percentile of previously admitted freshmen at the school.

There are a couple of ways to figure this out. You can call the admissions office and ask what the statistics for the previous year’s admission were. Just a word of wisdom here, do not ask the college admissions person directly if you can get into their school. It doesn’t look good and they won’t have an immediate answer for you. You can also do a little sleuthing by googling admission statistics for your desired college. If all else fails, ask your high school guidance counselor to help you get the information.

Safety schools beg a disclaimer. Repeat after us: there is no such thing as a sure thing. We cannot say enough that GPA and standardized test scores aren’t everything and you’re never guaranteed admissions into any school, no matter how ‘safe’ it may be.

Choose a school you actually want to go to.

Don’t just throw darts at a list of colleges on the wall. You’re about to spend the next four or more years at whatever college you get accepted to. We hope you do get into your dream school, but if you don’t, you want to be sure that the colleges you do get accepted to are somewhere you actually want to be.

Many of the students we work with have a strong idea of their dream school and move forward with tunnel vision. When you have your heart set on one thing, it’s difficult to talk about alternatives, but it’s necessary. After all, how would you feel getting into no college at all?

To find safety schools that you’ll be happy to attend, your dream school is a great place to start. What’s important to you about that school? Do you love the area? Look for other schools in the area. Are you interested in a particular program? Research schools that have strong departments in your subject of interest. Are you looking for a specific college experience? Search for schools that embody that experience and ask current students what it’s really like to attend.

Oftentimes, in-state public schools will have higher admissions rates. All it takes it a little legwork to find one or two that work for you.

So, about that list.

Balance is key! Choose 2-3 safety schools to apply to. Any more than that and you risk taking time and effort away from your other applications. Foregoing safety schools altogether puts you at risk of not rounding out your applications.

The most important thing here is to remember not to phone it in on the applications. Going through the motions is a waste of your time and the college admissions board. Time is too precious a commodity to waste. 

Take choosing safety schools seriously. You never know, it may just end up being the school of your dreams. 

To recap: don’t discount your safety schools. They should be somewhere you would be proud to attend. If you need help putting together a strong list of safety schools, reach out to our college admissions professionals!