Your College List: Choosing Where to Apply

Nov 29th, 2015 | College Admissions, College Preparation

There are over 2,000 four year colleges in the United States, and choosing which handful you should apply to can be a daunting task, especially when the next four or more years of your life may be determined by this decision. So what’s the key to choosing the right set of colleges? Variety.

The college prep industry uses the terms safety school, target school, and reach school to describe the different levels of competitiveness applicants face at the colleges to which they’re applying, and students should have a mix of these types on their list. Of course, everybody’s background and qualifications are different, and someone’s reach school might be someone else’s safety. Here is how these terms are generally defined:

Safety School

This is a college to which you are virtually certain you’ll be granted admittance. Your ACT or SAT scores and grades are above their average. Note: Even though it may be less competitive than the other colleges and universities on your list, we only recommend applying if you really would be interested in attending the school.

Target School

These institutions have admissions standards that are aligned with your own application statistics. You probably see no reason why your application might be rejected out of hand, yet some seemingly capricious act of an admissions officer might result in a waitlist or rejection, so be sure you have a few target schools and at least one safety, too!

Reach School

People tend to think of reach schools as “dream schools,” but there should be a degree of realistic possibility in your application. Don’t throw away your time, money, and energy applying to a school you have no chance of being admitted to. However, since it’s also true that schools try to have a diverse incoming freshman class, if you have a talent or skill or accomplishment they might be interested in, you might consider throwing your hat in the ring.

Of course, there’s a lot more that goes into choosing schools than just admissions standards. You’ll want to consider location, costs, public or private, and the department for your intended major (if you have one). And don’t discount a program that looks perfect for you just because you might be able to get in somewhere “better,” because there are many factors that contribute to finding the right fit and academic competitiveness is only one of them! Take a look at our Admission Consulting to see how we can help get into your preferred school.