Crafting the Perfect College List With Reach, Target, and Safety Schools

The average acceptance rate for four-year public colleges is 78%.

That’s lower for their private non-profit counterparts: 73%.

It means that unless you apply to an open-admission college (also open-enrollment college) where you can get in provided you have a high school diploma or an equivalent, you are not guaranteed acceptance.

It’s when the importance of making a balanced college list comes in.

Applying to as many institutions as you possibly can to increase your admissions chances isn’t wise — the college application process doesn’t come cost-free unless your financial situation makes you eligible for an unlimited application fee waiver.

The average application fee is $50.

Applying to, say, 25 schools for increased chances of getting into at least one of them costs $1,250!

Money is not the only issue but also time.

Recommendations, college-specific essays, short-answer questions — the more colleges you apply to, the more requirements you must rush to submit, and the less compelling each one could become.

Avoid spending lots of money and being burned out by being an informed college applicant.

Build a college list with the right mix of reach, match, and safety schools.

student making list

Reach for the Stars With Reach Schools

Attending prestigious academic institutions is the dream of many.

And that’s why they are aptly called dream schools in terms of building a college list.

Dream schools are also known as reach schools — students should reach very hard for an acceptance letter, which tends to elude as much as 75% or more of all college-bound teens.

That’s right: your chances of getting into a dream school are less than 25%.

Why They’re Hard to Teach

Because your chances of getting accepted to highly selective schools (Caltech, Harvard, Columbia, MIT, Stanford, etc.) are low, putting two to three reach schools on your college list is ideal.

It’s possible to increase your chances of getting into a reach school.

Identify the weakest parts of your college application and strengthen some parts to make up for them — crafting an exceptional essay, for instance, may make an average GPA look less average.

Why Reach Schools are Must-Haves

The goal of adding reach schools to your list is not to upset you when admissions notification time comes.

Instead, it’s to inspire and motivate you to do everything in your power to improve your high school grades, aim for high SAT or ACT scores, and write the most fascinating essays ever.

Also, who knows, you might get lucky!

Targeting the Sweet Spot With Target Schools

Target schools are also sometimes known as match schools.

It’s because your academic profile matches that of an applicant often admitted to them.

Some college admissions experts also refer to them as 50/50 schools, given that a student has a 50% chance of getting in — that’s halfway from being 100% guaranteed acceptance, but way better than a less than 20% possibility.

Realistically speaking, though, your chances of getting in range from 30% to 60%.

What Makes a Match School Your Perfect Match

Determining whether or not a college is a match school of yours is not as tricky as you think.

For the most part, all you have to do is look at the academic profile of admitted first-time, first-year students, paying extra attention to the criteria the college considers the most important.

Is your high school GPA the same or better than the average GPA of admits?

Does your SAT or ACT score fall between the 25th and 75th percentiles of accepted students?

Is your class rank as good as most of the incoming first-year students?

Then the institution is likely a match school — feel free to include three to four of them to your college list to enjoy a handful of options when those admissions notifications start pouring in.

Not a Perfect Match, Just a Match

Your chances of getting into a match school are good but not guaranteed.

So, in other words, you may receive either an acceptance letter or rejection letter equally — again, the only time you can safely assume acceptance is when applying to an open-admission college.

Because of this, it’s not wise to apply to only one match school.

In any college list, match schools should outnumber other types of schools to ensure that there’s a college you will be attending in the coming academic year.

Adding three to four match schools to your college list is ideal.

college list

Safety Schools are a Safety Net

Not all colleges you like will accept you.

Similarly, not all colleges that will accept you appeal to your taste.

I’m talking about safety schools — these institutions, also known as backup schools, are very likely to offer you to attend because you exceed the student academic profile they typically find sufficient.

They may not be your first- and second-choice colleges, but you’re someone they consider an asset.

Why You Need Safety Schools

You can think of yourself as an overqualified student when applying to safety schools.

Having an acceptance rate of 80% or higher, depending on the institution’s selectivity level, you can sleep peacefully at night, knowing that a favorable admissions decision is almost definite.

Almost — that’s the operative word.

There is still a tiny chance that safety school will reject you. Due to this, you should have two to three safety schools on your college list to be on the safe side of the fence.

You don’t need to add more than that because it would just be short-changing yourself.

For most high schoolers, public in-state schools with high acceptance rates are safety schools. Some small and lesser-known private schools may also be other options.

A Backup Doesn’t Mean a Letdown

Avoid making a safety school out of a college simply because it has an 80%+ acceptance rate.

It’s important to see yourself attending if it’s the only entry on your college list that admits you.

Before shortlisting the institution, research it like your top-choice school — examine its programs, cost of attendance, financial aid opportunities, location, campus, student life, class size, etc.

So, to sum up, you should be happy going to it if you have no other choice.

college map

What a Balanced College List Looks Like

A balanced college list doesn’t have a particular look.

Because different college-bound high schoolers have different academic profiles and educational and social preferences, one good college list will look different from the other.

However, all of them will have the right proportions of reach, target, and safety schools.

A balanced college list for a high-performing student with a perfect 4.0 GPA might look something like this:

Reach schools:

  • Boston College
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Match schools:

  • Central Connecticut State University
  • College of Our Lady of the Elms
  • Fisher College
  • University of Bridgeport

Safety schools:

  • Bridgewater State University
  • Westfield State University

On the other hand, this is what it might look like for an average student with a GPA of, say, 3.0:

Reach schools:

  • Florida State University
  • Texas A&M University

Match schools:

  • Carroll University
  • King University
  • Liberty University
  • Purdue University

Safety schools:

  • Alabama A&M University
  • California State University

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

Similar Posts