How Many Safety Schools Should You Apply To?

Safety schools are colleges and universities where your chances of getting accepted are 80% or higher. You can think of them as institutions that you are almost guaranteed to get into. However, it doesn’t mean that safety schools are the only ones you should include on your college list.

Applying to at least one safety school is recommended. To increase a student’s chances of gaining admission into at least one college, applying to two is a great idea. Besides safety schools, one must also consider a few match schools and reach schools for a more balanced college list.

There are 3,982 degree-granting institutions in the US today, says the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). So, in other words, running out of a school to apply to should be the least of your worries.

What you need to worry about is figuring out which schools to apply to.

Below, we will discuss safety schools — what they are and how many of them you should apply to. After reading this article, you will find it easier to have a college list you can be very confident with.

college campus

What are Safety Schools?

Colleges and universities students know that are likely to accept them are called safety schools. Students apply to them to make sure that there is at least one school they could go to. Like target schools and reach schools, safety schools should be institutions students would be happy to attend.

Most high school students dream of going to prestigious schools. However, many of them are aware of the fact that, with ridiculously low acceptance rates, their chances of getting accepted in those are low.

It’s a good thing that there are many good and reputable institutions other than the big ones.

This is when the importance of knowing what your safety schools are and including them on your college list comes in.

While you could apply to the schools you have been desiring all your academic life, you should not turn your back on those that are very much likely to accept you because you exceed their requirements.

Refrain from thinking that safety schools are bad schools. Spending enough time researching colleges and universities with 80% acceptance rates or higher will reveal the fact that a lot of your potential safety schools are good ones.

You could be pleased with your experience there, and potential employers could be happy with your degree.

Here are some examples of colleges that make for excellent safety schools not only because they have acceptance rates of at least 80% but are also ranked by US News:

University of Colorado Boulder80%#99 in National Universities
University of Northern Iowa80%#19 in Regional Universities Midwest
McDaniel College80%#31 in Regional Universities North
Yeshiva University80%#68 in National Universities
Walsh University80%#54 in Regional Universities Midwest
University of Iowa81%#83 in National Universities
Carlow University81%#70 in Regional Universities North
University of Utah81%#99 in National Universities
Chaminade University of Honolulu82%#25 in Regional Universities West
John Carroll University82%#2 in Regional Universities Midwest
Saint Joseph’s University82%#8 in Regional Universities North
Wilkes University82%#213 in National Universities
Bob Jones University82%#31 in Regional Universities South
Regent University84%#277 in National Universities
Taylor University85%#1 in Regional Colleges Midwest
University of New England85%#249 in National Universities
Niagara University85%#21 in Regional Universities North
California University of Pennsylvania85%#131 in Regional Universities North
West Virginia University86%#249 in National Universities
Canisius College87%#21 in Regional Universities North
Washington College92%#98 in National Liberal Arts Colleges
Wisconsin Lutheran College92%#19 in Regional Colleges Midwest
Samford University93%#136 in National Universities
Gordon College93%#158 in National Liberal Arts Colleges
Westminster College96%#18 in Regional Universities West
University of Wyoming96%#196 in National Universities
Fontbonne University97%#51 in Regional Universities Midwest

But don’t just pick random ones and put them on your college list as safety schools. The acceptance rate is not the only thing you should consider when choosing safety schools.

Keep reading to know more about this important part of the college selection process.

How to Find Safety Schools

Choosing safety schools requires students to compare their high school GPAs and test scores with the average GPA and test scores of admitted freshmen students. Having better academic credentials means they can consider the colleges and universities they are planning to apply to as safety schools.

It’s not that difficult to figure out your safety schools. However, the process requires some research.

You can determine your safety schools in a couple of ways.

First, you can research a school’s admissions statistics, preferably the most recent, as the figures can change from one academic year to the next — the shift can range anywhere from negligible to enormous.

Second, you can use a college chances calculator available online.

As a general rule, if your GPA is above the average and test score is above the middle 50% (scores between the 25th percentile and 75th percentile) of admitted freshmen students, chances are that you will be accepted into that institution. So, in other words, you can add the institution to your list as a safety school.

Let’s pretend that this is your academic profile:

  • GPA: 3.7
  • SAT score: 1300
  • ACT score: 34

Suppose that you are about to graduate from a high school in Maryland, which is why you wish for the majority of institutions on your college list to be located in the Old Line State, too.

Three of your wonderful choices would be Johns Hopkins University, Washington College, and St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

According to Best Colleges’ Top 10 Colleges in Maryland ranking, Johns Hopkins University is #1, Washington College is #6 and St. Mary’s College of Maryland is #7.

Here are the most recent admissions statistics for Johns Hopkins University:

  • Average GPA: 3.9
  • SAT score range: 1480 to 1570
  • ACT score range: 34 to 35
  • Acceptance rate: 9%

On the other hand, the following are the latest admissions statistics for Washington College:

  • Average GPA: 3.7
  • SAT score range: 1070 to 1280
  • ACT score range: 23 to 29
  • Acceptance rate: 92%

Here are the most recent admissions statistics for St. Mary’s College of Maryland:

  • Average GPA: 3.4
  • SAT score range: 1070 and 1280
  • ACT score range: 23 and 29
  • Acceptance rate: 79%

At first glance, it would seem like your safety school is Washington College. With an acceptance rate of 92%, your chances of gaining admission into this liberal arts school are, without a doubt, very high.

When it comes to determining safety schools, unfortunately, there are a few more things you need to consider besides the acceptance rate.

Again, the general consensus is that your GPA should be higher than the average GPA of admitted freshmen students. Your test score should be above the middle 50% of accepted freshmen students.

Johns Hopkins University is not one of your safety schools, and it’s for the following reasons:

  • Your GPA is lower than the average GPA of admitted students.
  • Your SAT score is not within the middle 50%.
  • Your ACT score is within the middle 50%, not higher.

This leaves you with Washington College and St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

Related Article: Getting Into College With High GPA But Low SAT/ACT

What’s so great about these institutions is that both of them have high acceptance rates despite being high-ranking schools. Needless to say, getting accepted into any of these Maryland-based schools would be nice.

However, based on your academic profile, only one of the two can count as your safety school.

It’s true that your GPA is the same as the average GPA of admitted students at Washington College.

But keep in mind that your GPA should be higher than the average GPA of accepted students, which is a condition your academic profile meets when the admissions statistics for St. Mary’s College of Maryland are taken into account.

Your test scores are higher than the range of SAT and ACT scores of freshmen students at Washington College and St. Mary’s College of Maryland, which means that both of them can count as safety schools in this regard.

The acceptance rate at Washington College is higher than the acceptance rate at St. Mary’s College of Maryland alright. But GPA-wise, St. Mary’s College of Maryland fulfills the requirement of being your safety school.

After all, according to most admissions officers, the GPA is the biggest (but not the only) admissions factor.

However, it does not mean that you should forget about applying to Johns Hopkins University and Washington College.

You can always put them on your college list, too. Johns Hopkins University would make for an excellent reach school for you. Washington College, on the other hand, would make for a great match school for you.

But there’s no denying that St. Mary’s College of Maryland would make for a phenomenal safety school for you, based on your pretend academic profile given above.

Francis Xavier Knott Humanities Center at Loyola University Maryland
Francis Xavier Knott Humanities Center at Loyola University Maryland

How Many Safety Schools Should You Have?

Having one safety school on one’s college list is a good idea. Having two safety schools on one’s college list is a better idea. It’s true that the admissions chances into a safety school are high. However, admission is not 100% guaranteed, which is why having one more safety school is recommended.

Figuring out your safety school helps ensure that there will be at least one acceptance letter to get.

The importance of the fact that safety schools are institutions where admission is more likely (not guaranteed) cannot be stressed enough.

But just imagine that you applied to nothing but safety schools, and all of them sent you acceptance letters — you would have to subject yourself to the stress and fatigue of choosing one to attend.

It’s exactly because of this why you should never pack your college list with safety schools. Generally, you should include one safety school on your list. However, it’s a smarter move to include at least two of them.

Just in case, for some reason, the admissions officers at one of your chosen safety schools fail to find your application impressive, then there will be one more set of admissions officers that might think otherwise.

On the other hand, never make the mistake of not applying to at least one safety school. If your college list contains nothing but match and reach schools, there is a possibility of you ending up with zero acceptance letters.

And if you apply to all of them via Regular Decision and no one accepts you, you might find yourself in a very difficult situation.

Between applying to all safety schools and applying to all match or reach schools, the former is the lesser of two evils.

Still, it’s wise for your college list to consist of:

  • Two to four reach schools
  • Two to four match schools
  • One to two safety schools.

How Do You Determine Admissions Chances Into Safety Schools?

One can predict admissions chances into safety schools by comparing the GPA and test score with those of the admitted freshmen students. A college chances calculator, which computes admissions chances based on a student’s academic profile and a school’s historical admissions data, may be used, too.

As mentioned earlier, there are almost 4,000 degree-granting institutions in the US these days. With so many options, finding your safety schools traditionally can be a time-consuming endeavor.

Fortunately for high schoolers during the college applications seasons, there are college chances calculators.

Just because your academic profile surpasses those of admitted students into a safety school of yours doesn’t necessarily mean you will get accepted into it 100%. Since there are also soft factors such as personal essays, recommendation letters and extracurricular activities, nothing is guaranteed in the world of college admissions.

All the same, there are college chances calculators available on the internet that can help you find safety schools to include on your college list faster and more efficiently.

There are all sorts of college chances calculators out there. Some will require you to input only a couple of data points, such as your GPA and test scores.

Others will ask you to provide more, such as your class rank, hours of extracurriculars per week, college-level coursework grades and achievements.

Related Article: Can You Get Into College Without Extracurriculars?

It’s true that using a simpler college chances calculator can help save time and energy. However, the results can be very broad and choosing a couple of them as your safety schools can deplete your resources.

On the other hand, a complicated one may yield a more focused listing, but you may find it daunting to use in the first place.

Further, you cannot rely solely on the suggestions of college chances calculators. Their creators know this, which is why many of them will tell you that you should take the results with a grain of salt.

But if you are in a time crunch, they can help you determine not only your safety schools but also match schools and reach schools.

Related Article: Calculating Your College Chances [ala Chance Me College Confidential]

Conclusion: How Many Safeties Should You Have

The Common App and Coalition App make applying to several different colleges and universities easy.

However, it doesn’t mean that you should apply to 20 schools (the maximum number of schools you can apply to via the Common App) or more, either by creating multiple Common App accounts or using the Coalition App to apply to all member schools at once, and see which of them will respond with an acceptance letter.

If you want to make sure that at least one of the institutions you wish to apply to will admit you, what you need to do is to come up with a balanced college list, the kind that contains one to two safety schools.

Above, we discussed just about everything you need to know about safety schools — what they are, how to find them and how many of them should be on your list. With a realistic and sensible list, you can have peace of mind that it is very much likely for you to have a college or university to go to before the academic year starts.

Read Next: Best Non-Ivy League Schools Along The East Coast

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.

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