What should I look for in a "safety" college?


Hey guys I am obviously shooting for the stars and aiming high in terms of my applications but I am also aware that I need to be practical and have a plan b.

What should I look for in a safety college?

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I think the key is to make sure that all the colleges you apply to are colleges where you could be successful and happy. As has been noted on other threads, the school isn’t a safety if you won’t attend.

Something to be stressed here is that there are thousands of colleges, and that you can get a good education at any of them, and you can fail at any of them. A lot of it has to do with self-motivation.

That being said, different factors are valued more highly by each individual. So for instance if you want to participate in athletics in school, make a list of D3 schools that offered your sport. From here you can then pick the area of the country where you wanted to be, the school size, etc.

THEN you can look at rankings. From here you can pick your schools, I would start with 8 to cast your net as wide as possible. The eight would consist of two that would be considered safeties, two match, two high match, two reach.


Timely thread topic since I’ve begun to wonder if there’s any such thing as “safety” colleges for the coming admission cycle.

Private colleges, even those with an admission rate of more than 50 percent, can be entirely subjective and unpredictable in admissions. Public colleges and universities are seeing applications skyrocket and they too are more often using the holistic approach and can be unpredictable.

For a CA applicant, it’s downright scary what has been happening this year to UC admissions in the middle range of UCs (UC Davis, UC Santa Barbara for example). I had been advised that that Davis would be perfect for my situation, due to its science programs and implied it would be a safety for considering my GPA and stats. But from reading about UC admissions this year, I know that there can be no assumptions made, no guarantee expected. Next year is probably going to be another year when it’s very difficult to tell if a “safety” is really safe.

As a result, so far, I am building the list from the bottom up, making sure to visit likely (not safety) colleges with as much attention as the matches and the few reaches. The list is going to be lighter on reaches and heavier on matches and “highly likelies” and we will stress the need to avoid falling in love until after acceptances are known. And total costs as well.

Also, I have to say that I’m thinking of travel expense more this time around and colleges in Maine or NH or upstate NY are having less appeal no matter how wonderful they sound. The visit budget is being carefully planned due to the cost of flying.

For the “likely” colleges on my list, so far I’d say the only one I feel sure about might be University of Oregon. (Or, as it is affectionately known in CA, “UC-Eugene”). I also like U Colorado-Boulder, but being OOS, how safe can we consider admissions there? It’s a pretty likely, though.

And on the private side so far is, University of Puget Sound, a solid and serious academic community set on a lovely, “chill” campus in a bustling small waterfront city (Tacoma) within a 30-minute drive of big-city Seattle. It’s definitely on the list. Another possibility, closer to home, might be University of the Pacific, which we haven’t visited yet, but sounds like a good option to consider.

I think it’s a good idea to throw out suggestions for “likely” colleges in different parts of the country.

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I applied to 13 colleges, tiered into reach, middle, and safety schools. Got into every single one except one. Didn’t think I would want to go to one of my safety schools because of the lower SAT/ACT scores (I thought my classmates were going to be stupid!), the small size and the fact it was a religious school. ended up going because the small, private school atmosphere.

Everyone was friendly rather than competitive, teachers wanted to help rather than weed you out, and the school had a lot of resources for my major. Picking the safety school has it’s perks - more financial aid, being ‘top’ of the class, and being able to slack without my grades suffering (I’ve always been the smart, lazy student). Safety schools get a bad rep but except for a few career paths you don’t have to go to the ‘top’ college. College is what you make of it.

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Hi @dec7434450443fea6b6e

I have two points I really want to stress:

This first is to please also remember to find some match schools. Too many kids are applying to a bunch of reaches and a safety without any matches in between.

Do not apply to all 8 Ivys and then to Only Chance College as a safety, with nothing in between. Too many kids think that with 8 chances they will get in somewhere. At least add the State Flagship and preferably a couple more match schools. And be sure to find a safety school that you really like. Be sure to visit some safety schools and find one where you will be happy if you end up there.


THEN THERE IS MONEY. One of my two safeties turned out to be unaffordable – the actual cost was well higher than the school’s Net Price Calculator had projected.

Fairfield’s net price calculator projected a price of $19,000 (before loans), and she was accepted early action in December with a merit scholarship of $25,000 (their Net Price Calculator had projected a merit scholarship of $22,000; $25,000 was their maximum, by the way). I was told I would find out about additional financial aid later on.

I was accepted early decision II in February by an excellent school that gave me a net price (before loans ) of under $15,000, and I was ecstatic, of course. Two days later, Fairfield’s financial aid offer landed in our mailbox. Their actual net price was an unaffordable $28,000.

The story had already ended well, fortunately, and we have no way of knowing what any of my other financial aid offers would have been, because I withdrew all of my other applications after being accepted early decision II.

However, the lesson learned is that you need to have a bunch of safety schools, especially if you need financial aid (even more so if you live in a state with high-priced state schools, as I do).

Net Price Calculators aren’t always accurate. I ran the Net Price Calculators for all of my schools before I applied, and kicked some off my list because the projected costs were too high, yet Fairfield still surprised us. It’s possible that I may have received other surprises or even been shut out financially if I hadn’t been accepted early decision. (The well-endowed school that accepted me ED2 was within $200 of their Net Price Calculator projection, by the way).

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I agree and think nobody can disagree with you on that. I would like to add one thing though; another main purpose of a safety college is to avoid wasting a year. What I’m trying to say is this, what if you don’t get into any college. Then what? You’ll have to wait for the next admission cycle to start, right.

So yeah therefore applying to at least one safety college is critical.
This is what I did when i was applying to colleges:

  • Applied to one dream college (where I knew I wouldn’t get in but it was worth the shot).
  • Applied to three colleges where I knew I had a 50-50 chance of admittance.
  • Applied to one college where I was absolutely sure I’d get in.
  • Applied to a community college as a “safety”.

SO there are no hard and fast rules in this, just be calculating when applying to colleges. Gut feeling is fine, given that it is calculated.

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As a word of advice, I had three safety schools, Purdue, Iowa, and Pitt. All but Purdue were rolling, and I Purdue came out early action last week. I’ve been admitted to all three and I’m eligible for scholarships at all three; in fact, if I didn’t get into Princeton, I would have most likely been going to Pitt.

I chose these schools because numbers often matter the most in their admissions decisions, and they got back to me pretty fast. Although I applied to four more match and three more reach schools, I think all three were great safeties.

For reference, I have a 32 ACT and 3.97/4.64 GPA, and my ECS that they saw were being an Eagle Scout and being in my honors choir an all state choir, among others that I didn’t have room for on my safety school applications.

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