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How to Pick the Right Safety Schools

Students who position themselves best for success in the admissions process begin with a well-crafted, thoughtful college list. Certainly, it’s great to have high aspirations and a plan for how to give yourself the best shot to attain them. But, constructing your college list also requires putting as much thought into schools that will be easier for you to get into that still compel you.

There is a common misconception that safety schools are also ranked at the bottom of your list, but this is only true if where you want to attend college is directly related to the selectivity of a school. And selectivity should not be your number one criterion for where to attend college.

Academic programs offered, student culture, class size, location, and how tasty the dining hall food is will make up your lived college experience—rather than how many other students are denied admission. A safety school could very well tick off all the boxes for what you want in a college. It could even be your dream school.

Now let’s take a closer look.

What exactly is a safety school?

“Safeties” are considered colleges to which you are likely to be accepted. The rule of thumb is that your GPA and test scores are higher compared to the average student admitted. However, do note that while test scores are standardized, GPAs are not.

High schools have different policies for whether to weigh or not weigh students’ GPA; some do not even calculate GPAs and international students might be graded on a 7.0 or 10.0 scale.

If your high school uses Naviance, you can generate scattergrams of the admissions results of students from your school for particular colleges to figure out if a school is a safety. For those without access to Naviance, you might discuss with your college counselor and graduated students to figure out where you have a high chance of acceptance.

“Safe” Does Not Mean Less Quality

Don’t let the “safety” label deter you from expecting a stellar education.  

In fact, the collection compiled by Colleges That Changes Lives features many schools with acceptance rates of 50% or higher, including Antioch College (97% of applicants are admitted) and Southwest University (100% of applicants are admitted).

We believe the heart of your college search should include finding what is important to you and then identifying schools that match your values. All colleges on your list should in some way evoke a sense of excitement for what’s to come—perhaps you absolutely love the location of the campus or you can’t wait to engage in hands-on learning outside the classroom.

Do a careful and mindful search for safety schools. It’ll help you to really identify the gold of what each campus offers. 

Further, a school that may be considered a safety for you may not be a safety for your classmates. They may also experience an increase in their applicant pool, making them more selective in the process. Don’t evaluate a school by how easy it is to get into; rather focus on how easy it is for you to see yourself succeeding in that environment.

Don’t Just Apply to Get In

Along the same vein, it can be tempting to apply to a school you’re confident will admit you but that you feel totally ambivalent about.

Even for safeties, there should be a little courtship through the process. Find out about the unique and wonderful things they have to offer; think seriously about why this school makes sense for you. If you rest too much on your laurels, even a safety school might reject you because they sense you don’t actually want to attend.

In the end, applying to a college that you hold no interest in will only waste your time and resources, not to mention possibly taking away the spot of a student who would love the opportunity.  

If someone were to ask you what draws you about X college, and your only answer is that it’s your safety, you might consider digging a little deeper or expanding your search.

Some Resources to Check Out

If you are not sure where to start with finding the right safety schools for you, stop by Niche. You can narrow your college search by a variety of factors such as your anticipated major, your ACT or SAT test score, the location, school size, and more. For safeties, you might set the ACT or SAT search by 3 or 100 points below your score, respectively.

College Express is another great website to peruse. You can quickly get a glance of school profiles, and there are lists for particular academic interests like “Colleges with Comprehensive Architecture Program.”

Niche and College Express both include rankings of schools, but keep in mind that the criteria used to formulate these rankings may be very different from the factors that are important to you. Once you generate a pool of potential safeties, take a deeper step into researching the ones that appeal to you.

Remember, the goal at this stage is to build the best list of schools for you. You want to find safety schools you’re excited about. At the end of the process, when you’ve gotten into your safeties as well as many others on your list, you can have a different conversation with yourself about the right fit for you. For now, focus on all the reasons you’re excited about each school you decide to apply to and envision the ways they could help you reach your potential. Doing so will allow you to create more meaningful applications and increase your chances of success.   

The expert admissions consultants at Wise World Prep have helped hundreds of students maximize their potential of being admitted to their top choice colleges and universities. Over 20 years, we have successfully guided students through each stage of the application process – from choosing competitive high school courses to building an appropriate college list to drafting winning essays to writing persuasive update and appeals letters. We would be happy to answer your questions and partner with you to create a successful admissions roadmap.

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