As students across the country are narrowing down their list of colleges they will apply to this fall, the terms safety, target, match, and reach are being used. These terms refer to the likelihood of a student being admitted to a particular college. Typically, a student can determine where a college fits in the spectrum by comparing their high school grades and test scores to the academic profile of the institutions. The academic profile of a college or university typically lists the statistics of the previous years’ admissions numbers, such as average grade point average and test scores.
A safety school is one that will most likely accept a student’s application for admission. The student’s high school grades and test scores are well above the school’s averages.
A target or match school is one that will probably accept a student’s application for admission. The student’s high school grades and test scores fall into the middle range when comparing to the institution’s academic profile.
A reach school is a college that a student might have a chance of being accepted, but something in the student’s record is on the low side when comparing to the school’s profile. While a reach school is one a student might have a slight chance of acceptance, a far reach school is one that is very unlikely to offer admission. The student’s academic profile will fall short of the admissions averages when looking at the school’s profile.
Note About Top Colleges and Universities
Many of the top colleges and universities in the United States have very low acceptance rates. For example, Stanford University had the lowest acceptance rate in 2014, accepting only five percent of the students who applied. While many of the students probably met or exceeded the average GPA and test scores of the previous year’s accepted students, many were not admitted. Therefore, top colleges and universities with low acceptance rates should never be considered a safety or target school.
As students are narrowing down their lists, they should place the colleges they are considering into one of these categories. There is no rule that dictates the number of colleges a student should apply to, but most counselors suggest between five and eight colleges. There is also no rule that says students must apply to a specific number of safety, target or reach schools. While a reach school is not required, students should definitely apply to target and safety schools. Reach schools are a dream, and if a student thinks there may be a chance of being admitted, they should apply if they desire.
If students have questions about their chance of being admitted, they should get the opinion of college experts. Guidance counselor and educational consultants should have some insight into the chances of admission. Students can also reach out to admissions offices at the colleges they are considering. The admission counselors at many colleges make the admissions decisions, or at least play a role in the decision process. Students can reach out to admissions offices and ask questions not only about the college, but also about their chances of admission. Some counselor will be more open than others, but most can give some insight into the college admissions process.
The definitions of safety, target and reach schools are typically based on numbers. However, college applicants need to understand that there is no guarantee that a student will be admitted to any school – safety, target or reach. Many colleges and universities use a holistic approach when making admissions decisions. While grade point average and test scores are important, many other items are considered. Admissions committees can use admissions essays, extracurricular and volunteer activities, interviews and many more criteria to determine if they will admit a student or not. This is why it is important for students to apply to multiple colleges to ensure admission to at least one college.