As the college admission process becomes more complex, students are beginning to wonder if they are assured acceptance to their so-called ‘safety’ schools. This is a tricky question, and the short answer is: not really. Traditionally, counselors have suggested that high school students apply to a range of colleges, including a few “targets”, “stretches”, and “safeties”. Targets refer to schools where your test scores and GPA fall within the midrange of the admit profile. Stretches, or reaches, are schools that have higher average test scores and GPAs than yours. Safeties refer to schools where your scores fall above the 50th percentile of admitted students. Some experts argue that these terms should be changed to the more accurate names of “unlikely”, “possible”, and “likely”. College admission is a complicated process, taking into account many factors and, as in life, there are simply no guarantees.
Although SAT/ACT scores and your GPA can give you an idea of whether or not you might be admitted to a particular school, they are not the only factors considered during the admission process. Test optional admission has further muddied the admission waters. Be sure to check all prospective colleges’ acceptance rates, as this is another indication of your chances. Commonly considered a best practice, most universities now have holistic admission, which means that they emphasize the applicant’s complete academic record along with their life experiences, not just select pieces such as grades and test scores. Athletic accomplishments, legacy status, leadership roles, and involvement with music, art, and community service all potentially play important roles. Keep in mind that it is better to excel and show leadership in a select few extracurricular activities than simply to participate in several.
A common mistake made by prospective undergraduates is to assume they will be admitted to their safety school, and thus put less effort into its essays and applications. They also may fail to show demonstrated interest, which is gaining popularity as a factor considered by admission departments. These errors imply that a student does not really care about being accepted, and will likely not attend if they are. The term “yield” refers to the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll, and is important to colleges because it affects their ranking and credit rating. If the admission office doesn’t think you will actually attend, they will be less likely to accept you, even if your scores and GPA fall into the acceptable range.
There are a few exceptions to the “no more safety schools” concept. Some colleges have open admissions, and if you have met their minimum requirements, and know you can afford to attend, you can be fairly confident about being accepted. Community colleges also fall into this category.
In considering where to apply, it is important to submit applications only to schools you are truly excited about. Make sure they are a good fit as far as academics, location, size, and financial needs. If you can’t afford your safety school or if you would be unwilling to attend, it is not a safety at all! Don’t rush your applications, and treat each school as if it were your first choice.