This is a segment of Bautis Financial’s college planning series, which includes webinars, podcast episodes, blog posts and downloadables to aid college-bound students and families in the admissions process. Visit our college planning hub for more valuable resources.
It’s time to finalize your college list. By now, you’ve already done research, visited schools and perhaps have even spoken with current students attending the college/universities you’re interested in. You’ve determined your ideal institution’s location, your major and if you’ll participate in athletics or extracurricular activities. You know what you want, and what you need.
The focus now turns to acceptance: What are the chances you get that big, shiny packet in the mail that begins with the 15 letter word – Congratulations!
“Safety,” “target,” and “reach” are common terms used in the college application process to describe the odds a prospective student has of being accepted to a particular institution. Understanding these terms is a critical step in the application process, and will help you build a better list of colleges.
What’s the Difference?
Colleges where you have a greater than 75% chance of acceptance.
A safety school is a college or university where – depending on your SAT or ACT scores, GPA and class rank – you can determine you have a 75% chance or higher of being accepted. Although you can never be certain of admission, a good rule of thumb is that the prospective student’s scores and grade point average should be in the 75th percentile or exceed that of the school’s student body average.
Colleges where you have a 25-75% chance of acceptance.
A target school is a college or university where you feel good about your chances of admission. Unless the school is very selective, how your SAT or ACT scores and GPA compare to its middle 50%* is a decent indicator of whether a school is a target.
*The middle 50% is the range of scores between the 25th percentile and the 75th percentile of accepted students.
Colleges where you have less than a 25% chance of acceptance.
A reach school is a college or university that you may have difficulty getting into. Keep in mind that any school with less than a 20% acceptance rate is a “reach” school for all applicants. A school may also be a reach if your grades and test scores are below the averages of accepted students, in the 25th percentile or lower.
While test scores, GPA and class rank can suggest your odds of acceptance at a particular university, the admissions process also takes a variety of other factors into account, such as:
- Rigor of curriculum (AP, honors or college-accredited classes)
- Extracurricular activities
- Personal essays
- Letters of recommendation
- Demonstrated interest
- And more!
How to Build a College List
While there is no magic number of colleges you should apply to, the majority of experts suggest between six and ten. Below is an example of a balanced breakdown using the safety, target and reach categories:
- 1-3 Reach Schools
- 4+ Target Schools
- 1-2 Safety Schools