The Importance of Not Applying Only for Reach and Safety Colleges

As anyone involved in the college admissions process can tell you, the last week of March is a nail-biting roller coaster of emotions for high school seniors and their families. With record low acceptances this year fueled by a surge in applicants to many elite schools across the country, it’s no surprise that some are finding it difficult to accept their results and figure out what the next step is.

First of all, it is recommended by the IECA that students pick anywhere from six to eight schools to apply to. If this were the case, we wouldn’t have record low acceptances as many counselors often report students applying for anywhere from 15 to 25 schools, which is quite extreme.

Working in admissions, I hear all kinds of stories from students. One that seems to reappear this season is the consequence of not picking a balanced list and what that means. For one student at an extremely competitive high school, he learned that being among the top in his class and having a stellar score didn’t guarantee admissions into the Ivies — which was tough considering he’d only applied to the Ivies and the local state school. While I am sure he will do extremely well at his “safety,” I know he would have received some excellent options at other target schools had he applied to them.

The other thing to keep in mind with picking a balanced list is that it improves your odds of receiving more options to consider when the time comes. A target school can still sufficiently challenge a student, in addition to potentially offering merit scholarships and unique opportunities to a competitively qualified applicant.

Lastly, you can’t rely on “safety” schools. Ironic, right? Each year, many applicants apply to schools that are in key cities across the country. Forget about rank — the fact that these schools are located in a popular city makes them more competitive and reduces their acceptance rate. I often tell my “overly” qualified students that consider these schools as a guarantee, that they need to reevaluate it and that it can easily become a rejection, because the school also perceives themselves to be a “safety” for you and thereby doesn’t accept you in the first place. There were so many students shocked by their results from these schools, but some of my students who had a comparable admission profile to others were admitted and its because they actually showed the school that they weren’t just a “safety” and that they were genuinely interested in attending.

A dose of humility and choosing three reach, three target, and two safety schools will really help you maximize your options come decision day on April 1st.

How did your college admissions results turn out? Let us know in the comments below.

Anna Ren is on a mission to make applying for college as transparent and stress-free as possible for families everywhere. Anna is the Founder of Elite Advantage Prep and the affordable online college planning course, Prep for Success. You can also find Anna with her co-host, Mark Hofer, on the Coast2Coast College Admissions Podcast. Sign up to receive instant access to her free college planning mini-course “Prep for Success: College Planning for Teens.

Like what you read? Give Anna Ren a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.