How Should You Choose a ‘Safe School’?
I have never liked the phrase ‘safe school’ in developing a college list. It implies that someone will “go to this school if they cannot get in anyplace else.”
But it makes no sense to waste your time, or a college’s, to apply to a school where you have little to no interest. It also makes no sense to attend a four-year college with the idea of “transferring up” to another one. Highly desired colleges, including the more selective, have far less room for sophomores or juniors than they do for freshmen.
Here is a different definition of a safe school.
A safe school is a college that is quite likely to offer you admission. But that college also offers everything you want academically, financially and socially, and affordable for your family.
I know, it feels good to get into a school that is very difficult to get into. But selectivity is not a measure of quality. It is a measure of demand for a limited supply of seats. However, there are many colleges that offer high quality and achievable admissions. Over half of the nearly 1,400 colleges followed by the Pew Research Center admitted over two-thirds of their applicants. Many of these schools are quite popular with New Jersey residents, including the University of Delaware and Virginia Tech.
Is it possible to get everything you want from a college, especially a safe school?
Definitely, if you’re willing to do some research. Begin your research by asking yourself some questions. These include:
- What do you believe you will study in college? Is your heart set on a major, or do you want to have a choice of majors? Some schools are better than others when it comes to undecided students.
- How do you learn? Some people do fine listening to lectures, forming study groups and learning on their own. Others need more help from a teacher. Unlike your high school teachers who studied education, college professors are scholars, teaching assistants are graduate students and tutors are undergrads who recently took your class.
- Which activities outside of classes mean the most to you? Are these activities available at the schools you are considering? Do they have enough active members? Some schools make a strong impression based on their clubs and organizations; others offer an incredible spectator sports experience.
- How far away do you want to be? With the reality of COVID 19 more college-bound students want to be able to get home quickly and easily. But others want to go to college in a place that sounds exciting to them and get away from home.
- Where do you want to live after you finish college? Some schools have a large alumni base in a few metro areas. Others have a global alumni base. Are you a sports fan who hopes to cheer on your alma mater after graduation? You might want to choose a school where you can find watch party in any major city.
- Can you afford to stay at this school for the duration of your education? Colleges typically raise tuition and fees between three and five percent each year. Merit scholarships, student wages and student loan borrowing limits increase by less, or not at all. Other schools promise not to raise tuition, but they can increase fees.
In theory most, if not all, of the schools that fit your musts and wants should be safe schools.
Like many college admissions advisors I see too many lists with too many colleges that turn away most applicants. There’s nothing wrong with reaching for a school that has extremely selective admissions, especially if your academics are strong. But at the same time you should be left with an attractive set of choices among your acceptances.
Put as much effort into considering schools that are likely to offer admission as you would into considering those that will be a reach. College admissions are not just about getting in. They are also about finding and choosing a school that will give you everything you hope.
Want to know more about me? Check out these podcasts!
Listen to my talk, College Is A Learning AND Living Community, hosted by Dr. Cynthia Colon from Destination YOUniversity on Voice of America Radio!
Listen to my talk, What Exactly Is a Good College? hosted by test-prep experts Amy Seeley and Mike Bergin on Tests And The Rest!