It’s that time of the year when you’re building your college list, and the college counselor looks over to you and asks, “What are your safety, match, and reach colleges?” Sure, we might know what those words technically mean, but how do we really know which category each college falls under?
Before you dive into the chaos of CollegeConfidential forums or ask Reddit for their anonymous opinion, think again because this process is a lot more complex.
Let’s take a look at your application. Look at your GPA, standardized test scores, leadership positions, and extracurriculars. Where do you rank in your class? How many AP or IB classes have you taken?
This helps you sort out the obvious. If your GPA or standardized test score is lower than a college’s typical acceptance rate, it’s probably a reach; vice versa for safeties.
Keep in mind, your “safety” should be a school where you are almost certain that you will be accepted. It doesn’t have to be your last choice! In fact, you should love your safety and be excited if you’re accepted there.
But that is only the first step. A lot of internet gurus stop right there, and they’re missing an important piece that college admissions officers take into serious consideration: context.
Think about what type of school you’re coming from. What is your high school’s reputation and how does it rank nationally? Where have alumni of your high school gone before? Alumni not only provide a roadmap for applicants like yourself, but college admission officers also recognize your school based on the alumni that have matriculated to their university or college.
Another important point to contextualize: How competitive is the college? What is their acceptance rate? Depending on where you stand, the most competitive school on your list can be a state school or an Ivy League.
Remember, a “reach” is a college that you have a low chance of getting into. At this point, it’s not a reflection of your grades, scores, or even how strong of an applicant you are. It’s closer to a lottery! Even if you’re top of your class with perfect grades and test scores, it’s likely that any college with less than 10% acceptance is going to be a reach.
Between “safety” and “reach” schools, “matches” are a little trickier to pin down! These are going to be colleges that have a good history with taking in students that fall just in your range of grades, scores, and essays. It helps if they recognize your school and have accepted alumni in the past. But these are also competitive places that you have a 50-50 chance on!
As you are going through this process, remember that it’s going to be a lot more personalized to yourself. Who you are as an applicant is more than just your grades and scores! It’s also your essays, letters of recommendation, and the history of students before you and potentially after!