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Reaching and Playing It Safe: Choosing Colleges

Reaching and Playing It Safe: Choosing Colleges

Know the difference between reaching and playing it safe during your college search.

By Jennifer LeClaire

June 03, 2009

Are you a realist or a go-getter? The answer could define your strategy for selecting your college of choice.

There are three legs on the college application stool. You could apply to a “reach” school — one you might get in. You could apply to a “safety” school — one that you should easily get in. Or you could go after a “target” school — one that gives you a 50-50 shot at admission.

So, you ask, what should you consider when selecting reach, safety and target schools? The ultimate goal is to avoid getting too daring with a middle-of-the-road GPA and, by the same token, too safe with your stellar academics. Either way you could wind up wishing you’d made different decisions. Making the right choice begins with understanding the university landscape today.

“Having a good list includes having a few reach colleges, more target colleges and a few probables,” says Janet Rosier, an independent admissions consultant in Woodbridge, Connecticut. “In today’s highly competitive college admissions environment, we don’t even refer to colleges as safeties anymore.”

Reaching for Admissions

The first rule of thumb when applying to a reach school is this: Knowing which school is a bit of a stretch and which school is a “there’s-just-no-possible-way-you-can-get-in,” according to Salvadore Liberto, vice president of enrollment and dean of admissions at Newbury College in Brookline, Massachusetts. The first option is not a hopeless case, he says. The second one is.

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“Since admission standards can vary from year to year, you will want to make sure you know the up-to-date GPA, courses requirements and test score averages for your potential reach school,” Liberto says. “Even better, talk to an admissions counselor at that school to find out the projected requirements in the year you are applying.”

Playing it Safe

When it comes to the safety school, the selection advice is simple: Make sure you like the school. Don’t pick a school just because you know you can get in, Liberto suggests.


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