As if the college process wasn’t complicated enough, you’ve probably heard your counselors and parents use a lot of confusing and different terminology to refer to some colleges. Words like “safety schools,” “target schools,” or “reach schools,” get thrown around a lot when crafting college lists. While these terms are entirely subjective, there are rough definitions for each of them that you should be familiar with when choosing some of the schools you’ll look into and possibly apply to.
A safety school is a school in which your chances of admission are very high because most, if not all, of your scores are well above the SAT/ACT median scores and GPA. For example, if you have a SAT score of 1400 and a GPA of 3.5, a university with an average SAT score of 1200 and median GPA of 2.8 could be characterized as a “safety school.” At some state schools, if you reach a certain requirement in terms of class rank, GPA, or SAT score, you will automatically gain admission, thereby rendering that school a “safety school”.
You should always apply to a couple of safety schools, just in case you are not accepted into other schools on your list. At the same time, do not blow off your essays and extracurriculars because you expect that you will be admitted to these schools.
A target school is a school in which you have a decent shot at admission because most, if not all, of your scores fall within the SAT/ACT median scores and GPA. For example, if you have a SAT score of 1400 and a GPA of 3.5, a university with an average SAT score of 1380 and median GPA of 3.45 could be characterized as a “target school.”
You should have a good amount of target schools on your list. Like the rest of the schools on your list, you should put a lot of effort into your essays and extracurriculars.
A reach school is a school in which you have an improbable shot at admission because most if not all, of your scores fall below the SAT/ACT median scores and GPA. For example, if you have a SAT score of 1400 and a GPA of 3.5, a university with an average SAT score of 1550 and median GPA of 3.9 could be characterized as a “target school.”
Even if your scores are well above the average, any school with an acceptance rate of 20% or below should be characterized as a “reach school.” These schools are likely to be highly competitive and receive numerous applications from students with scores similar to yours.
Don’t be discouraged and exclude reach schools from your list. At the same time, don’t be overly ambitious and apply to all reach schools.
Things begin to grow a little fuzzy and hard to characterize when your SAT score is above a median, but your GPA is far below. Furthermore, because your application also includes essays and information about your extracurriculars, it can be sometimes be hard to tell whether or not you’ll be accepted into a school. Again, these characterizations are just “rough” categories.
Lastly, college admissions can be very unpredictable. Plenty of people get rejected from their “safety schools,” despite having scores well above the average, and accepted to their “reach schools,” despite having scores well below the median. Regardless, remember to diversify your application pool with safety, target, and reach schools. Above all, put your best foot forward, no matter the school you are applying to!
-Idil (Class of 2021)