Don’t dismiss safer-bet colleges as lower in quality or places where a student won’t be challenged.
Some students and parents balk at the term “safety school” — or are even dismissive of such an option, according to Kiersten Murphy, president of Murphy College Consultants in Issaquah.
But it’s important to counterbalance an application to a highly selective university with a highly realistic option where admission is likely, Murphy says — without dismissing safer-bet schools as lower in quality or a place where a student won’t be challenged.
After all, families might remember that there are thousands of 4.0 students “applying to the same small pool of schools that admit a very small amount of talented applicants,” Murphy says. “They are literally going to deny more than they accept.”
In other words, not everyone can go to Stanford — there aren’t enough seats. Just 4.3 percent of 2018 applicants to Stanford were accepted, according to The Mercury News.
What is a safety school? A college or university that admits more than 70 percent of applicants, and one in which the applying student falls within the mid-50 percent or higher of the school’s admitted students’ test scores and GPA, according Seattle-based G2 College consultant Catherine Gaston.
“I view a ‘safety’ or ‘likely’ school as one that is not only a good match for a student, but also one in which I’m very confident a student will be admitted,” Gaston says.
So a safety school for one student may not be a safety for another.
“These should be colleges where the students would be happy and excited to attend,” Murphy says, with a student’s interest cemented through campus visits and meeting with admission counselors to determine great student-school fit.
Admissions officers consider a student’s rigor of curriculum, essays, letters of recommendation, personal qualities or talents, and extracurricular activities. “Colleges want to build a class of interesting students who will contribute to their communities both in and out of the classroom,” Murphy says.
Gaston encourages clients to have an application list that includes reaches, matches and likely schools. “I might be conservative, but I define any school that accepts less than 20 percent of their applicants as a reach for anyone,” Gaston says. “A reach is also a school that may accept more than 20 percent, but the applicant’s GPA or test scores are lower than the mid-50 percent of those admitted.”
A match is a school that admits 20–70 percent of applicants, and where the student’s GPA and test scores are within the mid-50 percent of admits.
Despite being a surer bet or not as selective, accepting a safety-school offer doesn’t mean a student won’t get a good education or college experience, Gaston says. She points to “amazing” students “attending one of their safety schools, even though they had other nonsafety options, and are thriving academically socially and personally.”
The cost of tuition is one reason more students may be accepting offers to safety schools. Because the cost of attendance should be a factor when students evaluate fit, a safety school can be “a school the student can afford to attend,” says Lauren Gaylord, also with G2 College.
“I have noticed a trend over the last few admission cycles … more and more students are enrolling at safer-bet colleges,” Murphy says, with students declining invitations to highly selective, private colleges admitting fewer than 20 percent of applicants and attending an affordable state university with a higher admit rate.
These options could be a better financial fit for the student’s family, Murphy points out, be it a lower-cost, in-state public university or a university where receiving a merit scholarship is probable.
“However, students should also recognize that just because the school is a more favorable admit doesn’t guarantee merit money, so do your homework, and understand the college’s policies,” Murphy says.
A “financial safety” pick contributes to the truly well-rounded college list, Murphy notes.
“Students seem to be more aware of the financial burden for their parents, and want to attend a college that is affordable,” she says.