You may be surprised by the number of unfamiliar terms associated with college and college life. Undergraduate, TA, accreditation, Greek life, the FAFSA—high school counselors and college admissions officers use these terms every day. Unfortunately, they don’t always stop to explain what each term means.
The “College Speak” series explains the college-oriented vocab that you need to be in the know and focus on the more important questions, such as “which school would be the best fit for me?”
Today’s terms are:
- reach school,
- match school, and
- safety school.
Selectivity: How difficult it is to gain admission to any particular school.
A school may be very selective, not selective at all, or anywhere in-between. The least selective colleges have open admission policies that, by definition, are un-selective—these schools admit every student who applies.
High selectivity, on the other hand, can be expressed in a couple of different ways. It may be seen in an admission process where only a small percentage of applicants are admitted. It may also be seen in a pool of applicants with very high qualifications. Such applicants have impressive transcripts, extracurricular activities, standardized test, essays, teacher recommendations, etc. Admission to the most selective schools is competitive in terms of both the number and the quality of the applicants.
Most schools are in-between very selective and open admissions—these schools are moderately selective. About 90 percent of the schools in The Princeton Review’s The Best 373 Colleges book fall into this category.
For these schools, you can get a sense of your chances of admission by looking at the average GPA and standardized test scores for the current freshman class. Doing so, you should be able to sort most of these schools into three categories: reach, match, and safety (see below).
Note that these categories don’t work for the most selective schools. Admission to these schools is so competitive that it is difficult to guarantee yourself a spot even if you have perfect grades and test scores. At the most selective schools, admissions officers rely heavily on subjective impressions of an applicant when making their decisions.
Many students add an unhealthy amount of stress to their lives in an effort to gain any perceived edge in applying to the most selective schools. For this reason, it’s not a good idea to make admission to a very selective school the only acceptable outcome of your application process. It might be nice to gain admission to a very selective school, but it certainly isn’t the only ticket to a successful future.
Reach School: A school whose admissions standards somewhat exceed your credentials.
PrincetonReview.com provides the academic profile of the current freshman class at over 2,000 colleges and universities. This profile includes its average high school GPA as well as the “middle 50%” (a.k.a. the 25th and 75th percentile) scores for both ACT and SAT takers.
While there are always exceptions, your odds of gaining admission to a school are relatively low if your standardized test scores are below the 25th percentile and your current high school GPA is half a point below the average.
If, however, your grades and scores are hovering around these marks, you still might apply to such a school—you’ll still have a shot, even if it is a long shot. This school would be considered a reach.
(If, on the other hand, your test scores are significantly below the 25th percentile and your current high school GPA is more than half a point below the average, the school would no longer be a reach—it’d be closer to a fantasy.)
While it’s okay to apply to one or two reach schools, you shouldn’t apply to more than three of them—it’s just not worth your time and money to do so.
Match School: A school whose admissions standards resemble your credentials.
You can visit PrincetonReview.com to find info on a school’s current freshman class. Your odds of gaining admission to that school should be about the same as its admissions rate if your standardized test scores are between the 25th and 75th percentiles and your current high school GPA is close to the average. Such a school would be considered a match.
You should focus most of your school research on match schools and eventually apply to three to five of them.
Safety School: A school whose admissions standards are below your credentials.
You can visit PrincetonReview.com to find info on a school’s current freshman class. Your odds of gaining admission to that school are relatively high if your standardized test scores are above the 75th percentile and your current high school GPA is half a point above the average. Such a school would be considered a safety.
You should definitely apply to one or two safety schools. As the name implies, these schools will provide a fallback option—or two—if you don’t get accepted to any other schools (it sometimes happens). There are also good financial reasons to apply to safety schools.
The trick with safety schools is finding schools that you actually wouldn’t mind attending. If you wouldn’t be caught dead at your safety schools, you need to look for new ones.