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Determining reach/match/safety schools for top test scores

esperebleespereble 2 replies2 threads New Member
I'll be a senior in the fall, and I've been working on compiling my college list for some time. My list currently consists of about 20 small liberal arts colleges. I'm trying to pare it down to around 10 by the fall, but I'm struggling to figure out a distinction between reaches/matches/safeties so that I can make my list balanced.

I have a perfect ACT score (36 composite and on all sections except the essay portion, which I didn't take) and 3.95 GPA (4.66 weighted). I've heard that schools with less than a 15-20 percent acceptance rate are reaches for everyone, which makes sense. What's the distinction between a match and safety, though, when my ACT is above the 75th percentile for all the schools on my list? Or rather than focusing on the specifics of match vs safety, should I just aim for a range of acceptance rates? I have decent variety in acceptance rates already - from 10 to 70 percent with a lot in the middle - but as I pare down my list I'm trying to figure out how many schools with higher acceptance rates I need to keep on there.

Thanks in advance for any advice!
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Replies to: Determining reach/match/safety schools for top test scores

  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 83477 replies741 threads Senior Member
    Safety = assured admission, assured affordability
    Match = good chance of admission with affordability
    Reach = all others

    Note: if affordability requires earning a merit scholarship, reach/match/safety must be based on the scholarship, not admission.
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  • LindagafLindagaf 10848 replies588 threads Super Moderator
    You will be competitive for all LACs. I would say that colleges with 40% and higher acceptance rates will almost all be safeties, as long as you show interest. LACs with acceptance rates from 40%-20% are matches, but no guarantee at all. Everything else is a reach. And of course, colleges such as Swat, Williams, Amherst and Pomona will be high reaches for all.

    To ensure a balanced list, I think you could apply to a couple of safeties, including at least one with a high acceptance rate, say 50% or higher. Apply to about 3-4 matches, say from 40%-20%. Then maybe four or so reaches, including/plus a couple of high reaches, if interested. Really depends on how much work you want to do, how much you want to spend on app fees, how strong your desire is to attend certain colleges, etc....

    To answer your question re your perfect test score and safeties, the thing about LACs is that they tend to care a lot about interest. My D applied to a bunch of LACs, and just graduated. One had a 70% acceptance rate at the time. She had a high test score, got in with merit, but other students with even higher stats were denied. D visited and completed all the supplements, even optional ones. She showed genuine interest. The less selective LACs want to protect their yield, so they aren’t likely to admit you just because your score is high.

    Another example, for one college, D was in the top 75th percentile for what should have been a match, around a 30% acceptance rate. They waitlisted her, though she got into the other matches she applied to. She got into one reach school (not a high reach) and was offered a waitlist spot at another reach. She ended up going to that college. With all colleges she was accepted to, even the two safeties, she showed genuine interest.

    Who knows how the current situation will change admissions, but for the most selective schools, not much will change I think. They will still want to see real interest.
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  • MidwestmomofboysMidwestmomofboys 4190 replies27 threads Senior Member
    edited June 2
    I would add that, for LACs, it is not just stats and interest, but also fit with the campus culture. Spend time on potential safety/match/reach schools' websites to read the headlines, how does the school talk about itself, its values, its culture and its community?

    For instance, when my LAC kid stumbled on a match/safety school which highlighted that its students were "doers" -- we knew that was a good fit for him. While that was not where he actually went, it helped him understand the kind of campus he was looking for and where he would be valued. Also, once he knew his "flavor" of LAC, it was easier to build a list of similar schools across a range of selectivity. For instance, a student might look at: Wesleyan/Vassar/Oberlin/Lawrence. Or, they might look at Middlebury, Bates, St. Lawrence. Parents here often express surprise at lists that don't reflect coherence about that kind of "fit" -- for instance, a list which might include Wesleyan, Oberlin, Trinity CT, Rhodes, Sewanee. While a single student might be happy at all of those, there are some cultural differences which suggest a student might dig deeper to get a better handle on them.

    If you can get a handle on your "fit," that can help with narrowing your list.
    edited June 2
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  • BKSquaredBKSquared 1641 replies8 threads Senior Member
    Use rolling admissions, early action and potentially early decision to your advantage. The goal is to get 1 or more admissions decisions before regular decision application deadlines. Many state schools and their honor colleges have rolling admissions. Some selective schools have early admissions, some of which do not restrict you from applying to other schools early, some of which restrict you from applying early anywhere else. Most of the highly selective LACs are early decision, which binds you to attendance if you get in with limited exceptions. If you have a clear favorite that is affordable, ED may be advantageous as it will likely give you an admissions boost.

    With rolling admissions and early action in play, you will have more information to make regular decision application decisions. If you are accepted somewhere, you can just apply to schools you ranked higher than the one(s) you got in unless you are chasing merit money at a lower ranked school. Your RD list can then be very reachy. If you are rejected, you may need to adjust your RD list to include more matches and safeties. If you are deferred, you are back to square 0. So with that in mind, you can still have 15-20 schools on your list, but you might end up only applying to 10 or less depending on your early results.
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  • LindagafLindagaf 10848 replies588 threads Super Moderator
    @Midwestmomofboys , definitely. Fit is super important and those small colleges need to be sure you’ll be comfortable. If you want a straightforward take on it, students who don’t fit might leave, and that’s lost revenue.
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  • CCEdit_SurajCCEdit_Suraj 89 replies162 threads Editor
    Based on your question! You may be able to find your answer in this recent article from College Confidential, which covered this topic in depth. You can read it here: https://insights.collegeconfidential.com/how-to-choose-dream-target-and-safety-schools
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  • chmcnmchmcnm 692 replies6 threads Member
    All T20 schools are reaches. One of my friends kids had perfect scores/grades with EC's and was denied from 2 Ivies.

    If you need merit to make it affordable treat it as a reach. There are threads on CC with kids who expected $X merit based on prior year's stats only to be disappointed. It happens.

    One addition to a safety school is you must be happy to attend. Again, many threads on CC with kids who "knew" they would go to their reach/match schools only to find they had to go to their safety school for whatever reason. Lots of disappointment. It's easy to pick reaches but harder to find matches and safeties. Spend time researching safeties too.

    Narrowing list to 10 or less is probably good. You can only go to one school. Do research and target the schools you like. It's a lot of work writing essays, applying for scholarships, and visiting colleges.

    Maybe start a thread with details about your location, EC's, and potential areas of interest. Lots of good resources here.
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  • esperebleespereble 2 replies2 threads New Member
    Thanks all for your comments and advice!

    I've been trying to prioritize some schools based on fit, but it's a bit of a struggle since I only had the chance to visit one school before all of this. (I was going to start looking in earnest over spring break, but that obviously fell through because of the pandemic, and summer may not be a possibility either.) I am trying to attend online info sessions and other digital opportunities, so that's something (and hopefully helps demonstrate interest, too).

    Using early action to have at least one school that I like and an admitted to before all the others is a good idea, so thanks especially @BKSquared for bringing that up. There are several schools on my list that have early action, so I'll definitely keep that in mind.
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  • mikemacmikemac 10582 replies154 threads Senior Member
    edited June 3
    D visited and completed all the supplements, even optional ones. She showed genuine interest.
    This is a key for LACs, especially the optional supplements. It gives the adcom a great filter to see who really wants to attend. A motivated kid will use every opportunity to put their case across, ones will less interest will skip it because after all it is optional. And this also helps explain why the questions can be so quirky. They want to ask a question unlike ones anyone else is asking so you can't repurpose an essay for another college.
    edited June 3
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