Are these Targets/Safeties?

I’m a Junior assembling my college list, and I’m trying to give myself a reality check on which colleges are actually safeties (yes, I know safeties don’t exist for a CS major) and targets. I didn’t include the schools which I know are definitely reaches, but I am applying to reach schools as well.


  • US Citizen
  • State: New York
  • Type of high school: public HS, pretty average
  • Gender/Race/Ethnicity: Female, not an URM

Intended Major(s)
Computer Science

GPA, Rank, and Test Scores

  • Unweighted HS GPA: 4.0
  • Weighted HS GPA: Not sure (calculators say around 4.5 but my school uses a 100-point system) but all my classes are taken at the highest level offered
  • Class Rank: School doesn’t do this, but I’m definitely near the top
  • ACT/SAT Scores: 1590 (800 Math, 790 Verbal)

APs: AP Computer Science A (self-studied), AP World History (5), AP Calculus BC (5), AP Biology (5), currently taking AP US History, AP Physics 1 (school doesn’t offer II or C), AP Language & Composition, will take AP Government, AP Literature, and AP Chemistry next year.
Math: Took AP Calculus BC in sophomore year, continued with Stanford ULO Linear Algebra (earned an A) and AoPS Intermediate Number Theory. I will take more calculus next year.
Language: French IV, school has discontinued the program though
Music: Symphonic Band, Jazz Band, All-State Alternate

National Cyber Scholarship Finalist
Qualified for MathCON Nationals (last year)
Random school awards
FIRST Robotics Competition Dean’s List Semifinalist
Girl Scout Gold Award
Presidential Service Award, Gold
Scholastic Art & Writing Competition Silver Keys in Science Fiction/Fantasy, Short Story, and Poetry

Co-President of the science club (won the team our two regional Science Olympiad medals for our first year of it)
CyberStart (Cybersecurity competition)
FIRST Robotics Competition (programmer)
Girl Scouts
Metropolitan Youth Orchestra
Random things like Mathletes and Book Club
NHS (I know, it’s meaningless)
Research: Stony Brook CSIRE bioinformatics project (no competitions) in summer of 2021, SSP this coming summer

Probably good LORs—my teachers like me, but aren’t always super experienced with this
Essays—Haven’t written them yet but I love writing and have a lot of experience with personal essays.

I’m trying to determine which of these are actually safeties or targets. Like I said earlier, I do have high reach schools, but I haven’t included these.


  • SUNY Stony Brook (in-state)
  • SUNY Binghamton (in-state)
  • Drexel
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • University of Pittsburgh


  • WPI
  • Northeastern
  • Case Western
  • University of Maryland
  • Penn State
  • UMass Amherst

I suspect, however, that Northeastern and maybe UMD may be reaches and Stony Brook may be a target? How many targets and how many safeties should I be applying to, considering that I also have reaches on my list?

I think you’re right: from what I’ve read here on this site, Northeastern may be a reach for everyone.


My thought is you only need 2 safeties. After that you can do all reaches or a mix of match/reaches. Your call.

More importantly, what is your budget? Run the NPC for some schools. That will play a big role in your list. Next would be what type of college experience you’re after.

You’re a strong candidate anywhere. It’s just very competitive for CS anywhere you go. Personally, I think you’re aiming too low. You could add places like CMU or Stanford if affordable.

Your list looks Ok. UMD and maybe UMass are reaches for CS. I think in-state SUNY makes sense for a safety. Case loves demonstrated interest so I wouldn’t apply unless you plan to show interest.


If you apply early, Pitt is a safety for CS. By early, I mean August or September.

On CC this year, there were multiple (I think 2) CS applicants with 1550+ SATS who applied later to Pitt and were waitlisted.

Resources seem so limited with CS, that it seems a school like Pitt fills the CS class so quickly with qualified applicants that they end up turning other qualified applicants away.

Your application stats and ECS are fantastic, but if their cohort is filled, it’s filled. Just make sure you submit early to Pitt so that it really is a safety.


Unfortunately I probably won’t be able to visit Case Western, but I’ve clicked on all their email links and will try to go to some of their information sessions. Is this generally enough to demonstrate interest, or would demonstrated interest entail physically visiting the college?

I’d say Penn State and WPI are safeties.

If you have two safeties, you can stop. You are good. And you do. Anywhere you apply then works. Just make sure you’d be happy at your safer. Then you can go all the way up…like Ga Tech and CMU with your stats.

You didn’t mention budget or cost. Before applying to out of state publics or northeastern you need to know what your parents are willing to pay and if you qualify for aid.

If not you’d get a smoking deal at both Alabama and Arizona. Like under $20k all in….ie including room & board…thanks to your awesome performance.

If you are full pay but your parents say $50k a year (they won’t pay $80k.”, etc) then applying to Northeastern is ok but it’s unlikely to hit cost.

So your list is great but make sure you have the budget chat with your folks…not just what they can afford but what they are willing to afford. This way you don’t do like many do and apply to schools your family would not let you attend.

Edit. I just read a previous message from @chmcnm what they said !!!

Thanks! That’s good advice about Pitt. I was planning to apply early to get an earlier response, but I wasn’t aware of how much it mattered. So if I apply I’ll definitely make sure to apply in August/September.


Thank you for the budget advice! My parents have been pretty vague about what they could afford. They said that the extreme reach meets-need schools would offer us some aid if I got in but not a lot and they would “make it work.” Price would likely be a factor when deciding between safety/target schools, but I’m not sure how big of a factor and there doesn’t seem to be a hard line of how much they’re willing to spend. So it seems like I’ll have to let them compare offers and decide which are financially viable.

Nope. You need to give them the theoretical sup front. If Alabama or Arizona are $20k but Penn State Is $53k then where can I go ?

You may look at schools that give merit like Miami Ohio, U of South Carolina and more. Or cheaper schools like Florida and Florida State.

Narrowing down on budget has to be b4 you build a list. Not after. So you don’t build the wrong list.

If SUNY B works then it doesn’t matter but you’d be angling to it up front and destined to go there if you didn’t build your list properly.

Not all schools will get you to a desired # but all should have the potential to do so.

You should run the NPC for Northeastern, for example. Your parents said they’d qualify but so they really know? And for how much ? And no two schools determine need to the exact same amount.

Good luck.


Great advice above all create a spreadsheet with all your schools on it. Then enter in costs, room /board, scholarship dates to apply for etc etc then sit down with your parents. Run the numbers and see what is realistic. The “we will make it work” approach rarely succeeds. Your hard work will give you many options.

BTW - if anything this year has taught us is to apply early everywhere. You have no reason not to.


Thanks—my mother, who’s probably spying on this thread, was inspired to run the NPC at Northeastern. She says it’s affordable and less than expected. Also, I got her to explain that my parents have a “soft budget” of 40k-50k. They theoretically could pay more but would prefer to pay less, of course, and we might have to determine how much more one college is really worth than another even if they are both “affordable”.

I wanted to clarify: my parents ran the NPC at several reach schools and determined they could afford it. They just won’t share the tuition amount with me because they don’t want me involved in their finances. So they’re not going into this blind.

Trying to edit this info into the original post, but unfortunately I can’t figure out how.


OK - so again, you can get down in the 20s.

But you might want to include schools that offer merit - a UD instead of or in addition to (you have 20 spots) a UMD. A South Carolina, Miami of Ohio, Ohio State vs. a Penn State, etc…A Missouri Science & Tech or UAH if you want a smaller school or Colorado School of Mines, etc. A UMN, etc…schools that offer merit basically vs. a Penn State which may get you about there but not as easily.

I agree with @michaeluwill that you can get into all - but can you get in at the right price?

The answer lies in your definition of safety.

I think you will be admitted to all of them.

Agreed. I think you’ll get into all the schools. 1590 SAT, near the top of your class and all those EC’s.

I understand how people think every good school is a “reach” but chances are probably pretty good you’ll get in all those schools.

UMD CS is a target only if you apply EA. They fill 95% of their class through EA so it becomes a high reach for CS during RD.

Northeastern and CWRU both care a lot about yield and they use predictive analytics to figure out if someone with high stats and strong accomplishments like you will actually attend if admitted. Given these uncertainties I’d mark them both a reach based on your profile.

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Yes and no - CWRU yield is 15%-ish - so not so sure that’s true. Agree it’s not an easy in - but a female with these stats - I’d say match, low reach.

Make absolutely sure to create a SUNY option or two that you would be happy to attend. Things happen. Family finances change. Fin aid awards vary from what was expected. So make sure that Stony Brook, Buffalo, Binghamton are on your list, and realize that you may wind up going to one of them.

If you would be happy to go to one of the SUNYs, you don’t need to create other safeties/targets. If you would prefer one of them over the SUNYs, then yes, you should apply, but don’t bother to apply to them just to pad your chances of getting into some safety. You’re a superb applicant, plus in Comp Sci being a woman is helpful.

RPI will very likely give you significant merit money. They want women to improve their gender imbalance.

Have your parents also open the emails that Case sends them and click on some of their links and spend time on the sites that the links direct them to!

Case really really cares about demonstrates interest, but my son got in last year without visiting (of course, this was mostly during high-covid and many campuses were closed so I don’t know how case is feeling about it now).

If I had those numbers I’d have a longer, and more ambitious, list of targets.

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You are falling into the common CC fallacy of “lower acceptance” = better choice.

The college list should be made up of the colleges which the student would like to attend. While a students should avoid setting their heart on colleges which accept very few students with similar profiles, there is absolute no reason for a student to go out of their way to add those colleges.

In all honesty, why are you recommending that the OP apply to a college which admits 10% of their applicants, just because they admit 20% of applicants with profiles similar to the OPs?

This advice is merely encouraging the idea that “a highly accomplished kid would only really be happy if the colleges they attend has an acceptance rate of under 20%”. This notion the single most common reason that we get devastated parents and students coming here, absolutely certain that their lives (or their kids lives) are over, and that they or the kids are doomed to a life of misery because they were not accepted to any of the low-acceptance colleges to which they applied.

We were just discussing the student from Texas who was encouraged to think of herself as an ideal candidate for “an Ivy” from the time she was in Middle School, and how unhappy she was when she was rejected from them all. At the end she chose merit funding over her admission to UT Austin, a definitely to college. However, has she not had this attitude pumped into her for years, she would have been pretty happy about having the amazing choice between good merit funding versus an auto-admit to one of the top universities of the country, instead of feeling inadequate or feeling that the system was unfair to her.

It all came back to “you’re really good, you should apply to a more ‘elite’ college”.