Changing College List Categories from Reaches/Safeties to Unlikely/Extremely Likely

On the thread Are We Doing Enough for Our Kids’ Mental Health? it was proposed that the language of Reaches/Likelies/Matches/Safeties should be changed to Unlikely/Possible/Likely/Extremely Likely and there was a positive response from the readers on that thread to the idea. I suggested the change on the sticky post for how students should write their Match Me/Chance Me threads, but I’ve now been informed that this is the proper venue for that discussion.

There are several rationales behind the proposed change.

  • “Reaches” implies that if a student tries hard enough, they can do something to make it more likely to gain acceptance. But here at CC people realize that 95% of all denied students are highly qualified with great ECs, leadership, test scores, and GPAs. Using the term “Unlikely” shows that it’s a numbers/odds game and is no reflection on the quality of the applicant.
  • “Matches” for the uninitiated can often seem as though it should be a likely admission, when in reality it’s just a possibility of admission.
  • “Safeties” has gained more of a negative connotation over the years and students then seem to value more selective/competitive schools as a result (they want to attend the school that is hardest to get in) and can lead to a negative attitude toward a school that is a great fit for the student that has the bonus of also being highly likely to grant the student admission.
  • By focusing college lists on the likelihood of admission, students are able to emphasize finding the right fit for them and worrying less about the Top X or bust mentality.

Thus, what do people think of the terms below with respect to college list categorization and using them on Match Me/Chance Me threads as well as elsewhere on CC?

• Extremely Likely (90+% chance of acceptance and affordability…what has been called safeties)
• Likely (60-90% chance of acceptance)
• Possible (25-55% chance of acceptance)
• Unlikely (less than 25% chance of acceptance…what has been called reaches)

Tagging some of the people who showed interest on this topic before: @MWolf, @fiftyfifty1, @momofboiler1, @Thorsmom66, @EconPop, @jazzymomof7, @Tigerwife92, @CMA22, @DramaMama2021, @beebee3


I like the proposed new language because it puts the focus on the institution and the spots it makes available, rather than putting the focus on applicants and framing it as if they successfully meet some unknowable threshold of criteria or not. I tried to incorporate the new language in my response to a recent thread about “safety” (aka “likely”) schools:


I like the categories and the reasoning. They’re not as catchy, as, perhaps “reach”, Match", and “Safety”, but it is already a lot clearer what these actually mean.

Do other people think that the category of “Auto-admit” should be added? This is for cases in which all students with specific stats or class rank (and, in many cases, state residency) are assured admission to the college.


Yes to all of this, including an auto-admit category.

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I like the suggestions for changing category names.

In keeping with the theme of “unlikely”, “likely”, etc. I would suggest calling auto admit “guaranteed”

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I like these categories and will try to implement them going forward. Of course, I may forget occasionally as I get used to the new terms!


Well…I think on this forum, you can call these anything you want. But around here…the rest of the world calls them safeties, matches and reaches. That’s what our school counselors use for terms as well.

So…if this forum is going to go all in for name changes, I’m guessing there will be frequent questions about what these new terms mean relative to what is used in the general public.

I personally like to call safety schools “sure things for admission and affordability”.


I like the language shift. I’m happy to start using that language in my responses.

Honestly though I think the bigger problem isn’t in the verbiage but that high stats families seem to be over confident in how they construct their lists and that somehow if their stats are higher than the 75th percentile of accepted students, that means everything is a “likely.”

I’d love for there to be more focus on a school’s overall acceptance rate rather than a perceived chance of acceptance.

So, extremely likely are the schools with a published 90+% acceptance rate per their CDC.


“ Unlikely/Possible/Likely/Extremely Likely”

Adding…”unlikely” is sometimes just “not predictable due to very low acceptance rate”.

My opinion.

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I don’t agree. For some students, schools with a lower acceptance rate will still be a sure thing. Our instate public flagship university, for example, guarantees acceptance of all vals….but definitely has a lower than 90% acceptance rate. So for a class val, this school would be extremely likely…actually…guaranteed.

These terms are not the same metric for all applicants. They are a moving target depending on the strength of the student application.


Then in this case, that would be an “auto admit” situation that @MWolf suggested. Same would hold true for UT with the top 6%.

And that would be a sure thing…or safety. Right?

I will do what the group wants to do…but I do believe there will be lots of explaining to do if the terminology is changed…from what is used in the general public.

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Auto admit would equal sure thing/definite in my book. Of course then there is the problem of maybe not getting into the student’s intended major…

I think if we change verbiage, we’ll need a pinned thread front and center.

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And pinned in a LOT of places….parents forum, college search and selection, chances, actually almost everywhere where folks ask about their chances…


Personally I think it’s too confusing to adopt different categories here…because as others have pointed out, counselors every where else use some form of reach/match/likely/safety/auto admit categorization.

While I do appreciate the initiative, when we help students categorize schools here, the info we don’t have (essays, LoRs, counselor report, school profile and HS experience with a given college) makes it difficult for most anyone here to calculate some type of probability of acceptance for students.

I also agree with thumper’s point that for some students from top high schools, these categorizations can be different. @Homerdog’s D21 thread is the perfect example of this…some of the mid-range schools (say 30%-40% acceptance rates) that her D was applying to were highly likelies per the school’s naviance and GC, yet some posters were adamant that homerdog was foolish to categorize them as such. Homerdog’s classification turned out to be correct.


Well, in my own posts I’ve started using the suggested language and it hasn’t seemed to cause any confusion (see posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). I think when the terms we use mean what most people think they’re going to mean, without needing to have specialized knowledge, it helps minimize confusion and increases accessibility. And perhaps it can help students and families understand what is meant by reaches/matches/likelies/safeties, if they even have counselors who are using those terms (a recent thread mentioned how most public high schools get minimal to no college counseling from their school).

Granted, I’ve thrown in the percentages with the categories on an initial use in a thread to make sure that readers know how I’m defining the terms. I also tend to make a statement that the top X schools are unlikely for everyone because of the odds, not because a student would be a poor candidate. I’m fine adding in a guaranteed category as well.

With respect to which admissions rate to use when chancing people, I think that’s the beauty of humans typing in responses rather than a computerized system. Anyone can do a quick search and find the percentage that a university admits. But when we add that data and then see what a student’s GPA and test scores are (particularly if it’s a high/low situation or low-low or high-high) we can interpret that. We can look at a school’s admission breakdown by GPA and see where a student might fit. What other factors the student has that might improve or worsen their odds. It’s not an exact science, but human brains making their best estimates of someone’s chances. How many times have people posting about the chancing done by various websites/software and then seen very different results in real life?

Anyway, I don’t want to post too much, but I look forward to hearing others’ thoughts on the proposal.


Regardless of terminology, I think the most important public service on this website is giving the true definition of a “safety” (or “extremely likely” or “sure thing” or whatever we call it) so that parents and students understand that this category isn’t as much about number matching or Naviance forecasting or anything like that, but instead amounts to a guarantee of going to college. So auto-admit fits, but so do schools with rolling or early admission that allow enough time for additional apps to be completed if they don’t materialize as admissions before Jan 1. And the finances have to work, and the kid has to be happy with the idea of going there (we can discuss “happy” at another time). Therein lies the origin of the word “safety” but OP I do understand that the term has taken on a negative connotation in certain crowds (I have heard one or more Ivies use it as an insult to another Ivy in their sports cheers…so wrong in so many ways).


All in good fun during hockey games ; )

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I think counselors would be thrilled to have the word “safety” removed from the list development. Likely and extremely likely shift the conversation to the positive attributes instead of a prescriptive list of safeties.


I think that they would even more thrilled to remove “reach”, which implies that the students isn’t good enough. “Extremely unlikely” again, like “extremely likely” will shift the conversation to the neutral attributes of the college which make admissions unlikely, rather than to attributes of the students which are generally perceived as negative.