Need help finding safeties and matches

I’m a rising senior, so I’m just trying to refine my list and narrow down my options a bit. I just want to see if anyone had any other recommendations before I start applying. What matters the most is finding a school who gives a good amount of aid and is affordable. I’m paying for college all by myself and won’t qualify for most need based aid.

Ideal College:

  • I don’t care if it’s in rural, small town or urban, I just want it to be a beautiful campus with lots of resources for students.

  • I don’t care for all women’s or religious schools.

  • I want the student body to be chill and friendly.

  • Good school for the social sciences, education, and humanities. I plan on majoring in political science and sociology/psychology.

  • I want to attend a school with a work hard/play hard culture. I don’t want people to be high-strung about academics, but I don’t want them to not care about them either.

  • Ideally, I would like a college near the south. I’m currently thinking of VA, NC, SC, PA, TN, and possibly FL.

  • Generous merit aid, and a school that gives good aid for the middle class, if possible.

  • No grade deflation

  • This isn’t a huge factor for me, but it’d be nice to attend a college with lots of activities to do by it. Like a college near the beach, mountains, etc.

Demographics: Female, White, First-Gen

State of Residency: PA

ACT/SAT/: I got a 1270 on the last one. I’m going to retake it, but I’m willing to apply test optional to most schools.

UW/W GPA and Rank:: I’m going to have a 4.1-4.3 weighted gpa. My unweighted is a 3.9


  • Honors English 9
  • Honors Civics
  • Honors English 10
  • AP Human Geography
  • Honors Chemistry
  • AP English Lit 11
  • AP Euro
  • AP English 12
  • AP Bio


  • Cheerleading (11 years)

  • Have Two Jobs

  • National Honor Society/NJHS

  • Girl Scouts (12 years)

  • Yearbook (5 years)

  • The Future is Mine (3 years; club that helps kids with their futures)

  • Gate (?; my school said this could count as an extracurricular since we did community projects)

  • Wrestling Manager (I decided to do this for season year because I like the sport and just learned about it)

  • I have tons of volunteering experience . I have helped elders in community homes, held trash cleanup events at our local sports Rec area, and more. If you’d like more details just ask

  • I was a leader for the local cheer clinic we had, I set up the event and taught the young girls some cheers for our youth program

  • party organizer for a Girl Scout cookie event

  • Not sure if this counts, but I also train new employees at my work.


  • I don’t have this yet, but I plan on getting my GS Gold Award. I should receive it by the middle to end of my senior year.
  • I also got high honor roll all throughout HS.
  • AP Scholar (predicted)

Schools Already on My Radar (not planning on applying to all of them, but they all are interesting in some way to me):

Reach –

  • WFU (Wake Forest)
  • UVA/Vanderbilt/Duke (only applying to one T20-T50 school to see what happens)

Match –

  • University of Pittsburgh
  • U of Richmond
  • U of Miami
  • Duquesne University

Safety –

  • WVU
  • Penn State

James Madison for sure would be a good safety. I’m not sure I’d consider Penn State a safety unless it’s a branch campus.

And Pitt, Richmond and Miami are probably high match to reaches. Duquesne may be a safety. Definitely run the numbers also as Miami is quite high.

What about West Chester?

If you are looking for merit and nit eligible for FA (like many middle class families), you need to find safeties. I don’t think Pitt came in under $40,000 a year for my daughter with higher stats and significantly better test scores, she didn’t even bother to apply to Penn State because it would be unaffordable. She needed to get enough merit to bring the cost down to around $35,000 a year (what our in state flagship costs). Where do you live, in many cases, that’s the best option financially. A lot of the time those getting great merit awards are those with Ivy stats going yo less selective schools.

Check out Sewanee – University of the South. Although it is affiliated with the Episcopal Church, I wouldn’t describe it as a “religious school” in the sense that I think you are using the phrase.

Eckerd sounds perfect for you! I have no idea what the financials are like, but it’s got the work hard/play hard culture for sure, right near the beach, strong academic program. They have tons of supports, and for the most part people I know there have had a great experience.

To give the best guidance, it would be helpful to know your budget. Did I miss that? I see that you do not expect need-based aid but will be paying yourself… do you feel comfortable providing more information? Do you have savings?

Many of the schools you listed could be high reaches due to the COA. For example, UVA is a reach both for OOS admittance and affordability, unless you can pay $70k/year (or get the very competitive Jefferson Scholarship). Most likely you should add less selective schools that will want to attract a student with your stats with merit. But again, without knowing budget it is difficult to suggest specific schools.

ETA: Suggest researching Furman, Rhodes, Eckerd (already suggested)… Good luck!!!

She says her parents aren’t contributing and will not be eligible for financial aid.

I’m applying test-optional. Also, I live in PA.

1 Like

Penn State is def a safety. I know a bunch of my kids with worse stats in the area that got in, so I don’t know why you’re saying that??? I can def get Pitt.

1 Like

People have recommended that one a lot to me

PA. PA’s in-state tuition is ridiculous and costs just as much as out of state. Penn State is too expensive, but it’s a guaranteed safety for me. I could care less about Ivy. I just want a good safety that will give me merit

1 Like

I have never heard of Eckerd, but I’ll look into it. As long as it gives decent/good merit aid, it will be an option

“Safety” as is typically defined on CC means guaranteed admission AND affordability. I believe that is the point @Mjkacmom was making about it not being a safety.

I don’t have any college savings. Honestly, I want to stay around the 22,000 and below price range. That sounds unrealistic, but that price range is when scholarships are included, which I know I can get some.

UVA is more of a “let’s see what happens”. I def know I could get into my match schools and have a decent chance of a scholarship. I believe Furman is in NY, and it’s juts not what I’m looking for. I’ll look into Eckerd, though.

Oh my apologies. I didn’t realize that. I just meant admissions wise, but yes, Penn State would be terrible financially. They barely give any scholarships.

1 Like

Thank you for the additional information. I’m sure the hive mind will go to work and come up with more suggestions.

Btw - Furman is in Greenville, SC. Rhodes is in Memphis, TN. Eckerd is in FL. :grinning:

ETA: After merit, Furman’s cost of attendance was around $22k for my D. She was awarded the Townes $35k with admittance and then offered an additional $10K later (I don’t know if they do that every year). She was not selected as a finalist for the competitive full tuition James B Duke.

1 Like

Ah, I was thinking of another university then. I’ll be sure to look at these. Thanks again.

I edited my last post to provide the link to Furman’s merit information.

I believe your goal should be #1 - find a couple of Safeties (for admittance and affordability) that you will be happy to attend. Once that is done, then look for matches/reaches. With your GPA, you should try for some competitive full tuition scholarships. Just make sure they will accept test optional, as that is not always the case, and be aware that TO may hurt you for merit. Any school that requires merit to be affordable should be considered a reach.

ETA: Because affordability is of such importance, you may have to ease up on some of your ideal college criteria, but hopefully you will find good fits and have it all. :slight_smile:

College of Charleston may be another to research. @tsbna44 Thoughts?


I need merit from basically every school/want merit to lower the costs. The only other safety I can think of is a small, local college near me. Which I’m not too enthusiastic about. Safeties are the hardest to find for me. I’m even struggling to find some good matches.

You may have been thinking of Fordham, a Catholic university in NYC.