Question: Assessing Matches, Reaches and Probables using Naviance

Our school provides access to Naviance, which is extremely helpful in assessing our our particular demographic does with specific schools and general score/grade ranges (without regard, of course, to ECs and other variables). Clearly schools that are very similar on paper in terms of selectivity/stats respond very differently to kids from our district, presumably based on geography and other factors.

My question is, how best to use it to ballpark my own kid’s chances at a given school, and sort them into probables, matches (high/low), reaches (high/low) and fantasy.

I know that if the circle that signifies where my kid lands in terms of grades/scores appears in a sea of red X’s, that school is pure fantasy. I know that if the circle appears way off in the upper right hand corner above all prior acceptances for our school, the school will likely be insufficiently challenging. And I know that if a school’s acceptance rate is generally low (I forget the commonly accepted percentage), that school should be considered a reach, regardless (but whether it’s low/high or fantasy is another matter). My question is about all the in-between stuff. I know it’s not an exact science, but some general guidelines would be great in strategizing how to target future visits/interviews => applications.

  • If the circle representing my kid falls mostly with other acceptances, but below the box signalling the stats of the average acceptance? Reach, yes? How to distinguish between high and low reach?
  • If the circle falls outside/above the box signaling average acceptance? Match? At what point does it tip into "probable?"
  • How should we factor in acceptance rate?
  • What other variables should we consider?

Thanks so much.

It is not necessarily true that an admissions safety will be insufficiently academically challenging for the student, although this can depend on the student’s major and whether it is sufficiently rigorous at that school.

Also note that some schools have different levels of admission selectivity for different majors (or divisions like engineering or business); if a Naviance plot shows a bunch of green dots around your student’s stats, but your student is applying to a more popular major or division with higher admission selectivity, the green dots may be misleading.

@ucbalumnus Obviously, there are exceptions to every rule and each school has its own character and emphasis. I’m not looking for black and white answers. (Nor are we currently focusing on schools that require applying to a specific program.)

And yes, maybe the kid will want to attend a school where the circle is way far off off to the upper right, but so far that hasn’t been the case after visiting, and that isn’t the area where I’m looking for answers. We’ve identified a number of reasonably satisfactory “probables” already, where the graph isn’t quite so skewed.

What I am looking for are some general guidelines on interpreting the scatter charts to help us assess where to focus the bulk of our attention in terms of visits, interviews and applications. I know better than to waste a lot of time on the fantasy schools, but after that, there’s quite the sliding scale, and it’s confusing, especially figuring out what’s really a reasonable match, or what’s a worthwhile reach and what’s an extreme reach.

So again, GENERALLY SPEAKING, any thoughts on…

  • If the circle representing my kid falls mostly with other acceptances, but below the box signalling the stats of the average acceptance? Reach, yes? How to distinguish between high and low reach?
  • If the circle falls outside/above the box signaling average acceptance? Match? At what point does it tip into "probable?"
  • How should we factor in acceptance rate?
  • What other variables should we consider?

Thanks to anyone who has any thoughts on this.

I am disappointed with the information that Naviance provides, at least for my son’s school. It is fairly small so the number of data points is small as well, and most of the colleges are “restricted to protect student privacy”. There are plenty for the top 20 colleges and state schools but not much for most LAC’s.

Here is what you should be able to glean from the graphs:

  1. Relative importance of Test Score vs GPA: If you see a vertical cluster, you know test scores are more important, horizontal GPA, and a clump both. You should be able to gauge a floor (GPA/Test) or an area with a mix of declines/ acceptance. If you circle falls here (where there a only a few acceptances) , it is the reach area.

  2. Value of EC’s, legacies etc… A widely spaced group with seemingly random denials and acceptances - circles in this area I’d call high reach if it is in the near the upper right limits. Everyone who applies is qualified, it’s just a matter of how much they like them.

  3. Match - Your circle falls in the middle of the accepted range

The Naviance acceptance figures are pretty useful. They reflect how a particular schools admissions department sees your child’s school. At our state’s flagship, 78% of students were admitted last year vs 68% over the past 5 years, Stanford admitted 11% of applicants over the past 5 years but 25% of applicants last year. These percentages rose despite the overall acceptance rate at those colleges falling. It could be noise, but I’d infer that the (high) school is becoming better know to their admission offices. By contrast, Penn only accepted 7% overall and 0% last year. A pattern like that could be quite useful in terms of possible acceptance/denial and were to travel.

Under ‘school stats’ you can see if it makes sense to apply early too. I’d do so if it is not restrictive. The 'Overlaps" will help you with a peer group where other students have applied, and you can compare acceptance rates (I found this very useful as it encompasses matches, safeties and reaches)

Thanks, this is very helpful.

Question: By “middle of the accepted range” do you mean the corner of the box where the averages intersect, or in the middle of a healthy cluster of acceptances?

Any sense of the level of significance of falling inside the “average” box vs. outside? Obviously, outside is better, but I’m trying to gauge how much to read into that in terms of assessing when we’ve moved from reach to match to safety.

And yes, I’ve definitely noticed that there are some schools that seem to have little interest in applicants from our school, no matter how highly qualified, and vice versa. Obviously there’s a lot of variability in perception.

I’d say match is in the middle of the cluster. Safety is above and/or to the right. The average is not very accurate for a small number of data points.

Also consider honors colleges for the matches and safeties, which might have different criteria, but also a better experience for your child.

Finally, as you compile your list look at finances and see what is affordable. I am encouraging my son to look at Alabama, at least as a safety, because of the amazing merit aid for OOS available. The savings alone would almost pay for grad school. (I’d consider ‘safety’ for financial reasons as well as admittance. What if something happened to you, or the markets crashed, etc…)

Understood on affordability – related, but separate conversation. (It’s complicated.)

Looking for one last clarification. If the kid’s stats are right smack in the middle of a cluster of acceptances from our district and ECs are fine but strictly middle-of-the road, still a match? And how do I factor in the school’s acceptance rate? Match if over X% but inherently a reach if under Y%?

But you’re focusing on stats (and some stat-based projecting,) while the college’s final decisions rest on a match to the overall qualities and energies they seek. Start with a few that seem reasonable for the stats, then get back to dig into what those schools value and offer. For STEM, it can also depend on what those ECs are, depth and breadth.

The acceptance rates reflect those kids who do present a good holistic match- you want to be one of those.

Not asking for a crystal ball – I know the final decisions can be something between very individualized and a total crapshoot. Just looking for ballparks to ensure a balanced list and prioritize somewhat.

Just saying, we skipped Naviance entirely, got some idea of stats ranges from Fiske or online, just to get an idea of the overall competitiveness. Naviance has some pretty big blind spots. After knowing a school met her basic needs (strength of her major and the more social aspects,) our admit focus was, ‘why would they want this kid, accept her over another who was equally or better qualified?’ I know you’re getting there, but our strategy was to to a quick look at stats and then match her holistically. In that respect, we’re missing more of your child’s strengths.

I also found Naviance not really helpful when the GPA and test scores are not in the same range.

@LookingFoward Yes, I totally get that. This is just a very Naviance-focused question in support of the bigger picture. I’ll paint a more detailed and nuanced picture of my kid eventually, under separate cover, once I’ve finished gathering my thoughts. (Currently somewhat on the fence about how much I want to share.)

If your kid falls in the middle of a cluster of solely acceptances (at least 8-10), then I think you have a match–and likely a safety if the cluster is located to the upper right of the average stats box. But if some students in that cluster area are rejections or WLs, I’d be less sure.

Another caution: Because both ACT and SATs scores are charted, the scattergrams can be misleading. Example: Student takes the SAT and gets a 2000, then takes the ACT and gets a 33. Student sends the SAT only to those schools that require all test results; for most apps, they only submit the ACT score. However, their Naviance admit/defer/reject results show up “tied” to both scores. So the scattergram will show an acceptance to say, Northeastern, with SAT score of 2000 – but Northeastern never even saw that SAT score and admitted based on the 33 ACT.

Also, the SAT is charted as a superscore but the ACT is not – which can be misleading for schools that superscore the ACT. Example: Students takes ACT twice, gets 31 composite both times, but superscore is a 33. Student applies to and is accepted at, say, Wash U. Naviance shows acceptance with ACT score of 31, whereas Wash U considered that applicant as a 33.

Both of these situations produce “outliers.” Often this is a minor issue but it can be magnified for colleges that don’t get a lot of applicants from your school. Just something to keep in mind when looking at Naviance.

I would ignore the overall schools acceptance rate because the cluster indicated your schools localized rate with your child’s scores. EC’s apply the same way, they are almost always secondary to the GPA/Test scores unless they are something extraordinary or completely lacking. The common data set will give an indication of how each school values the different categories.

There aren’t any hard percentages when it come to match, but I would use the visual Naviance information. So if your child’s scores are in the middle of the cluster and the EC’s are average, you have a match. When you get to the area with rejections, you are in the reach area.

The safety-match-reach strategy is pretty sound :increase the likelihood of being accepted at a ‘reach’ school while minimizing the risk of being rejected by all schools. This happened to one of my son’s friends - he had 2400, 4.0 GPA at a known prep school, won national science competitions and still was rejected at PSCM etc. He made the mistake of not applying to any safety schools (UMich is our state flagship- a safety for him). We were all shocked.

Was he completely shut out? If so, did he start at a community college as his actual (perhaps unintended) safety?

@LuckyCharms913: It took me a couple of passes to follow what you were saying, but now that I get it, that is interesting. The ACT charts have generally been more encouraging than the SAT charts, but I think now I’ll focus on the SAT charts, and just allow the ACT charts to give us a smidge more hope where applicable.

Thanks for staying with it, as this was not an easy concept to put into words.

If your kid will submit the ACT, I recommend checking each potential school’s ACT superscore policy. For schools that superscore the ACT, where the acceptances cluster on Naviance may actually be a point or two lower than what those kids’ scores looked like on their applications (if kids at your HS typically take the ACT more than once).

If you kid is solely an SAT taker, and most of his/her classmates are as well, then the SAT data should be pretty reliable.

you might consider using This website basically takes your stats and calculates a probability you will be admitted to collleges you choose. We found it did a pretty good job predicting admissions decisions for my D this past year.

A couple of additional points. Naviance is only as good as the information the school puts in. At my kids’ school, the data were clearly messed up for several years. So take it with a grain of salt. Also, you can’t really tell much if there aren’t many data points for a particular college. The admits might be hooked applicants, for example.

Hunt brings up an important point. Our high school has many athletic recruits to highly selective colleges, and it is pretty obvious looking at the Naviance grids that their scores and grades are well below typical admits.