What constitutes reaches, matches, and safeties

Completely agree and all of this is consistent with what ourCC office is relaying to students and parents this year. Test Optional decreases admission chances for many groups, and adds another layer of murkiness when trying to sort out Reach/match/safety.

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But that is what you’re implying, if not directly saying, so it’s easy to think that’s your position. You said that ED is a hook without qualifying it at our high school. I do think it’s more of a partial hook than URM or athlete or legacies which are full hooks, if you will.

“It may be that, overall, the nonsubmitters had weaker applications.”
It may not be causation, but you have to think the nonsubmitters were considered weaker because they didn’t submit scores, at least for the colleges on that list. It also has to make you wonder why you wouldn’t have a stronger application then if you know you’re not submitting SATs or ACTs.

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Part of the reason the process is so murky is that one cannot apply the same pat answer to kids in different circumstances. Whether trying to distinguish reaches/targets/matches or deciding whether to apply TO, it is not enough to look at a college’s aggregate numbers. One also has to understand the competitiveness of the student’s own school and/or similar schools. While your CC’s advice may have made sense in the context of your school, it may not be universally applicable.


That’s very true. And people posting for chance me, are often self-grading their essays and LORs. Just because someone thinks they wrote a 10/10 essay, doesn’t make it so.
For example, someone may think they wrote a great essay that included their sophomore year mental health struggles. Yet, I’ve been told by a couple counselors that many schools will basically automatically reject if they get a whiff of mental health problems.

And when we see that 4.0/1570 who got rejected by all the T20 schools, observers may falsely think, “just shows how random it is, how all those schools are a reach for everyone” – When it is very likely that there was some dark mark on the record that was not shared on the forum. (The student never mentioned he was suspended for 2 weeks due to a racist incident… the student submitted horrible essays filled with typos, etc)

I’m not saying it’s possible to fully predict for any student whether they will get into a specific top school. But if you have full information about everything, you can get a good sense of, “if you apply to all 10 of the T10 schools, you will likely get accepted into 1 or more” vs “you are unlikely to get into any T10 schools… you may get into a couple T20 schools, but don’t count on it.”

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Obviously no one but the AOs have the full application (not even the applicant), even many HS GCs don’t look at the students’ essays, or teacher LoRs.

Yes, but the more information you do have, the more accurately you can actually match and chance someone. I would certainly agree you can’t very accurately chance someone on GPA and test score alone. (though you could have 30 years ago).

For a host of very good reasons, it isn’t advisable for kids to apply to “all the T10” or “T20” schools, so it of little help to advise students that they might get into one or a couple if they apply to all. And even if they were applying to all, maybe getting into one out of T10 or “a couple” out of T20 are both long odds, and could only be characterized as reaches.

Also, it is misleading and insulting to suggest that unhooked, high stats kids must have done something wrong when they are rejected by top schools. It is, unfortunately, commonplace for high stat kids to get rejections from many or all of the extremely competitive schools on their lists. Generally, these high achieving students didn’t submit horrible essays full of spelling errors or get suspended after a “racist incident.” It is NOT “very likely that there was some dark mark on the record.” To the contrary, it is likely that they were well qualified but lacked a hook, and were from an extremely competitive and overrepresented demographic. So they faced long odds despite their qualifications.


Agree that it is unlikely there is anything particularly messed up in their app. But I also think it likely that their app missed a “spark” that lifted their app above a large pile of qualified candidates – its not necessarily the lack of a hook (hook meaning ALDC, URM, low SES, sparse country). There are plenty of kids admitted to more than 1 T20 to indicate that in hindsight, there was a common element(s) that made them attractive to more than 1 set of AO’s.

In my experience, someone who has 4.0/1550/Valedictorian, strong essays, ECs, lots of rigor – They are no guarantee for any particular school. But if they submit 20 applications to the T20 schools, they will get accepted by a minimum of one. (more than 1). Sure, there may be an occasionally statistical anomaly but it would be rare. Assuming that such a perfect candidate has at least a 10-20% chance of admission to any given school, the odds of getting into 0/20 would be approximately 1%.

As I’ve said elsewhere, the co-valedictorians at my local high school — 9 students, 8/9 have committed to T20 schools. For all I know, all 9 got into T20 schools… but 1 student chose to enroll at Carnegie Melon, which is a lowly ranked 25th by US news. So 9/9 committed to schools ranked in the T25.

Remember, when we see a top school with a 9% acceptance rate, there sometimes seems to be an erroneous attitude that no unhooked candidate has better than a 9% chance. The reality is, there are tons of applicants with far far less than a 9% chance – Meaning there are also tons of candidates with a chance far superior to 9%.

So even an applicant only has double the chance of the total acceptance rate – Say Northwestern, ranked 9th, with a 9% acceptance rate – So even if that “perfect” unhooked candidate only has a 20% chance of acceptance, the odds of getting 20 rejections in a row is statistically tiny.

Now, there might be a flaw which causes them to get rejected by all the universities. But again, we are talking about a flawless candidate-- no black mark on the application, perfect rigor, GPA, scores, ECs, etc. The odds of a perfect candidate not getting in to any top institution are extremely low.

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I note from your posts on several recent threads that you seem to have a far more optimistic view of Ivy/T20 admission chances for top students than virtually anyone else on CC. Could it be that your local school is an outlier? I recall from another thread that a very substantial percentage of the graduating class there is accepted to Ivy+ schools, which suggests to me that perhaps this is a public magnet or private school well-known to Ivy AOs. I don’t mean to be critical of anyone - I have no doubt that those students are all outstanding candidates. I would just suggest that a 4.0/1550/strong rigor/strong ECs candidate from Random High School X has much less chance at Ivies than you may perceive.

At our local public high school, which is not a magnet but is considered strong enough that families will relocate from other parts of the metro area to attend, unhooked HYPSM admissions are vanishingly rare regardless of stats (I’m not aware of a single one in the last few years). A 4.0/1550 valedictorian has a chance at non-HYPSM Ivy ED (this year’s was successful on that front), but my 4.0/35 ACT non-valedictorian didn’t make the waitlist at either Ivy to which she applied. And her application was accepted at two T25-type schools, so I don’t think it was a case of any obvious black marks on the application.

I agree that a 9% acceptance rate doesn’t mean 9% for each applicant; as you say, there is a chunk of the applicant pool that has essentially a 0% chance, probably b/c the grades/rigor are simply not within range. I heard a Yale AO say during this cycle that 75% of the pool is well-qualified to succeed at Yale, so I would take that to mean the other 25% has no chance (absent an extraordinary one-off hook). But there is also a group on the other end of the pool that has a much, much higher chance than the average applicant. To take Brown as one example, roughly 250 of 1750 incoming freshmen are recruited athletes, to say nothing of students with other hooks that the school values highly (FGLI/URM/LDC). And a certain number of the “unhooked” will have extraordinary achievements, including natl/intl recognition for academics/ social activism/music/acting/art/etc. So while an unhooked student may only be competing with 75% of the pool, the number of places available for that 75% is far, far lower than advertised. Using the best info I could find for all available hooked categories, I came to the conclusion that an unhooked white student (Brown uses ethnic categories that remain pretty consistent year-over-year) was competing for roughly 350-400 seats in the freshman class at Brown - and this is likely the most common category of applicant in the 50,000+ pool. To be clear, I have no issue with Brown or any selective school using whatever criteria further its institutional goals. I’m just trying to be realistic about the numbers.


Yes, our high school in CA has about 8-12 of these kids each year. Though most get into Berkeley or UCLA, it’s very rare to get an Ivy admit unless you are a URM. For example the top student in my kids year (4.0/36 ACT) was turned down ED by Brown but ended up with a Regents scholarship at UCLA.

What do you base your “experience” on? You have access to LORs and essays of statistically significant part of high achieving students applying to T20? or you know of 2-3 of them?

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Same in my kids’ school. Out of (at least) 10 kids with these stats or higher, only two got into ONE Ivy, rejected by the rest. Three got into UCLA. One of the smartest kids (with national level ECs, published papers, etc.) got waitlisted everywhere.

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That assumes independence, and that’s not remotely true since every college sees the same grades, ECs, LORs, etc. Only the interpretation is different.


Agreed. Similar results at my D’s school which used to send many more students to the Ivies in past years. My D as well - 4.0 UW GPA, 1580 SAT, strong ECs related to her major and leadership roles - but otherwise unhooked. Rejected at the Ivies she applied to.
Her essays were reviewed independently so no glaring issues there.

She was simply competing amongst lots of other similarly excellent unhooked White and Asian kids for a limited set of available seats.


If their college admission decisions were independent events. However, they are not independent in that most of the highly rejective private colleges evaluate most of the same college admission credentials (essays unique to the college are the exception).

Or, maybe, your assumption is incorrect and they don’t have a 20% chance of admission?

But that’s my point— if they are evaluating the same essays, same ECs, and those essays and ECs are flawless— then there is no common reason to get rejected at every T20 school.

Seems there are a lot of doomsayers around here, “unless you have perfect stats and you’re hooked, you have a nearly 0% chance of getting into a T20 school.”

If you acknowledge such a student does have a 10-20% chance, then that does mean they are likely to get into a T20 school if they apply to a large bunch (if that’s really their interest).

If you think a valedictorian with 1580, 10 APs, great essays and ECs… if you think they are unlikely to get into any T20 schools, you basically are saying they have a 0% chance at each school.

And that’s simply not my experience. I’m a graduate from a T20 school… (I wasn’t booked but it was a different time), I know most of the students my alma mater still accepts are “unhooked.” And almost universally, if someone tells me their stats, background, the program they are applying to, etc… I can very reliably predict whether they will get accepted. (There was recently one person who I thought would get accepted, someone with a legacy hook, but they were rejected. Of course, they got into 3 other T20 schools where they had no hook)

UCLA is T20– ranked 20th by US News. So saying “most get into UCLA” proves my point.
There is a massive drop off in selectivity between the T1-5 and the T10-20

UCLA doesn’t consider SATs, but how many valedictorians with tons of rigor get rejected by UCLA?

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However, results mentioned usually do not look like independent random results. Rather, there seems to be a tendency of shutouts and more admits than expected from independent random results. What it suggests is that such opaque aspects that appear random to outsiders (e.g. essays, recommendations) tend to be similarly impressive or not to multiple highly rejective schools. So one of your theoretical applicants may have essays and recommendations that fail to impress any of them and get shut out, but another may have essays and recommendations that are much more impressive to many of them.