What exactly defines a safety school?

Villanova University, with a 36% acceptance rate, is described as a safety school for the Ivy-league level applicant… While Reed College, with a 35% acceptance rate (almost the exact same, mind you) is described as a high/low-match school. What exactly defines a safety school, and why is the definition so loose?

Not mad, just curious.

A safety is a school that you have a near 100% chance of admission, you can afford without any competitive awards and you are willing to go. I doubt that Villanova satisfies that for many people. Some that are applying to elite schools may think it is a safety, but it likely isn’t. Every year on this site are students scrambling because want they thought was a safety really wasn’t. The other thing I like to add to the safety definition is a result before Dec 20th.

A safety school is one where an applicant would expect to be admitted (typically a college with at least a 40% or higher admission rate), that appears affordable, and that you would be happy to attend.

I generally suggest that people apply to at least a couple of rolling and/or non-binding EA match/safety schools so they hopefully have an acceptance in hand by December.

And why is the definition so loose? College admissions is more of an art than an exact science.

Your safety might be my reach, or vice versa.

As said above, a safety is a school that you know you will be accepted to, you know you can afford, and you would be willing to attend. Hopefully “willing to attend” includes having a good program in the student’s intended major.

Schools that have highly predictable stats-oriented admissions can be a safety for some students, a reach for students that are very close to the cutoff, and out of reach for many other students.

Schools that are expensive might be a reach for some students even though they know that they will get in, because they do not know for sure whether they will be able to afford it. A different student with the same stats but a wealthier family might have the same school as a safety because they know they can afford it.

I doubt that Villanova is a safety even for most students who have some realistic chance to get accepted to an Ivy League university.

Admissions in the US is in many cases hard to predict, which can make it hard for some students to pick two good safeties to apply to.

It’s more than the %.

Reed is a college in the Pacific NW with just under 1,500 students. It prides itself on being an ‘intellectual’ school, and has the highest % of STEM students who go on to do PhDs in the country (more than even MIT). There is a lot of self-selection in who applies.

Villanova is a mainstream university of 8,000 undergrads (with an applicant pool of ~20,000). undergrads, in the NE. That’s relevant b/c there is a strong student bias towards NE schools. Villanova

Tbh, I don’t think that Villa is a ‘safety’ for many "ivy-league level applicants’. A ‘pretty darn likely’ maybe, but not a true safety.

Safety means that your academic stats put you comfortably north of the 75th percentile for both GPA and SAT/ACT of the admitted student pool of the particular school you’re applying to.

Given rampant grade inflation across the country, if your GPA isn’t north of 3.85, you’re unlikely to have any safeties outside of your local state school.

Villanova’s 75th percentile SAT was 1500 last year. So you’d need to be comfortably north of 1500, with perfect grades, for Villanova to be a safety school for you. Possible but unlikely.

Yes, you can’t compare Reed to Villanova. Reed is one of the most intensely academic schools in the country and very self-selecting. It is really way too quirky and difficult of a school to attract a lot of applicants who want it for the status. And it has no varsity athletics, Greek life, or merit aid so it isn’t a typical school that people just tack on to their list. So yes, their acceptance rate might be similar, but I bet if you looked at the average GPA and SAT of the incoming freshman classes, Reeds will be higher. For example, Reed puts out more Rhodes Scholars than all but a very few comparable liberal arts colleges and more than many many large famous public flagships. Despite the acceptance rate, Reed is more comparable to Swarthmore than Villanova if we are comparing PA schools.

As for what is a safety school? My definition would be a school for which your stats put you in the top 75-90% of applicants and that you can afford and willing to attend. And even then, there is no harm in having more than one if your safeties are at all selective.

Reed’s EBRW middle-range would place it among the most selective colleges in the country:

Reed: 670–750
Villanova: 650–710

By Math profiles, Villanova and Reed appear similar:

Villanova: 670–760
Reed: 655–770

Note that Reed’s reporting standards seem to be more thorough, however (i.e., Reed registers scores for a higher percentage of students).

Echoing some of the above and perhaps adding a little something. All schools more or less want you to describe why that school, why are you a great person to be part of that community. Villanova, being larger, has more room for different sorts of people–different learning styles, sporty vs nonsporty, practical vs hyper-intellectual (not that they are mutually exclusive, mind you). Reed is a very small, very specific sort of community. They are more likely to look much more closely not just at grades, scores and ECs but also how well a candidate will fit into that niche, not just how willing they are to fit but their personality type and learning style… Admit rates can’t tell the entire story.

Thinking a school with a 35% acceptance rate is a safety is how some students end up rejected everywhere.

A safety is a school you are for SURE getting into, you can afford, and are happy to attend. Overall acceptance rate has to be part of what’s being considered.

Schools with 35-50% acceptance rates are matches, not safeties.

IMO the most time spent creating a college list should be on finding the right safeties. True safeties, where a student is either an auto admit or with a 70%+ acceptance rate and above the 75th percentile of gpa and test scores.

Not having a true safety can mean the difference between going to college or staying home another year.

I’m not sure where your stats are from but for class of 2023 (rising sophs now) Villanova’s acceptance rate was 27.7%, Reed’s 40%.

Look at a school’s common data set to get the most recent info:


I agree with much of the above advice. True safeties are where your stats make you auto-admit, and the school is affordable. After that, there’s no firm agreement on a definition of a safety, which if non-auto admit, some would call a highly likely.

Spend time identifying match, highly likely/safety schools that are affordable and that you would be happy to attend. Statistically speaking it’s one of those schools that you would be most likely to attend. Use Naviance or Scoir to help you categorize schools, if your HS has access to those.

Run net price calculators to get cost estimates for each school on your list:


NPCs may not be accurate if your parents are divorced, own a business, or own real estate beyond a primary home.

Good luck.

Exactly- with an emphasis on “happy to attend”. If the thought of your only choice being your safety makes you want to cry you need to keep looking (or working on your expectations).

Ah, yes, Villanova was my friend’s son safety in 2017. 36/4.0 student. He was rejected.

[quote=“Mwfan1921, post:11, topic:2099385”]

I’m not sure where your stats are from but for class of 2023 (rising sophs now) Villanova’s acceptance rate was 27.7%, Reed’s 40%.

I got the stats from reading College Confidential.

A safety is a college that:

  • You are 100% assured of admission.
  • You are 100% sure that you can afford.
  • You would be happy to attend (based on academic suitability and any other factor you consider).

Note that a college’s overall admission rate by itself does not tell you whether it is a safety, likely, match, or reach. Its admission rate for applicants like you in terms of what the college looks for is what matters, although few colleges publish admission rates for subgroups of students. One that does is UT Austin, where some applicants have a 100% admission rate (to the campus, not necessarily to a competitive major), while other groups 19.5% or 25.9% admission rates, according to https://admissions.utexas.edu/explore/freshman-profile .

The College Board based net price calculators are pretty thorough in their questions. However, in situations like divorced parents, business income, etc., there is often considerable uncertainty or lack of knowledge of the actual financials (e.g. the divorced parents do not want to reveal their income and assets to the other, or the business may have fluctuating income that is difficult to estimate correctly) that can result in poor data being put into the net price calculator, resulting in a poor estimate.

A safety college primarily relates to a combination of a very high chance of admission (“very high” threshold depends on particular person) and willing+able to attend if admitted. It is not based on stats since having high stats is often very different from having a very high chance of admission.

For example, docs from the Harvard admission trial showed that in a class set from several years ago when Harvard was less selective, unhooked applicants whose combination of SAT+GPA stats put them in the top 10% of applicants had a ~14% admit rate. I expect their stats were “north of the 75th percentile for both GPA and SAT/ACT of _the admitted”, yet a 14% admit rate is far below the threshold that anyone would consider a safety. In contrast, an applicant who meets the class rank admission threshold for the UT system might be able to consider UT a safety, even if both his SAT and GPA were not in the top 75%. An applicant should focus on what his/her chance of admission is, not whether his GPA+SAT stats meet an arbitrary threshold.

That’s exactly what I said in my post. Both Villanova and Reed offer only the collegeboard NPCs, accessed thru their FA pages.

Only on CC. That’s really presumptuous. There are plenty of students applying to schools with 40% acceptance rates that are viewed as their reach.

While it’s important to look at acceptance rates, remember that there is self-selection involved. If you need to apply to a specific school or specific major, that could really change the odds. NYU’s film school has a radically different acceptance than the rest of the school, for example. Women’s colleges have different profiles.

A safety is a school to which you have a high likelihood of acceptance, can afford, and would be happy to attend.

Based on your assessment, I am guessing it comes from your college counseling software. These may not have a lot of data points, may not have been diligently populated, and can’t source for legacy, athletic recruits, etc.