For those of you who have started researching college admissions, you may have heard of the concept of a “safety school.” What is a safety school? Simply, a safety school is one in which your odds of getting in are extremely high. Everyone who applies to college should apply to safety schools. Why? You don’t want to risk getting rejected from all the schools you apply to.
In this article, I'll define and explain the concept of a safety school. Furthermore, I'll discuss how to identify your safety schools and determine the number of safety schools you should apply to.
What Is a Safety School?
A safety school is a college that you're almost guaranteed to get into. Your GPA should be well above the average student's at that school and your SAT or ACT score should be above the 75th percentile for that school.
I would say you should have at least an 80% chance of gaining admission, based on the numbers, to consider a college a safety school.
Also, no college with an admissions rate lower than 15% can ever be considered a safety school. If a college is that selective, regardless of your grades and SAT scores, you can never assume that your odds of admission will be greater than 80%. The most selective schools routinely reject students with perfect grades and standardized test scores.
Here's a hypothetical example to illustrate the concept of a safety school.
Brittany has a 3.75 GPA and received a 680 SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score and a 700 SAT Math score. She applied to Arizona State University. Is ASU a safety school for her?
Yes. The average GPA for ASU is 3.54, and the average SAT scores are 610 for EBRW and 620 for Math. The 75th percentile SAT score is 1350. Additionally, the admissions rate for ASU is 84%.
Brittany should feel extremely confident that she'll be admitted to ASU and can use it as a safety school.
Brittany's safety school
How to Identify Your Safety Schools
How do you know which colleges to use as safety schools? Many students will apply to their less competitive in-state public schools as safety schools, especially because in-state public colleges tend to offer lower tuition rates to in-state residents.
Also, there are schools that offer guaranteed admission if you reach a certain GPA and SAT/ACT score. Most of these colleges are state schools and the offer extends to in-state residents. There's a guaranteed path to admission for California residents at University of California schools and automatic admission programs in Iowa, Missouri, Mississippi, Texas, and Nevada. Research a school's admissions requirements on its website to determine if there's a similar offer at that school.
You can refer to popular college rankings lists from sources like US News & World Report, Forbes, and Princeton Review and research schools that meet some of the criteria you're looking for in a college. Your standardized test scores should surpass the 75th percentile and your GPA should be above the school’s average to possibly consider a college a safety school.
Use PrepScholar tools. If you enter your SAT score here, PrepScholar will automatically give you a list of possible safety schools based on your SAT score. Additionally, you can Google "(name of school) prepscholar admissions requirements" and use the admissions calculator on a school's profile to get a rough idea of your chances of admission. If you have at least an 80% chance according to the calculator, then you can probably categorize the school as a safety school.
If you know college students who had qualifications lower than yours, you can research the colleges they’re attending and see if you can use any of those schools as your safety schools as well.
Keep in mind that your GPA and SAT scores are only two components that determine whether you’re accepted to a school. Your extracurricular activities, recommendations, essays, and background also play a role when your application is evaluated. However, GPA and SAT/ACT scores are the most important factors and they’re the most objective available statistics. If your GPA and standardized test scores are much higher than those of the typical applicant, then other components of your application can be weaker and you'll still likely gain admission.
How Many Safety Schools Should You Apply to?
There's no set number of safety schools that you should apply to, but make sure you're open to attending the schools you're applying to. It's a waste of time to apply to a school that you would never attend. The college application process can be costly and time-consuming, especially if you apply to schools that don't use the Common Application.
Generally, I recommend applying to 1/3 safety schools. If you apply to ten schools, at least three should be considered safety schools. You want to give yourself some options from the schools that are very likely to admit you. Then, 1/3 of the schools you apply to can be reach schools, schools that are likely to reject you based on your qualifications or their extremely low acceptance rates. The remaining 1/3 of schools you apply to can be target schools, schools that offer you about a 30%-80% chance of admission.
Some students decide to apply to a higher percentage of reach schools because they're more interested in going to those schools and are hopeful that they'll get into one. The most important thing is to apply to at least a couple of safety schools to ensure that you'll have multiple options during the college selection process.
Give yourself options!
- A safety school is a college to which you have an extremely good chance of gaining admission (above 80%). You can safely assume you'll be accepted.
- Identify possible safety schools by consulting websites, ranking lists, and friends. Consider in-state public colleges that are safety school options.
- Use the admissions calculator on the PrepScholar database to determine if a particular school could be a safety school.
- Find out if there are any schools to which you qualify for automatic admission.
- Apply to about 1/3 safety schools. Ensure that you have options.
If you're about to start the application process, learn how to write about extracurriculars on your college applications.
Also, check out this post if you have a high GPA but low SAT score.
Finally, as you're considering your college options, read about whether you should consider going to college out of state.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
Justin has extensive experience teaching SAT prep and guiding high school students through the college admissions and selection process. He is firmly committed to improving equity in education and helping students to reach their educational goals. Justin received an athletic scholarship for gymnastics at Stanford University and graduated with a BA in American Studies.