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What Is a Safety School For College Admissions?

Picture of Vanessa Daves-Poarch
By Vanessa Daves-Poarch on March, 7 2022 | 4 minute read

When working with Collegewise students to identify what their ideal college experience will look like, we encourage them to start by building a balanced college list. What this means is that their list includes the schools that have lower acceptance rates and might be more competitive, but they also have a couple of likely, or safety schools, included as well.

What is a safety school?

What used to be referred to as a safety school is now termed a likely school. There are no guarantees in the college admissions process, and Collegewise wants students to like all the schools they apply to and potentially attend, so we did away with the term “safety school.”

When we talk about a “likely school,” we’re referring to colleges and universities that meet a few qualifications for this student:

  • The school has an acceptance rate of 50% to 65% or higher AND/OR
  • The student applying has an overall GPA and/or test score higher than the average of other students admitted to that college

Why do I need a safety school?

There are more than 24,000 high schools in the United States. That means there are more than 24,000 valedictorians and salutatorians in the United States alone, yet there are typically only a couple thousand spots for incoming freshmen at highly selective colleges. All this to say: college admission is competitive, and there’s no certainty that you’ll gain admission to your top college.

Including safety schools, or likely schools, on your list ensures that you’ll have quality options even if you don’t get into your top choices.


How to choose a safety school?

Here’s the good news: Most US colleges fit into the category of safety or likely schools. According to IPEDS, the average US college admits over sixty percent of applications to their school. This means you have tons of options, and you can certainly find likely schools that will be a fantastic fit for you.

With that in mind, Collegewise counselors encourage our students to take the same approach to identifying likely schools as they would others on their list. Consider the characteristics that would make a college or university a good fit for you: size, location, major, etc.

Consider the following questions as you do your college research:

  • What kind of experience are you looking for?
  • What is absolutely necessary, and what is a deal-breaker?
  • Are the any limitations (distance, size, majors, etc.)?

Use resources like Google Maps,, or Campus Reel to get a feel of what the campus is like. Learn what you can about these universities, and narrow them down to the ones you’d be excited to attend and think would be a good fit for your goals and vision for college.


How many safety schools should I apply to?

There are a number of factors to consider when deciding how many safety schools, or likely schools, to apply to. Generally, we encourage students to apply to at least one, but on average, Collegewise students apply to 2-3 likely schools.

When deciding how many likely schools to include in your list, keep in mind that college application fees add up fast. Make sure you know your budget for college applications before making decisions about how many schools you’ll apply to.

It’s also a time-consuming process. Consider how much time you have to dedicate to submitting quality applications to likely schools, and if you truly have enough bandwidth to submit an application you’ll really be proud of at the end of the day.

Lastly, apply to schools you’re excited about! Applying to safety schools/likely schools shouldn’t be something you do to check a box. Every college or university on your list should be a school where you can truly envision yourself being happy and successful.


The difference between a safety school, target school, and reach school

Remember as you build a college list to ensure it’s a balanced list. This means you’ll have some likely, target, and reach schools on your list. In case you’re curious about what each of these means, I’ve included a review of each of these terms below:

  • Likely (formerly called safety) – Any school that has an acceptance rate of 65% or higher and/or where the student applying has a higher GPA or test score than the average admitted student
  • Target – Any school where the decision could go either way, but is slightly more favorable toward the student. For Collegewise students, this means student’s profile matches that of the average student at that school, and the acceptance rates are in the 30-70 percentages.
  • Reach – For schools where the acceptance rates under 25% and/or the student’s profile is less than the average, college counselors typically use the term “reach.” Fewer than 300 US colleges fall into this category.



Building a balanced college list can be a daunting task. It’s the beginning of a long process and the culmination of years of hard work in high school to prove you’re worthy of college admission. Remember that there are thousands of colleges in the United States, and at Collegewise, we believe that every student who wants to go to college can do so.

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About Us: With more than twenty years of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the student. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for you to be your best self - whether it’s in the classroom, in your applications or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of tools include counselingtest prepacademic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, leading to a 4x higher than average admissions rates. 

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