What Is a “Safe” School?
So then, to properly answer “What is a ‘Safe’ School” it’s important to first introduce a little perspective. In the education consulting industry, schools and colleges are typically divided into three categories from most competitive to least competitive: Reach, Target, and Safe.
By “competitive” we mean schools with higher numbers of applicants but lower numbers of admitted students. So put simply, schools with lower acceptance rates are more difficult to gain admission—thus, more competitive, and therefore a “Reach” school. On the other end of the spectrum we have what are called “Safe” schools, and in the middle, “Targets,” which we may conclude, in general, balance between possible and probable for student acceptance. Of course these terms are just convenient labels to make categorizing schools easier and to rationalize how a student might profile at the onset. But admissions matters go much much deeper, so we’ll save that for another article.
For matters of clarity, we’ll identify “school” here as both boarding schools and colleges, since the three categories apply to both and are widely used by education consultants and industry people in general for classification purposes.
Back to the question: What is a Safe School?
Let’s first explain what it is not. It is not a school that is easy to gain admission. Nearly every school has their own admissions criteria, and importantly, their own agenda. So while a student may profile perfectly as a suitable statistical match, other conditions may exist to offset that and favor another candidate. There are no guarantees.
However, comparatively speaking, versus more competitive schools, a safe school is one where you can be reasonably certain of being accepted. Put another way, if your profile matches or more likely exceeds what the school is looking for, and considering things like admission rates, reputation, location, etc., which we may classify as things we can control, you’ll likely be admitted. For things we can’t control, please revert back to the end of the previous paragraph.
So when you develop a short list of schools to apply to, make sure at least one is a safe school. Your short list should have 8 to 10 schools, where 2 or 3 are safe schools, while the others can be more competitive in terms of admission criteria. It makes no sense to apply to only the most competitive schools and risk disappointment and losing out on other great opportunities.
A safe school is not an inferior school. And how we measure a school’s quality and characteristics is very much a subjective thing. A safe school is merely a school which is a good fit as well as being a school to which you can be reasonably assured of gaining admission.