While I did not attend my safety school, as an overly-anxious high school student, I did worry myself silly wondering what would happen if I had to. But if I had picked it right, I would never have had to stress, because “safety school” does not mean “second-choice school.” It means that you have to pick a place that will match all your criteria for academics, social, and financial aspects, if in case you do end up attending there. So here is a run-down on what you should prioritize on in the search for the perfect safety school.
The basic mentality of a student is that the academic reputation and provision of a safety school will be much lower than that of the student’s reaches and matches. But this is a self-fulfilling prophecy, because students choose their schools to be that way. Doing so is to both under-estimate yourself and the school, which may lead to you missing out on a college that may be perfect for you. It is true that a school which is perfect for you should not be classified as a safety school, but, here, “perfect” means a college that you realize fits you after going there and seeing the subjective factors as a “fit” for yourself.
On the other hand, there are students who limit themselves to the Ivy League and consider anything but the Holy Trinity (Harvard, Yale, Princeton) to be safeties. Not only do they miss the chance to explore colleges that may be a better personal fit for them, but they also severely cause detriment to their chances at an acceptance because such colleges are not a sure-shot for anyone unless you are Kwasi Enin.
There are also academic advantages to going to your safety school. While many people obsess over rankings, there is no palpable difference between the first and the third on any list. But what is tangible is that being one of the top students not only gives you distinctions such as being on the Dean’s List, but also makes you a strong candidate for being in the honors program of the college, which typically have a GPA and SAT cutoff or is limited to the top 10% of the incoming class. Being in the honor’s program brings opportunities such as special classes restricted to honors students, separate housing and scholarships, and not to mention that it will look impressive on your resume to potential employers. Keep in mind that not all universities automatically consider you for admission as an honors student and that several require you to submit a separate application.
So when it comes to selecting your safety school on the basis of academics, don’t just go by the selectivity rate. It is much more personal than that. Just because a university has a higher acceptance rate than the range you’re targeting, don’t be fooled into thinking that it is a sure acceptance for you. Select a school where your stats are around the 75th percentile in both the SAT and GPA, but use your judgment so you’re not overqualified, either.
Another common misconception is that we should choose a cheap school as our safety. But you’re actually wasting money if you don’t take into consideration basic factors such as the college having a strong program for the major of your choice.
In fact, the best part about your safety school is that you probably don’t have to worry about the money, because your qualifications put you above the average student there, which in turn means that the school will most likely give you some form of financial aid.
My primary safety was Pennsylvania State University. After checking up on the cost of attendance… let’s just say that there’s more than one reason why I’m happy to have gotten into my top preference.
Safeties may even affect your social life in unexpected ways. Social circles are formed by people you meet in classes or live with in your dorm, especially in colleges with student bodies upward of 25,000. So if you do indeed get into the honors college, your social circle will be full of other motivated students with futures as bright as yours because colleges often have separate classes or housing assignments for honors students.
It is important that the “party school” aspect of your safety school be the same as your reach or match schools. If you are not comfortable with the party scene, don’t apply to the school. Don’t lower your standards just because this is your safety school.
But finally, the most important aspect is that you love your safety school just as much as any other college on your list. It has to earn that spot, and not just be a potential part of your future because it is “easy” to get into.