Commonly, the terms Reach, Target and Safety schools help to delineate a candidates probability of acceptance into preferred colleges. Each label speaks of a level of confidence that defines prospects as strong (Safety), mid-level (Target) and limited (Reach) relative to admissions. These categories are based on matching a student’s profile with the most recent college entry criteria, including statistical (GPA, SAT, etc.), experiential and achievement factors. There is a built-in impulse to fill all three “confidence brackets” when forming a college list, a sort of insurance policy that all bases are covered.
The striking limitation of this model is the disconnect between targeting a specific category (e.g. Reach) and the prospect of a student thriving in that competitive environment. Similarly, the term Safety school conveys the backup plan that students truly do not want to fall back on. The three-tiered model employs an approach that views college entry as grasping for the brass ring rather than one of ensuring a suitable college match between school and student.
A more even-handed approach might include presenting a college list that includes only schools that will allow students to thrive upon admission . An alternate to the three tiered approach is a two-tiered model using the phrases Strong Probability of Admission and Probable Chance of Admission. This pairing serves multiple purposes. It identifies schools that offer a strong likelihood of academic success upon admission rather than simply saying that entry is within “Reach”. Each entry on a well-researched college list places a student at a competitive advantage upon enrolling. This two-tiered approach also aids in removing the anxiety surrounding the idea that college admissions is an unpredictable endeavor. Essentially, isolating the optimal college fit rather than fishing for admission to schools which offer prestige or name recognition or higher guide book rankings, sets a student up for success at the admissions level and beyond.
Providing a selection of schools where an applicant sits high within a competitive pool offers a healthy option for consideration. Predictably, elevating the likelihood of a positive admissions outcome benefits from categories that promote all listed schools as desirable options to attend. Simply navigating past the admissions gatekeeper is not the primary objective of a well-formed college list. Infrequent is the choice to enthusiastically attend one’s “Safety” school . More relevant, a final college list which properly serves student ambitions is one in which each listed school offers a solid chance of admission and is an inviting option come college decision time.