Choosing Colleges: Play it Safe or Reach for the Sky?
Safety and reach

Like mountain climbing, always reach for your goal, but keep safety in mind.
Photo by Anna Langova.

Choosing colleges and deciding which schools to apply to can be a daunting decision. It is easy, in these days of the common application, to apply to every school that holds any interest for you. Although you do not want to go this route (doing so will water down the time you have for the application process), it is important to make sure that you apply for a variety of institutions.

Within this group, you want to make sure that you include schools you are more certain will accept you, called “safety” schools, as well as schools where it is more challenging to be accepted. These are called “reach” schools. Between the two are “realistic” or “match” schools.

Some students apply to just reach schools, counting on being accepted to at least one prestigious institution. Others focus on just safety schools, afraid that they will not be accepted at a smaller or better college. But, the best plan for most students is to apply to all three types of schools.

A good rule of thumb is to spread your applications roughly evenly over all three types of institutions. Once you narrow your choices to six to eight schools, you should find yourself with around two to three of each type of institution.

Never apply to any college that you are not willing to attend, as that would just be a waste of time and money. And don’t be afraid of applying to your dream school, but have a backup plan – or five.

Bobby Touran is the founder and CEO of ApplyKit. ApplyKit helps students manage their entire college application process and also provides key resources to help them excel every step of the way.

  • Susie Watts, Private College Counselor

    I think these are good suggestions to help students as they put together their college list. The most important thing to remember throughout this process is that there are no guarantees in college admissions.