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How to Pick a Safety School you Love


pick a safety school

How to Pick a Safety School you Love We completely understand—as you’re applying to college, it’s fun to dream of getting accepted at your top-choice school, envisioning yourself attending there as you compile your applications. However, you probably also know that a well-designed list of target schools includes plenty of matches and safeties.


We often see students’ demeanor shift when we bring up safety schools. “If I have to attend a safety school,” a common refrain goes, “they’re all disappointing, so I might as well choose the one that’s cheapest, or closest to home.”


Finances are definitely an important consideration—but you should never default to a school just because it’s close, or affordable, or you don’t believe you’ll need to attend a safety. When students fail to research and prioritize this part of the process, they ignore the fact that less-selective “safeties” vary a lot in quality and how they fit your specific goals.


Here are a few suggestions for finding a safety school that’s not just a fallback, but desirable in its own right:


1. Start with a target location. Location affects not just your college experience, but the job opportunities available to you after college. When it comes to job placement, less-selective schools often punch above their weight in the city they’re located in. Local employers will be familiar with your school and its offerings, and you’ll have a chance to network and do off-campus jobs and internships that can help your job search after college. Term-time internships are often easier to land than summer ones, so choosing your city strategically is a great way to access highly sought-after internships.


2. Focus on your major. As you research, look for schools with excellent departments in your specific field. For example, the University of Iowa has an acceptance rate of 86%, but it also has an outstanding creative writing program—its master’s degree is widely acknowledged the best in the country, and many of its resources are available to undergrads. English or writing majors who get shut out of their top-choice schools can have an amazing experience here.


3. Consider your lifestyle preferences. Big city or college town? Intimate liberal arts college, or large research university? Live in an apartment, or a campus dorm for all four years? Many students have preferences on these questions but are willing to set them aside for schools with a strong name brand. For your safeties, you don’t need to compromise on this and can focus on schools that fit your exact lifestyle preferences.


4. Consider study abroad. This is not for everyone, but many top schools in other countries have relatively forgiving acceptance rates. For example, the University of Toronto is ranked by US News and World Report as the top university in Canada, and its acceptance rate is 43%. Note that while many colleges outside the US have lower tuition prices, financial aid may be unavailable to you as an international student.


5. Don’t ignore the transfer route. If you’re dead-set on your dream school, research the possibility of transferring there after a year or two somewhere else. This can be a factor when choosing safety schools, because when evaluating transfer applications, some schools give preferential treatment to applicants from some colleges over others. Just make sure your choice is a school you’d be happy to attend even if your transfer application isn’t successful.


At College Choice Counseling®, our counselors and tutors are here to help you with college counseling, college essay and application help, test prep tutoring, and academic subject tutoring. Reach out … we’ll help you succeed!



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