How to categorize colleges into match, reach or safety schools

Last week I told you about Naviance. Naviance is the truest way you can use to assess your admissions chances since you will be evaluated for acceptance in direct competition with other students from your high school.

You’ll also use admissions chances as a guideline for choosing your reach, match and safety schools –and you’ll need this info to narrow your school list so you’re not applying to 25, 50, 100 colleges!

First, here’s the methodology and working definitions for “reach,” “target,” and “safety” schools :

A reach school is any school that has a 30% or lower acceptance rate and/or where your GPA/tests are in the lower 25th percentile of accepted students’ range.

A target school is one that accepts students whose average GPA and tests closely match yours. You are a “typical” academic candidate for this college. The college’s acceptance rate should be above 40% to be a target school.

A safety school is one where both your grades and test scores are in the 75th percentile or higher AND the college has at least a 45% acceptance rate. 

Remember, you want to check your high school’s acceptance rate versus the universal acceptance rate in Naviance. Are they similar or different?

To choose your reach, target, and safety schools, look at the acceptance rates from your high school pool, while being informed by the universal acceptance rate. The high school acceptance rate you see in Naviance is the important one to use in narrowing your school list!

Perhaps you have a broad list of colleges you’re interested in; some you’ve heard of and others that are new to you. Altogether, perhaps you start out with a list of 25 colleges that you’re interested in. How overwhelming! To manage your college process most effectively (and sanely), you should narrow this list to 8-12 colleges: 2-4 reaches, 4 targets, and 2-4 safeties.

Narrow down the list:

1) Be realistic. If you’re not close to the range in terms of GPA/test scores for your high school, take it off the list.

2) Prioritize your preferences. College is an opportunity to relocate to anywhere you want in the world, in theory. Do you want to stay local, or go across the country (or abroad)? Are there circumstances, such as financial or familial, that have a strong influence in the location you choose? What about academics, size, major selection, or flexibility?

3) Check your wallet. The net price calculator on these colleges’ website will help you to determine what you and your family will need to pay out of pocket, and what you can realistically expect in terms of the mix of grants/loans. Other tools, like GuidedPath, which you can subscribe to through me, can tell you which schools have merit money available and which do not.

Next week, I’ll tell you my method for learning about college costs – so that you can use it as a foundational basis for forming your college lists (most families worry about how to pay for college, so you’re not alone here).

Until next time…

Dr. Aviva Legatt

You can contact me by email or Follow me on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. I blog at and at Forbes

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