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Posted at 10:01 AM ET, 10/26/2010

Safety schools matter in college admissions

By Valerie Strauss

This post was written by college admissions consultant Bruce Vinik, president of Vinik Educational Placement Services, Inc., in Cabin John, Md.

By Bruce Vinik

“My daughter didn’t get into any of her favorite colleges and it was the best thing that ever happened to her.”

I recently ran into a friend whom I hadn’t seen in a while. As we talked, the conversation turned toward college admissions. Somehow, most of my casual conversations with parents of teenagers turn toward college admissions. As we talked, he eventually shared this wonderful, thoughtful and important observation (above) about his 19-year-old sophomore who was thriving at a college that had been near the bottom of her list.

What my friend had discovered was something I have been preaching to juniors and seniors and their parents for years. Safeties matter. In fact, they may be the most important schools on any individual’s college list. As seniors begin to make their final decisions about where to apply to college, they need to think long and hard about all of their schools, not just the tough ones.

No one has difficulty finding reaches because they seem to be everywhere. From Cambridge, Massachusetts to Palo Alto, California, reaches abound.

Safeties are another story for many students. They seem to be in short supply. Many kids spend so much time focusing on the more competitive schools that they overlook the many wonderful choices that don’t require straight A’s and perfect test scores.

Unfortunately, these are the very colleges that students should be paying extra attention to. After all, if things don’t work out with their top choices, isn’t it important to attend a college that has just about everything they want and need?

Here’s some simple advice for seniors at this critical time of year: Spend a little extra time researching and exploring safeties; don’t take them for granted. Figure out what you absolutely need to have (vegan food) in a college and what you are willing to give up (ocean view).

If you apply to two or three schools where you are highly likely to be admitted, then you are virtually guaranteed to have a happy and successful college experience, even if you don’t get into those big names on your list.

Of course, my advice begs the question: What constitutes a safety?

While there is no fool-proof formula that guarantees admission to any particular college, here is one way of answering that question. A student whose grades and test scores are at or above the 75th percentile for an individual college has an excellent chance of gaining admission. While recommendations, activities and essays are important parts of most applications, colleges are likely to admit almost every applicant whose grades and scores fall at the upper end of their range.

To find information about these ranges, check individual college websites, or just about any college guidebook.

This is a very important and difficult time of year for twelfth graders. As seniors put together their final college lists and work on their applications, they will discover that the coming months can be much less stressful if they apply to two or three good schools where they are all but assured of being admitted. Think safeties.


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By Valerie Strauss  | October 26, 2010; 10:01 AM ET
Categories:  Bruce Vinik, College Admissions, Guest Bloggers  | Tags:  college admissions, college applications, getting into college, safeties, safety schools, what's a safety?  
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As a college consultant, I think you have offered some valuable advice. I make sure that each of my students has at least two or three schools that would be in the safety category. With college admissions as unpredictable as it is, you can't be sure of anything. I have heard too many stories about students with high GPA's and test scores who didn't get into any of the schools they applied to and had no safety schools to fall back on either.

Posted by: collegedirection | November 1, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

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