Applying to college involves more than a completed application; it requires research and a strategy. With fierce competition among the elite, and not so elite, colleges, there are no guarantees you will be accepted into your top school. That’s why the best college application strategy incorporates stretch, target, and safety schools.

When applying to a stretch school, your chances of acceptance are low, or a “stretch.” A target school is one in which you have a 50/50 chance of acceptance, and a safety school is a college that will most likely accept you. In fact, you have about an 80% chance of acceptance into a safety school. But how can you determine which colleges are safe? Factors that indicate the likelihood of college acceptance are the school’s overall acceptance rate and the average GPA and SAT/ACT scores of the current freshman class.

A college’s acceptance rate is the number of accepted applicants divided by the total number of applicants as a percent. Percentages vary from a highly selective 5% to a less selective 90%. The less selective a school, the better chance of acceptance. You can research acceptance rates online or contact individual schools.

Most schools disclose the average GPA and SAT/ACT scores of students they have accepted in the past. You are a competitive applicant when you score within the average GPA and test score range. A school can be considered “safe” if you rank within the 75th percentile, or high end of the average range. While researching admission requirements, list all your safety schools based on this criterion.

Now that you have identified potential safety schools, you can narrow down this list to those you’re interested in by considering the student population, geographic location, programs of study, cost, extracurricular activities/sports, and network opportunities of each school. In addition to public and private four-year universities, two-year community college is a strong safety school option. SAT scores are not required for admissions into a community college.

Application deadlines can also factor into your safety school strategy. Since colleges with rolling admissions accept applications year around, you can apply to these schools after you hear back from your stretch and target schools (typically by April or May). If you apply early decision to your top schools and find out by January or February that you were not accepted, you can still apply to colleges with later regular decision application deadlines. The chart below lists public Virginia colleges with rolling admissions, late application deadlines, and an acceptance rate over 60%.

Rolling Admissions Regular App Deadline after 2/15 60% Acceptance Rate or Higher
Ferum University Hampden-Sydney University Bridgewater University
Liberty University Longwood University Hampton University
Lynchburg University Randolph Macon University Longwood University
Norfolk State University Sweetbriar College Northern Virginia Community College
Northern Virginia Community College Virginia Wesleyan College Old Dominion University
Old Dominion University Radford University
Roanoke College Shenandoah University
Shenandoah University

The number of safety schools you apply to depends on your confidence as a college applicant. Some students feel confident they will be accepted into their top choice schools and don’t apply to any safety schools, while others apply to four or five safety schools in case they are not accepted into their top schools. As a rule of thumb, we recommend applying to two or three safety schools.

Need more help choosing safety schools? Give us a call!