Launch Global Education
Sparks blog: Reach, Fit, Safety

by Mr. Michael Wagner

One of the first and most important steps for a student in the college application process is assembling a college list.  This list of schools that a student creates of potential places to apply can start out based on broad interests and can have a lot of variation. However, the final college list should consist of about ten schools, which will all fit the criteria that a student has identified as essential to their experience and needs.

Your academic portfolio

One of the main areas that a student needs to concentrate on is how the college or university matches their academic portfolio. Your academic portfolio is defined first by your overall grades or grade point average and sometimes standardized test scores. While these are not the only criteria universities use for choosing a student, they should be your measurements for categorizing your college list.

The three categories

There are three categories that students should use when completing their college list:

Ø  Reach (or Dream) School

Ø  Fit (or Match) School

Ø  Safety (or Certain or Back-up) School

Reach/Dream Schools

These are schools where your academic portfolio is at or below the normal average of students they accept. These are schools where you know it is probably a long shot to be accepted but you want to try anyway, understanding that it may not go in your favor.

Estimate of chances of being admitted: <25%

person on ladder reaching for the sky

Fit/Match Schools

These are schools where your academic portfolio is within the range of students they accept. While falling within the range of students a university normally accepts is NOT a guarantee that a student will be accepted to the school, it is reasonable to expect that a student will be accepted to many of the schools within this category.

Estimate of chances of being admitted: 25% - 80%

piece fitting in puzzle

Safety/Certain/Back-up Schools

These are schools where your academic portfolio is well within the range or even exceeds the range of the academic portfolio typical of students they accept. When placing a school within this category students should feel fairly certain that they will be accepted.

Estimate of chances of being admitted: 80% - 99%

Note: There is never a 100% chance of being accepted to any college or university.

life buoy

The ratio

When using this model to finalize a list of ten colleges, the following breakdown is recommended for an overall, well-rounded, college list:     

Ø  2 reach/dream schools

Ø  5 fit/match schools

Ø  3 safety schools

Your final list

All of the schools that make the final list should have one thing in common: every school should meet all of a student’s requirements for a perfect fit. This may seem obvious, but quite simply, every school should be a college or university that a student is willing to attend if they are accepted. Placing a school on the final list simply because of its popularity or ranking is not aligned with choosing a perfect fit college.

As simple as this process may seem, it is not easy to develop and then pare down a list, yet it is one of the most crucial steps in the college application process. Using this process keeps students from having an unrealistic list and from missing out on great opportunities. While what is deemed essential for a perfect fit varies greatly from student to student (and will be the subject of future posts), make sure you have a balance of reach, fit, and safety schools to maximize your college-going options.

Mr. Michael J. Wagner

Michael Wagner, MAED is a founder and the Knowledge Pilot for Launch Education.  Mr. Mike has assisted hundreds of students around the world on their college pathways.