In the world of college admissions, what is a safety school really? Most college bound students would agree that it’s a college where they are almost certain they could gain admission, but it’s so much more than that. College acceptances are part art and part science which makes the results a bit unpredictable both in terms of admission AND financial aid. In this day and age, it’s important to be able to say that you have a school on your list that you’re almost certain you’ll get into, afford, AND be happy.
I ask every one of my students to play out an unlikely scenario. “If you got into ONLY your safety school(s), could you go there and be happy?” If the answer is “no”, then we need to look for another safety school. Evidently, I’m not the only one who asks this question. The New York Times college admission and financial aid blog, The Choice, written by college-bound students and professionals in the field echoes this same strategy (December 3, 2012). College is too big an investment of time and money to not be at a place where you can learn, grow, afford and be happy.
I strongly suggest that the students with whom I work have 2 colleges that are financial AND academic safeties. The financial requirement often dictates that students have 2 (in-state) state schools on their list, at least one of which the student would have an excellent chance of admission (or a community college). Private colleges that are safer best will often “entice” you to enroll at their school through scholarships or very appealing need-based financial aid packages. Because it is a safer bet for you, your numbers (GPA, standardized test scores) are often above their averages, and having you enroll would bring their averages up. That’s very appealing to them, and they may well be willing to offer you an incentive to gain your enrollment.
I will leave you by way of an anecdote that illustrates the importance of this strategy. I had a family with twin high school seniors applying to college. Not only were both parents employed, but one had a substantial tuition benefit. I still insisted that the twins each have 2 state schools on their list knowing that the economy was weak thus making everyone’s future just a little less predictable. Half way through their senior year, the parent with the more substantial income was down-sized. This parent was left without an income AND a tuition benefit, but we all knew the twins would be ok because we had planned well. As it turns out, neither enrolled at a state school simply because schools that were ranked higher on their list were understanding and accommodating of their financial situation. Planning well, however, saved at least some angst and anxiety in that household.