Creating The Perfect University List: Learn Your Safety, Target & Reach

27 JUL 2022

Creating a university list, while exciting, can be tricky. In today’s university admissions landscape, competition is high, and acceptance rates are low. To maximize your chances of acceptance to a school you truly want to attend, it’s important to think strategically about which schools you want on your application list. The ideal university list should hold a balance of safety, target and reach - or sometimes even extreme reach schools! We are here to help you break down exactly what these terms mean, which universities fit into each category, and how many schools you should apply to.

Safety, Target, Reach & Extreme Reach: What is the difference?

What is a Safety School?

A safety school is a university where you have a greater than 75% chance of acceptance. These schools consistently admit students with lower test scores and GPAs than yours. While these universities may be chosen primarily because of your high chance of acceptance, safety schools should still fulfil all your criteria for your ideal school.

While a safety school may lie on the lower end of the scale in terms of academic rigor (in your own personal case), it should not lie below your range. These schools should still be able to satisfy your academic needs and challenge you intellectually. At a minimum, you should consider applying to 2 safety schools.

What is a Target School?

A target school is one in which your academic credentials and grades fall within the average range of students admitted, often between the 25th and 75th percentiles. While admission at these universities is not guaranteed, there is a good chance that you can expect to be admitted. In other words, these schools are not ‘easy wins’ or ‘out of your league’. They sit at the mid-range point of your university admissions goals. At a minimum, you should consider applying to 4 target schools.

What is a Reach School?

A reach school (sometimes called a “dream” school) accepts candidates with academic credentials a little higher than yours. These schools are usually the ones candidates ideally choose to go to if grades and cost are irrelevant factors.

Your chances of admission at a reach school are less than 25% on average. Some top US universities, including the Ivy League, are considered reach schools for all applicants, considering their incredibly low acceptance rates. These schools should not stretch wildly beyond your academic range but sit at the very top of this range. At a minimum, you should consider applying to 3 reach schools.

What is an Extreme Reach School?

At Crimson, many of our students opt for adding one or two extreme reach schools. These schools (like the Ivies mentioned above) usually fall into the ‘very low admit rate’ basket where the competition is fierce (e.g., Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Yale or MIT).

These schools are a reach for even the best applicants, many of whom reject students with perfect test scores and impeccable profiles. Each year many Crimson students manage to defy the odds and gain offers from schools which, at least at some point, seemed like impossibilities, grateful they stretched that bit higher to build applications which resonated with admissions officers at some of the best universities in the world.


Learn The Top 5 Mistakes Students Make When Making a University List!

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Why is the Safety, Target, Reach and Extreme Reach Strategy Important?

So, why is it important to categorize your university list in this manner? The short answer is, that by doing so you maximize your chances of acceptance. While ideally you would probably like to fill your list with reach or extreme reach schools, you do not want to run the risk of getting rejected to every school you apply to. Including target and safety schools decreases this risk and balances your university list, so that you can ensure that you will gain admission to universities that are still a great fit for you.

How to Determine your Safety, Target, Reach & Extreme Reach Schools?

Here are five tips we suggest you use to determine your safety, target, reach and extreme reach schools:

  1. Consult the Crimson University Admissions Calculator for an easy way to learn which universities are currently in your safety, target, reach and extreme reach buckets based on your current SAT or ACT scores
  2. Research university admissions requirements and create a list according to your own ranking system.
  3. Determine the acceptance rate of any given school and research the average GPA and standardized test scores of admitted students to get an idea of your chances of acceptance.
  4. Use your resources - speak to your school counselors to help you determine where to categorize your ideal schools.
  5. Refine your list. Before categorizing your schools into safety, target, reach and extreme reach, make sure you have refined your university list. See our earlier article on researching colleges for help picking the ideal schools for you.
  6. Book a free one-hour consultation with a Crimson Academic Advisor who will give you a clear picture of where you stand now — and where you could be, with the right guidance and support. Ask lots of questions as to how you could turn your reach schools into realities.

Final Thoughts

Remember, that every school on your list, from safety to extreme reach, should be a school where you would thrive. Make sure you don’t discount schools just because they don’t sit at the top of ranking lists, and similarly, you don’t consider higher ranked schools because you may not be at the top of your class right now. Many of our students improve significantly during their time working with Crimson, so it’s important to be both realistic and ambitious when building your own perfect university application list!


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Crimson students are up to 7x more likely to gain admission into their dream university! Book a free consultation to learn more about how we can help you get there!