The Importance of Having a Safety School

In a perfect world, everyone would get into his or her first choice college. Alas, this world is not perfect, and Harvard rejected 91.03 percent of applicants to the class of 2011. It seems that ACT and SAT scores are getting better across the board, more and more students are finding it hard to get into their first choice colleges. What this means for the average student applying is that you better have a back-up plan, in case Duke decides to go Greg Oden on your application.

Think you’re too good for that state school down the street? Think again. If you think your inflated GPA and above average SAT will get you into any college you want, you have another thing coming. Admissions counselors are a very finicky bunch. A lot of times, who gets in and who gets the thin little letter of rejection seems more like a crap shoot than anything else.

In fact, I was rejected from a school that shall remain nameless, yet I had a substantially higher GPA than one of my friends who was accepted, and his SAT was only slightly higher than mine, and my ACT was the same as his. We both had solid extra curricular activities (he had four years of one sport, I had two years of volleyball, one year of football, and a year of theatre, while having a job). I had better AP test scores, and I had a brother at the University in question. Now, how did I get rejected? Bad essay? Maybe. A cynical part of me wonders if checking that little “Financial Aid” box really does affect acceptance. In any case, the point is that if I didn’t have a back up plan, I would have been sunk. My little example shows you how truly random the admission process can be.

Have several backup schools if you can afford the application fees. Throw in a community college for good measure. The worst thing you can do is limit your college decision. A backup school will give you some breathing room just in case NYU turns their nose up at you, and Stanford decides you won’t be hearing a Steve Jobs commencement speech any time soon. So the lesson is, have some back-up schools (more than one or two if you can help it).

I’ll leave you with a tale of a high school friend. He was smart, received a solid SAT score, probably had good essays, and he applied to some of the best colleges possible. Harvard, Yale, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Penn, Washington University in Saint Louis, and many more were all on his list. His safety school was Case Western. Unfortunately, he was denied from everywhere. If he didn’t have his safety school, he would have been sunk. It was a shame he didn’t select more safety schools, because he was not left with the possibility of making a decision. So, for your sake, remember to have a safety school.

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