What Are Reach Schools?

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    Reach schools are schools where a student’s academic profile falls below that of the average admitted student. In other words, their high school GPA and standardized test scores fall below the 50th percentile. Any school where you have less than a 30% chance of acceptance should be considered a reach school. 

    That said, it’s important to keep in mind that some schools are reach schools for everyone, regardless of their grades and test scores. This is because Ivy League acceptance rates often fall below 10%. Similarly, other highly-selective colleges have overall acceptance rates that fall below 20%. 

    In this article, we will define reach, target, and safety schools. We will also answer key questions such as: How many reach schools should I apply to? Should I apply to an Ivy League? And how do I determine whether a school is a reach school?

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    What are reach, target, and safety schools?

    The key to knowing how to make a balanced college list is to include an even blend of safety, target, and reach schools. But what are safety, target, and reach schools? 

    A “safety” school is when a student has a 75% chance (or greater) of being admitted based on their GPA and test scores. A “target” school is when a student falls within the 50th percentile of accepted students. And a reach school is a school where a student has a 25% chance or less of being admitted, based on their high school GPA and standardized test scores. 

    Safety, target, and reach schools are different for each student. A target school for one student may be a reach school for another student. Similarly, a safety school for one student could be a target school for another student. 

    In other words, safety, target, and reach schools aren’t determined by their overall acceptance rate. Rather, they are determined by the student’s individual chances of being admitted based on their academic profile. 

    How to Determine Reach Schools

    So, how do you determine whether a school is a reach school? 

    The first step is to look up admissions statistics for the school. Find a list of the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentile for admitted students’ GPA and standardized test scores. Then compare your own scores. Where do they fall? If your scores fall between the 25th and 75th percentile, the school is a target school. If they fall within the 25th percentile, the school is a reach school. And if they fall within the 75th percentile, the school is a safety school.  

    For example, according to the U.S. News College Report, Skidmore College admits students with SAT scores between 1270 and 1440. The lower score marks the 25th percentile of students who enrolled, while the higher score marks the 75th percentile. So if you scored a 1200 on the SAT, you would fall in the 25th percentile, which means that Skidmore College would be a reach school.

    How many colleges should you apply to?

    At this point, you’re probably wondering: how many colleges should I apply to? And how many reach schools should I apply to? 

    Let’s start with the first question: College counselors and admissions officers suggest students apply to 5-8 colleges. That said, ambitious students often apply to 8-12 colleges, with a couple of extra reach schools thrown in for good measure. 

    As a general rule, one third of the colleges on your list should be safety schools, one third should be target schools, and one third should be reach schools. So, if you’re applying to nine colleges, three should be safety schools, three should be target schools, and three should be reach schools. 

    But remember, these are guidelines. So while you should keep this general concept in mind, you don’t need to follow this formula exactly. In fact, most college counselors recommend that you apply to two to three safety schools, three to four target schools, and two to three reach schools. 

    How Many Reach Schools Should You Apply To?

    Time and money are the two most important factors to consider when deciding how many reach schools to apply to. If you have unlimited time and money, you can apply to as many reach schools as you want. For most students, though, this isn’t a practical option. 

    College applications are time-consuming. Especially if they require lots of supplemental essays or do not use the CommonApp. It’s also expensive. Even if you qualify for application fee waivers, there are lots of costs to consider, including the cost of sending official transcripts and test scores. 

    So, once you come up with your list of reach schools, ask yourself if you have the time and money to apply to all of the schools on your list. And remember, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed during college application season, it’s better to sacrifice applying to a reach school, rather than a target or safety school.

    Should you apply to an Ivy League?

    Every year thousands of students apply to our country’s top schools. But only a small fraction are admitted. With Ivy League acceptance rates below 10%, even well-qualified students need a bit of luck to gain admission into these highly-selective schools. This is why Ivy Leagues and other highly selective colleges are always reach schools — no matter how well-qualified a student may be. 

    This does not mean, however, that you shouldn’t apply to an Ivy League school. Just know that there are no guarantees, even if you have the grades and test scores to succeed. Apply to as many reach schools as you’d like. Just make sure you have enough target and safety schools on your college list. After all, you’ll want to have plenty of options come springtime!

    Still wondering, should I apply to Ivy League schools? Check out our articles, How to Get Into an Ivy League School and Ivy League Acceptance Rates 2023 for more info!

    What is holistic college admissions and why is it important?

    Colleges want to admit unique, capable students who will be active, both inside and outside of the classroom and are eager to challenge themselves academically. This is why college admissions officers consider lots of factors, beyond just grades and test scores. In addition to submitting your grades and test scores, you’ll need to submit letters of recommendation, college essays, and a list of extracurricular activities. 

    Holistic College Admission Standards help admissions officers select passionate and promising students who will contribute to a diverse incoming class. This is why it’s important to complete each section of your college application with care. Spend time learning  How to Write a Unique College Essay, then write several drafts. Remember, college essays help personalize the admissions process. So use your essay to let admissions officers get to know you. 

    You’ll also want to engage in meaningful extracurricular activities, such as volunteering or completing a passion project. And remember, it’s important to spend your summers productively. If you need ideas about how to spend your summer, read our article, 25 Summer Activities That Look Good on College Applications.

    Key takeaways and moving forward

    Now that you’ve learned a bit more about safety, target, and reach schools, you’re ready to start narrowing down your college list. Remember, try to apply to an equal number of safety, target, and reach schools. Most college counselors recommend that you apply to two to three safety schools, three to four target schools, and two to three reach schools. 

    Applying to college can feel overwhelming at times. So if you need help knowing How to Choose Your Dream College, feel free to reach out to our team for more resources. In the meantime, check out our articles, 15 Safety Schools for Your College List and What Do College Admissions Officers Look For in an Applicant?

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