College Fit: Reach, Match, and Safety Colleges Explained

Photograph of well-worn shoes, represents the need for a good college that feels like a cozy fit.

These shoes are probably someone’s favorite pair. Photo via Flickr.

When it comes to choosing a college, you will hear the term “fit” tossed around quite a bit. You’re told to find a college that is a good “fit”, but what does that really mean?

You know what it means to find a pair of jeans or sneakers that fit, but a college?

Clothing and colleges actually do have some similarities.  Let’s take footwear as an example:

  • In your closet, you undoubtedly have a pair of shoes that are your favorite. They are unbelievably comfortable. Perhaps they could be a little bit more stylish or need a bit of TLC, but you feel so totally at home in them that nothing could replace them.
  • You could opt for a bigger name brand pair of shoes that would impress your friends or ones that are flashier and more eye-catching, but we all know that your just not as comfortable and at home in them.

Finding your college “fit”

Let’s say you want to major in biology, there are no shortage of schools that offer this. You narrow the field to schools with fewer than 10,000 students within 200 miles of your home and that offer intramural soccer. Depending on where you live, there are likely still plenty of choices.

One early and important way to sort this list of schools is by academic profile. You can look at the standardized test scores and percentage of students accepted as a measure of selectivity and how you stack up against the students on campus.

Organizing your college options

Safety, match, and reach - what school is a good fit for you?

At this stage, it is very important to make sure your list includes a variety of colleges that fit into different categories based on the liklihood that you’ll be admitted:

  • Safety – 90%+ chance of admission
  • Near Safety – 70-90% chance of admission
  • Match – 40-70% chance of admission
  • Reach – 15-40% chance of admission
  • Huge Reach – Less than 15% chance of admission

A Note on Ivy League (and similar) Schools

The most selective schools in this country deny 90% or more of the students who apply.

For every 100 students that apply, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford and the like take only 5, 6, or 7 students. It is important to realize that no matter who you are, these schools are a Huge Reach for anyone and everyone who applies.

You might find 12 or more colleges that meet all of your criteria, but if they are all reach schools, this list is incomplete.

For both academic AND financial reasons, it is so important that your schools spread the selectivity spectrum from Huge Reach, to Reach to Match to Near Safety to Safety. This will ensure that you have options when it comes time to make a final college choice.

You may be able to get into a selective school, but if you cannot afford it, it’s not a good fit. Alternately, you may be able to afford a college, but what if you don’t find the people as warm and welcoming as you’d like? This would not be a good fit either.

There are intangible variables that are also important in choosing a college. Each school has a distinct personality that becomes much easier to identify when you have visited the campus, talked to students, read the school newspaper and the like.

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