By Brian Witte
Excerpted from U.S. News & World Report
Your safety school should be the college or university on your short list that serves as a backup if your target and reach schools do not work out in your favor. It is still a safety school, though, so your choice hardly matters – right?
Perhaps not. Take Howard, for example, whose primary safety school was a large state university with affordable tuition. When his target schools failed to offer sufficient financial aid, this university became his only option.
His target campuses had been small liberal arts colleges that complemented his innate shyness with class sizes that would ensure he met other students and spoke with his professors. At the large state university, Howard drifted for five years and struggled to make friends and select a major that he loved. He graduated, but college was hardly the transformative experience he had dreamed of.
Howard's story highlights one of the downsides of attending a safety school – it is only safe in terms of admission. There are real dangers in not choosing your safety school wisely. Here are key factors to consider when selecting a safety school.
• Intellectual engagement: You may have chosen your safety school because you were almost certain that you would be accepted based on your GPA and test scores. If so, you may quickly find that you are struggling because your classes are too simple for you.
• Available majors: Another danger of attending a safety school occurs if your focus shifts. Many students ultimately choose different majors than the ones they imagined in high school. These individuals may later realize that their safety school has excellent programs in particular concentrations but that it struggles to provide an elite education across the full range of academic programs.
• The intangibles: A third danger – one that Howard discovered – is that your safety school is a poor match in one or more categories. This may be school size, whether the campus is claustrophobically small or bewilderingly large.
Treat your safety school as a true option. Research its culture, majors, financial aid and academic rigor. It will not meet all of your criteria – it would be a target school if it did – but it should satisfy most of your requirements.
Too often, students do not take safety schools seriously until it is too late. Ensure, in short, that you could thrive at your safety school if you were to land there.
Brian Witte is a professional SAT tutor with Varsity Tutors. Read his article in full as it appeared on usnews.com here.