How to Choose the Right Reach Schools

This post is the first part of our three-part series on how to choose the right reach, match, and safety schools. Over the course of the next two months, visit the Varsity Admissions Blog for advice on how to tackle this part of the admissions process.

If you’re applying to college, you’re probably familiar with the words safety, match, and reach. They represent the three types of institution that a student can apply to:

  • Safety—schools you know you’ll get into 
  • Target—schools you think you’ll get into 
  • Reach—schools you’re not sure you’ll get into.

You can identify your safety, match, and reach schools by comparing your credentials—such as GPA and standardized test scores—to that of the average admitted student. These statistics are usually available on a college’s website.

It can be tempting to only apply to safety and match schools in order to forego the disappointment of being denied admission to your dream, or reach, schools. Fear of rejection, however, is no reason not to apply to these colleges and universities. When choosing the right reach schools, use your skill set to your advantage and identify what a reach school actually means to you.

Choose the right reach schools by thinking big—within reason

Create a list of dream schools, and then consider the academic profile of the average admitted student. If you are within a reasonable range of this profile—for example, within 0.25 or 0.5 grade points—you should weigh applying. Most colleges and universities place significance on extracurricular activities and application essays, in addition to academics. So, even if your academic game isn’t extremely strong, there’s a chance your other assets could boost your application.

However, if a reach school’s academic standards are much higher than you can achieve by the time you graduate, you might want to rethink your application. Not only is it unlikely you’ll get in, but if you do get in, you may struggle with the coursework. It’s key to apply to schools that are a good academic match so that you can get the most out of your education.

[RELATED: 5 Quick Tips for Writing a College Application Essay]

Choose the right reach schools by using all of your skills to your advantage

You’ll have a better chance of getting into a reach school, regardless of your academic profile, if you can prove you’ll be an asset to the college or university in a unique way. For example, if you’ve won awards in art or music in high school, apply to a school with a well respected arts or music program that offers scholarships in those areas. Talk about your non-academic skills and interests in your application essay or during your admissions interview. Be sure to include all of your extracurricular activities and how long you’ve been involved in them on your applications.

[RELATED: 3 Common Questions Students May Ask in Admissions Interviews]

Choose the right reach schools by remembering that not all reach schools are Ivy Leagues

There’s no doubt that Ivy League schools offer amazing academic and extracurricular programs. However, other private and public colleges and universities offer rigorous and exciting programs as well.

When searching for reach schools, keep your academic and personal interests in mind. There are many colleges and universities with specialized academic and extracurricular offerings that align with what you like most. Don’t feel that for a school to be your reach school, it has to be an Ivy League institution. Be honest with yourself about your goals and what you bring to the table, and you will be able to identify the right reach schools for you.

[RELATED: What to Do After You’ve Submitted Your College Applications]


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