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10 Safety Schools to Consider for Your College List

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Safety schools should not be overlooked when you build your college list. It’s important to have these options on the off-chance you do not get accepted to your target or reach schools. In this post, we explain what you should look for in a safety school and provide a list of good safety schools you can consider when building your college list.


What Are Safety Schools?


Along with target and reach schools, safety schools are an integral part of your college list. Safety schools are schools where you have a 75%+ chance of acceptance based on your profile. Along with strong extracurriculars and essays, you should be in the 75th percentile of accepted students in terms of test scores and grades.


With that said, safety schools depend on the person. Based on test scores, grades, activities, and demographics, one person’s safety school may be another person’s target or reach school.


It’s important to remember that highly selective schools—those with admissions rates of less than 20%—aren’t safeties for anyone. Even if these highly selective schools match with your profile, you should still include schools with higher acceptance rates on your list. 


Keep in mind that some less-selective, but still prestigious, schools also practice yield protection, so those shouldn’t be safeties for anyone either. Yield is the percentage of accepted students who actually enroll at a school. Many schools believe yield is a measure of their desirability, and therefore want to maximize their yield percentages. Schools who don’t want to be seen as safeties will often practice yield protection where they may reject or waitlist exceptional candidates who they believe will be accepted and enroll in more prestigious schools.


Example of How a Safety Varies by Student


For example, say you and your friend are both applying to Tulane University. You scored a 1540 on the SAT, have a 3.84 GPA with 8 APs, are the captain of your high school’s soccer team, a member of the robotics club, and work a part-time job. Your friend, on the other hand, scored a 1400 on the SAT, has a 3.52 GPA with 2 APs, and is on the soccer team, but doesn’t really participate in other extracurriculars. 


As an initial cutoff, admissions officers may use the Academic Index, a tool used to combine applicants’ grades and test scores into a single numerical score. Based on stats alone, it is likely that Tulane would be a safety for you, but more of a reach for your friend since they have a SAT score below Tulane’s middle 50% SAT score range (1430-1530). You are likely to at least pass the initial screening and get the rest of your application read.


With that said, you can also tell if a school is a safety without relying on test scores or the Academic Index. Especially now, with more schools becoming test optional due to COVID-19, your GPA, course rigor, and extracurriculars can help determine your chances of acceptance. In the example above, based on GPA and extracurriculars, it is still likely that Tulane would be a safety for you, but more of a reach for your friend since they have a lower GPA, fewer APs, and participate in fewer extracurriculars. 


How Many Safeties Should You Have?


You should aim to apply to 8-12 schools total, and at least 2-3 of those should be safeties. A balanced school list is one that’s made up of 2-3 safety schools, 4-5 target schools, and 2-3 reach schools. While you should have a 75%+ chance of acceptance at a safety school, at a target or reach school, you should have a 50% or <25% chance of acceptance, respectively.


Having a balanced school list with enough safety and target schools is especially important with COVID-19 test-optional policies and lowered acceptance rates at elite schools. Students who only apply to reaches may end up having no options at all, unfortunately. Learn more about safeties, targets, and reaches and how to find the right ones for you in our blog post.


How to Find Good Safety Schools


1. Look at your state schools.


Many state schools prefer in-state applicants and have high admissions rates, making them a great place to start when looking for safety schools. Some state schools even guarantee admission to in-state residents. 


For example, if you attend Texas public schools you get guaranteed admission to public Texas universities if you meet certain class rank and/or testing requirements. Some of these universities are more competitive than others since each school has their own specific requirements for guaranteed admission.


UC schools also offer their own version of guaranteed admission called local guarantee (ELC). If you attend a participating public high school, are in the top 9% of your class, and take the required classes in 10th and 11th grade, you can qualify for guaranteed admission to a UC school.


Some state schools, however, can actually be pretty selective, such as the University of Michigan. If that’s the case, look for less-selective colleges, like MSU, or regional universities or community colleges.


2. Consider small, private colleges that offer significant merit aid.


Many small, private schools have high acceptance rates and attract strong applicants with generous scholarships. Unlike larger state schools, these schools often offer smaller class sizes and more contact with professors and faculty, which may appeal to you. 


While some small, private schools have steep tuition rates, schools like Clarke University, Illinois College, and Florida Southern College offer significant merit aid, making them great options for safety schools. 


Since merit aid isn’t need-based, it can help cover costs for students who don’t qualify for federal financial aid. If you have a strong academic profile, with high standardized test scores, GPA, and class rank, you will likely be eligible for some form of merit aid depending on the school.


3. Search for schools on CollegeVine and see your chances of acceptance.


It can be difficult to figure out what schools you can include as safeties on your college list, but don’t worry, CollegeVine can help! This is why we created our free chancing engine and school search tool. You’ll see your real chances of admission based on your academic profile, test scores, extracurriculars, and more. Our chancing engine still works if you’re applying to test-optional schools, and will tell you whether or not to submit your score. We can also help you discover schools based on your preferences, from intended major to admissions difficulty to diversity.


It’s also important to remember that a safety school should be affordable based on your family’s net price. Oftentimes, the sticker price is not the same as your net price once you factor in a school’s financial aid package. Our chancing engine can help you navigate these prices and estimate your actual cost of attendance at each school.



Discover your chances at hundreds of schools

Our free chancing engine takes into account your history, background, test scores, and extracurricular activities to show you your real chances of admission—and how to improve them.


10 Safety Schools with High Acceptance Rates


While safeties depend on the person, we wanted to share some examples of schools that may be safeties for strong applicants. We also tried to find schools that are relatively affordable, even for out-of-state students.


1. BYU


Location: Provo, Utah

Undergrad Enrollment: 31,400

Acceptance Rate: 64%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1210-1400 SAT, 26-32 ACT


BYU is affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If you’re affiliated with the church, you’re charged less than a non-church member, similar to in-state vs. out-of-state costs. The total cost of attendance for Latter-day Saints is $19,654 and non-Latter Day Saints can expect to pay is $25,624. This includes tuition, room and board, books, and personal expenses!


Learn more about BYU and what it takes to get accepted.


2. College of the Ozarks


Location: Point Lookout, Missouri

Undergrad Enrollment: 1,500

Acceptance Rate: 12%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 960-1220 SAT, 18-23 ACT


College of the Ozarks is a Christian, liberal arts college that offers more than 50 degree programs. There are many opportunities to get involved with leadership programs, such as the Leadership Development Tract, and Christian Fellowship opportunities. The cost of attendance is $27,530, but it’s important to keep in mind that the college discourages student borrowing, and therefore, does not participate in the federal, state or private loan programs.


Learn more about College of the Ozarks and what it takes to get accepted.


3. University of Wyoming


Location: Laramie, Wyoming

Undergrad Enrollment: 9,900

Acceptance Rate: 96%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1050-1240 SAT, 21-28 ACT


The University of Wyoming is located in Laramie, Wyoming, a great place for outdoor enthusiasts. The college also boasts small classes, with a student to faculty ratio of 15:1. If you’re a resident, the cost of attendance is $20,258 per year, and if you’re an out-of-state resident, it’s $32,828 per year.


Learn more about University of Wyoming and what it takes to get accepted.


4. University of Southern Mississippi


Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Undergrad Enrollment: 11,900

Acceptance Rate: 98%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 19-26 ACT


The University of Southern Mississippi has a vibrant student life with more than 220 student organizations and many immersive study-abroad programs. If you’re interested in attending, the cost for an in-state student is $25,280 and $27,280 for out-of-state students.


Learn more about University of Southern Mississippi and what it takes to get accepted.


5. Kent State University


Location: Kent, Ohio

Undergrad Enrollment: 22,500

Acceptance Rate: 85%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1030-1190 SAT, 20-26 ACT


Kent State ranks as one of the safest campuses in the country and has a diverse student body, with over 90 countries represented. If you’re an in-state student applying to Kent, you’ll pay $28,666, whereas out-of-state students pay $37,542.


Learn more about Kent State University and what it takes to get accepted.


6. Minot State University


Location: Minot, North Dakota

Undergrad Enrollment: 2,900

Acceptance Rate: 50%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 440-540 SAT, 18-24 ACT


Minot State has over 100 academic programs, ranging from Bioinformatics to Criminal Justice and is ranked as the third most affordable college in the U.S. At Minot State, all students pay the in-state tuition rate and the total cost of attendance is $15,098.


Learn more about Kent State University and what it takes to get accepted.


7. Midwestern State University


Location: Wichita Falls, Texas

Undergrad Enrollment: 5,300

Acceptance Rate: 71%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 930-1120 SAT, 17-22 ACT


MSU Texas is a liberal arts college situated between Dallas/Fort Worth and Oklahoma City. MSU also offers non-Texas residents a special tuition rate. If you’re a non-Texas resident, the cost of attendance is $19,446. If you’re a Texas resident, the cost is $17,496. Oklahoma residents also get a special reduced rate of $18,396. 


Learn more about Midwestern State University and what it takes to get accepted.


8. Florida International University


Location: Miami, Florida

Undergrad Enrollment: 48,800

Acceptance Rate: 59%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1120-1260 SAT, 23-29 ACT


Florida International University is one of the top 50 public research universities and ranked second for international business by U.S. News and World Report. If you’re a Florida resident, the cost of attendance is $23,804. Non-Florida residents must pay $36,202.


Learn more about Florida International University and what it takes to get accepted.


9. Montclair State University


Location: Montclair, New Jersey

Undergrad Enrollment: 16,900

Acceptance Rate: 71%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1000-1060 SAT


Montclair State University earned the title of “New Jersey’s best public university” according to Forbes magazine. There are close to 300 majors, minors, and certificate programs, a low student to faculty ratio (17:1), and all courses are taught by professors, not graduate students. For New Jersey residents, the cost of attendance is $33,976, and for out-of-state residents, the cost is $41,936.


Learn more about Montclair State University and what it takes to get accepted.


10. University of Maine at Farmington


Location: Farmington, Maine

Undergrad Enrollment: 1,700

Acceptance Rate: 81%

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1050-1240 SAT, 21-27 ACT


University of Maine at Farmington is like an “affordable public equivalent of a small, private liberal arts college.” The college is in historic downtown Farmington, a fun college town with funky stores and restaurants. There are also plenty of outdoor activities in Farmington and surrounding Maine, such as snowboarding, hiking, kayaking, and more. The cost of University of Maine Farmington is $19,851 for Maine residents and $31,275 for non-Maine residents.


Learn more about University of Maine at Farmington and what it takes to get accepted.


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Asia is a graduate of Tulane University where she studied English and Public Health. She's held multiple writing positions and has experience writing about everything from furniture to higher education to nutrition and exercise.