Measuring Academic Fit: Reach, Match and Safety Schools

Academic fit is a measure of the likelihood of a student being admitted to a college, based on the student’s academic performance. The simplest method of measuring academic fit is to compare the student’s high school grade point average (GPA) and college admissions test scores with the typical range for students enrolled at the college. The college’s admissions test scores may be found on College Navigator and College Scorecard. For example, the student’s SAT or ACT scores might be compared with the performance of the middle half of the test score distribution for the college’s freshman class.

This leads to the following definitions of reach, match and safety schools:

  • A reach school is a college or university where the student’s academic performance falls short of the academic performance of the school’s typical freshman class. A student is unlikely to be admitted to a reach school.  A reach school is a college where the student’s test scores are below the 25th percentile of test scores for students admitted by the college.
  • A match school is a college or university where the student’s academic performance falls within the range of academic performance of the school’s typical freshman class. (Match schools were previously called “target” schools.) A student has a good chance of being admitted by a match school. A match school is a college where the student’s test scores are between the 25th and 75th percentiles of test scores for students admitted by the college.
  • A safety school is a college or university where the student’s academic performance falls above the range of academic performance of the school’s typical freshman class. A student is likely to be admitted to a safety school. A safety school is a college where the student’s test scores are above the 75th percentile of test scores for students admitted by the college.

These definitions are illustrated by this graphic:

Percentile Distribution of Test Scores Chart

Students should apply to several match and safety schools to increase the student’s chances of getting in to at least one college. This should include at least one in-state public college.

A financial aid safety school is a college that will not only admit the student, but where the student could afford to enroll even if he or she gets no financial aid. Use each college’s net price calculator to determine how much gift aid the student might receive at the college, as well as the college’s net price.

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