How does one determine "Reach", "Match", "Safety"?





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Discus: Parents Forum: 2004 Archive - Part 2: How does one determine "Reach", "Match", "Safety"?
By Simba (Simba) on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 - 01:18 pm: Edit

I hear these words a lot. How can you determine? Is there a magic formula?

By Mom2003 (Mom2003) on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 - 02:00 pm: Edit

Ahh.. the question all of us asked when we first started the college search. I am not sure I have the magic formula but here is what I did.

1. Set up a meeting with the GC and told him before the meeting my purpose. He printed out list of kids (names removed) with GPA/SAT scores and their applied/admitted list for the past two years for our school. So I had information specific to our high school. I also asked his help in figuring out where my son would fit into the school distribution and asked him for a list of match schools.

2. Looked at the USNWR site (paid for the memebership) and looked at the SAT scores of various schools. Where the median score was about 150 points below my son's score, we treated as a safety school (in his case NYU). None of the schools on USNWR top 25 list were treated as safety but we did see a couple as match schools (in general either based on school experience or our son's SAT score being about 50 points above the 75 percentile range. This was a bit dicey so I also checked with parents at CC. We decided Chicago was a good match school for him.

3. Added our state school as a safety for good measure (thanks Jamiemom for the suggestion!)

4. Decided that we will fine tune his list if he was outright rejected from the EA school (Stanford) and add more safeties. If he was waitlisted we would assume he was in the ballpark (can't be done with places like Harvard which waitlist most of the EA applicants).

5. Read CC from the prior year's April archives to see if I could get a sense of where my son was.

6. Got him to look at CC and look at his evaluation of the kids from his school in the past 5-6 years so that he could figure out where he falls in comparison. This was hard because comparisons are intrinsically difficult but necessary for realistic evaluation.

Hope this helps. We feel reasonably happy with the outcome and feel that our judgement was validated (he did not apply to safeties due to the EA admission but did try one match and other reaches and was admitted to quite a few with a waitlist and a couple of rejections). I realize that our strategy overemphasizes the SAT scores but we couldn't think of anything else that would be comparable. Maybe other parents have a different strategy.

By Simba (Simba) on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 - 05:46 pm: Edit

thanks Mom2003. It was quite detailed.

By Cheers (Cheers) on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 - 08:06 pm: Edit

No GC in school so we did it all ourselves. Mom as GC. Horrifying thought, isn't it?

From SAT scores and GPA, figured "Reach" school was in the 25% acceptance range for S. Asked S to pick one Reach to apply ED. (Unfortunately, not on CC then, didn't realize said Reach--G'town SFS--was more like 10% acceptance and therefore complete Fantasy. Sigh. Wasted effort).

Figured Match schools were in the 35% to 50% acceptance range. Asked S to pick 2 Matches. He got into 1 and that's where he is going. The other one had record apps in 2003-2004 and it's acceptance rate dropped from 33% to 25% overnight. Again, wish I had been on CC.....but actually the ultra-urban non-rah-rah location of the one he will attend will work out for the best.

Figured Safety at 70% acceptance rate and asked S to pick one Safety. He did and he got in.

Any school with an acceptance rate below...I'll say 15%...is a REach for everyone, including superstars with 8.9GPA and 1700 SAT and Nike deals. Unless your last name is Gates or Trump maybe...

By Nhfrenchie (Nhfrenchie) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 11:45 am: Edit

Make sure that the "safety" school(s) is also a "financial" safety. If you receive an acceptance to a match/reach, will you be able to afford it? A safety school should be somewhere that is affordable based on your financial situation at hand without the need for merit scholarships/financial aid per se so you are not disappointed if all the other options fall through.

By Gtownmom (Gtownmom) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 11:58 am: Edit

Be careful about "wet blanket" GC's! My son's GC at his high school gave him the impression that our big public state school was a reach and that he'd better get on the stick or he'll be at the local community college. We got ABSOLUTELY no support from school. I figured out that their job is to get everyone into college, the quality of school isn't that important to them. Luckily we had a family friend who was a GC at a better (read: higher income level) high school and she was very encouraging and supportive of my son's efforts at applications to the elite schools. Now he's off to Georgetown! Have a true safety but don't let your GC discourage you and have you aim too low! Good luck. GtownMom

By Achat (Achat) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 12:50 pm: Edit

My son's GC told him he had absolutely no chance at the school he is going to this fall. I kept telling him he had nothing to lose and to just apply. My son did so reluctantly. Well, not only did he get in, he got in 'early write', meaning before the April 1 date they sent him a letter saying he had got in and to keep it quiet. At our school the GCs just push the state's flagship university and nothing else. They can be discouraging.

By Kluge (Kluge) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 01:14 pm: Edit

For "regular" students (i.e., non-Ivy League candidates) my suggestion is this:

Step 1: Analyze your "stats". There's a lot of talk here on CC about essays, recommendations, and EC's but the starting point for categorizing schools as safety, match or reach is basic numbers - SAT, ACT, GPA. The relationship between test scores and GPAs is usually pretty consistent, as you will see from step 2, and if your tests and grades fit the curve, your job is easier. If you test above or below the average for your GPA, it gets harder to assess a match, reach and safety.

Step 2: Go to the website of any college you're considering. Find the "search" box, and enter "common data set" (include the quotes.) This should link to a form with the SAT, ACT, GPA and selectivity information for the most recently enrolled freshman class. If you're lucky, you may find several years of data, so you can see if there's a trend or not. After seeing a few of these you'll get used to the format and be able to pick out the data you're interested in quickly. You will note that schools with similar test averages also have similar GPA averages, with some exceptions. (For example, California state schools weigh grades more heavily relative to test scores than midwest schools do, it seems.)

Step 3: Compare your stats with the averages for the schools you're looking at. If your grades don't match your test scores (either above or below the curve) go with the lower of the two, but bump up a little. Now you're ready, but exactly where the dividing lines are between the three categories is harder to define. Most agree, you need to see how your stats compare with average stats for the college, and adjust based on the percentage of applicants to that college are accepted. Personally, I look at it this way: If your stats are all between the 50th and 75th percentile for tests and grades, I consider that a tentative "match". If your stats are above the 75th percentile, and the school accepts over 50% of applicants, it's a safety. If your stats are not above the 75th percentile, and the school accepts less than 25% of applicants, I'd call it a reach. If your stats are below the 50th percentile, and the school accepts less than 60% of applicants, reach. Obviously, there are numerous permutations.

By Gtownmom (Gtownmom) on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 04:21 pm: Edit

Achat, Unfortuneatly I think our experiences with big public school GC's are pretty standard. It's a shame. Kids who don't have parents who are willing or able to take on the GC role may be missing out on some great opportunities and money. Parents, be an advocate for your child! Don't let anyone tell you that you are "too involved" (unless you are writing essays and coaching for interviews in which case you are too involved!). Best of luck to this year's "crop" of kids!!

By Mom2003 (Mom2003) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 05:51 am: Edit

The same level of discouragement can be found in private school GC who feel they have to balance the needs of the whole senior class and are convinced that only 3 kids from this school will be admitted to Columbia (and has those 3 already picked out in their mind.) I think most GC are well meaning, but we found it more useful when we asked our GC for objective data rather than the subjective data.

By Jamimom (Jamimom) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 11:32 am: Edit

The quality of GCs is really an individual thing. I have met some stinkers at private schools, and they often cause much more damage than the vanilla bland ones at the public schools that may be no help but are not a detriment.

One thing that I have noticed is that the GCs can be very helpful in safety school choices. They have more infor at hand on their schools record with the flagship state school, and the local schools. If you live in Va and your kid wants to go to the midwest or north west, you certainly have to do every bit of that research yourself. The GC that can advise on that is a rare bird. But he should be pretty golden in discussing UVa chances vs James Madison. Many parents put their nose up at what the GC can offer, and I do urge everyone to take what you can. Just understand that we all have limitations and your school GC may not be the one to tap for some of your other choices, but by all means use what he has.

For a very strong applicant, the reach, match, safety schools are not going to be the same spread as you would give an kid who has a mixed bag of credentials. Most of the time families and kids have "name" schools already in mind, and that is a good starting point. After you cherry pick those, you look for schools that are less selective with some of the attributes that led you to pick those top schools from its peers. In some cases, one true safety school, your flagship state school if your stats are well up there and you apply earl, or a local school is all that is needed. I strongly advise this even for the strongest student. I have seen even 1600 SAT, straight A students hit a slump senior year, get into trouble, get depressed--who knows with kids. And a downward spike like that can spell trouble if you are applying to all selective school. Kids get into spats with the school, tick off their recommending teacher, get disciplined, suddenly get a C in a class, develope mental or emotional problems from a new boyfriend, breaking up with a girlfriend, drugs, alcohol...you get the general picture. Thank God if your kid does not have these issues, but that is where a pure safety school can ease the stress. Also getting that acceptance in December can be ever so sweet when that deferral or denial from Yale comes. And better you have the rest of the apps ready to roll at that time or out. It can be a pretty nasty Christmas when your kid is pounding out apps after denial from his first choice school and many kids, even the not so academic ones have a slew of acceptances.

By Achat (Achat) on Friday, August 20, 2004 - 11:49 am: Edit

Jamimom, you are right. I guess I spoke too harshly about the GC. He is a nice guy. Did know a lot about flagship U and also helped when my son was not chosen for the Honors Program there and it turned out to be a case of misplaced files. I just think, though, at our school the GCs discourage students because 1) school is very competitive but there are many disappointments (e.g no one going to Yale for the last 3 years). 2) GCs don't go anywhere with hyper-competitive schools (don't know why). 3) They are serving a huge community and have 70-75 students each and almost 85% of the school goes to 4-year colleges, so they are overworked.


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