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Calming Tea

I have an interesting topic- define "Safety School"

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I just want to hear what your definition is...my idea of Safety School seems to have morphed during the process with my son and now with my dd.  ....

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Also, right now my dd is in an interesting situation as a future art major because some schools that are "safety schools" academically might not be due to Portfolio. Her one Art School she is applying to cares more about portolio and essay than anything else....so absolutely no way to make a guess....and her one safety as far as Portfolio is a Reach as far as academics!  It really changes the game and adds a whole 'nother twist.

But just in general, I am looking for your definitions, what you went on, and what your idea of a safety is....

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Safety school = any school where admission is pretty much guaranteed for the student.

So, for a high stats student who has a realistic shot at an extremely selective school, the state uni with an 85% acceptance rate would be a safety.

Edited by regentrude
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We basically did it on SAT scores. If ds blew those numbers away, we figured his transcript, ECs, and originality could hold its own. However, we may have been arrogant as we did consider CM and U-M to be safeties. 

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49 minutes ago, Calming Tea said:

Also, right now my dd is in an interesting situation as a future art major because some schools that are "safety schools" academically might not be due to Portfolio. Her one Art School she is applying to cares more about portolio and essay than anything else....so absolutely no way to make a guess....and her one safety as far as Portfolio is a Reach as far as academics!  It really changes the game and adds a whole 'nother twist.

But just in general, I am looking for your definitions, what you went on, and what your idea of a safety is....

 

I put it altogether: academics + ECs +essays together determine whether a school is a safety.  Even at a school like CMU, it depends on the department.  The CS department is way more competitive than the liberal arts school.  But really it's about your best guess for your own students probability of admission.  

Some schools have an automatic admission for a certain minimum test score.  If you exceed that, then it's a safety.  Some have admit rates that are so high, and with a test score IQ range that's so low, that you can generally be assured of being admitted.  

If your student wants to attend a college when they graduate, then it's a good idea to apply to a couple of safeties.  Even if you don't, plenty of schools have rolling admissions and you could still attend.  

The definition of a safety depends on the student as much as the school or it's department.  

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1 hour ago, lewelma said:

We basically did it on SAT scores. If ds blew those numbers away, we figured his transcript, ECs, and originality could hold its own. However, we may have been arrogant as we did consider CM and U-M to be safeties. 

 

You know you've got something going when CM is a safety for Engineering/STEM! Laughing with you not at you!

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1. So far most of the replies have been with high stat students in mind.  What about above average students?

2. Define "blew away test scores"  (is that like 200 points above their average 75th percentile?) (100 points?)

3.  Also, is there merit in sending a kid to a school that's well below stats and they feel like they're awesome, and sail through the first two years pretty much unchallenged? Or where the people are just not as smart, overall?  Wonder if the student who was much smarter would feel that difference and regret it?  (I am thinking a college where average 75th SAT is 950-1000 but student is a 1300 type kid from a well read home and childhood where homeschool mom and dad exposed them to a lot of museums, reading, documentaries, discussions, philosophy, etc...)

Edited by Calming Tea
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I am only just entering the college search arena, but I consider a safety to be one my daughter is almost guaranteed admission and we can pay for without too much trouble.  The local university near us offers scholarships based on gpa and sat/act score and she already hits in the $9000/yr (out of 13000 tuition this year) and it is close enough to commute.  Two more points on the act and it goes up to 12,000/yr.  That is her safety, but stuff like that can change year to year.  I am concerned about the student body’s academic qualities and the fact that it is a commuter school, but she seems relatively happy with it so I don’t want to say negative things right now.  After PSAT scores come out we can possibly widen our search, but she doesn’t seem to be overly geeked about going out of state.  My concern is she feels that way because she is getting a bit freaked out about turning 17 this weekend and only being a year away from adulthood.

My youngest niece is a sophomore music major and watching that audition process freaked me out (we are a family of engineers).  I am so glad none of my children show any potential in that area.  Still, it would be a very boring world if we were all engineers!  For an art major, I would still assume that she would need to be 75th percentile for stats to be reasonably safe for admission even if the portfolio is the most important consideration.  Prepscholar has a cool tool when you look up individual schools that you can enter gpa and test score and it gives likelihood of acceptance.

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I would add in that a safety school should also be affordable. For example, my DD had one school that was a safety academically but not a safety financially with only guaranteed merit. It was maybe more in the match (because her activites/academics made her competitive for their additional scholarships) or slight reach (because they only gave out so many of the big scholarships) category financially. 

DD's most selective school acceptance had a 50% admit rate overall although their OOS rate was lower. That school was a safety for her, however. 

The financial aspect of a school was 100% more important than academics on defining safety.

I'd always look for a peer group at any school - honors program, special group surrounding a particular interest, etc. Just because the campus has a low ave SAT doesn't mean there aren't other big fish (academically) there, just that there may be less of them than at a campus with a higher ave SAT. 

With an ave student, I wouldn't be as concerned with any of this unless that kid was not self-motivated at all. There will be challenges & opportunities for the ave student to stand out on an average campus as long as it isn't too big, IMO.

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22 minutes ago, RootAnn said:

 

The financial aspect of a school was 100% more important than academics on defining safety.

Same here. The financial part is the limiting factor here. 

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Strongly seconding the affordability aspect. And the "admission all but guaranteed" aspect seems obvious.

Adding that it should also be a school the student is very much on board to actually attend. No point in having safeties that the student has applied to because they're so sure they'll get into their meets or reaches that they haven't bothered to pick safeties that they're actually okay with needing to attend.

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2 hours ago, Calming Tea said:

 

3.  Also, is there merit in sending a kid to a school that's well below stats and they feel like they're awesome, and sail through the first two years pretty much unchallenged? Or where the people are just not as smart, overall?  Wonder if the student who was much smarter would feel that difference and regret it?  (I am thinking a college where average 75th SAT is 950-1000 but student is a 1300 type kid from a well read home and childhood where homeschool mom and dad exposed them to a lot of museums, reading, documentaries, discussions, philosophy, etc...)

 

This is a really good question.  On the one hand, a stellar student in a sea mediocrity is more likely to be noticed by their professors, perhaps receiving invitations to work on research projects, etc.  If your student is not one to be influenced by peers, this may be a good option.  A stellar student who is at the bottom of her class may have more difficulty standing out and have greater stress if she is prone to comparing herself to others.  

But peer groups are also important.  Outstanding peers can be inspiring, and they often graduate into positions of importance and accomplishment.  Your student may rise to a higher level of achievement by following their example.  If your student's peers are mostly rich kids whose parents bought their way in but are otherwise not qualified, that can give your own student a skewed view of the academic world.  

It's a tough decision and highly personal, and perhaps also dependent on career goals.  

 

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6 hours ago, Calming Tea said:

3.  Also, is there merit in sending a kid to a school that's well below stats and they feel like they're awesome, and sail through the first two years pretty much unchallenged? Or where the people are just not as smart, overall?  Wonder if the student who was much smarter would feel that difference and regret it?  (I am thinking a college where average 75th SAT is 950-1000 but student is a 1300 type kid from a well read home and childhood where homeschool mom and dad exposed them to a lot of museums, reading, documentaries, discussions, philosophy, etc...)

I agree with diajobu, this is a profoundly difficult question to answer and incredibly child specific. I struggled deeply with this question for 2 full years concerning my older boy. I was very aware that my dh went to Duke and came in at the bottom of his graduating class. This had a huge impact on him for two decades, destroying all confidence in his abilities. He only became the man he is today in his 40s --Duke was that bad for him. On the flip side, I was also influenced by 8fill's ds's experience at Bama, with his skills recognized by professors who invited him to do research, attend conferences, be like a grad student. But then I also saw the hints of arrogance in my ds when he topped two classes at the local university when he was 4 years younger, and not just topped but earned 100% for a class whose mean and median was 60%. Then I worried that my assessment of his skill was incredibly bias, that perhaps our local school was just easy, that perhaps he is just good at taking tests. I came to believe that I actually had NO IDEA what his level was, and I didn't wan't my dh's fate to be my ds's too. But he was desperate for peers, for other kids who were like him, with his passions and drive and talent. He had already been a big fish in a small pond here in NZ, he was ready to experience the other side. He craved it. So it was with great trepidation that I agreed to pay a large fortune to MIT in the hopes that all these factors would somehow balance out in my ds's favor. In the end, they have, but it was never ever assured. I think that this decision more than any other for us was the scariest and the one filled with the most uncertainty. I have absolutely no advice to give. 

Edited by lewelma
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My oldest ds is a senior at a tiny school where he is a big fish. In the top group academically but also an athlete and in leadership in other campus organizations. He has absolutely thrived and is really happy with his decision. He has not found the coursework too easy, at all, and he certainly has found plenty of people at his level and higher. However, while he is a strong student, he is not highly gifted as many here are. 
 

But it has to be a fit for the student. My current high school junior is interested in the same field as oldest ds yet we are not considering the same school. It just wouldn’t fit him socially and just doesn’t really make sense. So while it was a great formula for oldest, this boy will likely attend the state flagship where he will need to work harder to stand out. 
 

My middle ds is at a huge university where he is more of a match. His ACT is maybe only a point or two over the average. He also is not really a joiner so the coursework has been generally pretty challenging and he does not engage in campus in a way to make his place there. He is doing well, though, as he is working part time in his desired field and focused on professional development on his own outside of the the university. I do think things would have been smoother for him if he could have been a bit more of a big fish.

I will say we know very smart kids that go to all of the regional schools. The Christian schools and directional state universities that have very low entrance requirements still have very bright and engaged students there. So for my kids those types of schools are in play even if they are way above the average student. Many strong students in my area opt for those schools for financial reasons and I’m certain mine could find peers at any of them and make the most of it.

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17 hours ago, Calming Tea said:

I just want to hear what your definition is...my idea of Safety School seems to have morphed during the process with my son and now with my dd.  ....

TL;DR - I don't like the term "safety" because it suggests settling for an undesirable option.  But I recommend students apply to several schools that represent a high chance of admission, that the family is able to pay for (out of savings, current income, and loans), and that the student would be interested in attending (ie, it has the right programs and has an acceptable setting/social fit).

I am working on a certificate in educational consulting.  My terminology around schools has changed in the year I've been in the program.  I would now use phrases like "schools with a high chance of admission," "Schools with a medium chance of admission," and "schools with a low chance of admission."  I have not liked the term "safety" or "reach" for a number of years, because it suggests that admission to and attendance at certain schools suggest winning or losing some kind of admissions contest.  I think that good matches can occur at colleges with a range of admissions chances.  (I also try to use "admissions rate" not "acceptance rate" for similar reasons.

I think that students should apply to a range of schools.  When I help a student make up a college list, I try to have at least half the list be schools with a high or medium chance of admission that are also financial fits.  In fact, I don't think there is much point to applying to any college that would require winning the lottery to attend.  If a school is not a financial fit, move along to one that is.  That doesn't mean that a student shouldn't apply in hopes of getting need or merit aid - as long as a likely pathway for that aid exists.  If it's a case where the family has a high EFC they can't pay and the school doesn't offer much non-need based aid, then I think the student and family should be looking elsewhere.

When I make a list of college suggestions, I tend to use the following ranges.  If the student is well above or below the median admissions profile for the school, then the school might shift up or down a category - for that student. 

High chance of admission - School has an admissions rate >50%

Medium chance of admission - School has an admissions rate 26-50%

Low chance of admission - School has an admissions rate 16-25%

Wild card -  Any school with an admissions rate 15% or lower.  I think this is a wild card for any student, no matter how qualified. 

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12 hours ago, Farrar said:

 

Adding that it should also be a school the student is very much on board to actually attend. No point in having safeties that the student has applied to because they're so sure they'll get into their meets or reaches that they haven't bothered to pick safeties that they're actually okay with needing to attend.

This is really important. A friend had a dd with a pretty disappointing admissions outcome. She had our state flagship as her safety and the mom just kept saying "I can't make her go there She would just be miserable." When it came down to it they were going to be willing to pay way more than they were comfortable with and it got very expensive because they just wouldn't make her go to her safety. So it wasn't a safety at all.

When her next dd was a senior she kept saying she was going to make her apply to the flagship. I asked her why, if she wouldn't actually attend there. She acknowledged I was right. She wasn't really going to have her kids attend there even if the money got crazy. 

So the safety really has to be evaluated in terms of being happy to attend. Can't just use the closest state school as a safety if everyone would be devastated to have the student attend there. 

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15 hours ago, Calming Tea said:

3.  Also, is there merit in sending a kid to a school that's well below stats and they feel like they're awesome, and sail through the first two years pretty much unchallenged? Or where the people are just not as smart, overall?  Wonder if the student who was much smarter would feel that difference and regret it?  (I am thinking a college where average 75th SAT is 950-1000 but student is a 1300 type kid from a well read home and childhood where homeschool mom and dad exposed them to a lot of museums, reading, documentaries, discussions, philosophy, etc...)

Have you toured some of the schools that would be in this category for your student?  I recently visited James Madison University (average SAT 1210) and Johns Hopkins University (average SAT 1520).  Tour guides at both were very positive about their experience (not surprising), but I came away with a favorable impression of JMU that surprised me a bit.  For a really high flyer it might not be a great fit.  But for a student with say a 1450, I think there would be no problem with finding peers at the JMU.  Not only is there an honors college, but also the school is quite large (20k undergraduates), so there are many opportunities to find peers. 

I'll add that I don't think the only marker of smarts and academic potential is found in test scores.  And I've been around students with plenty of exposure to museums, reading, travel, etc who were burned out or bores.

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9 minutes ago, teachermom2834 said:

This is really important. A friend had a dd with a pretty disappointing admissions outcome. She had our state flagship as her safety and the mom just kept saying "I can't make her go there She would just be miserable." When it came down to it they were going to be willing to pay way more than they were comfortable with and it got very expensive because they just wouldn't make her go to her safety. So it wasn't a safety at all.

When her next dd was a senior she kept saying she was going to make her apply to the flagship. I asked her why, if she wouldn't actually attend there. She acknowledged I was right. She wasn't really going to have her kids attend there even if the money got crazy. 

So the safety really has to be evaluated in terms of being happy to attend. Can't just use the closest state school as a safety if everyone would be devastated to have the student attend there. 

Yeah, I know that it's a key component because I, myself, was unwilling to attend either of my safety schools. I was a real idiot about it, but I also didn't have anyone guiding me through. And I ended up going to my reach and it all worked out financially in the end. So I got lucky. But gosh, considering how I had absolutely zero guidance from anyone, it's a complete miracle. I definitely hear of kids who apply to safeties they're not willing to attend. That's not a safety.

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15 hours ago, Calming Tea said:

3.  Also, is there merit in sending a kid to a school that's well below stats and they feel like they're awesome, and sail through the first two years pretty much unchallenged? Or where the people are just not as smart, overall?  Wonder if the student who was much smarter would feel that difference and regret it?  (I am thinking a college where average 75th SAT is 950-1000 but student is a 1300 type kid from a well read home and childhood where homeschool mom and dad exposed them to a lot of museums, reading, documentaries, discussions, philosophy, etc...)

I think this question assumes that lower test score average = easier classes at the college. I'm sure it does at some, but I would not at all make this assumption for all schools. Different colleges and universities have different approaches. There are different types of challenges out there. Especially for an arts-geared student, thinking that an SAT score sums up the abilities of the students in a visual arts or graphic design program seems almost naive. There's a benefit in attending the school that will challenge her as an individual and have the programs she needs. I wouldn't put so much stock in the test score averages except when determining if she can get in.

Edited by Farrar
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A safety is a school you are both willing to attend, can safely afford, and you are (almost) guaranteed an admissions offer.  I think the admissions can be tricky.  I think we were slightly arrogant initially.  My kid WAS rejected/waitlisted at some schools where he was safely above the 75%.  So don't assume that threshold will guarentee anything.  Especially with admissions rates below 50-60%.  Our state flagship's admission rate is about 50%.  No other state's flagship is your safety in this day and age either.  I actually talked with a parent recently whose kid got in a competitive LAC that is often mentioned here and didn't get into a neighboring state's flagship.  

I have seen way too much conceit and drama over safety schools the past few years.  And too much willingness to allow large financial risk both on student and parents part (and I do hold parents responsible for undergrad choices).  There are hundreds of high quality schools in this country with smart quirky kids at many of them.  The highest ranked schools know how to game the ranking system the best and have the budget and most motivation to do so.  

My kid applied for traditional academic colleges and but also applied to auditioned music programs.  I think that gave us some interesting insight into admissions.  He had teachers at sample lessons at 2 different schools basically say Where else are you applying? You're great, we would love to have you here, but we can't afford what it would take to get you here.  Come back for grad school.  It was telling in his case that he was shooting for merit money based on his application list.  Don't take a rejection as a personal affront.  Schools are trying to protect yield and admit students that can afford and will attend and fill some niche they need to fill.  Admissions offices make flash decisions and really aren't heming and hawing long over individual applicants for the most part.  

At the end of the day, love thy safety and make sure it's affordable.

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1 hour ago, Farrar said:

I think this question assumes that lower test score average = easier classes at the college. I'm sure it does at some, but I would not at all make this assumption for all schools. Different colleges and universities have different approaches. There are different types of challenges out there. Especially for an arts-geared student, thinking that an SAT score sums up the abilities of the students in a visual arts or graphic design program seems almost naive. There's a benefit in attending the school that will challenge her as an individual and have the programs she needs. I wouldn't put so much stock in the test score averages except when determining if she can get in.

I absolutely agree with this.  Not that I don't think some schools aren't less rigorous than others.  But I absolutely do think you can find rigor at lower ranked institutions.  Many state flagships are highly rigorous.  In fact, I think you have to be highly motivated and self directed to succeed at many of them.  I graduated from one before they cared about their graduation rate.  I also think your standardized test score at the end of the day doesn't define you.  Test scores strongly correlate to wealth.  Many highly ranked schools have higher average family  incomes than lower ranked schools.  So it makes sense that test scores would be higher.  Admissions offices are skewing their admissions to a certain income level. 

So at the end of the day, do I really think there is a huge different in the student body of the flagship with the 28-32 ACT and an average family income of 95K and the private school with 31-34 ACT average income 170K?  Well, there is a difference.  Wealth.  Do I think the student body is drastically more intelligent?  Meh - not really.  I am talking about 2 specific schools here which are about 2 hours apart.  Actually, every student I know who has headed to that private school in the last 5 years from our metro is a student from a private high school that is over 30K a year.  

Anyway - I think digging deep into the data on individual schools can be very informative and lend perspective to the numbers.  I would absolutely assume nothing JUST based on average test scores.  

On test scores leaning higher for wealthier students ...
https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/03/rich-students-get-better-sat-scores-heres-why.html

ETA - also there can be honors options for students at some schools.  I also think sometimes students like that will get special access to faculty/research/opportunities if they are proactive about seeking those opportunities out. 

I do agree when you are talking about art programs or music, writing, dance, theater, etc programs test score numbers don't always make sense.  My son's previous music teacher is just so obviously gifted to me but he said he was a terrible standardized test score taker in high school.  Went to a directional state school, developed amazing relationships with faculty, stepped way up for grad school and is highly successful as a working musician now.  

 

Edited by FuzzyCatz
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This has been super helpful! I forgot, in my own thinking to define a "high possibility school" (aka safety) as also financially 100% affordable.

For my dd, the ART schools, we are not really looking at or caring about SATs.  Her score is way above their average SAT for the one Art school she is looking at. But the portfolio and essay matter MUCH more.  For Regular colleges that have art programs and do not require a portfolio, we are looking at grades and SATs to factor in whether it is "highly likely" "good probability" or "not very likely" to get in.  We also have a "highly likely to get in" but which is not financially affordable without very significant merit aid so that is no longer our safety school.

My dd doesn't like the word safety for any of the four that are now on the list.  She loves all of them for different reasons and each one offers something unique.  The top two reaches definitely are a step above in terms of what they would offer her for her future, and even just the college experience.  One is huge (PSUUP), has special SLOs that you live in first thing freshman year, amazing notoriety, full college experience, brother is there, etc.  The other is an Art School that is small, specialized, one on one attention, 100% job rate after graduation, and right where she really wants to be in terms of city life as well as known nationwide....Likelihood at PSUUP is about 65% according to PrepScholar, but liklihood at Art School is totally a wild card as it depends almost 100% on portfolio.  So they are the "reaches" for lack of a better term.

But the other two "safeties" (one is affordable one is not so technically only one is a safety) each have great things going for them- great faculty that answered her emails, with invitations for visiting campus and meeting the faculty, small class sizes, awesome Study Abroad opportunities, each of them within 15 minutes of Center City Phil. and clean, safe campus in beautiful suburban setting with shopping and downtown nearby. Classes that sound interesting, and engaging and enough clubs and activities that there should be something to join.

 

As a process of this thread and talking with my dd we moved some things around, and it has been super super helpful!!!

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1 hour ago, FuzzyCatz said:

 

At the end of the day, love thy safety and make sure it's affordable.

 

 

THIS! Super helpful!

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15 hours ago, Farrar said:

Adding that it should also be a school the student is very much on board to actually attend. No point in having safeties that the student has applied to because they're so sure they'll get into their meets or reaches that they haven't bothered to pick safeties that they're actually okay with needing to attend.

When we went on ds's university tour, we made sure to carefully note all the pros and cons of each school. After we had seen them all, my dh and I made sure to be very positive about each school that stayed on the list Each one had something to offer that was different from the others.  For my ds's 'high chance of admission" schools (thanks sebastian for such nice wording), we focused on how one had an wonderfully collaborative and deep math department. And the other had an amazing faculty member in the math department who was willing to be ds's mentor. These were incredible traits that meant that going to either of these schools would be an excellent experience. We definitely talked up his high-chance-of-admission schools, because we didn't want his dreams set on his low-chance-of-admissions schools. 

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Just now, lewelma said:

When we went on ds's university tour, we made sure to carefully note all the pros and cons of each school. After we had seen them all, my dh and I made sure to be very positive about each school that stayed on the list Each one had something to offer that was different from the others.  For my ds's 'high chance of admission" schools (thanks sebastian for such nice wording), we focused on how one had an wonderfully collaborative and deep math department. And the other had an amazing faculty member in the math department who was willing to be ds's mentor. These were incredible traits that meant that going to either of these schools would be an excellent experience. We definitely talked up his high-chance-of-admission schools, because we didn't want his dreams set on his low-chance-of-admissions schools. 

For a family that has the cash or a kid who has really high test scores and a super impressive profile, then there are almost always a good number of safety options and it's more about broadening the list if they simply didn't put time and thought into the safety aspect of applications.

I think it's a much bigger problem for kids whose only true safeties from an academic and financial standpoint are lower tier state schools or community colleges. Sometimes, these are schools in their communities or where they know lots of other kids have gone. And they don't want to go there themselves. They see it as a failure. Or as a continuation of their current social state when they want to start fresh. Or as schools where kids simply aren't going to challenge them intellectually. And then I do think it can be rough to find the right safety. Or to get reconciled that these are the limited options and that you have to accept them and make the most of it or make a choice to delay college or take a different path, at least for awhile.

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2 minutes ago, Farrar said:

For a family that has the cash or a kid who has really high test scores and a super impressive profile, then there are almost always a good number of safety options and it's more about broadening the list if they simply didn't put time and thought into the safety aspect of applications.

I think it's a much bigger problem for kids whose only true safeties from an academic and financial standpoint are lower tier state schools or community colleges. Sometimes, these are schools in their communities or where they know lots of other kids have gone. And they don't want to go there themselves. They see it as a failure. Or as a continuation of their current social state when they want to start fresh. Or as schools where kids simply aren't going to challenge them intellectually. And then I do think it can be rough to find the right safety. Or to get reconciled that these are the limited options and that you have to accept them and make the most of it or make a choice to delay college or take a different path, at least for awhile.

Yes, this is very fair. Our experience with the American University application process is probably as far from typical as possible. But we still knew the same fear, uncertainty, and doubt. I think it the nature of the beast. And I think it is way worse for homeschooling parents. 

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My mom (dd's grandma) is going to be bummed that we took one well regarded college out of the mix.  Campus is beautiful and they have a long standing great reputation as well as a recent turnaround and increase in excellence due to a new President.

However, it makes no sense to even apply

It's an academic Target, but dd would need very significant scholarships to go there.  AND they don't exactly have her degree.  Though they have a related degree, they said she'd need to supplement with a few outside courses to have the experience necessary to do what she really wants to do.  They are a small college and very student focused, and offered to guide her through that process and find a few courses for her locally as well as guide her to find internships, but...

It would make no sense.  When there are other schools that are much more like to give scholarships OR are already very affordable AND have her exact major and relationships with companies for internships.

Sometimes we get caught up in nostalgia, or beautiful campus or whatever...without really thinking about the actual student standing in front of us.

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27 minutes ago, Farrar said:

For a family that has the cash or a kid who has really high test scores and a super impressive profile, then there are almost always a good number of safety options and it's more about broadening the list if they simply didn't put time and thought into the safety aspect of applications.

I think it's a much bigger problem for kids whose only true safeties from an academic and financial standpoint are lower tier state schools or community colleges. Sometimes, these are schools in their communities or where they know lots of other kids have gone. And they don't want to go there themselves. They see it as a failure. Or as a continuation of their current social state when they want to start fresh. Or as schools where kids simply aren't going to challenge them intellectually. And then I do think it can be rough to find the right safety. Or to get reconciled that these are the limited options and that you have to accept them and make the most of it or make a choice to delay college or take a different path, at least for awhile.

I think some families dread these types of choices, end up needing to make them, and then it turns out absolutely fine over the long run.  Especially if those choices were carefully chosen.  I know people from directional state schools managing people from elite schools.  I know people who've started at community college and went to med school.  Your undergrad school is where you start.  Not where you finish in life.  The vast majority of students who start at a college end up reasonably happy where they land.  

My kid is at not one of his top choice schools.  To be fair it is a top 15 public.  But I think he has plenty of peers there as a high stat student and there are going to be benefits to this institution that were not apparent during the application and selection process.  It was 1/3 the price as his most expensive private admission.

I really think it's harder to go wrong than most of the angst surrounding this process would suggest.  I also don't subscribe to the notion that college needs to be hearts and flowers.  You can be irritated by a roommate and annoyed with a professor at any college in the country.  I don't think it's horrible to need to work through some adversity.  You are learning more than just academics.  

My kid dual enrolled at an urban public community college with 60% minority and 60% pell recipients.  Many English language learners.  He has fantastic teachers many who are also teaching at schools regularly mentioned on this board and had high quality classes.  I know not every rural CC is built the same as what we have available.  But I also don't think the CC or smaller state U is as dire as all that.  

I actually have a niece that is not a strong tester.  Honestly, she wasn't a super academically focused high schooler.  She couldn't get into our flagship with her academics.  She went to a directional state school for a year, transferred to our flagship.  And is now finishing up a masters in education at the flagship.  She showed a lot of resilience and initiative and hard work through the process.  It really can be ok.  

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9 minutes ago, Calming Tea said:

Sometimes we get caught up in nostalgia, or beautiful campus or whatever...without really thinking about the actual student standing in front of us.

My younger boy has dysgraphia and is only now at the end of 10th grade ready to even consider working independently. We have only 2 years to get him ready for uni as he wants to go with his peers. There is NO WAY I would suggest to him that going to the top school he could get into would be a good idea. What he needs is easy courses and the opportunity to shine a little bit. He actually wants to be a mayor one day, so he wants to work on his leadership skills. He is more likely to have that opportunity if he is closer to the top of the class than the bottom. So we are looking for a university lower than his intellectual capability.  

Edited by lewelma
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33 minutes ago, FuzzyCatz said:

I think some families dread these types of choices, end up needing to make them, and then it turns out absolutely fine over the long run.  Especially if those choices were carefully chosen.  I know people from directional state schools managing people from elite schools.  I know people who've started at community college and went to med school.  Your undergrad school is where you start.  Not where you finish in life.  The vast majority of students who start at a college end up reasonably happy where they land.  

Same. I agree. I just know it's tough for some kids. And tougher if a family avoids thinking about it and then the kid doesn't get into (or doesn't get in with enough money) to their target schools.

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2 minutes ago, Farrar said:

Same. I agree. I just know it's tough for some kids. And tougher if a family avoids thinking about it and then the kid doesn't get into (or doesn't get in with enough money) to their target schools.

Even as a parent, it can definitely be hard to keep perspective and stay grounded during this ridiculous process!  I am glad to have worked out a lot of angst with kid #1.  LOL.  

It actually gave my kid a lot of perspective dual enrolling at a CC when his safety was many of those students ultimate DREAM.  He got an education there far beyond the classroom academics.  He really saw how hard it was to be an ELL.  And how for some students something as minor as the family car breaking down could prevent their success in a class.  Gaining perspective on your privilege in the world is pretty priceless.  And I admit, that perspective has made me less patient with hand wringing and moaning over not getting into the RIGHT school.  I am extremely sympathetic to the financial concerns of the process though!  

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17 hours ago, Farrar said:

Strongly seconding the affordability aspect. And the "admission all but guaranteed" aspect seems obvious.

Adding that it should also be a school the student is very much on board to actually attend. No point in having safeties that the student has applied to because they're so sure they'll get into their meets or reaches that they haven't bothered to pick safeties that they're actually okay with needing to attend.

 I agree to an extent, though I think for some kids it can be hard for them to identify a safety that they are enthusiastic to attend early in the process. In those cases, I say find a school that checks the boxes of admission and affordability (and of course has the programs they want.) Apply and have it waiting, just in case. For my kids, I also want them to have an in-state option, because you just don't know what circumstances might develop over the application year that necessitates a school closer to home.

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For us a safety is where DD is not only extremely likely to be admitted, but to get enough aid to be affordable. So, out of state schools where her stats qualify her for merit aid just based on numbers, or the state U’s where she qualifies for automatic admissions, and is also likely to qualify for excellent merit, are safeties. Truthfully, right now she is not planning to apply anywhere that her stats are not at least a solid match, and usually ones where she is “safe” in that regard-her “reaches” come in the financial end. Having said that, it helps that she is interested, primarily, in fields where many of the best programs are not at ultra reachy for everyone schools, and where people at top grad schools get students from state U’s and smaller LAC’s as often or more often than from the ultra-reachy schools, so there isn’t really a benefit to go to an ultra-reachy for networking purposes. 

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23 hours ago, Calming Tea said:

3.  Also, is there merit in sending a kid to a school that's well below stats and they feel like they're awesome, and sail through the first two years pretty much unchallenged? Or where the people are just not as smart, overall?  Wonder if the student who was much smarter would feel that difference and regret it?  (I am thinking a college where average 75th SAT is 950-1000 but student is a 1300 type kid from a well read home and childhood where homeschool mom and dad exposed them to a lot of museums, reading, documentaries, discussions, philosophy, etc...)

I'm not really there yet; my oldest is a tenth grader, but when I was applying to schools, as a fairly high stat student/ NM scholar, this was 100% my approach simply because it made getting merit aid so much more likely.  It paid off for me; I got full rides (tuition, room, and board) at two colleges and full tuition at several others.  I probably would not have gotten nearly as much merit aid at a school where my SAT scores and such were closer to range (Ivies, etc).  

ETA:  While the school I went to wasn't probably the most rigorous school I could have gone to, I had some really good opportunities I wouldn't have other places (Honors program, small classes, mentors, wound up as editor of the student newspaper), and I got a really good education there.  No regrets.  

Edited by Terabith
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And, honestly, any school with a good ride for high stats will have a decent number of kids there for that reason-UAH and UCF are prime examples. Even DD’s CC, due to the state tuition free program, has some pretty bright kids who are there because no tuition and being able to live at home for 2 years and guaranteed admission to some of the more desirable state U programs if you get a decent GPA is a good deal. 

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On 11/29/2019 at 9:29 PM, Calming Tea said:

 

3.  Also, is there merit in sending a kid to a school that's well below stats and they feel like they're awesome, and sail through the first two years pretty much unchallenged? Or where the people are just not as smart, overall?  Wonder if the student who was much smarter would feel that difference and regret it?  (I am thinking a college where average 75th SAT is 950-1000 but student is a 1300 type kid from a well read home and childhood where homeschool mom and dad exposed them to a lot of museums, reading, documentaries, discussions, philosophy, etc...)

 

3  we have not found that our dc feel like they are awesome in that setting; to them its like swimming or cross country where individual challenge isn't really determined by the person next to you, its you and your preparation and skills against the percentage of course that is new.   If it was very easy, ie review, they'd test out.  Mostly that setting is more work, as the class session is review of core basic rather than new material w/details and nuances for them, so they must do the readings/problems sets and hit office hours to master the new material.  I've never heard anyone in college express a happy feeling that they have paid for a course that was easy and req'd little work, unless they needed to get off academic pro or had a free ride or wanted to pad the gpa for scholarship/grad school.

Its not wise to assume the below stats school is going to be unchallenging, often there are honors sections or an honors college as well as independent study.  That's where the peers are going to be the middle class.....admitted to MIT for a non studies major, but the financial aid didn't work out is our experience. Very sharp kids, AP in middle school, well read, excellent work ethic, etc etc. and the peer group is fantastic as are the research opportunities. 

Edited by HeighHo
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23 hours ago, FuzzyCatz said:

I absolutely agree with this.  Not that I don't think some schools aren't less rigorous than others.  But I absolutely do think you can find rigor at lower ranked institutions.  Many state flagships are highly rigorous.  In fact, I think you have to be highly motivated and self directed to succeed at many of them.  I graduated from one before they cared about their graduation rate.  I also think your standardized test score at the end of the day doesn't define you.  Test scores strongly correlate to wealth.  Many highly ranked schools have higher average family  incomes than lower ranked schools.  So it makes sense that test scores would be higher.  Admissions offices are skewing their admissions to a certain income level. 

So at the end of the day, do I really think there is a huge different in the student body of the flagship with the 28-32 ACT and an average family income of 95K and the private school with 31-34 ACT average income 170K?  Well, there is a difference.  Wealth.  Do I think the student body is drastically more intelligent?  Meh - not really.  I am talking about 2 specific schools here which are about 2 hours apart.  Actually, every student I know who has headed to that private school in the last 5 years from our metro is a student from a private high school that is over 30K a year.  

The rankings themselves are also purposely skewed towards wealthy private schools. Most of the factors that go into the USNWR rankings are really direct or indirect measures of wealth. Graduation and retention rates (30%), for example, are strongly correlated with income, and more direct measures of wealth include the size of the endowment (10%), percentage of alumni giving (5%), and faculty salaries (7%). And to ensure that the usual suspects — the most traditionally prestigious private schools — stay on top, 20% is based on totally subjective "expert opinion." Only ~10% of the USNWR ranking is based on student stats (7.75% test scores, which again are correlated with wealth, and 2.5% HS class rank).

 

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I've really enjoyed this thread and I wanted to throw this idea into the mix. I think T's top choice might be her reach, match and safety (or wild card, medium and high chance of admission, thanks Sebastian!) all rolled into one. Some schools have students apply to a school or major and allow two choices. That's the case with dd's school of choice (UT Austin). The business school is pretty competitive and I'd say it's a medium for her. Their honors program is a crap shoot because it's based on more than stats, it's not a sure thing for anyone. Her second choice major, math--actuarial science (well, her planned double major so not really a second choice) is not controlled entry so much easier to be admitted for, you just go into the general studies pool. If she didn't get into the business school, she'd do econ and a business certificate (which might be better anyway) instead of a BBA. If something totally crazy happened, the worst that she'd be offered is their "do one year at a different school in our system and transfer with at least a 3.2 option" so there's also a "they take basically everyone" option too. Big schools can be so complicated and each school or department can be so different that you really need to dig deeply to know your options.

I've only done this much research on her top pick. I've got a plan mapped out at her second choice and looked over her third choice. I can't imagine trying to go into this much detail with more than 3 schools. 

Edited by chiguirre
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1 hour ago, chiguirre said:

I've really enjoyed this thread and I wanted to through this idea into the mix. I think T's top choice might be her reach, match and safety (or wild card, medium and high chance of admission, thanks Sebastian!) all rolled into one. Some schools have students apply to a school or major and allow two choices. That's the case with dd's school of choice (UT Austin). The business school is pretty competitive and I'd say it's a medium for her. Their honors program is a crap shoot because it's based on more than stats, it's not a sure thing for anyone. Her second choice major, math--actuarial science (well, her planned double major so not really a second choice) is not controlled entry so much easier to be admitted for, you just go into the general studies pool. If she didn't get into the business school, she'd do econ and a business certificate (which might be better anyway) instead of a BBA. If something totally crazy happened, the worst that she'd be offered is their "do one year at a different school in our system and transfer with at least a 3.2 option" so there's also a "they take basically everyone" option too. Big schools can be so complicated and each school or department can be so different that you really need to dig deeply to know your options.

I've only done this much research on her top pick. I've got a plan mapped out at her second choice and looked over her third choice. I can't imagine trying to go into this much detail with more than 3 schools. 

Totally unrelated to the thread but I wonder how many schools admit into the business school for undergrad. I mean I had heard engineering-specific admissions but besides Penn I didn’t know of any that admit into the business school specifically. But I live under a rock across the ocean so there’s that. 

Edited by madteaparty
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13 minutes ago, madteaparty said:

Totally unrelated to the thread but I wonder how many schools admit into the business school for undergrad. I mean I had heard engineering-specific admissions but besides Penn I didn’t know of any that admit into the business school specifically. But I live under a rock across the ocean so there’s that. 

All the Texas publics admit by school at least, often by major for the most popular majors.

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Just for a data point my daughter applied to two private colleges along with a lot of public U's.   She had a good SAT (above 1500) and fell into the top of the 50th percentile at one and was well into the 75th percentile at the other. The merit aid offered reflected that -- she was offered 10k to the first and 20k to the second.  

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On 11/30/2019 at 2:59 PM, Calming Tea said:

This has been super helpful! I forgot, in my own thinking to define a "high possibility school" (aka safety) as also financially 100% affordable.

For my dd, the ART schools, we are not really looking at or caring about SATs.  Her score is way above their average SAT for the one Art school she is looking at. But the portfolio and essay matter MUCH more.  For Regular colleges that have art programs and do not require a portfolio, we are looking at grades and SATs to factor in whether it is "highly likely" "good probability" or "not very likely" to get in.  We also have a "highly likely to get in" but which is not financially affordable without very significant merit aid so that is no longer our safety school.

My dd doesn't like the word safety for any of the four that are now on the list.  She loves all of them for different reasons and each one offers something unique.  The top two reaches definitely are a step above in terms of what they would offer her for her future, and even just the college experience.  One is huge (PSUUP), has special SLOs that you live in first thing freshman year, amazing notoriety, full college experience, brother is there, etc.  The other is an Art School that is small, specialized, one on one attention, 100% job rate after graduation, and right where she really wants to be in terms of city life as well as known nationwide....Likelihood at PSUUP is about 65% according to PrepScholar, but liklihood at Art School is totally a wild card as it depends almost 100% on portfolio.  So they are the "reaches" for lack of a better term.

But the other two "safeties" (one is affordable one is not so technically only one is a safety) each have great things going for them- great faculty that answered her emails, with invitations for visiting campus and meeting the faculty, small class sizes, awesome Study Abroad opportunities, each of them within 15 minutes of Center City Phil. and clean, safe campus in beautiful suburban setting with shopping and downtown nearby. Classes that sound interesting, and engaging and enough clubs and activities that there should be something to join.

 

As a process of this thread and talking with my dd we moved some things around, and it has been super super helpful!!!

 

My son applied to a safety art school and, it was out of our reach financially, but he got a nice scholarship, and we were able to afford it with the scholarship.

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5 hours ago, madteaparty said:

Totally unrelated to the thread but I wonder how many schools admit into the business school for undergrad. I mean I had heard engineering-specific admissions but besides Penn I didn’t know of any that admit into the business school specifically. But I live under a rock across the ocean so there’s that. 

 

I don't know about business per se, but I do know that almost every college my ds applied to last year admitted specifically by School/College and there was at some point some sort of separate review of applicants by each college.  CM, all the Ivies, PennState, all the big colleges we looked at admit by college/school...whereas some of the smaller ones admit to the entire U, but specifiy "for the major of..." in the acceptance.

So I would imagine Business works the same way.

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Oh well I think a fair number of state flagships direct admit to business school for undergrads.  I know they do at Iowa State, UWisco Madison, U of MN Twin Cities, Indiana University, etc do.  They tend to be fairly competitive programs too.

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My boys are business majors and applied to several schools and the only one I remember being a direct business school admit was the University of Tennessee- so a state flagship like mentioned above.

Second ds is at the University of South Florida. There you apply to the business major during sophomore year I think. I'm not sure but he must have designated a business major on his application because somehow he ended up in some honors business cohort in which he had already been accepted to the business school as a freshman and wouldn't need to apply later. It gave him access to some smaller class sections as well. We did not even know that was a thing and didn't find out until he went to orientation and got pulled out for a meeting for this program.  I think I looked it up later and it was based on ACT score. 

But yes there are schools that admission is a safety but the major is not. 

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Answering without reading other answers: a safety school is one where you will be admitted AND that you can afford to attend. "Can afford to attend" means not relying on grants (can change yearly), competitive scholarships, or merit scholarships that are easy to lose (high GPA required, no probation or appeals offered). 

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On 11/29/2019 at 8:29 PM, Calming Tea said:

1. So far most of the replies have been with high stat students in mind.  What about above average students?

2. Define "blew away test scores"  (is that like 200 points above their average 75th percentile?) (100 points?)

3.  Also, is there merit in sending a kid to a school that's well below stats and they feel like they're awesome, and sail through the first two years pretty much unchallenged? Or where the people are just not as smart, overall?  Wonder if the student who was much smarter would feel that difference and regret it?  (I am thinking a college where average 75th SAT is 950-1000 but student is a 1300 type kid from a well read home and childhood where homeschool mom and dad exposed them to a lot of museums, reading, documentaries, discussions, philosophy, etc...)

1. I'm not sure what you're asking? Your safeties are the schools that are almost guaranteed to admit you, and those are going to be different schools for high stats vs above average vs average. 

2. I don't think it's that easy. Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper and look at common datas sets, which will give you a better breakdown of scores and how many students in each category. A student's 31 on the ACT might be 5 points higher than the 75th percentile at two schools. Looking at the common data sets, you can see what percentage of students at each school scored 30 or above. If School 1's top 25% cluster in the 26-29 range, whereas School 2 has a higher number that score 30 and above, what does that tell you? Your 31 is a bigger deal at School 1. 

3. A school below your stats does not have to equal sailing through the first two years. Honors programs and colleges can help. A willingness to meet students where they are can help - when my kids did DE at the local uni, they both had professors that put them through the wringer for one of the freshman composition courses. These profs worked hard at getting some students to master the basics of college writing, and equally hard at getting other students to surpass the basics. Schools that have an overall culture of low expectations and apathy exist, but that's easy to discover with some research and visits. 

I do think it's preferable to have a decent number of fellow students in your general range. Maybe only 5% of students at each school meet or exceed your stats, but that might equal 60 students at a small school but 600 students at a mid-sized school. 

On 11/29/2019 at 10:25 PM, GoodGrief1 said:

The school where admission and affordability is all but guaranteed.

I'm trying to think of a third 'A' word that means you are happy to go there. Admission, affordability, and . . . affection? 😄

 

Edited by katilac
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On 11/29/2019 at 9:29 PM, Calming Tea said:

3.  Also, is there merit in sending a kid to a school that's well below stats and they feel like they're awesome, and sail through the first two years pretty much unchallenged? Or where the people are just not as smart, overall?  Wonder if the student who was much smarter would feel that difference and regret it?  (I am thinking a college where average 75th SAT is 950-1000 but student is a 1300 type kid from a well read home and childhood where homeschool mom and dad exposed them to a lot of museums, reading, documentaries, discussions, philosophy, etc...)

That is hard to decide.  

My oldest is at a college that she loves.  Her stats on the reading/writing side are tops anywhere, but for math she is just above 50%.  It does seem to play out that way in the classes.  She does just above avg in her math and science classes and she is glad to be taking her last 2 next semester.  In her other classes she is getting lots of  positive instructor feedback and invitations to activities and even free study abroad.  I think she is often the main contributor to class dialog and she feels many students have no idea how to even have an academic conversation.  I don't know that it's been any easier than another college, but she does stand out in many of her classes.   I sometimes wish there were more students to contribute in class with her and raise the level of discussion.  However, I do feel she's at the right place.

And now we are to our 2nd student and he will have to decide.  It's tough.

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On 11/30/2019 at 11:02 AM, FuzzyCatz said:

Test scores strongly correlate to wealth.

This article that I ran across today calls this idea into question.

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