how to get into college

Yes!

But since my editor would prefer I write a few more words than just one—and since you’ve put so much energy and effort into your college essays this year—I’ll give you some additional reasons you might or might not consider your safety school.

First off, and this is a good tip for you juniors as you begin putting your college lists together, you should only have applied to a college if you would seriously consider attending. We try not to build our college lists with schools “just to see if we can get in,” just as we try not to apply to safeties if we wouldn’t be caught dead wearing the school colors on our first trip back home over Thanksgiving break. You chose your final list of colleges because of something they were able to offer you, and it’s important to remember that as your acceptance (and deny) letters begin rolling in. Be proud of every single offer of admission.

It was a safety because you’re “above average”

The reason any college is a safety school is because your profile is stronger than the typical student admitted to that institution, so understand you’ll be among the bigger fish in the pond. And the big fish feast. As one of the top students in your incoming class, you may have more of an opportunity to stand out in your courses, to connect with faculty members, or to engage in original research as an underclassman. If an Honors College is an option at your institution, and it often is at large public universities, consider applying and taking advantage of the special distinction and opportunities that go with honors programming.

Nothing comes easily in college, however. Everyone starts from scratch on day one. Nobody cares anymore about your high school GPA or your standardized test scores (literally, for the rest of your life, nobody will ask about these things), and you’ll have to prove yourself all over again. If you like to lead from the front of the pack, choosing to attend a safety school might be a great way for you to get out ahead of the rest from the get-go.

Safety schools are usually more comfortable

It’s fairly common for your local university to be among your list of safety schools. In many cases, preference is given to in-state applicants, and you’ve chosen the institution because you know it well, have probably been around the campus a few times, and with older peers who may already attend, you have a good sense of what it takes to be successful.

Students often underrate the tumult of the first year of college. It’s hard to be on your own for the first time, no matter how smart and confident you are. You miss mom’s meatloaf and you miss the way dad folded your laundry; the dining hall just doesn’t taste the same and you can’t quite make out the difference between detergent and fabric softener (which goes where?!). Being at a school where a lot of the unknown is known—how to get around campus, what the city is like, where to go when you need a good, home-cooked meal—can help you focus your energy on some of the tougher aspects of the transition, like your courses, independent study time, and figuring out how to socialize at those awkward college parties.

Obviously there are reasons to consider both kinds of experiences, but the biggest determinant in the fit for you will be… you. What kind of situations help you grow? Do you learn more in easy classes or harder classes? How important is it for you to be able to touch base with your family (and how likely is it that dad will learn how to FaceTime on the computer once you’re no longer in the house and can’t show him how)? As always, know yourself and make the best decision you can with the information available.

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Written by Ian Fisher
Ian Fisher is an experienced educational consultant, part of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Ian received his master’s in policy, organization, and leadership studies from the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Prior to joining College Coach, Ian worked as a senior admissions officer at Reed College.