Choosing Colleges: Dream, Target, and Safety Schools



One of the toughest decisions throughout the college application season is having to narrow down the list of colleges that you will be aiming for as a college-bound student.

Of the universities that you do choose to apply to, you will often hear the terminology "dream", "target", and "safety" schools. If you are not sure what that means, today's blog will provide you with all the information you will need.

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For the high school students that have already thought about and carefully hand-selected their list of universities, they are most likely less stressed about the college application process than others who may apply to excessive amounts. By thoroughly hand-picking the college list, you will be much happier and excited about the colleges that are both interesting to you but also financially in your reach.

Moreover, high school students that decide on their dream, target, and safety schools early-on will have a sense of responsibility and control over their college future if the selection they have compiled is not completely filled with a long-range of only competitive colleges. By developing your college list sooner, your college destiny will not be entirely dependent on the admission decisions of selective schools.

And while you hope that the college application season will yield happy results, it is highly crucial to have back-up plans as any other smart strategist would. Here is some evidence on college apps:

  • Approximately 1/3 of all high school students apply to seven or more colleges

  • The College Board recommends that students send in their college application to roughly four to eight colleges


As most students apply to a large number of universities, it is essential that you have a fair mix of dream, target, and safety schools.

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For starters, how many schools is a good rough estimate to apply to during the college application process? 7EDU recommends starting with potentially six universities:

  • 2 dream schools

  • 2 target schools

  • 2 safety schools

Well, what do each of these categories mean in the first place?

Dream Schools (also known as "Reach" Schools)


Ideally, dream schools are the choices that you would make for college if you did not have to worry about admission or paying for the tuition. Where would you want to attend as a college freshman if you did not have any financial complications or acceptance concerns?

Most of the time, students that are applying to their dream school may not have the most exceptional academic background while in high school. Sometimes, it may even fall on the lower end or below the university's expected standards from previously admitted students.

While dream schools may seem like a far-away reality for some, it is important that students still apply because nothing is impossible.

If you fear that you would struggle to financially pay the tuition, do not let this deter you from sending in an application!

When the admissions officer is assessing your application, they will take into full account of your scholastic capabilities. Alongside your economic circumstances and their desire to see you in the next admitted class, the admission officer will determine the appropriate monetary support you will receive as a freshman student.

If your dream college truly wishes to see you as an admitted student on their campus, remember that they will take into consideration all the factors of your college application to make admission costs more manageable.

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Target Schools

Now that you have decided on the reach school that you would like to aspire for, what about "target" schools?

In essence, a target school is a selection where your academic achievements and history (whether that be your SAT, ACT, high school GPA, class ranking, or AP scores) correspond nicely with the college's normal scope for their most newly accepted students.

Although target schools are not guaranteed admissions, they have a higher and more reasonable case to accept you than a dream school might. There is approximately 50/50 opportunity for you to receive an admission letter.

While they lack the passion you may have for your dream school options, your target school is the university where you are "on target" for acceptance.

But be sure to note that colleges with low admission rates (below twenty percent) are not considered target schools, even if your academic skills are comparable to the university's student profile.

By applying to various target colleges, you will increase your odds of being accepted to several and having options to choose from.

Safety Schools


Last but certainly not least, are your safety schools. Safety schools are the options where your scholastic credentials have surpassed what the university expects for their average first-year student.

If you are a student applying to your safety school, you should be fairly confident that you will be receiving an acceptance letter.

Safety schools are typically simpler to gain admission into, and sometimes have a bad reputation as a result. There are various universities and colleges that have high admission rates yet is known for its reputable education. For example, Virginia Tech - a popular engineering university with a seventy-one percent acceptance rate.

It is important to remember that just like how both your dream and target schools make you excited to attend your first year as a college student, your safety schools should do the same. If your dream college is Columbia University, perhaps take a look into schools in New York City that will provide a similar experience of studying and living in the city.

Additionally, at least one of your safety schools should definitely be in your family's financial budget in terms of tuition.

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