Creating a College List: Reach, Target, and Safety Schools

Applying to college isn’t just about throwing your hat in the ring; it’s about smart strategy, ensuring a mix of colleges that align with your aspirations and academic profile. Let’s dive into creating a college list that categorizing your options into reach, target, and safety schools.

What Are Reach Schools?

Think of reach schools as your “dream schools.” Their acceptance rates are slim, making them highly competitive. Identifying your reach schools involves a realistic assessment of your academic credentials against their lofty admission statistics. Even with a stellar GPA and sky-high SAT/ACT scores, admission to these institutions is unpredictable.

Identifying Your Target Schools

Target schools are the colleges where your academic achievements fall within the average range of students from the most recently admitted class. While there are no guarantees, you should expect to get into at least a few of these schools.

The Importance of Safety Schools

Safety schools are your safety net, institutions where you’ll likely be admitted. But don’t mistake them for fallbacks; these institutions should still align with your educational goals and be a spot where you can thrive.

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How Many Colleges Should Be On My List?

There’s no magic number, but a mix of 2 reach schools, 3-4 target schools, and 2 safety schools is a well-balanced mix to ensure you’ve cast a wide enough net without spreading yourself too thin.

Factors Influencing Admission Chances

Admission chances are influenced by a number of factors. Grades and test scores are the heavy hitters, but extracurriculars, essays, letters of recommendation, and interviews add depth and color to your application.

Academic Achievements and Standardized Test Scores

Your GPA and SAT/ACT scores are the backbone of your college application. With new test-optional policies, the scales have tipped slightly, offering more room for holistic reviews. Yet, these numbers are still significant, especially for categorizing schools into reach, target, and safety.

Extracurricular Activities and Essays

This is where you get to show off your personality and values. Your extracurriculars are not just about quantity; it’s the depth and passion that count. Whether you’re the captain of the debate team or the force behind the community garden, it’s your story that will stand out. Likewise, essays are an opportunity to demonstrate who you are as a person beyond the numbers on a page.

Letters of Recommendation and Interviews

Letters of recommendation and interviews provide a glimpse into how you interact with others and contribute to your community. A glowing recommendation or a stellar interview can tip the scales in your favor, especially for those reach and target schools where every little bit counts.

Preparing for Application Season

Reviewing and Refining Your Choices

This step is about fine-tuning your strategy, ensuring your list reflects the best fit for your future. Narrow your list down to a manageable number of colleges that align with your evolving preferences and academic profile.

Getting Organized

Map out deadlines for each category of schools—reach, target, and safety—to ensure you’re pacing yourself effectively. Gather all the components you’ll need, from transcripts to essays, and create a checklist to keep track of your tasks.


Start early, explore widely, and use every tool at your disposal when creating a college list that resonates with your aspirations and academic profile. Remember, this journey is not just about where you’ll spend the next four years; it’s about finding a launchpad for your future dreams and ambitions.

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Kevin Krebs

Kevin Krebs is the founder and managing director of HelloCollege, the Midwest's largest college planning company. With 25 years of experience, a Northwestern University education, and an Emmy-winning journalism career, Kevin helps students craft standout college applications. He has delivered over 500 workshops, provided thousands of consultations, and assisted over 40,000 families worldwide in navigating the college admissions process. Kevin and his team focus on helping students find their best-fit colleges, graduate on time, and secure their dream jobs without overwhelming debt.
Kevin Krebs - Founder of HelloCollege

About Our Founder

Kevin Krebs

Inspired by his parents, Kevin’s journey from a first-gen, diverse, low-income background to Northwestern University shaped him. After experiencing challenges, including student loan debt, he founded HelloCollege and has spent the last 25 years helping students successfully navigate college admissions.

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