Building Your College List: Reach, Target, and Safety Schools

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Building Your College List: Reach, Target, and Safety Schools

Building Your College List: Reach, Target, and Safety Schools

Is it really that important to categorize your college list?

YES! Once you have completed your research, and compiled a list of around 16 to 20 schools, it is time to organize them into three separate categories: Reach, Target, and Safety. Here is a guide on organizing your list into the three categories.


Schools listed in the Top 20 Universities/Colleges are reach schools for ALL students. If you are considering applying to any IVY league school, they are going on your reach list. They are reaches not because of your statistics, but because they have a 100% holistic application. In order for your application to be considered, you need to have perfect statistics AND something special that distinguishes you from other candidates. 

Other schools are classified as reaches depending on your grades, extracurricular activities, test scores, and overall application. If your grades, extracurriculars, test scores, and overall application fall under the 75th percentile of the college’s admitted students, that school will be a reach for you.

Keep in mind that some colleges might also be a reach depending on the major, program, or department you are applying to. For example, New York University might appear as a target, but New York University- Stern School of Business is a reach for many students. 


Target schools are the most difficult to classify. If you look at a school’s past admission statistics, and you match with the 75th percentile, you might consider it to be a Target school. However, keep in mind that a Top 20 school MIGHT appear as a target, but it might not be a target. 

As stated earlier, the major, program, or department you are applying to, might make a school a target or a reach. 

Statistically, you might match with the 75th percentile, but the program you apply to might change that target to a reach or safety. Take a look at the program’s national ranking before classifying the school as a target. For example, New York University might appear as a target, but New York University- Stern School of Business is a reach for many students. 

Make sure to double check the Department or the Program you are applying to before you classify a certain college as a Target school! 


If your test scores and GPA fall well above the 75th percentile of the school’s admission statistics, this school is a safety for you. You can also add your local state school to your safety list as well. However, there is a caveat!

If your state school is on the Top 20 list or you are planning to apply to their Honors College, the school will not be a safety. Although other CUNY schools might be a safety, CUNY Macaulay Honors College is not a safety. We like to say that Honors Colleges are as selective as IVY leagues because it is an IVY league education for the price of a public state school.  

Use your personal scores and the school’s percentile to categorize your 16-20 schools. We like to recommend the following breakdown:

  16 colleges/universities 20 colleges/universities
Reach 7 8
Target 5 6
Safety 4 6

Next Steps

By categorizing your school list into these three categories, you will be able to create a well-rounded school list. You will also help with managing your deadlines and workload. If you need help with building your college list, read our previous blog post about how you should conduct your college list research.

Want individualized help building your college list and creating an admissions plan? Click here to sign up for our Road Map to College program and speak to one of our expert counselors about creating a college admissions plan.

Contact us today to get started!


Alice Choi

Alice is an English Instructor, primarily for the College Application Essays. She spreads her love for the English language to her students, teaching them skills to use for not only their college applications, but for years and years after. The combination of her bright personality and compassionate approach makes students enjoy their time working with her.


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