The top nine hardiest perennial safety schools

Safety schools are colleges and universities that prospective students feel reasonably confident about getting into but only kind of, sort of want to attend. They play an important yet underrated role in the giant, frustrating matrix that is the college selection process.

Some applicants are flatly and curtly rejected from their first-choice schools (and their second, and their third, and so on.) For other would-be students, though, it’s more complicated. Students can be admitted to a first-choice college but may not receive enough financial aid. They may be rejected from a specific program. They may not be able to play the sport they want to play, or the instrument, or whatever.

Every school is somebody’s safety school. There’s somebody out there who is all depressed because Princeton said no, so now it’ll have to be Stanford. For other students, they don’t get into the flagship school in their state, so it’s off to the local directional college.

All of that said, these nine very selective colleges and universities tend to be perennial second and third choices for students rejected from other very selective schools which the students view as better and generally more elite.

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  • <strong>Lafayette College</strong> is located two hours from New York City in calm, rural Easton, Pa. The school accepts 34 percent of applicants. Only 27 percent of those accepted enroll. While students appreciate Lafayette's academic rigor, spacious dorms and Division I athletics, many dislike the high school-esque social scene. Lafayette and Lehigh (another school on this list) hate each other, perhaps because students are channeling their disappointment over getting rejected at more prestigious private schools. (Creative Commons/Shuvaev)
  • The <strong>University of California, Davis</strong>, located in agricultural Davis, Calif., was originally founded as a farm school for the University of California, Berkeley. It has since grown into a massive research and teaching university. However, the university sticks to its heritage as well, offering courses in such things as tractor handling. Some students pick UC Davis as their first choice. Others only enroll after receiving rejections from the more prestigious schools in the University of California system such as UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC San Diego. (Twitter/UC Davis Athletics)
  • <strong>Lehigh University</strong>, in Bethlehem, Pa., annually ranks as a top party school thanks to big-time Greek life and a generally raucous party scene. Lehigh accepts 33 percent of its applicants. Just over 30 percent of the accepted students enroll. Recently, the university featured in national news when a graduate student sued the school for $1.3 million after receiving a C+. She lost. (Public Domain/Peter L Moore)
  • Located just northwest of Georgetown and not far at all from the heart of Washington, D.C., <strong>American University</strong> lives up to its patriotic name with strong programs in international affairs, politics and business. Ironically, perhaps, there's also a large international student population. The university admits 44 percent of applicants, but only 21 percent enroll. Many applicants would rather choose Georgetown University or George Washington University -- both also located in D.C. -- over American. (Public Domain/Cdover90)
  • Located 12 miles from bustling Philadelphia in the suburban enclave of Villanova, Pa., <strong>Villanova University</strong> is a Catholic school that combines strong business programs with the liberal arts and a passion for men's basketball. The school accepts 46 percent of its applicants, and 24 percent of those accepted students enroll. Villanova has a reputation for producing successful alumni, but also for breeding snobby Northeasterners --- even if they failed to get into their first-choice schools. (Creative Commons/Alertjean)
  • Make no mistake about it: <strong>Northwestern University</strong> in Evanston, Ill. is a great school known for barely manageable workloads and competitive students. Maybe those students are competitive because they have chips on their shoulders. The school frequently serves as a fall-back option for students rejected by Ivy League schools and the like. Northwestern admits 18 percent of applicants; 38 percent of admitted students enroll. (Creative Commons/Rdsmith4)
  • <strong>Johns Hopkins University</strong> in Baltimore, Md. boasts rigorous academics. Although the official motto is "Veritas vos Liberabit," or "the truth will set you free," many students use "JHU: Where your best hasn't been good enough since 1876." There's also a gorgeous campus that is a bit off-kilter in an otherwise largely urban environment. The university accepts 18 percent of the 20,000 or so would-be students who apply; however, only 35 percent enroll. (Public Domain)
  • <strong>Vassar College</strong> in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. can brag about its 23 percent acceptance rate, but the truth is that the once all-female bastion frequently serves as a safety school for applicants who don't quite make the cut at more selective liberal arts colleges such as Amherst, Middlebury, Williams and Swarthmore. The 37 percent of accepted students who enroll find a Greek life-free campus, abysmal athletics, easy access to New York City and quality academics. (Public Domain/Poughkeepsieman)