Safety schools are colleges and universities that prospective students feel reasonably confident about getting into but only 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 end up at their safety schools because they are curtly rejected from their first-choice schools (and their second and third, and so on.) However, other applicants choose their safety schools because the financial aid is too good to pass up, or to play a sport, or an instrument, or whatever.
Every school is somebody’s safety school. Here, however, are the 14 best safety schools among the most selective colleges and universities in the country.
Skidmore College, located in the historical racing town of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., attracts artists, athletes, stoners, hipsters, Cape Cod vacationers and equestrian enthusiasts. Although tuition is steep, Skidmore offers appealing financial aid packages that persuade some students — wisely or not —to choose it over their first choices. Many others choose Skidmore after getting passed over by their first choices. Skidmore students mock the school’s reputation as Yale’s safety school with totally untrue t-shirts that read “Yale is for students who didn’t get into Skidmore.”
A shorthand name frequently used by students at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. is the school’s initials: G.W. — strange, really, because “George Washington” and “G.W.” contain the same number of syllables. But, anyway, there’s also a joke that the letters “G.W.” actually stand for “Got Waitlisted,” perhaps at Georgetown, about a mile down the road, or perhaps at some fancypants school on the East Coast.
For students who don’t get into George Washington but feel they must spend four years and entirely too much money on tuition in Washington, D.C., there’s always American University, which lives up to its patriotic name with strong programs in international affairs, politics and business. Ironically, perhaps, American also boasts a large population of (very wealthy) international students.
The University of Iowa is a Big 10 bastion famous for its raucous party scene and its vital role as a safety school for students in suburbs across the Midwest who fail to get into better Big 10 schools. It’s a great place to spend four years, though, and surrounding Iowa City is assuredly America’s most underrated college town.
Let’s face it, every kid applying to the University of California system wants to go to Cal Berkeley or UCLA. Each of the remaining six schools is a safety school in its own way. The University of California, Santa Cruz — established in 1965 and home of the Banana Slug mascot — is the representative one here. The local scenery is breathtaking. The campus is basically plopped down in a redwood forest amid the Santa Cruz Mountains. It’s Shangri-la for outdoorsy types.
The University of Colorado, Boulder boasts a solid academic reputation nationally, a rollicking party scene and, of course, the opportunity to get stoned to your heart’s content without worrying about the cops harshing your mellow. The promise of world-class skiing throughout much of the school year is another big plus. It all adds up to a bunch of rich kids from out-of-state applying — just in case.
Syracuse University is a notorious party school in the frozen tundra of upstate New York where students who didn’t get into their first-choice schools often end up having a terrific time. Thanks to the prestigious S.I. Newhouse School of Communications, Syracuse is also a first choice for students intent on eking out a meager living as journalists.