Colleges For The Forlorn And Rejected: America’s Top 14 Hardiest Perennial Safety Schools

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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 YouTube screenshot Calder WilsonSkidmore 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.”

George Washington University Creative Commons Benoît PrieurA 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.

YouTube screenshot American UniversityFor 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.

University of Iowa YouTube screenshot University of IowaThe 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.

YouTube screenshot UC SantaCruzLet’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.

YouTube screenshot University of Colorado BoulderThe 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.

YouTube screenshot SyracuseUSyracuse 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.


Boston College snow Creative Commons WidosuIf you are a prep school graduate who didn’t get into an Ivy League bastion or some fancypants Ivy League school, Boston College is always waiting just outside of Boston — ironically enough — with open arms, excellent academics and a nationally-known brand name. Just watch out for “the Tickler,” some random guy who, according to several students in recent years, has walked right into their homes and either tickled their feet or watched them sleep. (RELATED: A Tickling Bandit Is On The Loose At Boston College)

YouTube screenshot Boston University AdmissionsBoston University is a great school in a great city — especially for college students — but it’s often not the place its applicants are dying to attend. Certainly, students don’t choose Boston U. for its architecture or landscape. There is arguably nothing about Boston University that is aesthetically pleasing

University of Massachusetts Amherst public domain Lion HirthThe state of Massachusetts boasts a slew of private colleges and universities. Students who don’t get into any of the good ones — or who aren’t interested in paying ridiculous private-school tuition rates — can attend the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Though the campus is a triumph of East German functionalism, students have the option of taking courses at four other schools (including Amherst College and Mount Holyoke College) thanks to the local Five College Consortium.

YouTube screenshot FEMARutgers–New Brunswick is the latest iteration for the name of the New Jersey’s flagship taxpayer-funded school. Nobody really sets out to go to school on this huge, spread-out, architecturally incoherent campus. It’s just kind of this place where they get bachelor’s degrees. Rutgers was most recently in the news after leftist professors demanded that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice not speak at the school’s 2014 commencement ceremony and branded her a “war criminal.” (RELATED: Awful School Is Awfully Intolerant: Condi Rice Backs Out Of Rutgers Speech Amid Protests)

YouTube screenshot University of Rochester AdmissionsThe University of Rochester in the frigid nether reaches of upstate New York manages to create arguably the best-produced, most Oscar-worthy admissions videos the world has ever seen. That’s one reason it ends up as a top fall-back option for so many excellent students who don’t get admitted to their first-choice schools.

YouTube screenshot American College StrategiesSurrounding New York City is, of course, expensive as hell. However, if you have the means, and if the energy of a very frenetic city appeals to you, it’s hard to imagine a more wonderful place to spend four years coming of age. New York University is a first choice for a lot of kids who simply must be where they think the center of the universe is. It’s the second or third choice for a lot of spoiled rich kids as well.

YouTube screenshot villanovauniversityVillanova University is a Catholic school in a suburban enclave just outside of Philadelphia that combines strong business programs with the liberal arts and a passion for men’s basketball. It’s a comfortable second choice for kids throughout the ends suburbs of eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey.


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(Photo credits: YouTube screenshot/Calder Wilson, Creative Commons/Benoît Prieur, YouTube screenshot/American University, YouTube screenshot/University of Iowa, YouTube screenshot/UC SantaCruz, YouTube screenshot/University of Colorado Boulder, YouTube screenshot/SyracuseU, Creative Commons/Widosu, YouTube screenshot/Boston University Admissions, public domain/Lion Hirth, YouTube screenshot/FEMA, YouTube screenshot/University of Rochester Admissions, YouTube screenshot/American College Strategies, YouTube screenshot/villanovauniversity)