Safety schools are colleges and universities that prospective students feel reasonably confident about getting into but only sort of want to attend. Each year, 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 sometimes several more down the list). Other applicants choose their safety schools because they can’t afford their dreams, or to play a sport, or an instrument, or whatever. Sometimes, at the end of the day, people just want to remain close to home.
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.
Nestled in a quiet, residential area of the nation’s capital, American University is the sweet-spot school for students who don’t get into Georgetown or George Washington but feel they must spend four years and entirely too much money on tuition in notoriously expensive Washington, D.C. American U. 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.
Like a glorious mullet, Arizona State University strikes the perfect balance between business in the front and party in the back. Students throw legendary parties but they also have access to a huge plethora of resources including a great business school and state-of-the-art research labs. The weather is good, too, as long as you like your weather hot and dry virtually all the time. With an acceptance rate at or just over 80 percent, there’s no reason not to apply.
So you received the proverbial little envelopes from Ivy League schools even though you graduated with honors, captained the debate team and took the MATHletes to nationals with your calculus mastery. Have no fear! Boston College is here! It’s a picturesque, cozy-yet-huge place to spend four years. The campus is located just a few miles from Boston, too, which is perfect for students who want to take advantage of big-city internships, but still have a place to get away from it all.
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. The school in Foggy Bottom boasts the largest enrollment rate among Washington D.C. universities.
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 the academically elite schools in the Rust Belt’s fabled athletic conference. It’s big and plenty comprehensive, though. Surrounding Iowa City is America’s most underrated college town.
Rutgers–New Brunswick is the latest iteration for the name of New Jersey’s flagship taxpayer-funded school. Much like New Jersey itself, Rutgers is perfectly fine but it’s not exactly a destination. Nobody really sets out to go to school on this huge, spread-out, architecturally incoherent campus. It’s just kind of this solid place which offers bachelor’s degrees.
The 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 leaving whenever they want and taking courses at four other schools (including Amherst College and Mount Holyoke College) thanks to the local Five College Consortium.
Syracuse University is a 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.
The University of Colorado, Boulder boasts a solid national reputation, 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 admit rate is also pretty high. The promise of world-class skiing all winter is another big plus. It all adds up to a bunch of rich kids from out-of-state applying — just in case.
New York University is a crazy-expensive haven for stupidly rich kids that certainly doesn’t advertise itself as a backup school. But, of course, it is. NYU competes against notoriously low-acceptance rate schools such as Columbia University, Princeton and the like — and generally loses. What a fabulous consolation prize, though! Located in Manhattan’s chic Greenwich Village, NYU offers the perfect locale for students who can afford to experience anything and everything.
Boston is the most competitive academic city in America. Harvard and MIT duke out academic prowess in Cambridge. Meanwhile, dozens of lesser Beantown colleges compete to be better than the next. Northeastern University offers solace to students who want to go to a good school but basically don’t have a prayer of getting into an Ivy.
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.”
Situated in the sleepy New England town of Storrs, the University of Connecticut has an acceptance which hovers around 50 percent annually. The public school is a prime backup plan for students all over New England and a pretty good deal for Connecticut residents. The campus is nothing to write home about. On the bright side, the basketball is usually quite good.
Villanova University is a decent plan B for students who have their dreams crushed by admissions staffers at schools up and down the East Coast. The Catholic bastion is well known for its business school and other pre-professional programs. It’s a comfortable second choice in a comfortable Pennsylvania suburb.
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