By Gabija Žukauskaitė
Published 2023 02 13
Creating a well-thought-out target university list requires careful research and strategic thinking. Having said that, the rewards for doing this homework are considerable. That is because the right balance of safety, match, and reach universities can maximize one’s chances of acceptance. This post will clarify these three terms, provide some examples of universities within each group, and advise on the overall number of universities you should apply to.
While still being able to challenge you intellectually, ‘safety’ schools should be universities that accept students with lower GPAs and test scores than yours. Thus, they should guarantee a greater than 75% chance of admission. ‘Match’ schools, by most definitions, should fall between 50-75% chance of acceptance. Finally, there are ‘reach’ universities, where your chances of being accepted are lower than 50%, maybe even than 25%. If we consider Ivy League schools or other top US universities like Stanford, which have the lowest acceptance rates in the world, they can be classified as ‘reach’ schools for all applicants. Since even the very best students often get rejected by these schools, we label the top US universities the highest-risk yet highest-reward choice.
As we have a dual focus on both US and Western Europe, our thesis is that if it’s not a top-tier school that you get admitted to in the States, Western Europe might offer better options, especially for international students. This is because the best US universities truly stand out in terms of the education quality, as well as financial aid generosity in comparison to most alternatives globally. If we move to second-tier institutions, however, financial aid quickly becomes very limited and the academic rigor evens out or starts to fall behind that of the best Western European institutions of higher education. Thus, oftentimes the quality/price ratio shifts in favor of Western Europe.
Hence, at Atlas, for high-achieving students we recommend the following:
Before diving deep into various rankings, it is good to read up on their respective methodologies and figure out what’s behind each of them. A good place to start is this article by QS.
Reputation can be assessed by looking at how frequently universities are mentioned in top publications, popular books – how far reaching their academic work is, how respected their Professors are, etc. Another good way is talking to people who are older, in an industry you would like to work in, and know which schools are highly valued by employers in practice. Or, even better – talking to insiders of these schools, current students or recent graduates, who still maintain a fresh take on what life there is really like.
Finally, there are other, less conventional rankings, like College Niche, that incorporate other aspects of college life that can prove important over four years, which you should also take a look at.
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