Every single college counselor will recommend choosing two or three “safety schools” to apply to. However, they don’t always offer advice on how to choose them.
If you’re unfamiliar, a “safety school” is a college that you are almost certain you will be accepted into. It’s a weird concept—you want to get in there but you would rather go to one of your “target” or “reach” schools. People are often dismayed when they end up going to one of their safety schools, but there is no reason to be if you choose your safety schools wisely.
First you need to verify that these safety schools are truly safety schools, because “safety” is different for everyone. Confirm that your SAT or ACT scores are above their averages, as well as your GPA. For example if you scored 1900/2400 composite on the (current) SAT a good safety school for you would have an average score of 1700 or 1800.
After you verify that it actually is a safety school you need to make sure that it is a good fit for you. To do this you should weigh it like any other school. Consider the majors available—do they align with your interests? Do they fit prospective careers you like? Also think about their extracurriculars—do they have the music group or study abroad program or young business peoples club you want to join? Overall you really need to make sure that you will be happy at this school, that it is as good for you as your first choice. A good activity would be to compare your top choice school and your safety, making sure they have similar programs and advantages, so you will be happy.
After you have selected two or three safety schools, you then need to go through the application process. You should start by finding out when admission reps are going to be visiting your school or town. Most college websites have a section on their site where they have an itinerary of visits. When you meet with an admission rep, it is important to ask them direct questions; remember there are plenty of people waiting in line behind you!
Your safety school may be the most important school on your list. If for some reason you do not get into any of your target or reach schools (though hopefully you do), then you’ll want your safety school to be a great fit.