How to Know if a Grad School is a Reach, Match, or Safety School

Blog Post Image - Reach, Match, Safety School

The problem with doing something for the very first time like applying to graduate school is that you don’t know what you don’t know. One of the most common myths that I encounter when working with clients is “I should only apply to the schools where I have the best chance of getting in.”

And to this I say: No, no, all the no’s! You definitely want to apply to some schools where you feel confident that you will get in. However, you also want to make sure that you apply for some dream schools as well. You don’t have to have a “good” chance of getting into Harvard—you just need to give yourself some chance by actually applying. If you don’t apply at all, you have a 0% chance of being admitted to your dream school.

How many reach schools, match schools, and safety schools should I apply to?

When it comes to business school, policy school, or law school (heck, I would also throw in MSW, M.Ed. programs, basically any professional program besides medical school which is a whole different animal), I suggest you aim to apply to 2 dream schools or reach schools, 3 match schools, and 2 safety schools or sure bets.

In order to figure out if a school is a reach, match, or safety, you should look at the median or average years of work experience, median GMAT/GRE score as well as the range of GMAT scores, and average GPA. If your GMAT/GRE score is below the 20-80% range, your score is out of the normal range of scores of students that are admitted. This doesn’t You should also remember that numbers aren’t everything; you still need to submit outstanding essays, stellar letters of recommendation, and perform well in your interview.

How do you know if a school is a reach for you?

Some schools are reaches for nearly every person applying. Those are schools like Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, and the like. Once you move past the top 5-ranked schools or so, which I consider to be reaches for everyone, a school is a reach for you if your numbers (GMAT/GRE, years of work experience, GPA) are near the average or slightly below the average for the profile of admitted candidates.

Reach schools are schools that you aren’t confident that you will get admitted to but that you’d be thrilled to attend if you were admitted. It’s important to understand that if you apply to only reach schools, there is a chance that you will not get in anywhere. If you apply to no reach schools, you may feel regret once your admissions come in and you realize that maybe just maybe you could’ve gotten into Harvard.

How do you know if a school is a match school for you?

You’re a strong match for admission to a school if your profile stats closely match those of the incoming class or are better than the stats.

You should apply to at least 3 match schools, and to not assume that you will be admitted to all 3. Applicants are often surprised (especially those who do the process primarily alone) that getting admitted to a school they consider a match school can be much harder than they think.

How do you know if a school is a safety school or sure bet for you?

A school is usually a safety school or a sure bet when your profile statistics are significantly higher than the average incoming student.

For example, maybe the school has a median GMAT score of 670 and GPA of  3.4 and your GMAT score is 710 with a GPA of 3.6. If your essays, LOR, and interview are excellent, you are very likely to be admitted to this school.

Sometimes, a safety school may entice you to apply with a fee waiver (though an offer of a fee waiver should never be interpreted as an offer of admission), or even let you know that you are marked as a “preferred applicant,” which is their sneaky way of saying, “As long as you submit a good application, you can basically count on getting admitted.”

Time to share: What are your reach, match, and safety schools?

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