Discovering a Financial Safety School

When compiling your college list, safety schools often receive less attention compared to reach or target schools. They serve as a backup plan, a precautionary measure against potential rejections from more selective institutions.

However, identifying a well-suited safety school, particularly one offering robust financial aid packages, is a crucial aspect of the college selection process. After all, what’s the use of a safety school if attending it proves financially burdensome?

The challenge lies in the fact that you won’t have access to your official financial aid award letter until after you’ve been accepted. Fortunately, we’ll explore some strategies to estimate potential financial aid and scholarships before receiving your admission decision.

Also Read Coursera Scholarships and Financial Aid: A Guide

What is a safety school?

Let’s start by clarifying the concept of a safety school. As a former high school college counselor, I’ve always found the term “safety school” somewhat misleading.

In my view, these institutions are better understood as “likely” or “predictable” schools. They represent colleges where your academic credentials and achievements surpass the typical standards for incoming freshmen.

Selecting a safety school

Selecting a safety school involves assessing various factors, with grades and test scores being paramount. You can begin by gauging your admission prospects based on these metrics. Consult your admissions counselor to determine the percentile range of your grades and scores compared to the student body of your target schools.

In addition to this, consider the following general criteria when identifying safety or likely schools:

  1. Acceptance Rates: Look for colleges with acceptance rates exceeding 50%, indicating a higher likelihood of admission.
  2. Academic Credentials: Aim for institutions where your GPA and test scores rank above the upper 75% of admitted students.
  3. Admissions Scattergrams: Utilize scattergrams to visualize your chances of admission based on historical data. Your high school counselor can assist you in this regard and offer valuable insights and recommendations.

See Aslo How to Get Financial Aid for Certificate Programs

Selecting a Financial Safety School

Selecting a financial safety school is crucial for every student. These institutions should not only offer affordable education but also align with the student’s academic and personal preferences.

Considerations for Choosing a Financial Safety School:

  1. Alignment with Preferences: Ensure that your financial safety school meets your academic, social, and geographical preferences. It should be a place where you can thrive and achieve your goals.
  2. Need-Based Aid: If you rely on need-based aid, prioritize schools known for generous financial assistance. Look for institutions committed to meeting the demonstrated financial need of admitted students.
  3. Merit-Based Aid: For students seeking merit-based aid, explore schools renowned for offering substantial scholarships and grants based on academic achievements and extracurricular involvement.
  4. Research and Comparison: Research different institutions and compare their financial aid offerings. Look into factors such as average aid packages, percentage of need met, and availability of scholarships and grants.
  5. Personalized Approach: Tailor your financial safety school choices based on your unique financial circumstances and educational goals. Consider seeking guidance from college counselors or financial aid advisors for personalized recommendations.

Need-Based Financial Safety Schools

Identifying need-based financial safety schools requires leveraging tools like the Net Price Calculator (NPC). This resource, available on every college website, provides an estimate of the institution’s cost after factoring in need-based aid. If you encounter difficulty locating the NPC on a specific school’s site, reach out to their financial aid office for assistance.

Key Factors Considered by the NPC:

  1. Household Income
  2. Savings
  3. Mortgage
  4. Number of Family Members in College

Moreover, some NPCs may inquire about academic performance and test scores to estimate merit scholarships. However, not all colleges include this feature in their NPCs.

Merit-Based Financial Safety Schools

When considering merit-based financial safety schools, utilizing the Net Price Calculator (NPC) remains beneficial, as some institutions estimate merit scholarships through this tool. This is particularly valuable for students with limited need-based aid options.

Here’s how to proceed:

  1. Begin by identifying colleges that award merit-based scholarships to a significant portion of their students.
  2. Next, assess your admissions likelihood by examining scattergrams to gauge how your academic credentials compare with those of other applicants.

In-state public colleges and universities

In-state public colleges and universities are often overlooked as financial safety schools, but they’re right in your own backyard, quite literally. These institutions are designed to cater to residents of the state, offering affordable tuition rates for in-state students (and sometimes for select out-of-state students).

These schools vary widely in selectivity, ranging from prestigious “Public Ivies” to those with more lenient admissions policies. This diversity ensures that there’s an option for every student’s idea of a safety school.

For those interested in public colleges outside their home state, there are ways to secure in-state tuition, such as through tuition exchange programs or specific non-resident scholarships.

Additionally, considering public two-year colleges within your state can be a smart move, especially for students seeking to bolster their academic credentials. Many of these institutions have transfer agreements with four-year colleges, making it easier to transition to a higher-level degree program.


Identifying financial safety schools is a crucial step in the college application process. These institutions provide a fallback option in case acceptance to more competitive schools doesn’t pan out. Moreover, ensuring that these safety schools offer strong financial aid packages is essential for making higher education accessible and affordable. By utilizing tools like the Net Price Calculator and considering options like in-state public colleges, students can secure their academic and financial futures with confidence.