The College List: Why Likelies Are the New Safeties

Good-bye, Safeties! Hello, Likelies!

In today’s college application landscape, the term “Safety School” is one that needs to be shelved. No school is a sure thing; however, if chosen strategically, many schools are safe bets making the likelihood of acceptance fairly certain.


To a certain degree, the words “safe” and “likely” are interchangeable when creating a college list and yet, the nuance is key: by adopting the moniker “likely,” students don’t assume acceptance is a given. Pre-COVID, it was easier to predict where students would and wouldn’t receive offers. After attending a recent NYSACAC professional development conference, I learned that two factors have made this assumption less decisive: test-score optional and DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion). Admissions teams have both a greater number of students, and a greater variety of students, to consider — and therefore a wider selection pool.

Seeing is Believing

Students tend to view Safety Schools as inferior institutions, ones that they’d prefer not to attend. When I share a list with a student divided into the categories Reaches/Targets/Likelies, I’m surprised by how they “like” their third tier, their Likelies. They see the schools stacked together and realize that their Likelies may not be top choices but are wonderful institutions with the same resources as their Reaches and Targets.

Managing Expectations

If a student has fallen in love with a Reach school, there’s no easy way to soften the blow of not having that love reciprocated. After a few days of licking wounds, I advise my students: The only way to go is forward. By this point in the process, students have often received acceptances to some Early Action Likely schools, sometimes with Merit Aid scholarship tuition assistance. Suddenly, those Likelies become attractive, as they’ve shown students how much they value and want them.

For more information about College Counseling/Essay Coaching, please drop me a line at or give me a holler at 917-863-2424. Also, for “news you can use,” please check out my blog, videos, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.