You may well ultimately get into your top choice school, and your top choice may even give you a financial aid package that sufficiently covers your needs. But part of picking colleges entails selecting a third, fourth, and fifth choice as well.

Enrolling in your safety school should not feel like a prison sentence. These are colleges that you can be reasonably confident will admit you, that you can afford, and that you would be happy to attend. Selecting safety schools for your list is an opportunity to get to know several schools better as you look at the relative merits of those schools as compared to their price tags.

Cultural Fit

Your safety schools will necessarily be unique to you and will reflect your interests and priorities. A safety school should offer all or most of the things you are looking for from your higher education. Ask yourself, "Would I be happy there?" If the answer is not "yes!" find another candidate.

Admissions Safety Schools

These schools are ones where your grades and test scores fall above the school’s range for the average freshman, making your admission pretty much guaranteed. For example, many state schools provide an excellent education and offer admission to the majority of in-state residents who meet certain basic academic requirements. Remember that further down the road, you can take a second shot at your reach school with a transfer application.

Financial Safety Schools

If your school list is made up of expensive, selective schools, consider schools that you can afford even if your aid package is less than stellar. For many families this means a state or community college. In fact, there are some extremely fine public colleges, whose educational opportunities rival those of many of the best private colleges. In some cases, the admissions safety school and the financial safety school may be the same. If you are a desirable candidate from an academic standpoint, you are likely to get a good financial aid package as well.