6 Cases in Which a Match School is Really a Reach

In Some Situations, the Odds of Getting In Aren't as Good as They Seem

Every year, some high school students find that they've been rejected by all the colleges to which they applied. In many cases, the problem can be traced to some miscalculations when choosing schools. The standard advice most students receive is to apply to a mix of safety schools, match schools and reach schools. However, in these six cases, what seems like a match might actually be a reach.

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Highly Selective Schools

Princeton University Chapel. Lee Lilly / Flickr

If you have great test scores and a high GPA, you may be tempted to view the top colleges and universities in the country as matches. However, most of these highly selective schools have acceptance rates well below 20%. Whatever your scores are, these schools should be considered a "reach." Many well-qualified applicants will be rejected. All of the Ivy League Schools should be considered reach schools. If you look at rejection data for Harvard, for example, you'll see that plenty of students with straight "A" averages and SAT scores in the top 1% were rejected.

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Low Field-Specific GPA

Imagine you're applying to an engineering school and your high school GPA and class rank are a match for the school. However, your math and science grades are the lowest on your transcript. Since the engineering school is looking for particular strengths in math and science, those individual grades could reduce your chances of acceptance.

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Shifts in Selectivity

It's easy to miscalculate what schools are a match if you have out-of-date data. Recent admissions cycles have been some of the most competitive on record because of a surge in the number of applicants. The use of the Common Application, for example, has made it easier for more students to apply to more schools. A school that used to accept 50% of applicants may now accept only 30%. As a result, many schools that would have been a match a few years ago are suddenly reach schools.

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Lack of Extracurricular Involvement

If your GPA and test scores are a good match for highly selective colleges, but you have very few extracurriculars, you'll be applying with a handicap. Since schools are looking for highly engaged and well-rounded students, your lack of extracurricular activity will lessen your chances of acceptance. Selective schools want more than strong students—they want students who will succeed in the classroom and who will also contribute to the campus community in meaningful ways.

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Out-of-State Status for a Public College

You may find that your scores are a good match for top public universities like Berkeley or UNC Chapel Hill. However, your chance of admission changes if you don't live in the school's state. State-funded universities are often required to admit a specific number of in-state applicants, so frequently the admissions bar is set higher for out-of-state students.

Note that this isn't always true. Some state university systems are so cash-strapped that they are eager to collect the higher tuition they receive from out-of-state applicants.

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Special Programs Within a College

Let's say you are applying for a top business or engineering program at a college where your scores are a good match. However, many specialized programs within a college have higher admission standards than the college as a whole. For example, as hard as it is to get into the University of Pennsylvania, it's even harder to get into Penn's Wharton School of Business

Some schools will reject you from the selective program and admit you with the general applicant pool, but if your heart is truly on a specific and selective program, that should put the school in the "reach" column.