What Is a Match School?

As You Choose Colleges, Be Sure to Apply to Several Match Schools

GPA, SAT and ACT Data for a Match School
GPA, SAT and ACT Data for a Match School. Admissions Data Courtesy of Cappex.com

A "match school" is a college or university that is likely to admit you because your grades, standardized test scores, and holistic measures are similar to those of typical students at the school. When applying to colleges, it's important to choose your schools wisely. You should make sure you apply to a mix of reach schools, match schools and safety schools.

How Do You Know if a School is a Match?

If you know your high school GPA and you've taken either the SAT or ACT, it's fairly easy to figure out if your grades and test scores are on target for a university.

Here are two methods for doing so:

  • Find schools that interest you in my massive A to Z index of college profiles. When you click on a college, you'll find SAT and ACT data for matriculated students. This data represents the 25th and 75th percentile of students who enrolled at the college. If your ACT and/or SAT scores are above the 25th percentile number, you're a potential match for the school.
  • For hundreds of the schools I've profiled, you'll also find a link to a GPA-SAT-ACT graph of data for students who were accepted, rejected and waitlisted. This will give you a more visual representation of where you fit in.

Match ≠ Guaranteed Admission:

It's important to realize that there is no guarantee of admission at schools that you've identified as matches. While many students with grades and test scores similar to yours were admitted, it's equally likely that some students with similar profiles were not admitted.

This is one reason why it's important also to apply to a safety school or two so that you are nearly certain to be admitted somewhere. It can be heartbreaking to discover in the spring of senior year that you've received nothing but rejection letters. Possible reasons for a rejection to a match school include: 

  • The college has holistic admissions, and your essay or extracurricular involvement weren't as impressive as those of other applicants.
  • Your application was incomplete or had careless mistakes (see 6 Common Blunders of College Applicants)
  • You failed to demonstrate interest in the college.
  • Related to demonstrated interest, you may have been edged out by applicants who applied through early action or early decision (both tend to have higher admit rates than regular decision)
  • Your letters of recommendation raised concerns for the college.
  • The college wasn't able to meet your financial needs (a significant number of colleges and universities are not needs-blind, and they will not admit students who would face unreasonable financial hardship should they try to attend)
  • The college admitted students who may have had similar grades and test scores but who were more likely to contribute to the diversity of the campus community. Colleges don't have formal geographic, racial, or cultural quotas, but many schools do believe that a diverse student body benefits the learning environment.
  • You have a criminal record that concerns the college.

Some Schools Are Never Matches:

If you're a straight "A" student with top 1% standardized test scores, you're still not guaranteed admission at the country's most selective colleges and universities.

The country's  top U.S. colleges and top universities have such low acceptance rates that many fully qualified applicants receive rejection letters. You should certainly apply if you wish to attend these schools, but be realistic about your chances. When a college has a single digit acceptance rate, you should always consider the school a reach, not a match, even if your grades and test scores are exceptional.

A Final Word:

I always recommend that applicants be realistic about their chances of admission, and it's important to remember that many students receive rejection letters from match schools. That said, chances are good that you will get into some if not most of the match schools to which you apply. Also keep in mind that match schools are often good choices because you'll be among peers who have academic abilities that are similar to your own.

It can be frustrating to be at a college where the majority of students are significantly stronger or weaker than you.