The Fallacy of Reach, Target, and Backup

Families often simplify the college selection process when categorizing campuses as “Reach,” “Target,” and “Backup” based on perceived chances of admission. Appliants and their families overlook the complex matchmaking between what a student needs and the unique opportunities of a particular college:

  • Reach: Highly selective admit rates, typically less than 15%, where applicants will be considered amidst a pool of other highly qualified applicants thus admission chances are uncertain.
  • Target: Schools where the student is well-qualified and admissions odds are deemed about 50/50, with acceptance rates at 30% or higher.
  • Backups: Colleges with over a 60% acceptance rate where denial is unlikely, though the student’s interest in attending may vary.

However, separating colleges by admissions chances, students fail to understand that college admissions is not about “winning a spot” but finding a mutual fit. Students are seeking validation of their academic work and sacrifices, while aiming to fulfill the promise of future prosperity with a college degree. 

Meanwhile, admissions officers must consider filling institutional needs, such as the geographic diversity of the incoming class or a mix of students with different academic interests, while selecting students who will contribute and thrive in their community. Thus, admissions officers generally focus less on rewarding past achievements and more on potential.

Thus, both parties are seemingly competing to meet their own needs, undermining the premise of “Reach”, “Target”, and “Backup” designations. 

Therefore, students should prioritize their own needs in the college selection process:

With a clearer understanding of their own needs, students can more effectively select a diverse range of colleges which match their criteria. Thus, students can craft more genuine autobiographical college essays, enhancing their applications and helping admissions officers understand how a student would fit into the campus community.

To learn more how experts at Creative Marbles Consultancy, a full service educational advisory, help families resolve complex educational concerns to prepare for the complicated labor markets, click

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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