Reasons for Getting Rejected from Safety Schools

By: Caroline Koppelman

Last year we had a student named Scott who was objectively incredible. He had a 2200 on the SATs, 700+ on multiple SAT2s, maximized his extra curricular activities, and had an A GPA. He had his sights set on some very competitive schools, but he knew he had to have a few safeties, including Tulane, just in case. Not only was he supremely qualified but his mom went to Tulane and still helped out at the school with alumni relations. Much to his surprise, Scott was rejected from Tulane Early Action. 

When people who don’t work in this industry hear Scott’s story they get very anxious. They think a safety school is a guarantee. We can’t say this enough: there are no guarantees in this process. Being a triple legacy at a school doesn’t ensure an acceptance. A safety school is simply a school where you are at or above the 75th percentile. Statistically you should get in.  

Despite this, schools know how to leverage their acceptances in order to end up with a higher yield rate. The yield rate is the percentage of accepted students who attend. They don’t want to accept students who will end up at another school because it decreases their yield rate. Colleges want to increase their yield rates for a number of reasons. 

First, it looks good as a marketing statistic. If you’re on a tour of Harvard and you hear they have an 80% yield rate, you’ll likely be impressed. 

Perhaps more importantly, US News and World uses yield rate as part of their methodology in ranking universities. Since there are only so many aspects of the ranking methodology, universities like to exercise any sort of control they can. Yield rates also help to explain the increase in the percentage of a class filled with early decision applicants. Since it’s binding, the school can ensure that all accepted students will attend, which increases their yield rate driving up their ranking. 

So, when a student like Scott applies to Tulane Early Action or Regular Decision, they know that student is not likely going to attend. Regardless of a compelling essay, supplement, recommendation, and outstanding grades, they understand that for Scott, they’re a safety school and have to act accordingly. 

Sometimes we see students like Scott get deferred to Regular Decision so the school can see who else is applying. But, we’re never surprised when a student gets rejected from a safety school. 

In the end it always works out. Scott is at USC’s film school, which was his first choice all along. So while it may seem surprising that he didn’t get into his safety, as for most students in this process, things ended up working out for the best.