How to Choose a Safe School vs an Ambitious School?

Many international students study abroad in the United States due to the vast number of schools available. Before coming to the United States, international students have to choose what schools to apply to, and eventually which school to attend. This can be a tough task due to a number of factors, including the number of schools, your credentials, school requirements, and future career goals. Typically, international students, when deciding where to study abroad in the United States, make up a list of schools they wish to attend. Those lists are typically made up of safe schools and ambitious schools.

What is a Safe School?

As the name suggests, a safety school is one where students with a similar profile have historically gotten accepted – it is a safe choice to apply to, and while not guaranteed, would be a high chance of acceptance. A great way to determine if a school is a safe school or not is to look at its admission requirements and the current class profile. If your GPA is well above the average student’s GPA at that school, and your standardized test scores are in about the 75th percentile, then you can consider that school a safe school.

Another factor that an international student should look at is the admission rate. If the admission rate is high, and your scores are well above average, that also adds to that school being safe. A general rule of thumb for international students should be that the more selective a school is, regardless of how good your GPA and test scores are, that school should not be considered a safe option.

The next question many international students then ask is how many safety schools to apply to. There is no concrete answer to this question. You are free to apply to as many or as few safety schools as you would like. However, do keep in mind that if you apply to a high volume of safety schools, chances are you will be accepted to many of them. Therefore, make sure that you are open to attending any of those schools if you get accepted to it. Yes, you have a much higher chance of being accepted into a safety school, but you want to keep your options open and also apply to a few ambitious schools.

What is an Ambitious School? 

An ambitious school is essentially the opposite of a safe school for international students. It is a school that you would really like to attend, but based on your credentials, your chance of admission may be pretty slim. Likewise, schools with very low admission rates should also be considered ambitious schools for international students. When making your initial list of schools you would like to attend while studying abroad in the United States, include schools that may be ambitious. Then, when you are applying, analyze whether a school is an ambitious one or not. We suggest applying to a few ambitious schools, but make sure to apply to other schools as well, such as safe ones. Remember, chances of admission at ambitious schools are slim, so you want to make sure to have a backup plan just in case!

Please remember, when evaluating your chances of admission at safe schools and ambitious schools, that no matter you GPA or test scores, admissions committees look at more than just the numbers. They also evaluate your essays, resumes, and letters of recommendation. A strong essay or letter of recommendation could help make up for a low GPA or standardized test score.

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Are you having trouble figuring out what schools you can get into? Do you need some guidance on where to apply? Nomad Credit can help with the difficult admissions and application process. We currently offer services that include profile evaluation, essay editing, and application processing. Visit our website,, or visit us at one of the links provided above for help!