This post was written by Jillian Feinstein, a senior at the College of William & Mary. It was originally published on The Prospect, the world's largest student-run college access website. You can follow The Prospect on Facebook and Twitter.
During my senior year of high school, I had an eye-opening experience.
I went to the info session for a small private school in Pennsylvania that was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, my safety school. I liked the school; it had a lot of things to offer, but it was my safety. It was the school I just liked as a friend, I had no passion for it. I went to the session to express interest (with the knowledge that I would probably get into a "better" school).
I chatted with a few people while we were waiting for the rep to come in. One of them, dressed to the nines, was shaking with anticipation. Her words shook my notions of this school, "It's my dream school. I want to go here more than anywhere... but I don't think I'll get in, which sucks."
Wait... this was my safety. This was a school I was going to apply to hoping for a ton of merit scholarship money. But to someone else, this school was a reach. This school was what they had been dreaming about all year.
Imagine what would have happened if I had told her it was my safety -- that I didn't really see myself going there, but I was sure I would get in. Would that have made her feel bad? Yeah, it would have. Would it have shaken her confidence? Maybe. Would she have told me that it was a reach school? Probably not.
Because I didn't start out with, "It's my safety," I got to see the school through the eyes of someone who thought it was the best school in the entire world. She helped me see things about the school I hadn't thought of before. She talked up the good points like a well-seasoned salesperson. I was just as excited about the school as she was by the time the rep started presenting.
Always try to look at a school through the lens of a dream school. Because for some reason, being confident that you'll get in seems to accentuate the negative points.
Every college freshman class has a few eye-rollers who groan, "Yeah... this was my safety school." Instead of treating schools with the respect they deserve, they nay-say and act like they're better than the other students in their class.
Here's what I say to them: Really? Because you're here with the rest of us. The academic sorting hat put you here. You're not better than anyone here because you might have applied to a few schools with higher US News rankings. You ended up here. The kid you're sitting next to at orientation, at your safety school, might have gotten in as a reach. But that doesn't mean anything -- at the end of the first semester, they might have better grades than you, because while you were groaning about your superiority, they were out there busting their humps to prove that they belonged. We're all here together.
There is so much hate for safety schools. They're treated like dirty words. But you know what? All schools are awesome. And any school that accepts you deserves your respect.
Your safety school is probably somebody's reach. It's the acceptance you won't think twice about, while they're in wait list limbo.
So love your safety school, respect your safety school, and be careful when you're talking about it. How do you chat about it in a kind, respectable way? By not talking about it like it's a dental exam. Talk about it for what it is: a school option you'll probably have.
Know what sounds better (and way less condescending) than safety? Saying, "I'm confident about this school," or "I'm in [its] range, I feel good about it," or "It's not my first choice, but I really like it."
Don't talk about it with distaste; talk up the good points. Being confident should not be a bad thing.