When crafting your college list, you already know about match, likely, and reach schools—with some people referring to “likely” schools as “safety” schools. But while “safety school” usually refers to a school you know you’re very likely to get an admissions offer from, have you heard of a financial safety school? Finances are a critically important consideration when it comes to college applications, and yet many prospective college students don’t think about them until it’s time to enroll. So what is a financial safety school? How can you apply to one? And why is it important to have one?

What Is a “Financial Safety School”?

It’s no secret: college is expensive, and getting more so each year. Sadly, the cost of college can have a negative impact on many students; financial difficulties are the number-one reason students drop out of college or take a long pause in their studies. While some financial setbacks can be impossible to predict, the upfront cost of your college education can be an important predictor of whether you’ll run into any trouble. That’s where financial safety schools come in.

In short, a financial safety school is a school that you’re certain you and your family can afford. While there are many factors that can make a school your financial safety, from cost of tuition and living expenses to scholarships or other “discounts” you may be eligible for, the important thing is that, were you to enroll there, you know the price would not be a prohibiting factor in your attending and getting your degree.

Should I Apply to One?

Absolutely! Even if you’re lucky enough to have a lot of leeway financially, circumstances can change, and it’s never a bad idea to be safe. Your financial safety school, much like a traditional safety school, should be a place you’d be happy to attend, even if it’s not your first choice, so an application can’t be a bad idea. Moreover, in researching your financial safety school and preparing your application, you may end up learning more about the financial side of the other colleges on your list, which is useful and important knowledge however you look at it.

How Do I Choose My Financial Safety School?

You’ll need to start off with a little research! What makes a school a financial safety is dependent on a lot of factors, from your budget to your location. State schools are often significantly less expensive for in-state students, so look at the schools in your state’s university system and what they charge for tuition. Relatedly, if there’s a school local to your area, or near family or friends you could live with at a reduced rate, you may consider reducing your expenses by cutting back on your cost of living.

Finally, some schools have guarantees to meet any financial need their students encounter. These are often private schools, which can look expensive from their “sticker price,” but under such a guarantee, you can rest easy knowing any unexpected financial hardships won’t force you out of the school. If you want to know more about what your expected financial burden will be, you can also check out two resources from the Department of Education: Fafsa4caster and the College Net Price Calculator, which will give you a sense of what price tag you can expect before diving in.

You can also ask for advice from a college counselor, like our coaches at A-List, who are used to looking at college from all different angles. Keeping your finances in mind is, after all, just one important step on your road to college success!