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In day to day conversation, I frequently use the word "backup" to refer to a dependable but perhaps slightly less desirable option. For example,

When applying to college, you should apply to 10 dream schools and 10 backup schools

or

I know this is not your first choice, but it is a good backup.

How can I translate the word "backup" used in this context?

Someone once told me that 保底 has this meaning. Is that correct?

  • 保底 is something secured as the bottom line and often used in finance. It can be used in this context. Other terms, suggested in below answers, are better in this situation. Another similar term is 备胎 (spare wheel/tire) . If you want to make some funny effect, you could say those 10 schools would be my 备胎. You could also be someone's 备胎:If he/she did not marry somebody else, he/she would marry you. – dan Aug 21 '17 at 1:14
  • 备选 candidate;替代方案 alternative,次要方案 (secondary),变通方案(workaround)。 – Daniel Yeung Aug 22 '17 at 5:02
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後備(reserve/backup) - opposite of 先發(starting) / 正選(primary)

副選/次選 (secondary option/ secondary selection) opposite of 首選 (first choice/ first option) or 正選 (primary)

e.g.

  • 北京大學是我的首選, 天津大學是後備 (Peking University is my first choice, Tianjin University is the backup)

  • 北京大學是我的首選, 天津大學是我副選/ 次選 (Peking University is my first choice, Tianjin University is my secondary option)

  • 先發球員 (starter)- 後備球員 (bench player)

  • 正選球員 (starter)- 副選球員 (second string player)

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'backup' being short for 'backup plan', I would go with '备选方案’, which can be translated as 'alternative'.

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AP2016高二年级College Research Project大学选校及信

says (emphasis my own):

易楚崴William(高二1班)

这是William同学根据自己的情况列出的选校目录,其中分为了Dream School(梦想冲刺学校)、Match School(匹配学校)、以及Backup School(保底学校)

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