Luck and College Admissions

University Admission and Luck, Luck and Ivy League Admission, Luck and Selective College Admission

Andrew Luck, the presumptive #1 overall pick in this year’s NFL draft, needed no luck to earn admission to Stanford. But luck can sometimes play a role – albeit a very small role – in admissions. And the key word is “sometimes!” Photo credit: John Martinez Pavliga.

Luck and college admissions. Is there luck involved in college admissions? The short answer is yes. Of course there’s an element of luck involved in college admissions (though there doesn’t have to be). If you’re a student with straight A’s, near-perfect SAT scores, and are a recruited 6’10 basketball player who was coveted by the likes of Coach K and Tommy Amaker, there is zero element of luck necessary for you to gain admission to the highly selective college of your dreams. But the fact is, most students aren’t 6’10 recruited athletes with perfect grades and near-perfect SATs.

Will luck get these students admitted to the college of their dreams? Absolutely not. If you’re a B student with subpar SAT scores and no unique talent, you’re generally not going to earn yourself a spot at Yale. Are there exceptions? Yes. Development cases are, as an example, at times an exception. But luck’s not going to help the vast majority of college applicants. Knowing the ins and outs of the college admissions process will help. As an example, showing interest in a school is in an applicant’s best interest as colleges want students who want them (it all comes back to their “US News & World Report” ranking). The numerous college essays are another example where you can stand out in your application, to help your case for admission to a highly selective college. We can go on and on.

But even after you submit the strongest possible application, one that truly will make you stand out from the pack, there is a certain element of luck involved. Is it a big element? No. But it does indeed exist. As an example, if you’re a water polo player from Southern California and you happen to be interviewed by an alumnus who’s also a water polo player, chances are good you’ll hit it off and that alum will submit a strong recommendation on your behalf. Or what about if the admissions officer evaluating your application sees herself in your application? That kind of luck can indeed help your case for admission. And it often does!

But, keep in mind, luck has very, very little to do with college admissions decisions. We’re simply asserting that there is a small element of luck involved…sometimes! Not even all of the time!

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