Do You Need Luck to Get Into College?

It’s that time of year again: people wearing green and raving about the luck of the Irish, as the celebration of St. Patrick makes everyone nostalgic for the leprechaun and his pot of gold.

With admissions decisions coming out shortly, luck starts cropping up in our conversations here at College Coach as well. “She’s so lucky! She got into Tufts and UCLA.” Or, “I’m lucky I applied in the Priority round, or I might not have been accepted.” Or perhaps, “Wow, how lucky: he got into his top choice and got a big merit award to help pay for it.”

Are those examples of luck? By definition, luck is a fluke, fate, chance, windfall—all of which imply that these were happy accidents completely out of the students’ control. But the student who got her application in by the earlier deadline planned ahead and was ready. Acceptances to places like Tufts and UCLA are built on good curriculum choices, strong grades and test scores, excellent writing, and interesting involvement. And having a top choice where you are not only likely to get in but also to get money comes from doing your research and constructing a balanced college list with good matches and safeties.

So do you need luck to get into college?

I suppose you could say that luck is involved if you’re a talented quarterback applying in a year when the coach is looking to replace a graduating superstar. Or if your alumni interviewer just happens to work in the field you plan to pursue, allowing you to have a more meaningful conversation. Or if the essay you wrote about flipping burgers at Newport Creamery connects with your admissions officer, who once ran the grill at Friendly’s.

But really, the best results come via hard work and thoughtful choices. A little kismet might help, but even that comes as a result of doing the work that puts you in the right place at the right time.

So stop worrying about good fortune and start making your own luck! Take that fourth year of foreign language, put in the extra time that an honors course requires, attend the meetings, volunteer to help with projects, earn that leadership position, run a few more laps, work an extra shift, write another draft or two of your essay. The payoff of increasing your college opportunities might be far better than a single pot of gold. And there won’t be anything lucky about it.

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Written by Elizabeth Heaton
Elizabeth Heaton is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Before coming to College Coach, Beth worked as a senior admissions officer at University of Pennsylvania and an alumni admissions ambassador at Cornell University.