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Do You Need Luck to Get Into College?

Elizabeth Heaton

Written by Elizabeth Heatonon March 17th, 2017

I began my admissions career at the University of Pennsylvania, where I chaired university selection committees, evaluated potential athletic recruits as one of the school's athletics liaisons, and oversaw the university's portfolio of admissions publications. I also served as second chair in the selection committee for the school's flagship interdisciplinary Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology. A frequent contributor to USA TODAY and The Huffington Post and a graduate of Cornell University, I bring exceptional skills to the craft of essay writing paired with experience reading and evaluating thousands of admissions essays. I can offer expert advice on a wide range of college admissions topics, from colleges' expectations for high school curriculum choices and standardized test scores to choosing the right extracurricular activities and essay topics. Prior to joining the University of Pennsylvania, I worked as a public relations professional and served for a decade as a member of the Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network.
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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. Whitepaper-CTA


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