Luck’s Role in Getting into College
It’s “Friday the 13th,” a day deemed unlucky. Even those who usually aren’t superstitious take extra caution on this day, “just in case.”
This makes me think about—you guessed it!—the role luck plays in getting into college. Because I help students with their college application essays, one might think I would believe luck plays little or no part in a student’s acceptance. After all, if one’s test scores and GPA are good and the essay is solid, he or she should be able to get in. Right?
Well, yes and no. Why not, you may wonder? Luck! (Notice I didn’t say “bad luck.” Just luck).
I’m not one who believes in bad or good luck. But I definitely acknowledge that luck exists. I have two little stories to illustrate my point. The first is about black jack, and the second is about my son.
So here’s my quick lesson on black jack and why it’s my game of choice in Las Vegas. Like any casino game, black jack is a game of luck. But according to the experts, of whom I am not, black jack offers the best odds—if played well—of any casino game. A player can dramatically increase the odds of winning by knowing when to double down, split or hold. The object of the game is not to get as close as possible to 21 without going over, but simply to beat the dealer. Thus a good player with only 14 points will resist drawing another card if the dealer shows a five (making him likely to have 15 with his unexposed card). According to the rules of most casinos, a dealer must draw a card if he holds fewer than 17 points. Thus, the player, by holding on a 14, is betting the dealer will go over 21, making the hand of 14 a winner.
Likewise, applying to a competitive college is a delicate balance of luck and skill. There is no way to know precisely what the admissions officers seek from an application pool with similar qualifications. However, students who submit well written essays that demonstrate core values with an authentic voice can boost the odds in their favor.
As for my son, Josh, now a freshman in college, he was born on April 13th. When he was in kindergarten, he had heard that Friday the 13th was an “unlucky” day. I recall his asking me, in a sweet, high-pitched voice, if he had been born on a Friday. As luck would have it, the answer was yes. So I was faced with lying to my 5-year-old son or hitting him with the cold, hard, disturbing truth.
“Yes,” I told him, “it was a Friday.” But as his eyes widened with fear, I completed my sentence. “But that makes you extremely lucky.” I continued to fabricate a story about how anyone born on Friday the 13th was given the special gift of its being flip-flopped into a lucky day. From then on, Josh looked forward to each time the 13th fell on a Friday.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting my now 18-year-old son is still so naïve as to believe this, but somewhere in his mind is this little story that negates an equally ridiculous superstition. Now my wishing him a “Happy Friday the 13th” has become a special joke between us. But more importantly, he hasn’t gone through life believing he’s unlucky, and he can chuckle at those who fear this day.
People who do their best and seek ways to improve their fates may not be so lucky as to reach the stars, but they certainly will come closer than if they hadn’t put forth their best effort. Students should keep this in mind as they work on their college application essays. Luck be with you!