You Can't Learn to Win the Lotto

It's around this time of year that thousands of high school seniors hold their collective breaths in anticipation of responses from college admissions offices.

In my day, that meant strolling to the mailbox every afternoon, hoping to receive the auspicious sign of the times: the "fat envelope".

Today, it's all about email and websites. You hope to see the words "Congratulations" or "pleased to inform" in the first sentence.

It's also around this time that we are regaled with tales of student success stories. The sexiest headlines include stories of students who were admitted to "all eight Ivy Leagues". You may have noticed these in your social media feeds.

First, let's be clear.

We SHOULD celebrate any high school senior who worked hard enough to be accepted to ANY college of his or her choice.

And yes, some students likely deserve more accolades because some schools are definitely harder to get into.

But this season also engenders a darker side of the force.

What I'm referring to is a mentality that suddenly turns every accepted student into an admissions expert and every future applicant into rabid copycats.

You can see what I mean when you encounter bold font articles claiming "This student wrote _____ and got into all the Ivy Leagues." Or when you run into someone who states "I got into Stanford [so you should do what I did]".

College-going families imbibe these stories and begin molding their students in the image of these fantastical situations.

This must feel a bit like someone teaching you how to win the lottery.

Do some people win the lottery? Yes, that is undisputed.

Can they teach you how they won? Well they could certainly try but most of you must realize how futile that is.

I should also point out that the word "lottery" seems appropriate, particularly if we're discussing colleges that accept fewer than 10% of their applicants.

While there are ABSOLUTELY some fundamental things you can do to increase your admissions chances, when it comes to the most competitive schools in the country, there is almost certainly NOT ONE SINGULAR THING you can do to get in. (Editor's note: the savviest of you might suggest donating truckloads of money to a college but some of you may be surprised to learn that there's still a better vs. a worse way to do that. Furthermore, if you have truckloads of money to give to a college, what are you doing researching how to get into college?).

And before mobs of Tiger moms descend upon me with pitchforks and knives, let me clarify a very important point:

Following sage advice to improve your chances of admission into the most selective institutions is a good thing.

Believing that there is a magic formula (or pill) that will automatically get you there is most certainly not.

What is inherently dangerous about this situation is that everyone starts to break down college admissions into compartmentalized, hyper-valued pieces. People choose the aspect they relate to and create a simple equation: You did this + I do it too = I get into the same college.

Obviously, admissions is a far more complex beast than this logic implies. The toughest admissions offices look at everything you've accomplished within your personal context and environment and that is NOT something that can be easily blueprinted from one student to another.

Follow the requirements, seek professional advice, and make your application the best it can possibly be. But remember to also make it your own.

Lastly, be wary of those selling magic solutions to a much more complicated process...even if the one selling is the voice in your head.

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