Ever wonder how college admission decisions are really made? Think the difference between getting in and that rejection letter is skewed toward grades? Could it have been too few hours in the soup kitchen, or that college essay that echoed so little emotion, it wouldn't even have brought a tear to John Boehner's watery eyes?

And who's making those decisions, anyway? A committee (so no one individual will have to own it)? A college admissions officer, barely out of college herself? A monkey throwing darts?

Yes, a monkey throwing darts. The visual typically conjured up (please don't try this at home, or in your local tavern) in discussions involving picking winning stocks -- as in, could a monkey throwing darts at the financial pages beat the experts and talking heads in the stock market game?

Granted, it is usually a combination of factors -- grades, scores, extracurriculars, community service, essays, and the strength of the college application itself, that will make it or break it for any particular student, but in this strange and elusive game of TEGWAR (The Exciting Game Without Any Rules), in a mysterious and too often burdensome process that has become unnecessarily complicated, could there be more to getting in where you want to go, or going elsewhere?

Consider several other factors that come into play, even in this era of a holistic approach to college admissions, including (but by no means limited to) demographics, diversity, legacies, and, dare we say, that $10 million dollar donation made by dad, which, coincidentally, not only got you in, but landed your family name on the new library tower.

In short, sometimes even the most well-rounded, well-versed, and well-written student gets hoisted on the college admissions petard by virtue of elements entirely out of his or her control.

Indeed, work those grades (they do matter). Give it your best shot on those inane standardized tests (without gnawing your No. 2 pencil to a nub). Tell your story in a compelling essay that keeps it real, keeps it interesting, keeps it simple, and keeps it honest. Make absolutely certain that, in every way, your application is complete, accurate, and conveys a clear picture of who you are, who you hope to become over the next four years, and what you will bring, both to campus, and to the community beyond. [Be sure, as well, to submit your application, and all supporting material, in a timely manner -- meaning early on -- bearing in mind that in the age of electronic transmission, whatever can go wrong with Common App, will go wrong with Common App!]

Will all this ensure college admissions Nirvana? No more than one can guarantee that you'll be the next Power Ball winner, or that, come move-in day on campus, the sun will shine, you'll have the perfect dorm mate, and your earliest class will always be after 11 AM.

Still, you will sleep well at night (even if your dorm mattress is thinner than a micron, and short-sheeted, at that), knowing that you gave it your best efforts on all fronts.

And never discount the fortuitous nature of sheer luck, that universal game-changer called chance, when courting or counting your college admissions blessings. Cross every "t" and dot every "i". Master the sport of the college application. Strategize those admissions plans with the best of 'em. Then, cross your fingers, hold your breath, and rub that rabbit's foot.

After all, it is not always you. Sometimes, it really is the monkey throwing darts!

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