LexLeon -- exactly. And this hypothetical woman doesn't have such spectacular softs that, when described in <10 words, she would otherwise seem super competitive. But, flesh things out a little more and it makes more sense. (And, as I argue, flesh things out into a full application describing a real person and things become even more clear -- saying "sparkling recommendations" is a far cry from reading the actual wonderful things that are said about some applicants, for example). This hypothetical applicant looks like a marginal candidate for HYS based on stats alone (and maybe a one-sentence discriptor about her softs), but I suspect that she gets into HYS most years.
To further illustrate this example, I'll create another hypothetical person, also impressive, who looks very similar...but who won't get into HYS basically in any year. Let's assume 171/3.75 art history major from Tufts (a not-quite-as-good school with more of a reputation for grade inflation and without nearly as renowned of an art history program), three years in the school's second best acapella group, and founder of the Tufts Chess Club (which has six members and met four times). Let's even assume the guy also did TFA (high school math), and came from a middle class background, but has merely ordinarily good LORs ("he is a good, smart, hardworking guy"), has gotten most of his best grades in obviously "easy" classes, has a canned TFA "my students inspired me to go to law school" personal statement that doesn't really fit exactly with the rest of his story or ring super sincere, etc, etc. The guy's impressive, no doubt about that, and will get into a very good law school, but I don't think most people on the board would be surprised to hear that he'll basically never get into HYS no matter how many times he applies. Although his stats and softs seem really similar to our gal, when viewed at 30,000 feet, fleshing things out makes it more obvious why the first gal's going to get into HYS most years while the latter guy's basically never going to crack the tippy top tier of law schools (and will have to "settle" for Michigan, poor guy ).
Saying that the first gal is "lucky" or that he didn't "strike gold" implies that if given a shot at HYS in 10 parallel universes, a lot of different outcomes would result. And, there likely would be some different outcomes -- our gal might get into Stanford in 8/10 of those universes, Harvard in 9/10, and Yale in 7/10. There is certainly some imprecise human element to all of this, and that's going to come out the most when we're looking at the most marginal candidates (without having seen the whole body of applications, it's hard to know if she is super on the fence or not). But, my point is that our gal's going to get into at least one of HYS most of the time -- it's not lucky -- whereas our guy will be rejected from all of HYS -- similarly not due to luck. The reason why it's logical for both of these candidates to apply to HYS, though, is that neither has much of an idea whether they're the put-together shoe-in applicant or not. And, most applicants probably have less of a good sense for the strength of their application -- we generally have no idea just how good our LORs are, and it's pretty close to impossible to really sense if your application tells a great story when you're the one that's been slaving over it. I'm sure this hypothetical guy thinks he's put together a pretty swell application (and he has -- just not HYS swell), whereas it's likely that the gal's going to feel pretty lousy about her HYS chances given her GPA/LSAT. Because everyone has SOME story, and because basically nobody can accurately evaluate the attractiveness of their story for themselves, applying to reaches is probably the most logical way to handle the information asymmetry.
(Applications Advice, Letters of Recommendation . . . )
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