College Applications and Board Games

The college application process can be maddeningly confusing and arcane, forcing students and parents to negotiate a delicate series of variables for only a slim chance of getting into their school of choice. All any of them can do to stay sane is to treat the whole thing like an elaborate game. The stakes might feel high, but all of the best games contain a certain element of uncertainty and overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. They also contain a hilarious amount of rejection, and after all, isn’t that really what the college application process is all about? For anyone looking to score an invite to an elite private institution—or one to a less-elite wannabe—consider what board games can teach us about the college application process.

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

If at first you don’t succeed…

No one can expect to be great at a board game the first time they play, especially if they’re new to certain mechanisms or the instructions are a bit confusing. Yet, we all leave that first board game simultaneously disappointed in our performance or highly motivated to continue what we believed was a stellar first-time outing that only resulted in a loss due to random chance. It’s as if we weren’t paying attention earlier or have never understood what it means to learn about something over time. The college application process is equally counterintuitive, in that to excel, you have to forget everything they know about academics and, instead, blindly toss applications at a wall hoping they stick—and blaming outside factors for failure. Don’t let yourself be discouraged! Keep applying, first to numerous schools, then to the same schools again. Feel free to adopt an alternate identity; colleges love a bit of mystery!

Don’t be afraid to roll the dice

No risk, no reward. In most board games, chance is a prerequisite and uncertainty is a mandate. All anyone can do is embrace the chaos and hope that this is the one time things work out in your favor. Though, usually, it does not. When applying to colleges, it’s important to list out your top choices, a few safety schools and a few “reaches” that might be out of your academic periphery but are worth reaching out to nonetheless. In many ways, college applications are like tickets to a racetrack: The only guarantee is that the race will end, and while slimmer odds yield higher payouts, a mix of bets is the safest thing to do. Aim high with an application to Harvard; aim low with an application to Harvord, the Ivish League equivalent; aim mid with an application to the School of Hard Knocks. You may not like the results, but you’ll get in somewhere—a bad roll of the dice is still a successful roll.

Study the required texts

College professors are prone to assign their own books as required classroom reading material. Not only do lectures become easier to prepare, but a few extra sales never hurt a starving academic, did they? Unfortunately, this means that if the professor isn’t teaching the class next semester, the school bookstore won’t accept a resell. Might sound premature to discuss classes before you’re even admitted to a university, but a quick glance at a syllabus can immediately clarify how much additional money you’d have to spend after tuition and room/board, and drive the decision towards or away from a school. Similarly, board game players have access to the instruction manuals of every board game in existence and can be encouraged to scope it out prior to playing. Almost immediately, you’ll know whether or not you want to play; and, if the answer is no, redirect your efforts elsewhere. Higher education requires financial investment, but board games trade in a currency far more valuable: time.


Helps make lasting memories. Or, rather, forget them, as well as everything you learned in a class or playing a board game. The only constant in the college application and gaming processes is a hangover.

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