What does it mean when we say this:

The admission process requires some amount of luck and so it is subjective.

What does it basically mean to say? I often come across these two words and it puzzles me.

  • I think it's a misuse of the word subjective. The writer should have used something like contingent - subject to [the vagaries of] chance. Commented Jul 1, 2018 at 16:42
  • 1
    I think it should be "The admission process is subjective and so requires some amount of luck"? But what recruitment team would openly admit "subjectiveness" is beyond me, but not certainly impossible in some contexts.
    – aesking
    Commented Jul 1, 2018 at 16:55
  • subjective=depending on the decision of admissions people. There is nothing wrong with this at all. People say that decisions are subjective all the time and it just means individuals decide things.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jul 1, 2018 at 19:12

4 Answers 4


In common use, "subjective" means that it is open to a person's opinion; "objective" means that it is factual. If I tell you the size of a room, that is an objective statement (because it can be measured). If I tell you what you should put in the room, that is a subjective statement (because it is my opinion).

I agree with FumbleFingers' comment that the given example is perhaps a misuse of "subjective".


According to the OED, the definitions for subjective and objective are as follows:


Based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.

When something is subjective, it is based on a person's opinion. For example, movie ratings are subjective because they are based on the individual's opinion of the movie.


(of a person or their judgement) not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.

When something is objective, it is based on facts.

Based on these definitions, clearly, the use of subjective in the original sentence is incorrect.

The admission process requires some amount of luck and so it is subjective.

It is possible that the writer meant to say that because the admissions process is based on luck, each person's experience may vary, however, it is difficult to know for certain.


It emanates from OED sense 3 of subjective:

  1. Philosophy. Relating to the thinking subject (see subject n. 9), proceeding from or taking place within the individual consciousness or perception; having its source in the mind; belonging to the conscious life. Frequently opposed to objective adj. 3b.

Examples exist from the early 18th century, but these may be of interest:

1945 B. Russell Hist. Western Philos. iii. ii. xx. 707 Space and time are subjective, they are part of our apparatus of perception.

1999 C. M. Cullen in B. Sweetman Failure of Modernism vi. 84 Do we really want to say that the principle of contradiction is a subjective a priori of knowledge rather than a principle of reality itself?

2007 Wired May 27/3 In describing optimal experience—the subjective state of happiness he calls flow—the psychiatrist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says it comes down to engaging in activities just beyond our skill level.

Moving on to sense 4, categories (a) to (e)

4a. Of, relating to, or proceeding from an individual's thoughts, views, etc.; derived from or expressing a person's individuality or idiosyncrasy; not impartial or literal; personal, individual.

b. Existing in the mind only, without anything real to correspond to it; illusory, fanciful.

c. Medicine and Physiology. Perceptible only to the affected individual (as opposed to an examiner); caused by an internal physiological process (as opposed to an external stimulus). Cf. objective adj. 8b.

d. Tending to lay stress on one's own feelings or opinions; given to brooding over one's mental states; excessively introspective or reflective.

e. Art and Literary Criticism. Expressing, bringing into prominence, or deriving its materials mainly from, the individuality of the artist or author.

Essentially a subjective opinion relies not on observed or assessed fact - objectivity - but on human sense or feeling, subject to all the frailties that that implies.


"Subjective" means that different subjects (i.e. different people, in this case, admissions officers) will show variability in their reactions and grading of applications. The luck factor comes in because which admissions officer is assigned to evaluate your application is probably a random occurrence.

Your sentence doesn't quite fit the above. I can't think of a simple fix.

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