I think it is talent, luck and strategy. There are kids that do highly unusual things. Like that homeschooled kid that sailed around the world at 16. He got into Harvard. And there are kids that have double legacy that go to the right schools, have great scores and grades and have a decent resume of school president, state champion in debate. And there are kids that just stand out with their essay, as they go through 50,000 applications of top scores and grades. Why this one with 10 APs with all 5s and perfect SAT and not the next one? I know someone who got into Stanford without a top SAT score, good but not top tier. The mother was was a little shocked. it was EA. She actually pressed the button at the last minute. at the welcome meeting, the admission person came up to her and said that her school was known for producing the kind of kids they look for at Stanford. What had stood out to me when the mother was telling me, is that the girl had done this indigenous research over several summers since 8th grade with some professor. That kind of thing they look at. What makes you different than just perfect scores, how do you contribute to the community they want that has academic excellence but also is vibrant, interesting, exposes you to stuff you may never have explored. Like comedy writing at the Lampoon or hasty pudding club.