Cover The Basics
There are lots of handbooks, manuals, and paperback books on how to get into the “better” universities. Read them and also check out and follow any sensible advice you will find online.
Being a “legacy” – a kid of an alum gives a few extra points probably but not as much as a sterling record of non-academic accomplishments and interests, plus a good SAT score and top grades.
My Personal Experience
Many years ago I applied to Harvard Business School and was turned down. But I got into Wharton (Penn). I had all the goodies needed for admission to my 1st choice, the Harvard Business School – I thought!
As it turned out, my best friend was at the Business School and he knew the admissions officer. He asked why I didn’t get in. The admissions officer said my application was OK, but they had at that time about 20 qualified applicants for each place. The main reason I didn’t get in he said, was that “If he wasn’t interested enough to come to my office for a personal interview, he isn’t all that motivated.”
Part of the Harvard Business School admissions requirement at the time was for the applicant to be fairly pushy (aggressive). That is a marker for success in business. The applicant was expected to “move heaven and earth” to get what he wanted. Even though there was no invitation for me to come in personally, and no requirement to do it, the fact that I didn’t come in personally was reason enough to reject me.
Each admissions officer needs to make tough decisions when there are many applicants and only a few spots. He may also be getting instructions from his higher-ups to give preference to certain applicants and to reduce the prevalence of others.
In my case, I also got to know the admissions people at Wharton. Eventually, I asked why I did make the cut there. One reason was that I had a strong, very detailed and positive recommendation from a respected professor. That was the thing that pushed me to the top of the list. So go figure. They are looking for reasons to accept or reject, but the applicant may never know what they are.
Decisions can be arbitrary and seem unfair. You should apply to a couple of places, not just one. Read up on the background requirements and everything else about the schools you are serious about – just like you will have to do later when applying for one of the “better” trainee jobs at private companies. Research and see what they want and need. Practice for the interview.