To sum up in one word the key to getting into a top school, I would venture differentiation." Good grades and high test scores may be a prerequisite, but they do not tell much to an admissions committee. What stands out to them, of course, is what makes a student stand out from his peers. This translates into not succumbing to peer pressure; not copying what others have done, but instead forging a path unbeaten by others. At the end of the day, there is less of a race to be better than others, and more of a process to find the best self a student can be.