I’m just going to say it.
Your competition sits next to you in class I hate to say it, but it’s true.
Your application has to be better than the kid sitting next to you in math or English class – not the kid applying from some other state. NO. I learned this tough lesson after a conversation with the Dean of Admissions at a highly selective institution. The Dean was passing on taking the valedictorian in exchange for admitting Number 4 in the class. The “ranking” is not what mattered; what he said, and I’ll never forget it, “Number 1 fell a bit flat.” In other words, she looked and read just like any other applicant. On the other hand, Number 4 stood out.
This process is about standing out from among the rest of the students applying from your high school.
At the end of the day you will be reviewed among your high school classmates. Period.