Disregarding many factors, are there any sure fire aspects of an application that can ensure my position at a top school
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Honestly, there is no sure-fire way to get into any college - sometimes it just depends on the admission officer's mood. Students who get accepted into Ivies get rejected from their safety schools. I think with top schools, especially the Ivy leagues, they need to see something that sets you apart from other applicants. Whether it's an amazing project you've started in your community to winning a national debate competition, it could honestly be anything. The tough part about the Ivies and other competitive institutions though is everyone has good grades and amazing extracurriculars. So, you have to set yourself apart from the crowd whether it's through one very impact activity or a well-written, unique essay. I think you could write a very interesting essay about being self-studied and the discipline and drive you must of had. I think it would depend on where you took it though, maybe don't focus so much on the success you have already had, but rather what it took to achieve those skills and where you hope they will lead you. Just a thought, but I think that could be interesting or maybe you already have something great to write about.
So I presume you mean very selective that have sub 30%admit rate like the Ivies UCLA etc but since you said top I’ll list some very well known that have a 80%ish admit rate. And in these cases you really only need As and Bs ( some may allow a C or two) and have a 22ACT/1150SAT(guesstimate). All of these are very well respected and I argue these are top schools.
San Fran St
Nebraska - Lincoln
Neb - Omaha
Sam Houston St