Here is an example of the incredible pull Harvard has. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist with some dancing chops, making him a Renaissance man of sorts. Seeing him on a science special about galactic oddities, I checked out his Wikipedia page. It explained how he applied to Cornell as well as Harvard. It quotes Tyson as saying,
Interestingly, when I applied to Cornell, my application dripped of my passion for the study and research of the Universe. Somehow the admissions office brought my application to the attention of the late Dr. Sagan, and he actually took the initiative and care to contact me. He was very inspirational and a most powerful influence. Dr. Sagan was as great as the universe, an effective mentor.Yes, Carl Sagan reached out to him about going to Cornell. Out of thousands of applicants, Sagan reached out to a single black kid from NYC in the mid '70s. His application "dripped of passion". Wow, so those mini-essay answers you wrote on the common app and Cornell supplemental app really revealed your level of geek. Knowing how that application is structured, I find it hard to believe that was the spark. In the mid '70s, I bet an admissions gopher read the application, saw the black check box, didn't see any athletic accomplishments but noted good test scores and screamed, "I FOUND ONE! He's a science geek, CALL SAGAN! ... Now where's my bonus?".
Sagan's contact is an amazing bit of initiative by the figure that should be sought out rather than the seeker. It shows how much the school wanted Tyson. You wouldn't know Tyson if you saw him in a line up, but millions and millions of Americans know the name Carl Sagan. Actually, you might know Tyson as the mustachioed black nerd on space specials since he is the only one and constantly asked to appear on said shows. I have yet to meet anyone who had a professor ever reach out to them after their application to encourage and entice the student. Beyond the ordinary professor, this was Carl Sagan. Imagine the effect on any 17 year old. Did Tyson and Sagan team up at Cornell?
No, Tyson went to Harvard.