Memeo highlights an article by Alex Pareene in Salon that adds something to my suspicion:
Let us take, as an example, the story of a student so obviously unqualified, so transparently unworthy, that a book was written about what his admittance into Harvard said about the sorry behavior of supposedly elite colleges.
That student -- that dull, below-average student who somehow made his way into Harvard -- was Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Kushner's father, real estate developer Charles Kushner, bought Jared his Harvard acceptance. It cost him $2.5 million. (Kushner later went to jail for tax evasion and witness tampering, so it was also, technically, dirty money that bought Trump's daughter's husband's entry into the Ivy League.)
Wall Street Journal education writer Daniel Golden's book "The Price of Admission" explores the Kushner donation at length. An official at Kushner's (expensive, private) high school told the author: "There was no way anybody in . . . the school thought he would on the merits get into Harvard. His GPA did not warrant it, his SAT scores did not warrant it. We thought, for sure, there was no way this was going to happen."
But it did.
And that is how things actually work at "elite" schools.