When all factors are similar, it may seem very hard but the most unique thing about the application review is how the student chose to tell their story; how they decided to weave all the pieces together to make their (hopefully) indelible mark on the application reader. The admissions reader is left with deciding whether or not you are interesting or very much LMO: Like Many Others!
Your story as well as HOW well you tell your story is what can distinguish you from the next identical applicant! But beware: you have about 15 minutes (if that) to impress the admissions reader. What can you offer the school’s campus that they just cannot be without?
It may seem cliche but no one can tell your story like you can and that makes otherwise identical applications stand out from each other. What will help your application is being able to find that voice at the tender age of 16-19 years and use it to your advantage.
There are many factors to consider for one's admission to a school but if you were to consider the admissions officer's context, you would be able to tap into another important question that an admission officer weighs during her or his application review and that is "would this student be a good roommate or dorm mate? Would missing out on studying be worth it to finish up a conversational debate that has nothing to do with my studies?" Notice that this goes beyond just being a nice person and even having good grades.
The bottom line is there are many students who look the same in terms of credentials. Speaking your truth into the college application and really making sure each says something unique about you will help your chances in getting in. At the end of the day, you do need to impress and influence the admissions officer-- the decision maker!