The numbers are ruthless: Out of more than 40,000 applications a year to Harvard University, not quite 2,000 make the final cut. Just one admitted for every 19 rejected. Every year high school seniors with straight A's, perfect test scores and stellar recommendations wonder why they didn't make it.
Want a place at Harvard? Persuade your parents to give the university a nice gift. A new building, perhaps, or a million dollars for a fellowship. That sort of thing.
It has long been understood that you can, to some extent, buy your way into many of the US's prestigious universities. There are certainly plenty of examples of people with more money than sense being admitted to elite educational institutions.
Jared Kushner, for example, got into Harvard despite having a mediocre academic record. To be fair, this may have had nothing to do with his father pledging $2.5m to the university shortly before he was accepted. Perhaps the admissions office just had a hunch that this was the genius who was finally going to bring peace to the Middle East.
While it is no secret that offering financial gifts to certain Ivy League universities may compensate for a lack of natural gifts, the extent to which Harvard's admission process favors relatives of big donors is only now being laid bare.
This is thanks to a lawsuit currently under way against Harvard that accuses the university of discriminating against Asian-Americans.
A 2013 email exchange among Harvard administrators, for example, was presented at the trial last week.
In one email (subject line: "My Hero"), the dean of the university's Kennedy School of Government commends the dean of admissions for doing a great job in extending offers to students with generous parents.
"Once again you have done wonders. I am simply thrilled about the folks you were able to admit," the email says. "Redacted has already committed to a building."
The other people described as "big wins" in the email were connected to donors who had "committed major money for fellowships".