University admissions offices are far from exclusively devoted to judging academic merit.
They have quotas for various applicant categories—or more likely upper and lower bounds for each category. These consist, typically, of children of alumni and donors, minority applicants in various subcategories, athletes, students from underrepresented states or from deprived backgrounds and so on.
Beyond those categories, admissions offices have vast discretion about whom to admit.
I have heard an admissi...