This whole belief that there are about 40 colleges in the universe that are "better" than all the others? It's a big sham. And it's one that far too many students and parents fall for.
I know that all 2500+ colleges in the country don't offer the same quality of education. A kid who has the intellect and drive to be accepted at Yale wouldn't have the same experience if he attended a college where he was surrounded by students who got all "C's" in high school. I get that.
But anyone who suggests that Yale is an empirically "better" school than Michigan, University of Chicago, College of Wooster, UVA, Mt. Holyoke, Haverford, Rice, or Oberlin is flat out wrong. That's not just some crazy opinion of mine; there are studies that back it up.
Non-believers should read The Chosen, a UC Berkeley sociologist's exhaustive study of college admissions. His findings showed there was no measurable difference between the outcomes of students who attended the most selective schools and those who attended any of over a hundred schools that accepted more of their applicants. The graduates of famous colleges don't get better paying jobs, they aren't happier, they aren't more successful, their lives aren't any better, etc.
Yes, there are vast differences between the colleges that accept almost nobody and those that accept almost everybody. But you've got to go pretty deep–deeper than 30 or 80 or even 100–down the list of 2500 schools before those differences become noticeable.
It's time for us to ask ourselves, is our obsession with gaining admission to prestigious universities, and all the lost sleep and anxiety that accompanies it really worth it? Is the third round of test preparation for one last try at the SAT worth it? Are the multiple tutors to move kids from B's to A's, the clamoring to get into AP classes, the gaming of GPAs, and the measuring of kids' accomplishments based on the potential appeal to colleges really worth it?
Hard work is good. Emotional investment in your education and your future is good. Feeding your mind and preparing yourself for admission to a college that accepts other hard-working, intellectually curious students is absolutely worth it. Do those things, and your life will be different because of it.