Another resource that may be helpful is your school counseling staff. That is situational, obviously-- but if your child's school regularly sends it's top 15% (or more) into elite schools, then it's a safe bet that it isn't happening by accident. Ours is mostly not very helpful, but yours may be different.

Another resource that doesn't provide advice, per se, but just the numbers and admission requirements:

College Board's College Search feature Be sure to check out the "how do I stack up" tab under each college entry. Don't rely on that as set in stone, however-- colleges can and do shift their admissions requirements periodically-- but it's a good way to plan whether or not your child will want to take subject SAT's or not, for example, or a fourth year of foreign language versus a third year of laboratory science. It also gives you a feel for what kind of percentile your child would be at, achievement-wise, at a particular institution. Consider whether your child wants to be in the middle of the achievement distribution-- for some of our kids in particular, that would be a shock to them. Could be good, could be bad.

Anyway-- the College Board search tool also tells you about the relative weighting of test scores, transcripts, essay, and EC's in admission decisions.

Start this process-- at the very latest-- before the child's junior year of high school.

Ideally, you begin looking ahead to the interlocking steps of testing, academics, and extracurriculars when your child enters high school, if not before. If you haven't, of course, it's not too late at that junior year mark, but it is later than most of their peers will have done.

It's way better for most schools if the child has at most 2 or 3 extracurriculars that they are passionate and committed about-- not seven or ten. Better still if they are somewhat related to a larger whole that indicates who that child is as a person. This can be something of a problem with HG+ kids who often have high levels of multi-potentiality and NEED many quite diverse EC activities in order to fully explore different facets of who they are.

If you are low income-- look into QuestBridge and programs like it. My DD has four classmates that have been matched with Ivies via QuestBridge. We also know another bright, but not spectacular, somewhat nontraditional (older-- mid-20's) student who recently received a complete full-ride at Reed College, and another at Stanford. There is merit aid-- just less than was once the case, and more of it is directed at a smaller slice of the top students.

One other problem that we've noted is that if you have a grade-accelerated student, they may not be fully capable of comprehending the gravity of the situation there. On the one hand, you walk a fine line w/r/t perfectionism, but on the other, yeah, that "B" in Spanish is likely to make at least some difference-- to someone, somewhere.

Oh, and the other thing that I have both heard-- and seen in print recently as advice to high schoolers and their parents-- getting into an Ivy isn't appreciably harder than it's ever been. That is, if you'd have been a highly competitive candidate to get in at Harvard 30 years ago, you're still likely to get in at an Ivy. The real difference is that you may not get into Harvard now-- could be Yale, could be Princeton instead.

I'm seeing that this seems anecdotally to be true, from observations of our kids in youth activities and DD's classmates-- about the same number of them are matriculating at the same elite schools as when I was in high school, and it's the same 'slice' of kids in terms of ability/achievement.

More kids are applying to more schools, though-- this is largely because of Common-App. That does mean that ONLY applying at a particular Ivy is probably unwise, though.

DD will probably apply at 6 or 7 schools, but she's not interested in an Ivy. Her college list at the moment:

a) Reed College
b) UW
c) a local college, which would likely be a full ride, but is far from prestigious, though reasonably high quality.
d) USC
e) Rice
f) U-Chicago
g) Carleton
h) Claremont-McKenna
i) UVA
j) Trinity Dublin
k) UBC or Simon Fraser
l) ? She's looking into a Swiss one, a Parisian school, and another in Austria.

Schrödinger's cat walks into a bar. And doesn't.