I tend to agree with Bostonian and JonLaw here (not to mention the people who are appalled by all this crass admissions mania).

On the one hand, colleges appear to be run like businesses, with finances as a bottom line. On the other side of the coin, there are as whole lot of parents and students who are mildly fixated to rabidly obsessed with IVY LEAGUE SCHOOLS!! for many wrong reasons (status, the Mecca-like quality these places have in some people's imaginations, the (generally incorrect) assumption of future connections, etc).

The admissions letter, not the education, seems to be the end goal in way too many cases. If the goal is an education, then the mania path may not be the right one. If the goal is to avoid hysterically prepped and burned out unhappy peers, well, I would think twice about the Ivy League and similar schools. MIT and Caltech are more about merit than extracurriculars, but my impression is that the workload is crushing. (Maybe I'm wrong. I certainly hope I am.) Niche schools and universities overseas may be a better answer. YMMV.

Also, I don't remember reading much about the cost of IVY LEAGUE SCHOOLS!!! in this thread. Personally, I just can't see that 60K for 8 classes, a shared dorm room, and institutional food is actually worth it. Well, that's 60K this year. It'll be more next year, and so on, unless the bubble actually bursts.

Another problem is that education in the US is increasingly being driven toward high-achieving master-craftsmen. This is great if you fit in this category, but if you're a creative type or a learn-a-lot-in-depth type or an undecided type, or if you're the type who challenges the status quo, you may not be happy in the current mainstream environment.

Whoever bemoaned the fact that colleges really should have more gifted students who are interested in learning was dead on.