Ask for advice from people who recently went through the college application process.
The reason for this somewhat random piece of advice is because high school graduations are coming up, and there are quite a few seniors I know who are unhappy with their college acceptances. One person, in particular, was accepted into my college. Her parents asked me to talk to her, and I dutifully contacted her, but she did not reply. She later apologized, saying that she was disappointed–she had Ivy aspirations.
I wish she had talked to me sooner about it, because so many people end up applying to Ivies, ignoring other suitable school choices (like the liberal arts!), and then have to fall back on “safety” state universities.
As you make your list of prospective colleges, please talk to someone who is around your caliber (grades, extracurricular activities, goals, etc.) who has applied to college recently, for they know best what colleges are looking for, what worked and what failed, what is realistic and what is simply dreams. If you are brave enough, bare everything to them: what your grades are like, your SATs, APs, extracurriculars, and such, so they can give you more detailed advice. They will give you a realistic picture of what you can expect, so you don’t put all your eggs into one ivy-lined basket.
On a related note, when you receive your acceptances, make an effort to talk to people who are currently attending the school. Colleges that accept you want you to attend, so they provide the glossy image of themselves. Though I love my college, I would not recommend everyone going there–for example, if you wanted to study music, you would be much better off going to New England Conservatory or Berklee.
Perhaps in the future I will post a comprehensive list of college application advice, but this is the one piece that breaks my heart the most. People are naturally communicative and kind, and want you to do well. Please utilize this resource. Please ask.