There will always be someone smarter than you.
Think about it– the type of people who congregate to these elite colleges are people who were valedictorians of their high schools, or close to it. They are people who are driven and have been constantly busy with ambitions and pursuits for four plus years. Those amazing undergraduates who do cutting-edge research and found companies on the side that you read about on the Harvard or MIT news? These types of people are going to be your classmates. In the 300-level class I took at MIT, the professor asked us if any of us had started our own company. No one had, and the professor was genuinely surprised. Surprised. In my own college, I am constantly impressed by the caliber of people around me, and flabbergasted that yes, she is the same girl who falls asleep in our math class.
To get a flavor of the people in your elite college, stalk the accepted threads in College Confidential. Do you fit the general mold of those accepted? If you do not– by that, I mean, you fall short— know that you have a lot of catching up to do. I do not doubt that you are a capable person that has distinguished yourself in your own way (unless you relied heavily on sports recruiting, the power of money, and your relatives are alums); you will need to apply this tenacity to making up for what your high school has failed to teach you. Mostly, because most of us cannot self-teach, this means attending the remedial classes in college. It may be embarrassing and mortifying, but trust me, underestimating is way better than overestimating your abilities. In the long run, you will suffer less if you grit your teeth and admit that you know close to nothing. After all, in an elite college, you are pitted against people who know everything and are not afraid to show it.
The easiest (laziest) solution is to not attend the elite college. I have many friends who did worse than me academically who are pulling 4.0 GPA’s in state college while in my elite college, only 3-4 people graduate per year with a GPA above a 3.90. Those in state college have much less stress about trying to catch up because everyone is relatively on the same playing field and they learn together at a pace better for them. They also have more time to devote to other subjects besides academics. In high school, one of my acquaintances was scouted by Columbia University, but he eventually ended up going to Penn State. I applaud his courage, because he simply was not a good student and earned poor grades, and thriving in an elite university would be a daily uphill struggle for him, especially as he would have to balance a demanding sport and demanding academics. Do not be swayed by the prestige. Think about you and your own sanity.
Hard as it is, acknowledge your weaknesses. Acknowledge there is always going to be someone smarter than you. Acknowledge that there are some things you cannot do no matter how hard you try. For example, learning four years’ worth of what you were supposed to be taught in high school in the space of a semester. Acknowledge that sometimes the costs exceed the benefits. Go into your elite university with your eyes wide open.