Additionally, in general wonderful opportunities are more accessible at top-notch schools (which makes sense when you consider that you're surrounded by these highly accomplished professors and students, as well as - let's face it - rich people who like your school). Here, at least, it's easy to get a research position and/or an internship at a start-up at Facebook or Yahoo or something, and though it's expensive, you're paying (or not - the financial aid program here is pretty good) for an absolutely incredible experience (Al Gore and Jane Goodall both visiting within the last month, the bell tower going off for Nobel laureates/prizewinners, the ability to study in 6 of the 7 continents - no Antarctica program... yet).While Ivies and other "top" schools are a bit overrated, I'd still like to rebut a little for their favor. Name does carry weight. There's a reason they're considered top schools. Their reputation is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy - they attract the top educators and thus the top students. Consistently, they graduate the many influential people in the world. The atmosphere is definitely different, being surrounded with an aggregation of people with tremendous intellectual capacity. The people you meet there, in my opinion, is the most convincing reason for going there. Undergrad probably doesn't matter that much academically, but the relationships and connections you develop there is invaluable. Exposure to brilliant people and ideas, befriending future world-changers. These people can change you, in ways you never expected. Ivies, at least UPenn, offer so much aid. Families making $65,000 and under pretty much pay nothing. I mean, just for thought.
Beyond(?) the cool things to do here, though, I can't emphasize how much the people at your school matter - being constantly humbled and amazed by everyone around me is one of the best parts of attending my school. Yes, the HYPSM colleges are expensive and may be somewhat overrated (well, the HYPM part at least), but I agree with EFO - there is definitely a reason they're the best and you should apply to them if you can. Who knows? Maybe the odds will be in your favor.
HOWEVER: You do not need to go to a HYPSM or similar school to succeed. But it does help.
Also, this is extremely subjective, but I wouldn't go to College Confidential. That place always made me more anxious and feel bad about myself. It's too... anxious and numbers-focused for my taste, and it lends itself well to high blood pressure. More about College Confidential: http://chronicle.com/article/College-Co ... ld/138865/