I work with gifted high school students, and I can attest to the fierce competition for the top schools. One of the students I have worked with applied early to a well-known top tier college and was not accepted. This student had an SAT score over 2300, had an A in every single course (and they were all honors or AP except for German), and had all fives on AP exams in several social and physical sciences in 9-11 grades (including Calc BC as a junior), impressive performance in national competitions (spelling bee, science bowl, etc.), and had performed research with a professor at a local university.
This is typical of the applicants to your most prestigious name-brand colleges.
On the other hand, the university where I teach will accept just about anyone with a pulse. I run into a lot of students whose SAT scores are alarmingly low and who had two-point-something GPAs in high school. You can get a damn good education here -- if you choose your degree program and courses well.