I just finished reading this book by Springer, Reider, and Franck. (2nd ed.) I recommend it. It provides many specific details about the process. It discusses how to select colleges in terms of fit and whether one would be a stretch, a good fit, or a safety school. They discuss this process using GPA vs. SAT "scattergrams". It also goes into great detail on the pros and cons of Early Decision, Early Action, or just going with the normal application cycle. It also provides forms you can use to collect information about schools of interest, and it includes full Common App and recommendation forms. Finally, it provides a general four-year timeline of steps one should follow. The book is worthwhile just for describing these details of the process.
From a more philosophical standpoint, the book tries to put the whole process into perspective. However, one of key problems is the higher probability of acceptance with Early Decision. This forces many to pick one school as if it is the perfect school for them. However, the book goes on in length about how acceptance is a crap shoot and how it's not good to get caught up thinking that only one school will fit. You can't have it both ways. Colleges know darn well that the differences between many schools are subtle. They just want to reduce competition. Once they've gotten students to really want one college as if it's the only one, the crap shoot acceptance/rejection letters arrive on Dec. 15. Most kids are devastated just in time for the holidays with no other acceptance letters to balance the rejection. I suppose it wouldn't be good to say that you are only selecting that college because it's a stretch school and you want to increase your probability. Actually, the book includes a "letter" from an admissions officer who talks about how students should look at all schools in terms of probability of fit and acceptance. No one school is best.
It seems to me that the packaging of students is all for the benefit of the college and not the students. It's nice to think that schools wants a balanced or well-rounded community, but I see more of a "Slug Club" process (see Harry Potter, book 6) where schools try to cherry pick winners. Not only do you have to pay huge amounts of money for a college education, but you have to not seem packaged and be truly sincere about why college 'X' is so special. Then, the college will pick students based on what's best for them, not you.