Every year at least 2 students I work with put colleges on their list that are in the stratosphere for them. I say stratosphere because it would take a space shuttle to help their test and gpa metrics reach the requirements for those colleges... AND their activity resumes don't approximate the students who will be offered admission to those colleges.
Although the students I work with routinely outperform their metrics with respect to admission offers, no student who has tried an extreme-extreme reach has ever been admitted to one of those colleges in my experience. Further, when I tactfully say that one of those colleges is in the reach category, the students say they know they have NO CHANCE at those colleges. So why are they willing to pay $75 or more to apply? Why do they set themselves up for a rejection letter? The answers are telling about students and their families.
Although a few students are unaware of what they need to succeed in the admission sweepstakes at specific colleges, most students, are very savvy about where they are competitive. The answers they give me indicate that sometimes their families are not as aware. "My dad/mom/grandparent wanted me to apply there" is not an unusual reply. It did not occur to me that students who go to the trouble and expense to apply to colleges they know are unrealistic are actually taking one for the team (their family). They know the application money is wasted and that they will get a depressing decision from those colleges. In some instances they have tactfully said that to their family; but to satisfy the urging of relatives who insist that they surely will get accepted WITH A FULL RIDE to the most competitive colleges in the country, they fall on their application fees and apply.
Why do relatives push teens to apply to colleges in the stratosphere? Sometimes it is because families feel pressure to live up to what they think will impress others. Most of the time it is because we all know that the teens in our family are AMAZING people full of potential. Not knowing the actual qualifications for colleges, families push toward the most well-known, prestigious colleges because they want the best for the teens in their family. Fortunately, the teens, who are often more admission-metric-aware, usually pick colleges that are the best fit for them at this particular stage of their journey to reaching their potential. Teens often know that you don't have to go to Big-Time U to get a great education and be very successful in a career.