While this article takes in many issues relevant to high school education and the college process, the point made about halfway down by Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby is hugely important. An expensive college degree AT A GREAT COLLEGE will pay off; an expensive degree at a middling or substandard school may not. Especially here in Florida where most students are physically isolated from the country's top universities (news flash--even UF is nowhere remotely close to many states' flagship public schools, and there is no Florida school in the current US News and World Report Top 50), it's critical for high performing students to look outside their comfort zones. Read college websites. Talk to your school counselor, and not just when you have to. Don't be afraid to apply to a school you haven't physically visited. But make sure that your expensive education is the best that your high school record can manage. And if your high school record could be better, do a year at an inexpensive 4-year school, do stellar work, and transfer out.
Disclaimer: while the US News and World Report metric is notoriously problematic and tends to change every year to sell more magazines, its general decile rankings tend to be similar year on year and to line up with more methodologically sound ways of determining the most prestigious colleges that are likely to be worth attending, so it's not completely useless. And it's worth mentioning to FL students that this year it's putting UF just below the Unversity of California Irvine campus. . .a safety school for many top CA high schoolers. If you're a FL high flyer you can aim higher than that.