Admission officials evaluate candidates in the context of where they attend school and don’t penalize students who attend less celebrated high schools and thus may not have access to an endless array of advanced courses or to special extracurricular opportunities.
Of course, students who go to high schools with high academic standards may work harder and be pushed more, and this can translate into better SAT or ACT results and better preparation overall. (Score one for the “good” schools.)
On the other hand, it’s usually easier to graduate with a great class rank at the less competitive high schools than it is at the so-called “good” ones. (Score a point for the lousy schools!)
Admission officials at the most sought-after colleges and universities are usually familiar with the “best” high schools—both public and private—and are always on the lookout for the top students from such places. They may even have a long-standing relationship with guidance counselors at these schools which can help seniors at admission-decision time. However, the Ivies and other “elite” colleges are always besieged by applications from these well-regarded high schools which can make it hard for any single student to stand out in a crowd. A student at a more obscure high school, on the other hand, may benefit from being the only applicant from his or her senior class to a particular college (and sometimes the only applicant in years … or ever) which can be a plus as well.
The bottom line is that there are some advantages to going to a “good” high school and some advantages to going to a less-rigorous or well-regarded one, and college officials–especially at the most selective institutions–bend over backwards to understand where each candidate is coming from.