"Cannon fodder" is the phrase that Amherst-admissions-officer-turned-college-counselor Willard Dix uses to describe the masses of high school students who apply by the tens of thousands to universities that accept as few as 5% of applicants. In a poignant piece on Forbes' website, Dix makes a vital point that is almost always overlooked by participants in the admissions frenzy. He notes that a low admission rate says nothing about the school's impact on students, and cites a book by UCLA professor emeritus Alexander Astin: "institutions and the public define the excellence of a college or university in terms of who enrolls rather than how well they are educated after they enroll."
Who wins? Universities that manage to attract tens of thousands of applicants, reject all but a tiny fraction, and use a low acceptance rate as a proxy for the quality of the education a student will receive despite an understanding that an input of smart students in not the same as an output of educated graduates.
Who loses? The students who "must endure a four-year slog through high school to position themselves for a virtually impossible result." Willard Dix has more to say in this article as well as on his website, collegeculture.net, which I believe will be of interest to anyone who would put students and education before institutions and appearances.