My son is a junior and attends a very competitive high school in the area. He has taken all pre-AP and AP classes his entire high school career. He is an A/B student with a 3.8 GPA and his class rank is top 12%. His top college choices are MIT, Stanford, and Columbia. He scored a 2390 on his SAT. He feels discouraged because he has several B's on his transcript and feels that is going to really affect his gaining entrance into these top tier colleges. He has been active in other extracurriculars during this time as well as volunteering at our church. Do you think my son is selling himself short or does he realistically not have a chance at gaining admittance?
Based on what you've written here, it sounds like your son has a slim chance of being accepted to those schools. His SAT score is more than high enough, but the Bs on his transcript may be cause for concern at colleges with such low acceptance rates. Then again, since you say he attends a very competitive high school, the Bs might not be as big of an issue as they would be at other less challenging high schools. He should talk to his guidance counselor and see if students with similar grades have been accepted to top-tier universities from his high school in the past.
Another factor that will determine whether or not he has a chance of being accepted is if he has any major extracurricular or academic accomplishments that he can highlight on his application. These schools are looking for students who have something outstanding to offer to their campuses. They see many, many applicants with near-perfect grades and SAT scores, but lots of those students are still rejected because they don't have any special talents to distinguish them from the crowd. We discuss this phenomenon pretty thoroughly in our blog article on how to get into the most competitive schools.
Essentially, I don't see anything wrong with sending out an application to MIT, Stanford, or Columbia just in case it works out, but he should definitely make sure he applies to a few safer options that he would be happy to attend if not.