Just about every really good public high school (and I'm not talking Stuyvesant kind of school here), and there are quite a few of them, sends their top 2-5% to elite schools. My graduating class was one of the weaker ones and something like the top 10-12% were Cal/UCLA level. I'd imagine the competition at elite prep schools are brutal nearly all the way through the class since its such a self selected pool; at public school I'd say there was only real competition in the top 5%. Even if you compare Stuyvesant to the top private schools the sheer amount of kids from the private schools that get accepted to top schools is mesmerizing. I went to Exeter and from what I remember acceptance numbers to top 10 undergrad programs were about 15-25 kids per school (i.e. 20 accepted to harvard, 15 to princeton, etc.) and this is out of a class of about 200 kids. If you look at Stuy they probable had the same numbers but out of a much larger class size. It's not as crazy as movies make it out to be - no crazy drugs, sex, etc. Because if you get caught they kick your ass out regardless of who you (or your parents) are. As an example: getting caught for something as stupid as weed was an auto boot. There was only one kid that I know of who did NOT get kicked out of school for smoking marijuana and it was because it was the last semester of senior year and he was one of the best hockey players in the nation (at the time).