When I applied for college when I was 17, this was so much easier. They gave you the date that you would find out, and when I got my Stanford acceptance, I knew I was going there. It was helped by the fact that I didn't get into Yale, which was really Stanford's only competition. Had I not gotten into Stanford, I was deciding between UCLA and Berkeley, and I probably would've ended up at Berkeley because it was a better school and farther away. Financial aid wasn't an issue because schools at list level don't award much money to upper middle-class families.
The law school process is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. First of all, because of this rolling admissions process the school has the right to hold your application for months, and then wait list you and keep you guessing until the week of registration. Second, law schools give out a lot of merit scholarships, so as much as you'd like to think that your law school decision isn't about the money, it really is. The idea that USC would cover 60K is really enticing.
Lastly, it's hard to know which school is right for you. Because we're older and more focused, location is important, as is quality of education, rankings, size of student body, etc. And it's hard to distinguish these schools by curriculum, because at the end of the day, you're majoring in law.
That's the general rant. This is such an emotional process and I'm looking forward to being done with it and settled. As it stands I'm still waiting for Stanford, Georgetown, and Cornell, I have a deposit down at GW, and will probably put down a deposit at USC. I still don't have a financial aid package from GW so I'm trying to get that resolved so I can properly evaluate USC and GW. I started looking at apartment complexes in downtown LA which made me feel better about living there.
If I know for sure where I'm going by June 1st, I will call this process a success :-)