Just for the hell of it I asked my sister what she thought of each school and how each was probably ranked. Keep in mind we are from Bumfuck, AL so we're talking lowest common denominator lay prestige here. These were her responses:
- Harvard - "They're probably ranked 0.5...half a step above #1."
- Yale - "Uh...0.75? Well really, I see Harvard and Yale as tied. Just a bunch of uppity white folks in the north."
- Georgetown - "umm....#2 or #3, I guess."
- Columbia - "That's in DC, right?" "No, NY." "Oh! Oops. Well, I've heard of them. They sent me some stuff when I was in high school. They must be pretty good."
- NYU - "The shittiest of the shit toilets that ever shitted." (Full disclosure: they are the only undergrad she applied to who rejected her, so she just hates them now and will never say anything nice about them. But since she did apply she must have thought highly of them at some point.)
- Cornell - "is that a black school? I've heard of them but I don't know anything about them."
- Michigan - *turns up nose* "Uh-uh, they're only good for churning out football players."
- Virginia - "Ew. They're in the south. The deep south. No bueno." This then reminded her to tell me about the all-white church convention a neighboring county is having this week that will end in a cross burning on the last day. Gotta love my state, huh. Well, this is apparently what she thinks folks in VA do, too.
- Chicago - "I wouldn't move to Chicago."
- UPenn - "I don't know them. But I'm sure they're good. Pennsylvania's an okay state. Just full of a bunch of hood white people." I have no idea what that even means.
- Duke - "Where are they, anyway? North Carolina? No, I wouldn't go there." Seemed turned off by the name.
- Stanford - "They're in Atlanta, right?" "No, they're in California." "Oh, right. What am I thinking of that is in Atlanta? Samford?" "Samford is in Birmingham." "Well damn! Whatever, I don't know anything about Stanford."
- Berkeley - "I don't know. But I know where they are!"
- Northwestern - "That's in Boston!" "No, that's Northeastern. Jesus. Have you ever heard of Northwestern?" "No. Apparently not."
My sister was being exceptionally dim tonight for some reason - she really should have known Stanford - but I suspect she's a close enough approximation to the familiarity - or lack thereof - that people in our area would have of these schools...the first four or five are really familiar to them, insert the top state school (UA) after that, and then 'med school' mentality kicks in (it's a law school so it must be fine). If you ask a bunch of die-hard college football fans though, the CA schools would probably be tied for fourth or fifth place. And Duke would probably have higher recognition than my sister would give it because of b-ball, though the douchebaggery vibe would remain no matter what.
I will always be mystified as to why the idea that Georgetown is highly prestigious is almost universal. How did they accomplish that? When I lived in DC lay prestige seriously had my circle of acquaintances there (some originally from the DMV area) convinced that it's at least a top 5 school, if not top 3. They also thought GW was a top 10.