As the bard said long ago: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But would Harvard by any other name be as famous, or matter as much in the current college admissions environment? How much does a college’s name recognition matter anyway?
Some colleges are more famous than others, and are perceived as “better” due to their fame. Some of this is due to the college rankings by US News, though many colleges themselves are quick to downplay the importance of the rankings, the colleges who rank highly are still quite proud of that fact.
But do these rankings actually matter? Well, yes, but also no.
The rankings matter in that people believe that they matter. If enough people believe in a thing, then that thing has power; that’s how the stock market continues to function. While there is some truth to high ranked colleges having more offerings in some areas, they are not necessarily “better.”
Indeed, the first thing to determine is what exactly you mean by “better.” The largest commonality in the US News rankings, and in public perception, is that the colleges which score the highest have the most money, and were the most famous already. While some colleges have made sizable jumps in the rankings, most notably Northeastern, the top schools have stayed remarkably static.
The name of a school can matter for the connections it can give you, but most schools have a dedicated alumni network. The A&M Aggies are quite proud of their alma mater, and more numerous than those of most other schools, able to provide a career assist. The school’s name is not some secret code, and a school having a famous name does not mean it will teach you deeper secrets, or participate in higher level studies.
That is not to say all schools are at the same level of difficulty and academic rigor, but this is also not what the rankings are measuring; if it were, Caltech would always win. A school’s name matters as much as you think it does, and don’t let chasing a famous name distract you from attending or applying to a school that may serve your needs and interests far better.