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Are the top universities just names?

  1. Jun 24, 2014 #1
    Are Oxford, Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, Pennsylvania, Cornell, Yale universities just names ??
    Certainly the most successful people graduate from these universities, is this because they somehow attract only the bright students, or is it because the quality of education and teaching is really perfect in these universities, I mean does the university's standard of education have a big role in creating these genius students or is it the students themselves?
    I don't care about names or ranks what is most important is a university that has professors that can give a subject intuitively and thoroughly, professors that have high teaching skills and very good experience, it doesn't matter who these professors are to the world and what positions they have, they don't have to be celebrities, I think all what matters is that they have high experience and a high ability of teaching in a way that will allow the student fully understand the subject. Is that actually offered at these so-called top universities?? what's is really special about them?
    Do they really have very high standard of teaching and education??
    some physics teachers are brilliant and even here on PF there are awesome members that can always provide you with a full understood answer to any question you may ask, are these people mainly a result of good colleges and professors or they are just brilliant ?
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 24, 2014 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    I think its synergy in action, talented profs attract talented students. Talented profs make discoveries that benefit their department, college and university and attract many interested students allowing the profs to be more selective in who becomes a student of that department. Eventually, the fame and prestige drive the university to new heights making their names ubiquitous.

    What talented students learn is something that can't necessarily be taught in a classroom but rather by working in proximity with a talented researcher and seeing how they do things and thin about problems. It really boils down to how well you learn from observing and doing beyond what you learn by reading, studying and listening to profs lecture on a subject although it helps too.

    So whats in your wallet?
  4. Jun 24, 2014 #3


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    Staff Emeritus
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    There are a whole bunch of things going on. Being around smarter peers makes you learn more. At nonselective or less selective schools, you get the "soft bigotry of low expectations." Fancier schools have better lab facilities. The list goes on and on.
  5. Jun 24, 2014 #4
    The professors are not there to make you learn, that is YOUR job. The most important thing for your education is what you put into it. What makes those schools special -- especially for undergraduates -- is not the professors, it is the other students. Being in a group of motivated smart people makes it easier for you to spend the time it takes to give yourself the best education you can. But it is up to you to put in the effort.

    I know plenty of well educated people who went to the "less selective" schools, as well as people who wasted their time at Ivy League / "name" schools.
  6. Jun 24, 2014 #5


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    I think that bcrowell hit on all the major points. However, in my opinion the drop off between Princeton, Harvard, MIT, Caltech, and Stanford to U Chicago, Cornell, UIUC, Berkley, Santa Barbara, Maryland, etc is not so great as people would have you think. Similarly, the drop between the second list and OSU, PSU, Michigan, Minnesota, etc is also not large. (my own groupings here are pretty arbitrary, for that matter)

    You also need to look at this by subfield: Colorado in AMO or Maryland and UIUC in condensed matter could give nearly any school in the world a run for their money in those fields.
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2014
  7. Jun 24, 2014 #6
    The rich get richer.

    I've noticed MIT has some pretty good lecturers, judging from their OCW.

    They are more than just names, but I think if someone is really good at teaching themselves, they can get just about as good an education wherever they go. That's what libraries and the internet are for. They have a lot of the same books wherever you go.

    In some ways, lower academic standards can actually be an advantage because it's easier not to be overwhelmed with the workload and the amount of information. For example, I remember a very high proportion of I learned as an undergraduate, but not that much of what I learned in my graduate school classes because it was too much information for me to process properly. If less is expected of you, you have more time to pursue your own interests, which may include more self-study or review of things you already learned. The trouble is maybe this only works for more self-motivated people.
  8. Jun 24, 2014 #7
    Also don't forget that teaching is but one aspect of a university.
  9. Jun 25, 2014 #8


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    This question on Quora discusses Stanford vs. Caltech. I'm sure you can find many other detailed comparisons if you look around there.

    I can't answer in general, but when I've talked to Caltech undergrads about going to grad school, they all said they were better prepared than their classmates and that the work was easy compared to being a Caltech undergrad. When I've talked to people who have experienced both Caltech and Stanford as undergrads, they say there's really no comparison -- Caltech is a much better science education.

    So my conclusion is that yes, there were differences (most of the people I talked to were undergrads over twenty years ago). Whether they still hold today I don't know.
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