do 'top' schools really offer better education?

<p>Hello, CCers. I wish to know your opinions about my question: In terms of the quality of education for undergraduates, is there a large difference among the very top universities (HYPSM, other ivies, Cal Tech, and all those top privates) and other 'good' universities but generally not considered to be at the very top (Vanderbilt, UVA, Berkeley, Michigan, UNC, Rice, Emory, Georgetown, and so on...)? Or do people prefer top colleges just because of the prestige, even though the quality is almost the same?
I'm an international student at UVA, and for me at least, academics here are very challenging. Not having attended HYPSM, I'm inclined to believe that they won't offer that better an education than this school. I might be wrong, but my thought is that the quality difference among the top 20, or even top 30 schools (Here I'm referring to the US News rank.) will be very small and that people apply to highly-ranked colleges largely because of the reputation the schools have. Of course there is nothing wrong with preferring top-ranked schools... (I myself will probably attend HYPSM if I'm accepted, instead of UVA.) but I doubt that they will necessarily offer better undergraduate education.</p>

<p>I wish to hear some objective, unbiased opinions of yours.</p>

<p>I agree with you that the quality of education is about the same at both levels of institutions. The professors at UVA certainly are of a very high caliber, and you can receive an excellent education at many schools if you are an engaged student. Heck, you can receive an excellent education if you are self-taught. There are many things that might make an Ivy experience different: the type of student body the school accepts, the resources available, the superstars on the faculty, the alumni network and connections. You can certainly master a body of knowledge at other fine schools too. If you search the archives, there have been some discussions on this topic in the past.</p>

<p>how much you succeed at college is up to you; where you go won't make that decision for you. Grade inflation is rampant at (most of) the ivies, but in reality, UMich, UVA and UNC-CH probably offer an equal education. Same for Uchicago, others in similar ranking. Successful people went to all kinds of colleges, and getting in somewhere doesn't decide anything.</p>