I am soliciting some advise, opinion, etc on the following schools. How much should I be looking at the "name" of a place at this point? I am wanting to do AMO and Condensed Matter type research. Also, I intend to go into industry after I am done (possibly start-up). However, I certainly like to keep the academia door open should the cards fall that way near my graduation. Any input is appreciated, especially if you have direct experience with any of these places.
From what I have gathered thus far, Yale is a pretty established program with some excellent(even spectacular) people in those fields. Their Applied Physics department is certainly top 5 in the country (by many people's standards). Out of the three places, Yale is probably most stagnant (I am using this term to indicate that they are not growing but are known and established). Obviously, the university itself is quite well known outside physics. The environment on the department, university and city levels is quite comfortable. Nothing super exciting is happening at New Haven, but it seems to provide enough if one wants some entertainment on the weekend. This was probably the most exciting and awesome Open House that I attended. Lastly, there is quite a bit of entertainment at the university itself, and it seems to be very much into arts and music.
Maryland also has numerous regarded researchers (especially because of JQI and the NIST connection). Technically, a student here can be advised by anyone at NIST! They have just finished constructing a new building into which all of the AMO and CM labs will go. It is fantastic and is build to match the NIST I standard (for vibration and EM shielding). As far as I know, only NIST and MD have such tightly controlled environment for, say, atomic experiments. In addition, it has a few professors with whom I connect really well on the personal level and who are really excited about my coming there (being heavily recruited). Specifically, there are several young theorists and experimentalists who (I know for fact) were offered tenured jobs at the likes of Stanford and Caltech but came to UMD instead. These people have great ideas, and if I worked with one (few) of them, I would probably be starting in a brand new lab (exciting!). The downside for me is the location. I am not big on DC area in the first place, and College Park must be on the boring side there. The college town is all but absent and even getting a good coffee or lunch will be problematic. Should I come here, I will have to deal with the typical huge public university BS from parking tickets to sports craze (doesn't bother me in itself, but I hear that university will kick people out from parking for even minor sports events). Lastly, upon the initial inspection, the housing in the area seems mostly run-down and waaaaaay overpriced for what one gets.
Lastly, U Chicago IME is in its first grad application cycle, so should I go there, I would be in the inaugural graduate class. This place is unusual in many ways. First, they bring an interdisciplinary approach to science. This really appeals to me because I personally think that the so-called borders between fields are a pure, human-invented BS. Next, they are extremely well funded since U Chicago wants this initiative to succeed and to catch up with other top places with its "unusual" way to do engineering. New building is on the way here as well and, if I can judge from the design work of institute as a whole (check out out their website), it will be stunning! The advisors here are world-class(D. Awschalom, etc) and I would certainly be able to work with any of them. In addition, the door to have an advisor in U Chicago Physics department is completely open, so I could work with anyone there (providing that he/she wants to sign me on). The course requirements are really laxed and there is no qual exam. Also, this is technically an engineering program, so they intend to graduate people in 4-5 years. Out of all places, Chicago provides the most dynamic and vibrant living environment (Hyde Park is OK, but the city is only 15 minutes away). In addition, there is a lot of "culture" going on at the university, so I would be able to indulge in music, theater, art.