I am aware that I can't be worrying about the rankings at this point. One of the issues I was struggling with before was whether or not I needed to take a year off, retake the PGREs, get a research publication in simply so I could go to a school in the Top 10. If I was really stressing over about it, I sure wouldn't be thinking, "It's April 15th, I got to just go with the decision I made and get on with it". No, actually, I would be sweating bullets right about now deciding whether or not I need to reapply or go where I was accepted. However, I'm not, because I am perfectly chill, so to speak, about the rankings and the decision to go where I'm going. I've accepted that it's erroneous and absurd to judge the quality and/or level or rigor of a program by whether or not the biased and lazily done U.S. News and World Rankings put it in the top 10. And of course you can't go wrong with a top 10 program; most programs in the top 10 for physics or the top ten for a given field of physics are already known everywhere for being extremely good and reputable; it's not like some magazine ranking was needed to affirm that. And schools that aren't all that great in a specific field of physics sometimes be ranked high in that field simply because of the name recognition, not the actual quality of research.
And for sure, going to a top 10 program will, among other things, provide an easily recognizable name for industry and post docs to work with, provide you with more great faculty to work with-which probably comes at a cost of having far more cutthroat competition for those professor's groups, and provides great research in a wider array of fields as opposed to only one or two. I don't think anyone is about to deny going to a top 10 school makes things easier for you-unless a place like Berkeley or Illinois known for bringing in students just to fill TA slots or a place like Caltech or MIT where you have to work your fingers to the bone just to not fail out, let alone do anything productive.
And maybe I am overstating how much people here care about prestige. I just got the impression there was a substantial number of posters here who either think they need to be in a top 10 school to be a great physicist or that they won't be challenged unless they are in top 10 school. If there is proof that's not true and I was just imagining things, I will be perfectly happy to retract that observation.
My post about Wheeler, hence, was simply meant to be an amusing-snarky as our good buddy fermiboy might say-response to this observation. And you're right, the fact that it was in 1933 does mean you have to compare across eras to some extent. However, the take home point about how good a worker and researcher you actually are being more important, as it clearly was for Wheeler, than going to in a *top 10* place is, I think, more important, not less important, today than it was back then. My observation is that, in the 1930s through 1980s and early 90s, more people cared, in any type school you went to, what the name recognition was then factors like how well you worked there and whether or not people saw you as a respectable person or an asshole. When I was younger, I had this ingrained idea that only the elite, private household names were any good for getting a great education, that Smart People only come from Harvard, Stanford, Brown, MIT, Yale, Columbia, MIT and Caltech-and nowhere else. Now I see a consensus of that being blatantly false. For undergrad, it seems to matter WAY less what the name of the undergrad college you went to was, and maybe that's true for the grad level as well. hence, I was looking at what Wheeler doing what he did despite not going to a *top 10* place and presuming it's probably more relevant, not less relevant, today.
Now, these were all predominantly my personal observations. If yours are 100% different, that's perfectly okay with me. Hopefully, we can, if we choose, debate it further in a respectful and civilized manner without starting a big ole flame war.