Thank you for your input. I know that you are right. All of these programs are excellent and we are all very lucky to be considering, applying, and attending these programs. Its up to us to make the best of any opportunity. Two years anywhere won't turn a lump of coal into a diamond, but by recognizing and acting upon opportunity, anytime (especially after b-school), we will blaze our own road to success.
I second your opinion that culture is very important. Its critical to feel at home with the people and the place. Its two potentially amazing years of our lives. Its a shame when you hear stories about person "X" choosing a school based on ranking, but then really regreting the decision because he/she did not enjoy the people and the culture at the school.
Hope you are enjoying Berkeley and the bay area. Its such a beautiful part of the States. Have a great weekend!
Yeah, like river said, I've bumped into some grads from last year still looking.
curiousapplicant, I think you're looking into the rankings too much. MIT and Wharton are both top schools and other than some of the major focus (finance vs info systems/operations), they're pretty much equally good. I wouldn't say any ranking is particularly better than another, especially since each ranking system uses a different method. I've been saying many times that once you're IN school, the rankings don't seem as important anymore. It's really about how you approach the job search and how you utilize your alums and contacts to switch to the career you want.
Granted, some schools have certain companies you want to work for that recruit on campus, and other schools don't. That is important to find out before choosing schools. Otherwise, no need to go into that much detail with the rankings, and just know that all the schools mentioned in the top 10-15-20 are great schools that you should consider when applying.
Oh yeah, and cultural fit is actually more important, in my humble opinion.