From Mankiw's Blog:
Each year, I meet a number of highly promising students who were accepted by [MIT and Harvard] and are having trouble choosing between them. Here is my advice:
- Don't sweat it. You will get a great education at either place.
- Look up your favorite ranking of economists' productivity and look at which school has more faculty near the top. Those are the profs you want to hang around and learn to emulate.
For example, if you use this standard ranking and look at the top 50, you will learn that MIT has 3 and Harvard has 12.
That should settle the question.
Reminds me of some of the trash talking that occurs between me and my friends. We're always, ALWAYS, comparing our RePEc rankings. I mean, like, all the freakin' time. But then we'll get into the stock versus flow question and the signs of the second and third derivatives on faculty productivity. So, really, the number of economists in the top 50 at RePEc doesn't really settle the question 100% between MIT and Harvard.
Another issue, when my friends throw their rankings in my face is the personalities in the department. I'll say something like, "well, at least I don't work with a bunch of dicks." They'll say, "point taken." Guys, do you really want your major professor to be a big dick?
Finally, a lot of economics graduate students pick a school based on the athletic teams. Harvard plays in the Ivy League conference, which seems really cool (no scholarships and those throwback uniforms). I don't even know if MIT has any sports teams. Maybe they do, but the scores never scroll on ESPN.
So, it all comes down to faculty productivity, if the professors are big dicks and the quality of the sports teams.