Not disregarding that the Ivies are fine colleges in many aspects, how to deal with high-school students fixated on the idea that they need an Ivy league education, or otherwise their education would be second class. Or to deal with equally fixated people who think that academics in the Ivy league is the only golden rule (and the others are second class). Talking about this makes me sound a tad envious, but I like to make people see that many other colleges are fine too (although maybe not that famous).
It's not hard to find Ivy League alumni who will readily admit - even adamantly defend - the statement that there are other colleges in the US which are just as good academically, and that you do not have to go to an Ivy League school to get a first-class education. Of course this is purely anecdotal, not any sort of logical argument, but then again people who feel like the Ivy League is the only way to get a top-quality education in the US are also not drawing their conclusions from logic, so perhaps an emotional appeal is just what they need.
If you're talking to someone who might be open to an evidence-based approach, try asking them to name what they consider to be the top universities in the US. Or better yet, look up a few college rankings and find out which names consistently appear near the top. For example, the US News and World Report rankings for universities are headed by
Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, University of Chicago, Duke, MIT, University of Pennsylvania, Caltech, Dartmouth
and for liberal arts colleges, by
Williams, Amherst, Swarthmore, Bowdoin, Middlebury, Pomona, Carleton, Wellesley, Claremont McKenna, Davidson, Haverford
Forbes' top 10 are
Stanford, Pomona, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Swarthmore, West Point, Harvard, Williams, MIT
Beyond those I'm not sure of other ranking systems' reputation, but the Parchment rankings give as their top 10
Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Princeton, Duke, Yale, Caltech, Pomona, Harvey Mudd, Brown
and the Academic Ranking of World Universities gives
Harvard, Stanford, UC Berkeley, MIT, Caltech, Princeton, Columbia, U Chicago, Yale, UCLA
and so on (you get the picture). Anyway, whether this person you're talking to comes up with their own idea of the top colleges or uses one or more of these lists, it's rather unlikely that their list will match the list of Ivy League universities: Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale. Clearly, while a university's membership in the Ivy League is somewhat correlated with having a high ranking, it is not the only way to get one.
You could also mention that the Ivy League is actually just an athletic conference, like the Big 10. The member schools generally happen to be academically high-achieving, but membership in the Ivy League is in no way meant to be a certification of strong academics.
If it means a lot to you, you could start by sharing with skeptics specific examples of academics/researchers/graduates who attended non-Ivy League schools, and how they "made the world a better place," or some such.
If that fails, as an alternative, you could simply let the people who believe that Ivy League schools are the "be all, end all" go on believing that. For some people, image is everything, and there is no convincing them otherwise. I don't doubt that there are pros to attending Ivy League schools, but some people perceive the quality of an Ivy League education through an illogical/emotional lens that is very hard to change.
In terms of getting a job that utilizes connections significantly :
- Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, (maybe) Wharton; required for employability
- MIT, Brown, Penn and the rest of the Ivies; you need to excel in order to get the job
- Below that : summa cum laude is all but required.
The trend is similar for law schools : but LSAT is closely related to which school you go to(for whatever reason) so it doesn't hurt, although it is not taken into too much consideration in the admissions office.
In terms of getting into academia (extrapolating from article "Sorry Cal State, No Princeton Grad School for You")
A little bit lenient on the rankings but conversely the lower you go on the school ranking the better your grades need to be. Of course on average graduate school bound students get better grades than those who aim for employment post bachelor's.
- Top 5~10 : To get into top 5~10 in your field, you need at least magna cum laude
- Top 30 : To get into top 5~10, you need summa
- Top 50 : To get into top 5~10, you need to be one of the best students in your class
- Top 100 : Very rare(a handful a year, per school)
- Outside top 100 : Once a few years(with an extra master's)
This trend is mimicked for MBA programs : leniency in GPA, need better GMAT or GRE.
So while in terms of employability many prestigious fields require that you at least go to a top 20 institution to have any good chance, graduate school focuses a bit more on marks and recommendations. Still, your college name goes a long way.
So it's not that some students are obsessed with rankings per se, it's that companies and schools that matter to the world are obsessed with where their applicants went to college.