Why doesn't Caltech have the reputation of MIT among the public despite being on the same level of academic excellence?

I think the three most important factors are that:

  1. 1.MIT has a much larger population.  MIT has about five times as many students and about three times as many faculty.  Thus if MIT students and faculty are merely equal in excellence to Caltech students and faculty, or even a bit less excellent, they will collectively garner more awards and accolades of all sorts, in absolute numbers (e.g., 78 MIT Nobel Prize winners to 31 Caltech Nobel Prize winners).  This creates a higher profile for MIT among the general public.

    Along similar lines, if one thinks of each school as competing for general mindshare with the other elite private university in its respective state, Caltech is much smaller compared to Stanford than MIT is compared to Harvard.

  2. 2.U.S. population is concentrated in the east.  A majority of people in the U.S. are geographically closer to MIT than to Caltech, which probably has some effect on their relative awareness of the two universities.

  3. 3.Cal Poly creates confusion.  Caltech suffers the accident that California Polytechnic State University, a less prestigious but much larger public university, has a somewhat similar name, creating some confusion in the general public.  MIT has no analogous large school with a similar name.

Despite all these factors, I think Caltech may be closing the awareness gap over time (but this might be wishful thinking on my part).