Harvard's seal sits atop a gate to the athletic fields at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts
Harvard's seal sits atop a gate to the athletic fields at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts September 21, 2009. Reuters

Harvard regained its top spot on a list of most talked-about U.S. universities on the Internet, beating its rivals just in time for a return to fall studies, according to a survey released on Tuesday.

Harvard conquered stiff competition from runners-up Northwestern University and the University of California, Berkeley based on the number of mentions it receives on the Web, according to the Global Language Monitor, which tracks usage of words and phrases on blogs, social media and the top 75,000 print and electronic media sites.

The resulting rankings are used by education institutions to track their reputation among students, according to Paul Payack, who heads Global Language Monitor.

Harvard last topped the list of Internet media buzz in 2008, but has struggled to regain the top spot after suffering an endowment crisis in the recent recession.

We think Harvard went through a difficult period, said Payack. But (President) Dean Drew Faust seems to have righted the ship. She brought some adult supervision back to it.

Harvard's increasing usage on the Web also was spurred by the 2010 film The Social Network.

The Social Network definitely had major impact, and also, the President of the United States having attended the Harvard law school definitely helps, said Payack.

Payack touts his list, which measures brand equity, as an alternative to the widely-watched U.S. News & World Report college rankings, which is based on data collected from educational institutions gathered from an annual survey.

One trend to emerge from the Global Language Monitor list was the growing influence of public institutions versus private schools, with almost half of the top 30 in the public domain.

Payack sees public education systems being featured more heavily in the future because the definition of what makes an elite school is changing quickly and not only confined to Ivy League universities like Harvard.

We are seeing the so-called Public Ivies coming up very strong and the technology institutes are really doing well, they can win the top spot, Payack said.

The Top 10 schools on the Internet media buzz list follow:

1) Harvard University

2) Northwestern University

3) University of California, Berkeley

4) Columbia University

5) California Institute of Technology

6) Massachusetts Institute of Technology

7) Stanford University

8) University of Chicago

9) University of Texas, Austin

10) Cornell University