Paul Graham: It doesn’t really matter where you went to college, measured by startup success ratio

September 6th, 2007 by jose

If you have followed for any amount of time, you have realized that I really like Paul Graham’s ideas. He has just published an essay where he uses data from his Y! combinator to prove that having a degree from an elite university does not increase your chances of being successful when going for a startup. He argues that the ‘startup test’ is a lot more useful to infer a person’s value than the tests that she needs to pass to e.g., getting good grades during high school or getting accepted in a prestigious college: “a high school record that’s largely an index of obedience”. I agree. I think his logic is impeccable.

This new essay just adds on his idea of “prestige is just fossilized brilliance”. Elite institutions capitalize on prestige, but it is not clear -at least from Paul’s analysis- that prestige converts well into real-life success, which I guess is what companies try to hire for. I think academics fight for prestige (clearly, money is not the currency they fight for!). And I think prestige is the wrong thing to look for!


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10 Responses to “Paul Graham: It doesn’t really matter where you went to college, measured by startup success ratio”

  1. College SuccessNo Gravatar Says:

    The Degree from an elite is often used a barrier to entry. People that hire on that qualification are often just justifying their own decisions in life. If the person hiring, graduated from an Ive League School he/she may look down on thesomeone with a “lessor degree”.

    The real test of a college education should be the person’s ability to do a job competently. It seems this is not only about prestige but the level of the degree archived. Many progressions such as nursing and physical therapist require higher degrees to enter the workforce than in the past. This decreases the amount of available workers in the field and thus increases cost and lowers quality.

  2. bill Says:

    In the hypothetical world, yeah where you went to college shouldn’t matter. But in the real world it does. This is coming from my own experience as a graduate of a fourth tier state university (I have an undergrad and two masters degrees from this school, it was my only real option because of financial and family issues). My graduating GPA was a 3.94 and I can tell you, despite my high gpa and honors, going to this school closed a lot more doors than it opened. Employers would take people with the prestigious pedigree over myself and piers routinely, many of us settled for low paying jobs in the field or simply starting working outside of our major. I agree that a great deal in life is all about work ethic and moving up on your own merit. But this is difficult when the people who graduated from elite schools get the first job over you—and remain, for the rest of your life, several steps ahead of you. Where you go to school does matter because people are people and will judge unfairly. My best advice is to stay away from any school that is not at least a second tier institution.

  3. Information Systems DegreeNo Gravatar Says:

    I think that both sides of the argument – that a degree is just “fossilized brilliance” and that it doesn’t matter where you went to school vs. schools are some sort of indicator to success – have merit.

    However, the Y! combinator test is a test of a very specific group of people – entrepreneurs. I think you could make a good argument that school doesn’t matter for this group of people, as they are usually self-starters who may have rebelled against schoolwork but were more than willing to do work (see Gates, Bill). However, there is a reason there is a correlation between a higher degree and higher salaries amongst the larger population, and a difference between Ivy League grads and community college grads *in aggregate*.

  4. In A Virtual ClassroomNo Gravatar Says:

    Seeing so many job postings that clearly are written by someone with one of these “presitige” degrees gets to be a downer after a while. Not so much because I don’t have one of them, but because many times, I know I could do the job they are advertising for (well, I believe that based upon the posting!) Bill’s points above are interesting, though possibly a bit tainted? Online courses offer excellent opportunities to LEARN the things needed in the real world. There will always be those that look down on others. And as sad as that is, the rest of us just need to find ways to make it in this world!

  5. Career College QuestNo Gravatar Says:

    Kind of agree with Virt Class above. My personal experiences in life have pretty much led me to the point of completely avoiding those ads where the poster is pretty explicit about the position “requiring” a degree of some sort or another. I also would put this concept in the same category of employers who expect to get the demi-gods of web development applying for their open positions. The skill sets these employers typically ask for as so far outside of the reality of what most web workers have that no one could measure up to the expectations (well, very few, anyway. And if you do, you are going to be able to command WAY more money than the employer thinks they can pay!)

  6. Business BlvdNo Gravatar Says:

    At the end of the day, however, the person still needs to know theory behind whatever the work is. And “usually” the accumulation of that theory comes during the educational process.

  7. college reviewNo Gravatar Says:

    The wave of the future seems to be distance learning, and that includes obtaining degrees from acclaimed colleges and universities. I bet it’s just a matter of time before much of the snobbery is removed from old standards of degree requirements.
    A GPA from a good school along with the degree, whether it’s the traditional or online, should be looked at the same exact way.

  8. jeremyNo Gravatar Says:

    I think that regardless, having a degree in the field is an extra great step in the door. Without experience, it is often the first thing employers look at.

  9. physical therapy schoolNo Gravatar Says:

    I think the situation changes depending on the field that the job is in. For example, sometimes I’d probably feel more comfortable with the schooling of the person, but then others I’d feel more comfortable with their personality and life experience. It’s a toss up, but I’d say a lot relies on the industry, what do you think?

  10. US History NotesNo Gravatar Says:

    Just wanted to say thanks for the great post ! Found your blog on Google and I’m happy I did. I’ll be reading you on a regular basis ! Thanks again :)

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