The Value of Elite Colleges is Relationships with Elite People

The difference between elite and state education is minimal, but the connections are worlds apart

There’s been an unsolved mystery for a while that I want to solve in public.

I didn’t solve it. It’s been solved. But few people know the answer.

The mystery is:

Why do so many people pay so much for elite college educations when the actual education they receive isn’t that much better than online courses or state schools?

And a second mystery is:

And if the education is so similar, why do so many of the most successful people come from those elite schools.

Paul Graham solved this for me in a number of his essays.

Basically it comes down to relationships. Associations. Connections.

If you go to an elite school, it’s because you’re lucky to have great parents with lots of intelligence and lots of resources.

And when you get to an elite school you’re surrounded by lots of other people like that.

Those are people who are likely to have the luxury of not just extra IQ points and self-discipline, but the time and money to be able to go and do things with their talents.

Being surrounded by lots of people like that means you’re likely to:

  1. Have more ideas

  2. Have the resources to do something with them

  3. Have the network to share and magnify those efforts

It’s a stacked deck in their favor. Not from the education, but from the network of people you meet there and the permanent bonds that are formed with them.

Nothing is more powerful in life than being surrounded by highly talented and motivated people. And there’s no better place to find people like that, early in life, than at an elite university.


So, does that mean the rest of us are doomed?


What you need to do is break the problem into two separate pieces.

  1. Education

  2. Connections to talented and driven people

You can get #1 from most anywhere.

For #2, if you can’t go to an elite school, you have to find other places to force those connections.


  1. Moving to the Bay Area and going to lots of AI meetups, hacker spaces, etc.

  2. Having an online presence where you talk about your learning journey, and you build things in public

  3. Sharing those things you build with other builders


Things are stacked in favor of those at elite colleges, and if you are a parent it’s still a great way to give your kids an advantage if that’s an option.

But it’s not the only way to hack the system.

Find a path to surrounding your kids—or yourself—with the most creative and driven people possible.