Why is Silicon Valley obsessed with top-tier schools ?

If you’re not from a top-tier school you have no network, no brand, no interest from investors or anyone important, no respect from startup recruiters, nothing.

Its almost like if you ain’t from a top-tier school you shouldn’t bother trying to be relevant in Silicon Valley – just STFU and work for some company and live a mediocre life or just move out. No matter how good you are. If you’re good you get a pat in the back but that’s about it, it seems impossible to make a connection or break into this mafia.



  • You’re right. If you didn’t attend Stanford, Harvard, MIT, or one of the other big Ivy League schools, you will not be taken seriously in Silicon Valley, unless you’ve proven yourself with product traction.

    People assume that because it’s tough to get into Ivy League schools, that founders who’ve attended those schools are more likely to be more intelligent, and thus better founders.

    Some of the smartest people on this planet could not succeed in business; they’re better off being professors or working for someone else. Meanwhile, a guy like Steve Jobs who dropped out of a minor school went on to become the most respected founder perhaps of all time.

    No one gave him respect when he started out; he had to earn it through traction and hard work. After the fact though every investor thinks he or she can find the next Steve Jobs by lurking the halls of Stanford or Harvard, when Jobs didn’t even come from that type of environment.

  • Why the fuck is this so surprising? Is this some kind of stupid joke?

    It’s the same in investment banking, management consulting and admissions into elite business/medical/law schools.

    It’s called signaling and having already been vetted. It’s called risk mitigation.

    If you’re an investor, would you want to invest in a Harvard or Stanford graduate or a guy who didn’t graduate from college or went to Podunk State? You know the answer. And you’d absolutely do the same too.

    Don’t fucking bitch and cry about it. It’s just the way the world works. On prestige and name brands. Don’t be ignorant and naive.

    Go out there and work your ass off to get noticed. Not bitching and whining about stuff you can’t control.

      • Yes, because getting into an Ivy league school is a pre-vetting process since it proves that a person is intelligent, unless they’re just a legacy who got in because of rich parents like George W. Bush.

        VCs like it when founders drop out of Ivy League schools because those same founders would have been working for Goldman Sachs or other large companies making six figure salaries. Instead, they’re living on ramen noodles, trying to build the next big thing while the VC rides in yachts and enjoys himself or herself.

          • True. lol. I just included “or herself”, because I was previously criticized by a female in the comments section because I assumed that the OP was a guy, and she criticized me for not considering that it might be a woman as well.

            Yes, pretty much all of the top VCs and top founders in Silicon Valley are male. Just like almost all of them are white. Sometimes being politically correct can get very tedious.

  • Why do people think they are entitled to success or attention? I didn’t go to an Ivy-League, and I didn’t even graduate! I’ve worked for a couple start ups, built connections and now I’m in the early stages of my own company and have serious interest from VC’s that I’m met through acquaintances and the start-ups I’ve worked for.

    First time founders that have never worked for a start up before tend to come from top tier schools because, yes those schools carry cache, but they also have deep alumni networks and students have friends whose parents have deep pockets. That doesn’t mean that they are actively working against you, they are just taking advantage of what they have at their disposal, as anyone would.

    Grow the fuck up and earn it, or go away. No one has time for your entitled bull shit.

    • Honestly, ‘earn it’ sounds overly sanctimonious and is not nuanced enough to explain the sum total of everything it takes to succeed in this context.

      While I applaud and admire those who’ve ‘earned it’ without – or despite – a non-prestigious school background, I agree with the premise that Silicon Valley organizations have a preference for hiring and promoting folks from prestigious (top 10) schools. Here’s what a degree from the Top 10 will do for you:

      Open doors because you’ll have a network of people who are already in successful (and powerful) positions
      Give you a halo effect. This reassures employers that they are hiring ‘the best’, in addition to boosting their brand value since the dubious ‘talent quality’ metric is for real.

      Silicon Valley is an unprecedentedly attractive place to be today, and there’s a huge influx of talent coming in. Top 10 graduates are turning away from Wall Street and the Big 5 consulting firms and coming here instead.

      As for skills, a lot of those can be learned on the job. So instead of optimizing for ‘who can do the best job’, hiring is increasingly optimized for ‘who will look the best doing it’, especially for entry and mid-level roles. I regularly see folks from the Top 10 schools with degrees (and experience) that are somewhat unrelated to the expertise their job requires. In other words, a more experienced person with a non-stellar degree may be a better fit, but s/he is likely to be trumped by someone from the Top 10.

      Finally, Top 10 graduates tend to be much more confident and self-assured (it’s a virtuous cycle) and are generally good at personal branding and selling themselves. Obviously, that helps.

      All of this is not to say that folks from non-brand-name schools are doomed to be unsuccessful. But they sure have to try a lot harder to prove themselves today in Silicon Valley. No wonder almost every prestigious school these days offers some sort of degree or certificate that (for a significant price tag) can ‘enhance’ your LinkedIn profile.

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