Lion of the Blogosphere

College, part 6, how a Harvard degree is like the best armor in WoW

I’ve often described college degrees as a positional goods. In other words, the value of the degree is not in the intrinsic value of the degree, but in that not everyone has one. The person with a degree will, in many cases, have entry to a career denied to someone without a degree, even though the person with the degree didn’t learn anything in the course of acquiring the degree that would make him a better employee. Thus, to a large extent, college education is a negative-sum game. People are spending vast sums of money and giving up four years of their lives to steal a desirable career from someone else possibly more deserving.

I’ve also pointed out, over and over again, there there’s a huge difference between an elite degree (such as a degree from Harvard) and a run-of-the-mill degree. However, the pricing of college tuition doesn’t reflect those difference. A degree from Harvard will cost the same amount of money as a degree from Boston University, even though the Harvard degree is a lot more valuable. (In fact, the Harvard degree is actually less expensive in most cases.)

Who gets to buy which degree reminds me a lot of how things are set up in online role-playing games like World of Warcraft (WoW) or Final Fantasy XIV (FFXIV). These games have a basic virtual currency, called “gil” in FFXIV and “gold” in WoW, but in order to discourage what videogamers call “RMT” (that is real-money transfer, people paying real money for virtual currency), they’ve created alternate currencies that can’t be traded between players (called “tomestones” in FFXIV, they are obtained from running dungeons) and only these alternate currencies can be used to buy the very best armor and weapons which are only for sale from NPCs (that is non-player characters).

In the same manner, admission to Harvard isn’t auctioned off to the highest bidder in U.S. dollars. Instead, Harvard looks at alternate currencies that can’t be traded between people, such as high school grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, and leadership potential.

Another way in which a Harvard degree is like the best armor in WoW or FFXIV is that it can’t be traded to other people. Just like a Harvard degree, after you get your super-powerful armor after trading in the required number of “tomestones” to the NPC, you can’t give that armor to any other player.

People talk about a college bubble, but because college degrees can’t be bought and sold like stocks, houses or tulip bulbs, college education can’t be a bubble in the same manner.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

January 29, 2019 at 1:04 PM

Posted in Education

38 Responses

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  1. “Harvard looks at alternate currencies that can’t be traded between people, such as high school grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, and leadership potential.”

    Whole article could have more succinctly just stated, top universities let in the brightest and most motivated. Lion you obviously have a fascination with sci-fi and gaming, fair enough. You also have a dislike for guidos and other paroles. Did your guido classmates in Staten Island have interests that were radically different from yours, how so, I ask this sincerely.


    January 29, 2019 at 1:32 PM

    • No. It’s not enough to be bright and motivated. You have to understand the system, or you have to have someone on your team who does. You have to do things that someone who was just bright and motivated wouldn’t dream of doing.


      January 29, 2019 at 2:00 PM

      • The admissions people at H are probably deluded into truly believing that they are just looking for things that bright and motivated people would normally do, but MoreSigmasThanYou is right.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        January 29, 2019 at 2:20 PM

      • Yes, I think that after a few years of being inside the system you would forget how people outside the system think. Logicians call this “the curse of knowledge”.

        Not to sound bitter jaded and washed up… but, I kind of was that that bright and motivated person in high school. I bought science and math books with my pocket money, and I was reading them in an attempt to teach myself the secrets of the universe. When I graduated high school two years early; I could already do integral calculus and knew special relativity. I’d also read over a hundred English literature classics, and worked out about an hour and forty-five minutes a day six days a week.

        I actively shunned the types of things that would get you into Harvard. I was in a church run youth group that was kind of like an explicitly Christian version of the Boy Scouts. I was the only kid demoted out of a leadership position. The reason was that I didn’t want to use my personal time to do the make-work the youth group assigned to us in our activities book.

        I volunteered at a soup kitchen once, and only once. I realized that the adults who showed up there to eat were super lazy. Not only did the volunteers cook their food for them, we also cleaned up after them. I thought: these people apparently don’t have jobs; I don’t think they’re trying to learn skills to get jobs; they don’t look very motivated; some of them have nice looking cars (way nicer than my mom’s rusty used Chevy Citation); they’re not ashamed enough to at least offer to help the people feeding them, in fact, I doubt they have any shame at all. Why don’t they volunteer to work in the kitchen and clean up after themselves while I study?

        If I’m a bad person for not wanting to do more for a person than they’re willing to do for themselves, then so be it.

        As an adult, I was reading some article about ‘white privilege’, it was written by a student at an Ivy. I google stalked her. This fat black girl had lots of accomplishments, including test scores way lower than mine, and having been the ombudsman of her high school tennis club. Seriously?

        It was pretty obvious to me that she only joined the tennis club and campaigned for the do-nothing officer job of ombudsman so that she could put it on her college resume, and she only knew to do that because an adult told her to. She was so fat she wouldn’t even be able to play a game of tennis without getting winded. None the less, this made her “well rounded” with “leadership” experience and “extracurricular” “athletics” participation.

        Less than 1% of the people going to Harvard would chose to participate all the activities they put on their application if those activities were not all going to be put on their Harvard application. People who think otherwise are deluded.


        January 29, 2019 at 3:30 PM

  2. I’ve learned that the ivies are big on not accepting things you can pay for.

    For example, summer programs that you pay to send your child to aren’t valued nearly as highly on the college application as summer programs that are free. To get into the free summer program, a student needs to fill out a summer program application and compete with numerous other student essays. Whoever wins that one gets a better chance at winning future ones.

    It’s just like how you’re 3rd level rouge isn’t going to beat someone else’s 89th level mage, or whatever. You need to build experience points before the big quest/battle/whatever.

    So money is less of a factor, but understanding the system is a far bigger factor than most people realize. Probably understanding the system is a big factor in these online games is just as big a factor. The difference is that people expect the online gaming system to be complicated. Most people think that you don’t worry about filling out a college application until senior year, and to get into Harvard, that’s way too late.


    January 29, 2019 at 1:40 PM

  3. What IS the best armor in Final Fantasy XIV? Is it the Genji Armor? That was kind of a series staple back when I played those games.

    Jokah Macpherson

    January 29, 2019 at 1:55 PM

  4. Not unless you’re an underachiever whose ancestors got into Harvard. You will get in as a legacy.

    I’m wondering if there are stories of applicants who forego Harvard after an acceptance offer so they can attend a low tier school.

    Lion and I set a high bar in status signaling that most people are just losers working in a boring sh!t job to make ends meat.

    Ok, what, who's this again?

    January 29, 2019 at 1:56 PM

    • “Yale or fail.”

      Oswald Spengler

      January 29, 2019 at 4:04 PM

    • People don’t realize that legacies are not all created equally. Special attention is paid to big donors or those who are important politically. One of my friends is an alum of both Harvard and Yale. So is his wife. Yet their kid — an honor student at the most elite private high school in the city with all the extracurriculars and volunteering the kid could squeeze into her schedule couldn’t get into either of her parents’ schools.


      January 29, 2019 at 4:39 PM

      • If her parents got Harvard and Yale degrees, then what is the reason for her to go to college? Shouldn’t she just relax and enjoy her life of the elite?

        My 2¢

        January 29, 2019 at 6:48 PM

    • After reading this blog and other HBD sites for a while, I got intrigued by the elite university hierarchy that I’d paid absolutely zero attention to in high school. I applied to a Harvard graduate program in my field and got in…then turned them down. Cool bucket list accomplishment, though.


      January 29, 2019 at 4:51 PM

      • Big mistake, you should have gone.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        January 29, 2019 at 5:07 PM

      • The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

        Bragging rights is one thing, but lower status entities have prole standards making life easier for those, who just need to pay their bills and have a decent meal at Dallas BBQs or the Olive Garden.

        Ok, what, who's this again?

        January 29, 2019 at 6:44 PM

    • I know a guy who went to a state school instead of Notre Dame after he was accepted. Despite what lion says, leaving 300k in debt vs having your parents pay for state school was probably the right choice. Not too many people here dream of Harvard.


      January 29, 2019 at 6:22 PM

  5. Tell us again why a bright student would jump through many hoops to get admitted to Harvard during the most fun years in his/her life if there are many other easier and more fun ways.

    My 2¢

    January 29, 2019 at 2:24 PM

  6. Can’t you purchase high school grades, extracurricular activities, and leadership potential from a private school if your parents have enough money?

    My 2¢

    January 29, 2019 at 2:57 PM

    • Sort of. The best private schools make sure all of their students participate in activities that look good on a college application. In a school of a 100 students, everyone can play a sport, but in a school of 3000, only the best athletes can play a sport.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      January 29, 2019 at 3:13 PM

      • It’s likely that the future of an elite education, post-high school, entails a form of insular schooling with classmates from an elite upbringing, independent of the Ivies. Ivies would be prole by then.

        Besides, there is so much glut and surplus of useless make work for the masses, I think elites will find a way to distinguish themselves from the non-elites when it comes to working and status signaling.

        Ok, what's who's this again?

        January 29, 2019 at 4:25 PM

      • You send your kid to an elite private school and play them in an all white sport like lax or hockey and they can get in with good but not great test scores.


        January 29, 2019 at 6:24 PM

      • So true! I am so far removed from my junior high and high school years in Prolistan that I can no longer grasp how many students we had. Hundreds and hundreds for sure, maybe 1,200. Literally larger than my chi-chi liberal arts college.

        I tried out for the basketball team in 7th, 8th and 9th grades but never made it. I was probably top 20 and you had to be top 10. May have been a blessing in disguise as it channeled me into more intellectual pursuits, cross country team etc. A lot of nerds and independent thinkers running long distance back in the day…

        The Shepherd

        January 30, 2019 at 1:56 AM

      • In a school of a 100 students, everyone can play a sport, but in a school of 3000, only the best athletes can play a sport.

        This is true. My high school was 5000 students. I was a decent athlete, and made my little league all-start team, but got cut from the high school baseball team each year for four years. Nor did I make the JV basketball team after one try. I did run cross-country my freshman year, then foolishly dropped that to work crappy minimum wage jobs to pay for dirtbikes, parts to soup-up my muscle car, auto insurance, going out to eat, etc. I did have over $10K in the bank before I graduated high school in the early ’80s.

        E. Rekshun

        January 30, 2019 at 5:15 AM

  7. i think alma mater is overrated as a factor in determining post-university career outcomes, and outside of a few elite colleges like harvard it may not be relevant at all. maybe this is less true in the united states, but in australia the single most important factor besides the accruement of relevant work experience in determining career outcomes is major, simple as that. bryan caplan’s idea that college is just a signalling exercise is wrong; employers don’t care about IQ or perceived applicant intelligence, if they did they would hire math and physics majors above any other type of major because students that study those subjects tend to have the highest iqs.

    what employers really care about is SKILLS, or the perception that you have useful skills that you can bring to the workplace and be immediately useful (i.e not have to be trained or trained much). employers really hate training people and see it a waste of time, boring and an unproductive burden. the most valuable degrees are those vocationally oriented degrees that to whatever extent provide valuable skills to those studying them, , such as accounting, nursing, medicine, engineering and even teaching. the more vocationally oriented a degree is and whether it provides a certification to work in a particular, specific field of work, the better the outcomes of those students studying it, all else equal.

    i think you can put majors into a three tier system. the first tier are those majors that provide some skills and a certification to work in a field. these include but are not limited to nursing, medicine, accounting, engineering, etc. while they may not necessarily guarantee those studying them will get a job, they’re as close as you can get in this day and age to a ticket to professional employment

    the second tier are more of a crapshoot. they provide no certification and basically no real useful skills, but are perceived (mostly wrongly) to be more useful than majors in the third tier, so they’re a little better to study. business degrees spring to mind as the most apparent in this category. IMO (and im a business graduate myself) business degrees are just glorified arts degrees, but as long as employers think that they aren’t and impart some useful skills, they’ll help graduates begin their careers a little better.

    the final tier are the DO NOT STUDY CATEGORY unless you have a specific reason for it, connections, are just rich and dont care , etc. these are the garbage generalist degrees that provide no useful skills or certification and are percieved to be useless by employers, and should be avoided like the plague. these include: bachelor of arts, science degrees, math and physics. ppl love to wank off science but dont realise that nowadays the outcomes of science grads are about on par arts grads, i’d argue that arts graduates are actually more marketable than most grads with a bachelor of science. at least in my country, biology majors have the worst outcomes of all students.

    maybe this is less true in the u.s, but i kind of doubt it. i’d guess if you controlled for all the psychometric, socioeconomic and choice-of-major based variables across students in the u.s, alma mater would assert a very small independent effect on determining student career outcomes, perhaps none at all. this is certainly the case in australia, where university prestige seems to be negatively correlated with career outcomes (im not kidding). this isnt because there’s anything especially bad about australia’s ‘elite’ universities, but because they are full of arts and science majors compared to less elite universities which are full of vocationally oriented students instead.

    it seems most plausible to me that college is less a signalling exercise in cognitive ability and more a place students can go to develop very small human capital advantages over non-college graduates. these human capital advantages then snowball, as employers exclusively hire college graduates over non-graduates and then real human capital advantages and workplace skills can be deepened in entry level employment roles. college to me seems to be an a eminently inefficient and wasteful way to achieve human capital improvements compared to workplace training.

    james n.s.w

    January 29, 2019 at 4:50 PM

    • “what employers really care about is SKILLS, or the perception that you have useful skills that you can bring to the workplace and be immediately useful (i.e not have to be trained or trained much). employers really hate training people and see it a waste of time, boring and an unproductive burden. ”

      I think I agree with that.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      January 29, 2019 at 5:06 PM

    • I knew a programmer with hard science degrees from university of chicago but he didn’t get interviews from FANG companies for lack of a CS degree. With an MS in computer science from a third-tier state university, I got interviews.

      Bryan Bell (@bjwbell)

      January 29, 2019 at 5:37 PM

      • I was going for an MS in CS, till I realized those companies weren’t such great places to work. I told this to a TNS member who just started working for one of those companies, and he told me how ignorant I was, and how I had no idea what I was talking about. Two years latter, he was telling anyone who would listen how much those companies sucked and exploited the workers.


        January 29, 2019 at 7:46 PM

    • This contains a lot of truth. The Lion is focused on a few “high-powered” career tracks where the elite degree actually does give you a foot in the door that you almost can’t get any other way. There are very few of these jobs in existence.

      The stuff about biology applies in the U.S. as well. I was shocked when I saw the average salary of people with a master’s degree in biology. It was pretty close to minimum wage. Biology is horrible major unless you’re just using it to kill time before med-school.

      Physics majors I knew did pretty well. Teachers are at the bottom of the pay scale with engineers next. The less a physics grad’s job has to do with their major, the more they make. More physics majors I knew ended doing computer programming or systems administration than any other kind of job.


      January 29, 2019 at 5:42 PM

      • There are roughly seven times more people that are smart enough to do undergraduate biology degree than people that are smart enough to do undergraduate physics degree. So, this mostly explains the difference in income. Want to have high income without much work and stress? Do Physics or Economics.

        My 2¢

        January 29, 2019 at 6:18 PM

    • Most of those college articles are very US specific, from the whole college “experience” to costs and Ivy league advantages. But I think the lion exaggerate even in the US context. There are many ways to make money and at the end of the day the Ivy league graduates are tiny part of the economy concentrated in a very specific area. There are so many other avenues to success that I don’t understand why the lion is so obsessed with this specific one.


      January 29, 2019 at 10:33 PM

  8. When you buy a house with the expectation its price will go up and allow you to pay the loan back and make a profit, these subprime loans can feed a bubble.

    When stupid and not’industrious people invest in junk degrees because they think it will help them make much more money in the future, those suprime credits can feed a bubble. If it burst, both the banker and the junk colleges (and the nominal value of the average degree) will burst.


    January 29, 2019 at 7:02 PM

  9. “People talk about a college bubble, but because college degrees can’t be bought and sold like stocks, houses or tulip bulbs, college education can’t be a bubble in the same manner.”

    The phrase ‘college bubble’ refers to the notion that there has been an erroneous boom in enrollment in tertiary education, which will supposedly pop at some point when prospective students, still in their high school years, come to a realization that they would be better off not pursuing college but instead obtaining blue-collar jobs after completing only a high school degree. The resulting collapse in enrollment would then cause the financial demise of a number of universities and colleges, mostly at the lower end of the academic scale, while many others would face substantial cuts to the payrolls of faculty and bureaucrats.

    The proponents of this idea not only exaggerate the demand for high-skilled blue-collar employment, but they also habitually fail to understand the importance of credentials in white-collar job recruitment. High school degrees have been rendered almost meaningless by the insistence that everyone should graduate high school as a matter of public policy, and possession of a college degree has become a necessary criterion for mere consideration in the application process for a large proportion of jobs.

    There is some small portion of college students who would have been better off if they had forgone college due to a combination of their aptitude for skilled blue-collar work (or, for a vanishingly-small portion, aptitude for entertainment, entrepreneurship, etc.) and not having the opportunity to attend an elite college or university followed by entrance into a track for an elite career. However, the vast majority, despite the considerable costs of higher education, would nonetheless be worse off if they failed to obtain a college degree and thus barred themselves permanently from a wide range of high-paying occupations. This won’t change until employers stop relying so heavily on the college degree for its signalling effect.


    January 29, 2019 at 7:19 PM

    • they would be better off not pursuing college but instead obtaining blue-collar jobs after completing only a high school degree.

      In the early ’80s, my girlfriend’s father offered to get me into the MA Sheetmetal Workers Union, along w/ his two teenage sons. I was working on my BS Comp Sci and declined the offer. Those two sons were quickly earning over $100K every year and retired after 30 years in the union at age 48 w/ excellent union pensions and lifetime health insurance.

      E. Rekshun

      January 30, 2019 at 11:15 AM

  10. 01/08/19, USNews & World Report – 2019 U.S. News Best Jobs Rankings

    The 100 Best Jobs
    #1 Software Developer
    #2 Statistician
    #3 Physician Assistant

    Best Health Care Jobs
    #1 Physician Assistant
    #2 Dentist
    #3 Nurse Anesthetist

    Best Paying Jobs
    #1 Anesthesiologist
    #2 Surgeon
    #3 Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon

    Best Business Jobs
    #1 Statistician
    #2 Mathematician
    #3 Accountant

    Best Technology Jobs
    #1 Software Developer
    #2 Computer Systems Analyst
    #3 IT Manager

    Best STEM Jobs
    #1 Software Developer
    #2 Statistician
    #3 Physician Assistant

    Best Health Care Support Jobs
    #1 Clinical Laboratory Technician
    #2 Dental Hygienist
    #3 Physical Therapist Assistant

    Best Social Services Jobs
    #1 Lawyer
    #2 School Psychologist
    #3 Political Scientist

    E. Rekshun

    January 30, 2019 at 5:31 AM

  11. Why not just be yourself and be happy. This is so phony. Who wants to live a fake life?

    My Portuguese teacher did a BA in Rio, an MA in Lisbon, has acquired native fluency and does what she loves in life. I wouldn’t approach life any differently.

    My cousin has a BA in linguistics from Harvard. She got a great education, which I very much admire, but it got her nowhere in life. Lion, you have a loser’s mentality: fake,fake,fake. I hate fakers, I only like real men and real women.


    January 30, 2019 at 10:21 AM

  12. The college bubble bursting is seen in the fertility rate of Western nations. Fewer babies, except when uneducated third world refugees are admitted.

    Anonymous Fake

    January 31, 2019 at 2:54 AM

    • Excellent point.

      My 2c

      January 31, 2019 at 10:28 AM

  13. This isn’t the best comparison. In wow you only need top armor if you plan to do raids/ dungeons at the mythic level. Many players never even do dungeons much less mythic dungeons. There are countless ways to enjoy and play the game apart from top level raiding. It seems lion’s idea of success is to have the “best best best” of everything without considering the infinite other options that are viable venues.


    January 31, 2019 at 10:16 AM

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