Elite Isn’t Synonymous With Exclusive

Seth Godin once said, “Elite and exclusive” are de facto different terms in our societal lexicon and should be applied and seen differently. I firmly agree with his position as long as these terms may mean different things to different people.

It is my belief that Harvard University is an elite institution that is highly exclusive. After all, Harvard is composed by a select group of scholars who are usually superior in ability and quality from scholars in other universities. The same principle apply for places like Oxford, Princeton, MIT, or the University of Tokyo.

Let me attempt to elaborate on this provocative thought. Penn State, my alma mater, is an exclusive institution of higher education. It is a tier 1 school with an acceptance rate of 56%, meaning that the university rejects almost 50% of incoming applications. To me, Penn State isn’t as elite as many claim it to be for the simple fact that PSU isn’t Cal Tech, Stanford or Cambridge. These institutions are often better than Penn State in terms of endowment size, quality of faculty and students, facilities, and so on.

Why do I feel this way? Well, because when we join the workforce and face reality, we realize that opportunities many times don’t go to some people because of their associations, regardless of how “hard” people try. With all things being equal (ceteris paribus), a clever Harvard graduate often has the upper hand in public opportunities due to the perception of what Harvard stands for and its network. I call this perception the ‘Elite Factor.”

Both Penn State and Harvard are exclusive clubs but Harvard is more exclusive making them an elite school, as their acceptance rate is 5.4%. We need to be careful, though, with only looking at acceptance rate as the measure for universities elite status. Here is why. Have you ever heard of Alyson Lloyd College or the Claremont McKeena College? I have never heard of them both, actually. Their acceptance rate are 22% and 10.9%, respectfully.  Alyson Lloyd College is ranked #16 among regional universities in the south. and Claremont McKeena College #9 among national liberal arts colleges.

So, are Alyson Lloyd College and Claremont McKeena College exclusive colleges? I would say yes. In fact, they are more exclusive than Ohio State or the University of Michigan. Are they elite institutions? I don’t think so. Alyson Lloyd College may be perceived by many in Kentucky as an “elite” school but in the grand scheme of things it’s not.

Why am I writing about of all this, you may ask. First, because I believe that Seth Godin is right when he claims that these terms are different. Second, because the level of delusion that exists in society is so high (in my opinion) these days that having these kinds of conversations can help us all to live a better and grounded life.

There is nothing wrong with not being a member of an elite club or even be associated with an exclusive club, university or political party. Belonging to an elite group isn’t for everybody and believing that you are without really being one can make people frustrated overtime.

Elite and exclusive are de facto different terms in our societal lexicon and should be applied and seen differently. I’m proud of being a Penn State graduate, don’t get me wrong… but in the grand scheme of things, we know which institutions are elite organizations by the influence that they have in things that matter most in society. Alyson Lloyd College and Claremont McKeena are great exclusive institutions but aren’t elite status to me.

Being a Holmes scholar is an exclusive privilege. A Rhodes Scholar is both exclusive and elite. Thing about it… Being delusional isn’t good for anybody. Ground yourself in reality and live the best life you can under what God has given you. Smile, be happy, and be real.

 

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