Scholar Jonathan Wai has an interesting method of estimating the IQs of people in various fields or success levels. He simply determined the percentage of people in a certain job category (i.e. CEOs) who attended an elite college, which Wai defined as those indicative of top 1% intelligence. These colleges arere as follows:

a. National universities and liberal arts colleges. Combined SAT math and critical reading scores

1. California Institute of Technology 1525
2. Harvey Mudd College 1500
2. Princeton University 1500
4. Yale University 1495
5. Harvard University 1490
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1490
7. University of Chicago 1485
8. Columbia University 1475
9. Washington University in St. Louis 1465
9. University of Notre Dame 1465
11. Pomona College 1460
12. Stanford University 1455
12. Dartmouth College 1455
14. Northwestern University 1445
14. Vanderbilt University 1445
16. Duke University 1440
16. University of Pennsylvania 1440
16. Swarthmore College 1440
19. Brown University 1430
19. Rice University 1430
19. Tufts University 1430
22. Amherst College 1425
23. Williams College 1420
24. Carleton College 1415
25. Johns Hopkins University 1410
25. Carnegie Mellon University 1410
25. Bowdoin College 1410
28. Cornell University 1400
28. Haverford College 1400

b. Law schools Average LSAT scores

1. Yale University 173.5
1. Harvard University 173.5
3. Columbia University 172.5
4. New York University 172
5. University of Chicago 170
6. Stanford University 169.5
7. Duke University 169
7. Georgetown University 169
9. University of Pennsylvania 168.5
9. University of Michigan — Ann Arbor 168.5
11. University of Virginia 168
11. Northwestern University 168

c. Business Schools Average GMAT scores

1. Stanford University 730
2. Harvard University 724
3. University of Chicago 719
3. Yale University 719
3. New York University (Stern) 719
6. University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) 718
6. Dartmouth College (Tuck) 718
8. Columbia University 716
9. University of California Berkeley 715
10. Northwestern University 712
11. Massachusetts Institute of Technology 710
12. University of Michigan — Ann Arbor (Ross) 703

Wai argued that if all American adults (not just those who went to college) had been forced to take college admission tests, only about 1% would have obtained at least the median scores for the above schools.

On a scale where white Americans have a mean IQ of 100 and a standard deviation of 15, I estimate that all Americans now have a mean of 96 and an SD of 15.8. This implies that the top 1% of Americans have an IQ of 133+.

Of course it’s a bit misleading to suggest that just because the average student at these schools obtained an IQ equivalent of 133+ on a college admission test, that therefore they have an average IQ 133+. These students were specifically selected for high scores on that one test. Anytime you explicitly select people for high scores on a specific test, you get a regression effect where they come crashing down to Earth on tests that were not specifically used to select them. For example, Harvard students having an average IQ equivalent of about 139 on the SAT but perhaps as low as 122 on the WAIS.

However this regression effect would not apply to people who were selected based on some other criteria. So for example, when you select Americans based on extreme wealth, Wai found that nearly half of American billionaires attended elite schools, suggesting the average IQ (on college admission test) somewhere around 133.

This is actually lower than the average IQ at Harvard (as measured by the SAT), however unlike Harvard students, the SAT scores of billionaires would not be inflated by a selection bias effect, because for billionaires, the defining criteria is money, so by the time you look at SAT scores, the regression effect has already occurred. By contrast, the defining criteria for Harvard students are high SAT scores, and so their real IQs are lower than those of billionaires, even as their SAT scores are higher.

Of course Wai’s methodology does not imply that all billionaires who attended elite schools have IQs of 133+ and all billionaires who attended crappy colleges (or no college at all) have IQs below 133+. Instead, the logic is that for every brilliant person who attended a crappy college, either because of lack of money, lack of ambition, or because the SAT underestimated their IQ, there is a mediocre intellect who attended an elite school, either because they had rich parents, or worked extra-hard, or the SAT overestimated them. In other words, exceptions in both directions cancel each other out.

Let’s try Wai’s method on the six most recent self-made U.S presidents:

1. Obama (elite school)
2. George W. Bush (elite school)
3. Bill Clinton (elite school)
4. George H.W. Bush (elite school)
5. Ronald Reagan
6. Jimmy Carter

So four of the six (66%) would have IQs of 133+ using Wai’s method. But note that Jimmy Carter, who some argue is the smartest of them all, did not attend an elite school, and George W. Bush, who some argue is the dumbest of the six, did attend an elite school. But these two exceptions cancel each other other out, and so Wai’s method would imply that 66% of recent presidents had IQs of 133+.

I wonder what percentage of my readers attended one of the above mentioned schools.