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Education vs Intelligence: What’s the Difference?

5 Mins read

A person’s education vs intelligence, do you know which one holds more significance? For some people, intelligence and education appear to be of equal importance, while others believe one is better or more important than the other. 

Education vs intelligence is a common debate because they are arguably very different. The two words are also often used interchangeably when describing someone who appears to have a high IQ. When someone is well-educated, we often call them intelligent. Similarly, we assume intelligent people are well-educated. However, there are differences between education vs intelligence that are worth noting.

Everyone has the capacity for intelligence, and everyone is capable of increasing their IQ. Some people are even genetically predisposed to have a higher IQ, and genetically more likely to have a high educational attainment ability. Thanks to their unique genetic makeup, some people will be naturally included to be more educated or have higher IQ levels, but those who don’t have it in their genes can still become equally as intelligent or equally as educated. Both education and intelligence can be fostered and nurtured, but the two are different things. 

Intelligence is your fundamental potential to understand the world and solve problems within it, which includes your intellectual potential. Alternatively, education can be thought of as the tools you use to expand your intelligence.

Let’s dive a little deeper into the difference between education vs intelligence.

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What are the Hallmarks of Intelligence?

The level of intelligence in an individual is dependent on various factors, including your genetics, upbringing, environment, and access to education. As a broad concept, intelligence is usually defined as a capacity or potential for understanding displayed by an individual. This capacity can be measured by tests used to examine your capacity for learning, like an IQ test.

A portion of your intelligence is related to your DNA. We’re all born with a capacity for learning which is often influenced by the IQ or intelligence of our parents. If your parents have a high IQ, you’re also likely to have a good capacity for intelligence. While genetic factors account for about 50% of your IQ, the rest is determined by your experience, nutrition, environment, and education.

While a DNA test can show you your current capacity for intelligence, or how likely you are to develop a good IQ, your intellect isn’t static.

You can sharpen your mind by placing yourself in mentally challenging situations and committing to learning new things. You can also feed your mind with the right nutrition, reducing oxidative stress with antioxidants, so your brain can process information more efficiently.

It’s also worth noting there are different kinds of intelligence. Some people are extremely intelligent when it comes to music and creative practices. They know how to develop their skills in this area and have a natural ability to absorb knowledge related to those topics.

Other people have a more logical, or mathematical level of intelligence, where they feel more comfortable with numbers and logical problems.

What is Education?

Education is the process of developing skills, knowledge, and talents through research, training, and experience. It can help to develop a person’s character and pave the way for greater intelligence. Education also helps us discover how to use our intelligence effectively.

The major difference between education and intelligence is that education is something an individual pursues and uses to their cognitive advantage. Intelligence is an internal force you’re born with and can choose whether to develop.

Interestingly, your capacity for education can also be influenced by your genes. Some people are more predisposed to “educational attainment” than others. Research shows about 20-40% of an individual’s educational attainment is influenced by genetics, while the rest is influenced by environmental factors.

Educational attainment refers to how long you’re able to stay in school and absorb information. Some people never finish high school, while others go on to complete entire doctorates at university. While income and environment have a strong impact on the level of formal education a person completes, personality traits, cognitive function and brain development are important too.

Fortunately, having a low capacity for educational attainment doesn’t mean you won’t be intelligent, or successful. While a good education improves your chances of being intelligent, it’s not the only factor worth considering.

Do You Need Education to be Intelligent?

Education is a helpful supplement for intelligence. It’s one of the many ways you can stimulate your brain and develop specific skills. However, it’s not a mandatory part of intelligence. 

Just look at all of the geniuses and successful billionaires in the world who were high-school or college dropouts. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg all left college before getting their diploma. Other examples include:

  • Evan Williams: The creator of Twitter dropped out of college after three semesters.
  • Larry Ellison: Billionaire founder of Oracle, Larry Ellison dropped out of a medical degree.
  • Jan Koum: WhatsApp creator Jan Koum quit college before graduating.
  • John Mackey: Whole Foods entrepreneur John Mackay dropped out of a philosophy degree.
  • Travis Kalanick: The founder of Uber quit college a couple of months before graduating.

Notably, education doesn’t have to be formal to positively influence your intellect either. We can also become more educated simply by experiencing important things.

Every time you make a mistake at work or try something new at school, you’re educating yourself and testing the boundaries of what you can do.

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Where Do Education and Intelligence Overlap?

Intelligence and education are two concepts associated with brainpower and cognitive functioning. The better your brain works, the more likely you are to respond well to education and develop your intelligence. However, intelligence is a characteristic, while education is a tool.

If you were to think of developing your mind like growing a muscle in your body, your intelligence would be like the bicep in your arm. Alternatively, education is the weight you lift to strengthen the muscle. It’s one way of training your arms – but not the only option.

Similarly, to our muscles, our intellect is naturally predisposed to grow to a certain size. If you have a good intellectual capacity based on your genes, you have plenty of potential to grow. At the same time, some people will see better results from using education when they have a good capacity for educational attainment. Others will develop their intellect through less formal methods. 

When intellect and education come together in the right way, the possibilities are endless. The right education can open your mind, help you to hone your skills, and ensure you discover your talents.

Getting Your Head Around Education vs Intelligence

Both intelligence and education are closely connected to knowledge, and the way the human mind works – but they’re very different things. Intelligence is something you can’t necessarily force – but you can potentially develop over time. You’re born with a certain capacity for intelligence, just like you’re born with an ability to attain knowledge. Some people can even expand their intellectual potential over time with regular mental exercises.

Education is something we use to better ourselves and leverage the intellectual capacity we have. For some people, education is the ultimate tool for expanding their intellect. For others, a good education is just one part of a comprehensive strategy for true cognitive development.

If you’re keen to expand your intellect, but you’re not sure where to start, a DNA test could help. Looking at your genetic profiling gives you behind-the-scenes insight into your intellectual capacity, as well as your proficiency for educational attainment. Get an Education and Intelligence report based on your DNA with a CircleDNA test. The more you learn about your genetics and discover your natural abilities, the easier it can be to plan the right strategy for boosting your IQ. 

Erica Gordon
150 posts

About author
Erica Gordon is the Managing Editor and Director of Content at Circle Magazine. Erica majored in Psychology at UBC and has since founded The Babe Report and followed her passion for writing and journalism, with a focus on health and travel writing.
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