BACKGROUND Many people who develop schizophrenia have impairments in intellectual and social functioning that are detectable from early childhood. However, some patients do not exhibit such deficits, and this suggests that they may have suffered less neurodevelopmental damage. We hypothesized that the aetiology and form of schizophrenia may differ in such patients. We therefore studied a group of schizophrenic patients who were functioning well enough to enter university prior to illness onset. METHODS The casenotes of 46 university-educated patients and 48 non-university-educated patients were rated on several schedules including the OPCRIT checklist, and the two groups were compared using univariate statistical techniques. Principal components analysis was then performed using data from all patients, and the factor scores for each principal component were compared between groups. RESULTS Univariate analyses showed the university-educated patients had an excess of depressive symptoms, and a paucity of core schizophrenic symptoms. Four principal components emerged in the principal components analysis: mania, biological depression, schizophrenic symptoms, and a reactive depression. University-educated patients scored significantly higher on the reactive depression principal component, and lower on the schizophrenic symptoms principal component, than the non-university-educated patients.