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Written by Rolf BaxRolf Bax

The college degree of the top‑earning CEO in every state

19 min read
The college degree of the top‑earning CEO in every state
We have compiled a list of the top CEO and their salaries in each state, and dug into each of their biographies to learn about their educational background. Here's what we found.

With the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates dropping out of school to start companies, some people have questioned whether a college education is necessary to rise to the top of the business world. But such iconic leaders are the exception, not the rule. The vast majority of CEOs in the United States have a bachelor’s degree. In fact, as we discovered, the highest paid chief executives in every state have college degrees — and 67% of them have graduate degrees, too.

How do we know this? Based on data from 2017, we compiled a list of the highest-paid chief executive officers in each state and dug into each of their biographies to learn about their educational background – what they studied and where. We then broke their undergraduate degrees down into six categories that you might find at any college across the country: engineering , economics, arts and humanities , sciences , social sciences , and business and finance .

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Now, while you may think that most of the CEOs received their bachelor’s degrees from Ivy League schools, we found that only six did, with three having graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. What’s more, fewer than half (21) went to private schools; 26 CEOs attended public colleges and four attended higher institutions in other countries.

The CEOs’ areas of study range from accounting to religion, but most majored in business (37%) or engineering (22%). The leaders with engineering degrees tend to run energy, medical device, transportation and other companies whose focus require the discipline. We also found that 12% of the CEOs majored in economics, which, of course, is closely related to business. Another 12% studied social sciences – two-thirds of whom chose political science – and 9% earned a degree in the arts and humanities. Just 2% of the top-earning CEOs studied the natural sciences. Of the chief executives who possess graduate degrees, 74% received a master’s in business administration and 16% earned law degrees.

In short, it seems that the most common path to the peak of business is, not surprisingly, a business degree (or two). It’s certainly not the only route, though. So for those philosophy students with aspirations to run a company and make millions, there’s hope for you yet! 

Ever wondered how a CEO resume looks like? See here an example of a chief executive officer resume

The college degree of the top‑earning CEO in every state
The college degree of the top‑earning CEO in every state
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