The top ten university degrees taken by millionaires

The question of degrees, earnings and careers is a common one. But which subjects did the world's wealthiest individuals take at university, and how did it help them?

Is an MBA worth the money? Type this question into Google and the results will provide you with reading enough to last a lifetime. But at a time when tuition fees are spiralling beyond most people’s mortgages, the same question could be asked of any degree. “Are there well paid jobs for art history graduates?”, or, “It is worth learning a language?” are legitimate questions to ask. Choosing a degree, whether post- or undergraduate, is no longer about pursuing what you enjoy. Instead, students are faced with the question: “How do I monetise my degree?”

This question would have many liberal academics choking on their lentils, and it goes without saying that not everyone reads a subject to become a high-flying city banker or wealthy entrepreneur.

But, for those MBA hopefuls or entrepreneurial types, the question remains – which degree is best for becoming wealthy? A study by the wealth consultancy WealthInsight has found the answer: Engineering. By crunching together the academic histories of the world’s millionaires and deducting their most studied subjects, a unique ranking has been produced:

1. Engineering
2. MBA
3. Economics
4. Law
5. (Bachelor's) Business Administration (BBA)
6. Commerce
7. Accounting
8. Computer Science
9. Finance
10. Politics
Note: This list is a combination of both graduate and undergraduate degrees.

The obvious degrees are all here: MBA, economics, law, accounting and so on. Interestingly, though, few of these degrees turn out to be vocational - most engineering graduates, for example, are not engineers but entrepreneurs. The same goes for most law and politics graduates, who owe their fortunes, not to practicing their professions, but climbing the ranks of the financial sector.

With the rise of the tech industry, it is interesting that computer science – a formally overlooked discipline – is on the top 10 list. In future years, as more and more tech entrepreneurs make it big, and undergraduates aim to imitate the successes of Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, it will probably move further up the list.

MBA or School of Life?

So, is an MBA worth the money? Anecdotal evidence is in no short supply: MBA sceptics frequently quote Richard Branson, the dyslexic school dropout, or Bill Gates who left Harvard because he was more interested in tinkering with computers than studying. However, MBAs are gaining popularity and most top City jobs require one. 

WealthInsight’s research found that 12.8 per cent of the studied millionaires have an MBA, whereas just over 1 per cent did not attend, or dropped out of university. For those Branson supporters, it is interesting to note that 4.5 per cent more millionaires have a PhD than no degree at all.

However, that is not the end of the story. Looking at what these MBA graduate and drop outs did afterwards throws up some interesting conclusions: MBA graduates were more likely to end up earning a salary in a financial firm, while most of those who did not attend, or dropped out of university, became entrepreneurs, mostly in the media sector. The most popular degrees among millionaires at postgraduate level are as follows:

1. MBA
2. Law
3. Engineering
4. Economics
5. Finance
6. Management
7. Computer Science
8. Medicine
9. Accounting
10. Mathematics

“Transferable skills” is one of those nouveau corporate terms that interviewees fear and recruiters abuse, but can it be applicable when it comes to asking how one monetises a degree. Certainly there is a theme that can be plucked from all this: learning numbers at university is useful for amassing a personal fortune. That is why the sciences dominate the top 10 subjects studied. But don’t despair if your undergraduate is in art history and not accounting. Further down WealthInsight’s list are all the humanities: art, English, archaeology, architecture and so on.

While some of the world’s best-paid jobs require MBAs, remember that most of the world’s most wealthy individuals are entrepreneurs. Whether or not anthropology teaches the “transferable skills” that an investment bank requires is a matter for debate, but the subject is certainly no hindrance for those with a business idea.

The campus at Notre Dame University. Photograph: Getty Images.

Oliver Williams is an analyst at WealthInsight and writes for VRL Financial News

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Let's face it: supporting Spurs is basically a form of charity

Now, for my biggest donation yet . . .

I gazed in awe at the new stadium, the future home of Spurs, wondering where my treasures will go. It is going to be one of the architectural wonders of the modern world (football stadia division), yet at the same time it seems ancient, archaic, a Roman ruin, very much like an amphitheatre I once saw in Croatia. It’s at the stage in a new construction when you can see all the bones and none of the flesh, with huge tiers soaring up into the sky. You can’t tell if it’s going or coming, a past perfect ruin or a perfect future model.

It has been so annoying at White Hart Lane this past year or so, having to walk round walkways and under awnings and dodge fences and hoardings, losing all sense of direction. Millions of pounds were being poured into what appeared to be a hole in the ground. The new stadium will replace part of one end of the present one, which was built in 1898. It has been hard not to be unaware of what’s going on, continually asking ourselves, as we take our seats: did the earth move for you?

Now, at long last, you can see what will be there, when it emerges from the scaffolding in another year. Awesome, of course. And, har, har, it will hold more people than Arsenal’s new home by 1,000 (61,000, as opposed to the puny Emirates, with only 60,000). At each home game, I am thinking about the future, wondering how my treasures will fare: will they be happy there?

No, I don’t mean Harry Kane, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker – local as well as national treasures. Not many Prem teams these days can boast quite as many English persons in their ranks. I mean my treasures, stuff wot I have been collecting these past 50 years.

About ten years ago, I went to a shareholders’ meeting at White Hart Lane when the embryonic plans for the new stadium were being announced. I stood up when questions were called for and asked the chairman, Daniel Levy, about having a museum in the new stadium. I told him that Man United had made £1m the previous year from their museum. Surely Spurs should make room for one in the brave new mega-stadium – to show off our long and proud history, delight the fans and all those interested in football history and make a few bob.

He mumbled something – fluent enough, as he did go to Cambridge – but gave nothing away, like the PM caught at Prime Minister’s Questions with an unexpected question.

But now it is going to happen. The people who are designing the museum are coming from Manchester to look at my treasures. They asked for a list but I said, “No chance.” I must have 2,000 items of Spurs memorabilia. I could be dead by the time I finish listing them. They’ll have to see them, in the flesh, and then they’ll be free to take away whatever they might consider worth having in the new museum.

I’m awfully kind that way, partly because I have always looked on supporting Spurs as a form of charity. You don’t expect any reward. Nor could you expect a great deal of pleasure, these past few decades, and certainly not the other day at Liverpool when they were shite. But you do want to help them, poor things.

I have been downsizing since my wife died, and since we sold our Loweswater house, and I’m now clearing out some of my treasures. I’ve donated a very rare Wordsworth book to Dove Cottage, five letters from Beatrix Potter to the Armitt Library in Ambleside, and handwritten Beatles lyrics to the British Library. If Beckham and I don’t get a knighthood in the next honours list, I will be spitting.

My Spurs stuff includes programmes going back to 1910, plus recent stuff like the Opus book, that monster publication, about the size of a black cab. Limited editions cost £8,000 a copy in 2007. I got mine free, as I did the introduction and loaned them photographs. I will be glad to get rid of it. It’s blocking the light in my room.

Perhaps, depending on what they want, and they might take nothing, I will ask for a small pourboire in return. Two free tickets in the new stadium. For life. Or longer . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times