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

Photo: Getty Images
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What do Labour's lost voters make of the Labour leadership candidates?

What does Newsnight's focus group make of the Labour leadership candidates?

Tonight on Newsnight, an IpsosMori focus group of former Labour voters talks about the four Labour leadership candidates. What did they make of the four candidates?

On Andy Burnham:

“He’s the old guard, with Yvette Cooper”

“It’s the same message they were trying to portray right up to the election”​

“I thought that he acknowledged the fact that they didn’t say sorry during the time of the election, and how can you expect people to vote for you when you’re not actually acknowledging that you were part of the problem”​

“Strongish leader, and at least he’s acknowledging and saying let’s move on from here as opposed to wishy washy”

“I was surprised how long he’d been in politics if he was talking about Tony Blair years – he doesn’t look old enough”

On Jeremy Corbyn:

"“He’s the older guy with the grey hair who’s got all the policies straight out of the sixties and is a bit of a hippy as well is what he comes across as” 

“I agree with most of what he said, I must admit, but I don’t think as a country we can afford his principles”

“He was just going to be the opposite of Conservatives, but there might be policies on the Conservative side that, y’know, might be good policies”

“I’ve heard in the paper he’s the favourite to win the Labour leadership. Well, if that was him, then I won’t be voting for Labour, put it that way”

“I think he’s a very good politician but he’s unelectable as a Prime Minister”

On Yvette Cooper

“She sounds quite positive doesn’t she – for families and their everyday issues”

“Bedroom tax, working tax credits, mainly mum things as well”

“We had Margaret Thatcher obviously years ago, and then I’ve always thought about it being a man, I wanted a man, thinking they were stronger…  she was very strong and decisive as well”

“She was very clear – more so than the other guy [Burnham]”

“I think she’s trying to play down her economics background to sort of distance herself from her husband… I think she’s dumbing herself down”

On Liz Kendall

“None of it came from the heart”

“She just sounds like someone’s told her to say something, it’s not coming from the heart, she needs passion”

“Rather than saying what she’s going to do, she’s attacking”

“She reminded me of a headteacher when she was standing there, and she was quite boring. She just didn’t seem to have any sort of personality, and you can’t imagine her being a leader of a party”

“With Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham there’s a lot of rhetoric but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction behind what they’re saying. There seems to be a lot of words but no action.”

And, finally, a piece of advice for all four candidates, should they win the leadership election:

“Get down on your hands and knees and start praying”

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.