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

Getty
Show Hide image

A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear