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
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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