The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.
America’s wealthiest have made their fortunes in a wide variety of ways, but there is one thing many of these tycoons have in common: 80% of billionaires picked up a Bachelor’s degree at some point in their lives.
Today’s chart visualizes data from Adview to show the educational paths and early working years of billionaires on the elite Forbes 400 list, a ranking of the 400 wealthiest people in the United States.
In a League of Its Own
Unsurprisingly, many U.S. billionaires got their start at Ivy League schools. Seven out of the top 10 billionaire-producing universities bear that prestigious designation.
Here’s the full count of billionaire graduates from the top 10 universities:
|University||Number of Billionaires||Ivy League?|
|University of Pennsylvania||19||Yes|
|University of Southern California||11||No|
|University of Michigan||6||No|
Billionaire graduates aren’t just limited to Ivy League institutions, however. California’s Stanford and USC also rank highly, having graduated 23 billionaires between them.
What Are the Most Popular Degrees?
Degrees in the fields of economics, finance, and business are obvious springboards into the Forbes 400 list, but it’s interesting to see that many went the arts and social sciences route. Politics, history, English, psychology, and philosophy are also among the ten most popular fields studied.
It’s worth noting that degree classification can vary depending on the university and course in question. For example, a degree in mathematics could be considered a Bachelor of Sciences, or, Bachelor of Arts. Similarly, a Bachelor of Economics, or, a Bachelor of Social Sciences could be awarded to somebody who studied the subject of economics.
The Power of UPenn
While Harvard and Yale are highly coveted educational institutions, it’s the University of Pennsylvania that provides the most fertile breeding ground for billionaires. Here are some notable – and notorious – alumni, including those who attended its prestigious Wharton School:
|Billionaire||Forbes 400 Ranking||Net Worth|
|Warren Buffett*||#3||$88.3 billion|
|Lauren Powell Jobs||#20||$20.5 billion|
|Elon Musk||#24||$19.6 billion|
|Steve Cohen||#36||$13.0 billion|
|Michael Milken||#207||$3.7 billion|
|Donald Trump*||#259||$3.1 billion|
|Steve Wynn||#271||$3.0 billion|
*In their sophomore years, Warren Buffett transferred out to the University of Nebraska, while Donald Trump transferred in from Fordham University.
What are the Most Common First Jobs?
Many billionaires started out as self-employed, or followed in their family’s footsteps:
- 11% of billionaires started at their own company
- 19% of them started at their family company
However, these individuals were excluded from Adview’s analysis. Out of the remaining 330 billionaires, salesperson tops the list of first jobs, narrowly edging out the military category.
While there are many possible paths to financial success in the U.S., only a minority of Americans are likely to reach billionaire status in their lifetimes. That said, studying economics at Wharton certainly wouldn’t hurt their chances.
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