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Have you ever wondered what it takes to become a successful CEO? Popular advice touts the success of risk-takers like Michael Dell and Mark Zuckerberg, famous tech CEOs who dropped out of college.

Meredith is Editor-in-Chief at Fundera. Specializing in financial advice for small business owners, Meredith is a current and past contributor to Yahoo!, Amex OPEN Forum, Fox Business, SCORE, AllBusiness and more

Meredith Wood

Editor-in-Chief, Fundera

However, there’s no clear path to the top. While some CEOs are famed for lacking a formal education, the majority have taken a more traditional path.

That’s right, if you want a C-suite title, you should probably get a degree. Without a diploma, it’s nearly impossible to reach the top of the corporate ladder unless you are a company founder with plenty of investors and funding. But where is the best place to get a degree?

It turns out the university that churns out the most CEOs is, no surprise, Harvard University. Next on the list is University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, and Oxford. The University of Texas at Austin produces the most CEOs of any public university.

This infographic by Fundera explains more about the education of top CEOs. It includes statistics on what top executives studied in college, where they went, and what level of degree they earned.

However, you don’t need to go to a top university to make it to the top. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma. Walt Disney attended a community college in Missouri. While a prestigious university can definitely spiffy up a resume, it’s far from required. A positive attitude, fair leadership, and perseverance transcend reputation.

Becoming the Boss

One thing is certain: success is not easy work, but investing your time and energy now will pay off later. These are some quotes from some of the most successful folks in business on how they got their career off the ground, be it through a college degree, perseverance, or both.

“[…] Earning a college degree gave me the courage to keep on dreaming. I can’t give you any secret recipe for success. But my own experience suggests that it is possible to start from nothing and achieve even beyond your dreams.” – Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO

“You have to go to college. You have to get your degree. Because the one thing people can’t take away from you is your education. And it is worth the investment.” – Michelle Obama, former First Lady

“I got a wonderful college education. I went to Harvard. In those four years, I accumulated a lot of knowledge, but I also created a kind of habit of learning that has stayed with me my whole life.” – John Lithgow, 21-time award-winning actor

“If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.” – Steve Jobs, Apple Co-founder

“I never dreamed about success, I worked for it.” – Estée Lauder, Estée Lauder Co-founder

So, do you need a degree to become a successful CEO? The short answer is, probably. Going to college not only gives you an educational foundation to build your life upon but opens doors to unique opportunities and connections you can’t get elsewhere. Although, entering a career with passion, charisma, and tenacity will take you far no matter your background.

Do You Need a Degree to Become a successful CEO
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