Polygence blog / Education and College Admissions

Think You Need an Ivy League Degree to be a CEO? Think again

1 minute read

Infographic with statistics about where US CEOs have gone to college and that many don't attend ivy league universities.

Even with admissions rates dropping and tuition rising, there’s lots of evidence that a college degree remains a great path to a meaningful career and financial stability. And it’s clear that where you go to college matters in terms of helping you find a good job. A recent study by Jeff Selingo and Jason Seligman through Workday show students who are accepted to top schools then major in business or law get paid 15-20% more than those who study the same things at less selective schools. 

These kinds of statistics–and the extra prestige that comes with being admitted to a top college–can make families feel desperate for admission to an Ivy League school. But even though some are willing to pay $500,000 or more for a college consultant to help achieve these ivy dreams, data shows that a fancy degree isn’t a requirement for professional success. 

But a University of Southern California prof has been tracking CEO degrees for 20 years and says it just isn’t true. In fact, CEOs are more likely to have not attended college at all than to have graduated from an Ivy. Beginning in 1999, Dave Kang, then teaching at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, started tabulating the colleges that CEOs of Fortune 500 companies attended. “The results were stunning,” he told Fortune magazine: 

  • Only 11.8% of 2023 Fortune 100 CEOs attended an Ivy as undergrads

  • Only 9.8% hold an Ivy League MBA

  • Of the 20 CEOs of the nation’s biggest companies by revenue, only 1 attended an Ivy (Amazon’s Andy Jassy, who went to Harvard)

  • 14 of these top 20 CEOs attended public colleges, including Apple’s Tim Cook, who went to Auburn University

  • 75% of these top 20 CEOs do have an MBA or other graduate degree, but the other 25% have none, showing advanced degrees are not a requirement for business success

To read the full article, visit Dr. GP LeBourdais’ LinkedIn newsletter, Prep Talk.