The universities that educate the world’s most powerful women

Analysis by Times Higher Education reveals the institutions that produce the most successful women on the planet

July 18, 2014

Source: LaMarr McDaniel/

What do the US first lady, the chief operating officer of Facebook and the Nigerian minister for finance all have in common?

The answer (or one of the answers, at least) is that they all attended Harvard University in Massachusetts, the most effective university in the world when it comes to producing successful women.

Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala are just three of the 13 Harvard graduates who feature on Forbes’ World’s 100 Most Powerful Women 2014 list, making it the most represented institution – and by some margin. In second place is the University of Pennsylvania, with seven graduates, while Cornell, Stanford and Yale universities have four representatives each.

Times Higher Education has looked into the education histories of the 100 women that make the Forbes list and can now reveal the universities that can lay claim to educating some of the most powerful women in the world. Of the 15 universities that make our list, 13 are in the US, with just one in the UK and one in Singapore.

However, our list reveals that a university education is no prerequisite for success. According to our research, seven of the most powerful women in the world did not attend university at all – including singer Beyoncé Knowles, Queen Elizabeth II and actor Angelina Jolie.

The complete list of the 15 universities that educated the world’s most powerful women is available now on our dedicated World University Rankings website.

Did not attend university, but on the Forbes list of most powerful women

  • Beyoncé Knowles, singer and actor
  • Queen Elizabeth II, head of state of the UK
  • Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of American Vogue
  • Shakira Mebarak, singer-songwriter, record producer
  • Gisele Bündchen, model, actor, producer and the goodwill ambassador for the UN Environment Programme
  • Folorunsho Alakija, founder and owner of Famfa Oil
  • Angelina Jolie, actor, film director, screenwriter, author and UN Special Envoy for Refugee Issues

In addition, a further five of the Forbes top 100 did not finish university.

Did not finish university, but on the Forbes list of most powerful women

  • Sofía Vergara, actor, television host and model
  • Ellen DeGeneres, talk show host, comedian and actor
  • Lady Gaga, singer
  • Lila Tretikov, executive director of the Wikimedia foundation
  • Gina Rinehart, executive chairman of Australian mining firm Hancock Prospecting

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