How to become a billionaire: where the world’s super-rich went to university

Where should you study if you want to get rich? We have been crunching the numbers, and the results are in
November 7 2016

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How do you get rich? Which college should you attend if you want to make lots of money? Which school churns out the most millionaires and billionaires?  

Well, we aren’t offering any guarantees but we thought we would look at the world’s 500 richest people (according to the 2016 Forbes list of the world’s billionaires) and find out where each and every one of them went to college. For a billionaire alumnus to count towards our total, they must have successfully completed a degree (undergraduate or postgraduate) at that university. Simple. 

Thanks to their successful business schools, Harvard University and Columbia University appear at the top of the billionaire leader board, with Harvard boasting a remarkable 35 alumni among the 500 billionaires. Colombia sits in second place with 12 billionaire alumni and Stanford is third with 10.

Ivy League universities dominate the ranking. The highest non-American institution is the University of Oxford, coming in at joint 12th alongside two American institutions, with four billionaire alumni. More than 90 per cent of the university alumni on the list are male.

Where the top 10 richest people with a degree went to school:

Forbes position Name Net worth Undergraduate Master's PhD
3 Warren Buffett $60.8bn  University of Nebraska-Lincoln Columbia University N/A
4 Carlos Slim Helu $50bn National Autonomous University of Mexico N/A N/A
5 Jeff Bezos $45.2bn Princeton University N/A N/A
8 Michael Bloomberg $40bn Johns Hopkins University Harvard University N/A
=9 Charles Koch $39.6bn Massachusetts Institute of Technology- Massachusetts Institute of Technology N/A
=9 David Koch $39.6bn Massachusetts Institute of Technology- Massachusetts Institute of Technology N/A
12 Larry Page $35.2bn University of Michigan Stanford University Stanford University
13 Sergey Brin $34.4bn Stanford University N/A N/A
14 Bernard Arnault $34bn École Polytechnique N/A N/A
15 Jim Walton $33.6bn University of Arkansas N/A N/A

Scroll down for the list of universities that produce the top earners

Perhaps one of the more surprising things about the Forbes 500 rich list is the number of university dropouts among its ranks. The first and sixth-place positions on the list are held by Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, respectively, both are Harvard dropouts. Larry Ellison, the co-founder of Oracle, who sits in seventh place on the Forbes list, is another, while the world’s second-richest man, Spanish business magnate Amancio Ortega, dropped out of school at the age of 14.

In total, graduates represent more than £3.4 trillion worth of personal wealth in the Forbes 500 rich list. Some 53 per cent of those represented hold an undergraduate qualification, compared with 6.7 per cent worldwide. In addition, more than 18 per cent hold a master’s degree and about 3 per cent have a doctorate-level qualification. Degrees in business and law-related endeavours dominate the list.

Top six universities for producing billionaires

1. Harvard University

Harvard University comes out on top of our ranking with 35 alumni, totalling $309 billion (£249 billion) in combined net worth – more than the entire gross domestic product of the Republic of Ireland. In fact, Harvard has more alumni in the top 500 than the next three universities on the list combined. The highest-ranked alumnus on the list, not including dropouts Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, is former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, worth about $40 billion.

2. Columbia University

Columbia University comes in second on the list, with a total of 12 alumni. Among them is the wealthiest graduate in the world, Warren Buffett, who graduated with a master’s degree in economics in 1951. All in all, Columbia graduates are worth more than $170 billion – barely half that of Harvard, but still more than Algeria’s entire GDP.

3. Stanford University

Next up, Stanford University contributes 10 alumni to this list, with a combined worth of almost $150 billion. Stanford’s highest-ranked alumnus is Google co-founder Larry Page, who holds both a master’s and PhD-level qualification from the institution.

4. Cornell University

Based in the city of Ithaca, New York, Cornell University is one of three in the top six to contribute nine alumni to our ranking. Almost half the university’s billionaire cohort is from outside the US. Dmitry Rybolovlev, who made much of his money selling fertiliser and is now chairman of the French football team AS Monaco, has the highest net worth of any Cornell graduate at $7.7 billion.

4. University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania also contributes nine alumni to the list, primarily owing to the success of its Wharton School of Business. While this list is primarily concerned with graduates, there are a number of famous dropouts from the prestigious institution, such as the previously-mentioned billionaire investor Warren Buffet. Probably the most famous alumnus is Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who graduated from the Wharton School of Business in 1968. His estimated worth is $4.5 billion.

4. Yale University

Last but not least, Yale University also contributes nine alumni to this list. All but one of these alumni attended the university as undergraduates, with a diverse range of degrees between them, including electrical engineering, industrial administration and economics. Famous billionaire alumni of the university include Forrest Mars Jr and his son John Mars, members of the Mars family of chocolate-makers.

Results in full: the top universities for producing billionaires 2016-2017  

Rank University Total billionaire graduates Total wealth of billionaire graduates (billions) Average wealth per billionaire graduate (billions)
1 Harvard University 35 $309.1 $8.8
2 Columbia University 12 $171.7 $14.3
3 Stanford University 10 $149.2 $14.9
=4 Cornell University 9 $38.9 $4.3
=4 University of Pennsylvania 9 $82.6 $9.2
=4 Yale University 9 $45.4 $5.0
=7 New York University 7 $64.0 $9.1
=7 University of Southern California 7 $27.1 $3.9
=9 University of Michigan 6 $68.3 $11.4
=10 University of Texas at Austin 5 $39.3 $7.9
=10 Michigan State University 5 $29.0 $5.8
=12 University of Missouri 4 $26.2 $6.6
=12 University of California, Berkeley 4 $43.4 $10.9
=12 University of Oxford 4 $28.4 $7.1
=15 École Polytechnique 3 $54.6 $18.2
=15 Johns Hopkins University 3 $49.6 $16.5
=15 Southern Methodist University 3 $15.4 $5.1
=15 London Business School 3 $15.3 $5.1
=15 Fudan University 3 $13.1 $4.4
=15 Rice University 3 $12.3 $4.1
=15 Northwestern University 3 $10.5 $3.5
=15 London School of Economics and Political Science 3 $33.5 $11.2
=15 University of Waterloo 3 $19.7 $6.6
=15 University of California, Los Angeles 3 $13.9 $4.6
=25 Princeton University 2 $72.2 $36.1
=25 Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2 $60.0 $30.0
=25 Moscow State Institute of International Relations 2 $24.6 $12.3
=25 Federal University of Rio de Janeiro 2 $24.3 $12.2
=25 Waseda University 2 $24.2 $12.1
=25 Shenzhen University 2 $22.5 $11.3
=25 Moscow State University of Railway Engineering 2 $20.1 $10.1
=25 National University of Science and Technology (MISiS) 2 $20.0 $10.0
=25 Vanderbilt University 2 $20.0 $10.0
=25 University of Milan 2 $19.6 $9.8
=25 Far Eastern University 2 $16.9 $8.5
=25 Wayne State University 2 $16.9 $8.5
=25 North Carolina State University 2 $16.0 $8.0
=25 University of the Witwatersrand 2 $15.6 $7.8
=25 George Washington University 2 $15.2 $7.6
=25 University of British Columbia 2 $15.2 $7.6
=25 Carnegie Mellon University 2 $14.7 $7.4
=25 Plekhanov Russian Academy of Economics 2 $14.1 $7.1
=25 Ohio State University 2 $13.1 $6.6
=25 University of Otago 2 $12.8 $6.4
=25 University of Mumbai 2 $12.4 $6.2
=25 Keio University 2 $10.9 $5.5
=25 Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education 2 $10.4 $5.2
=25 University of Mannheim 2 $9.8 $4.9
=25 Dartmouth College 2 $9.7 $4.9
=25 Santa Clara University 2 $9.2 $4.6
=25 University of Toronto 2 $8.8 $4.4
=25 University of Virginia 2 $8.5 $4.3
=25 Claremont McKenna College 2 $8.3 $4.2
=25 Bowdoin College 2 $7.9 $4.0
=25 Central South University 2 $7.9 $4.0
=25 Rhode Island School of Design 2 $6.6 $3.3
=25 University of Arkansas 2 $65.5 $32.8
=58 University of Hamburg 1 $15.4 $15.4
=58 LMU Munich 1 $15,4 $15.4
=58 Vienna University of Economics and Business 1 $13.2 $13.2
=58 Hobart and William Smith Colleges 1 $13.1 $13.1
=58 University of Memphis 1 $12.7 $12.7
=58 Imperial College London 1 $12.5 $12.5
=58 Lund University 1 $12.5 $12.5
=58 Leiden University 1 $12.3 $12.3
=58 University of Pittsburgh 1 $11.4 $11.4
=58 Mechanical Institute of St. Petersburg 1 $11.4 $11.4
=58 PSG College of Technology 1 $11.1 $11.1
=58 Clark University 1 $11.1 $11.1
=58 Peking University 1 $11.0 $11.0
=58 University at Buffalo 1 $11.0 $11.0
=58 Leningrad Engineering-Economical Institute 1 $10.9 $10.9
=58 Northumbria University 1 $10.9 $10.9
=58 University of Economics 1 $10.6 $10.6
=58 Moscow Transportation Engineering Institute 1 $10.5 $10.5
=58 Colorado College 1 $10.4 $10.4
=58 Pace University 1 $10.0 $10.0
=58 Northwestern Oklahoma State University 1 $10.0 $10.0
=58 Wuhan University 1 $9.8 $9.8
=58 University of Kansas 1 $9.7 $9.7
=58 University of Denver 1 $9.7 $9.7
=58 Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration 1 $9.3 $9.3
=58 Siberian Metallurgic Institute 1 $9.3 $9.3
=58 University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire 1 $9.3 $9.3
=58 University of Western Ontario 1 $9.3 $9.3
=58 Azerbaijan State Oil Academy 1 $8.9 $8.9
=58 National University of Colombia 1 $8.9 $8.9
=58 Babson College 1 $8.6 $8.6
=58 Brihan Maharashtra College of Commerce 1 $8.5 $8.5
=58 St. Xavier's College, Kolkata 1 $8.5 $8.5
=58 University of Electronic Science and Technology of China 1 $8.1 $8.1
=58 Diponegoro University 1 $8.1 $8.1
=58 Perm Medical Institute 1 $7.7 $7.7
=58 Yonsei University 1 $7.7 $7.7
=58 ISG Business School 1 $7.6 $7.6
=58 Moscow Finance Institute 1 $7.6 $7.6
=58 University of Melbourne 1 $7.4 $7.4
=58 Washington University 1 $7.3 $7.3
=58 University of Leeds 1 $7.3 $7.3
=58 Tufts University 1 $7.2 $7.2
=58 Nanjing University 1 $7.2 $7.2
=58 University of Calcutta 1 $7.0 $7.0
=58 University of Cincinnati 1 $6.6 $6.6
=58 Bard College 1 $6.4 $6.4
=58 University of Santiago de Compostela 1 $6.4 $6.4
=58 Renmin University of China 1 $6.3 $6.3
=58 INSEAD 1 $6.1 $6.1
=58 Heidelberg University 1 $6.1 $6.1
=58 ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich 1 $6.1 $6.1
=58 California Institute of Technology 1 $6.0 $6.0
=58 Seoul National University 1 $6.0 $6.0
=58 Saint Petersburg Law Institute 1 $5.9 $5.9
=58 South China University of Technology 1 $5.9 $5.9
=58 University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign 1 $5.9 $5.9
=58 Amherst College 1 $5.9 $5.9
=58 Dzhambulsky Technological Institute 1 $5.9 $5.9
=58 Finance Academy 1 $5.9 $5.9
=58 Gubkin Russian State University of Oil and Gas 1 $5.9 $5.9
=58 Stellenbosch University 1 $5.8 $5.8
=58 Stockholm University 1 $5.7 $5.7
=58 Boston College 1 $5.7 $5.7
=58 Université Paris X Nanterre 1 $5.7 $5.7
=58 Kuban State University 1 $5.7 $5.7
=58 Radcliffe College 1 $5.7 $5.7
=58 Panjab University 1 $5.7 $5.7
=58 University College Dublin 1 $5.7 $5.7
=58 School of Business, Economics and Law 1 $5.7 $5.7
=58 University of Cologne 1 $5.6 $5.6
=58 Hitotsubashi University 1 $5.6 $5.6
=58 National Autonomous University of Mexico 1 $5.5 $5.5
=58 University of Birmingham 1 $5.5 $5.5
=58 Eastern Michigan University 1 $5.4 $5.4
=58 East China Normal University 1 $5.4 $5.4
=58 University of Valencia 1 $5.4 $5.4
=58 Institute of Physical Culture 1 $5.3 $5.3
=58 City, University of London 1 $5.1 $5.1
=58 De La Salle University 1 $5.0 $5.0
=58 University of Arkansas 1 $5.0 $5.0
=58 University of California, San Diego 1 $5.0 $5.0
=58 University of Indonesia 1 $4.9 $4.9
=58 University of Iowa 1 $4.8 $4.8
=58 Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University 1 $4.8 $4.8
=58 Calvin College 1 $4.7 $4.7
=58 University Malaya 1 $4.7 $4.7
=58 Chinese Academy of Social Sciences 1 $4.7 $4.7
=58 Tianjin University 1 $4.7 $4.7
=58 Lomonosov Moscow State University 1 $4.6 $4.6
=58 University of Tours 1 $4.6 $4.6
=58 Boston University 1 $4.5 $4.5
=58 University of Buenos Aires 1 $4.5 $4.5
=58 Ural Polytechnic Institute 1 $4.5 $4.5
=58 Tatung University 1 $4.5 $4.5
=58 Technical University of Darmstadt 1 $4.5 $4.5
=58 Beijing Non-Ferrous Research Institute 1 $4.4 $4.4
=58 Hanyang University 1 $4.3 $4.3
=58 Tulane University 1 $4.3 $4.3
=58 Wenzhou University 1 $4.2 $4.2
=58 University of Delhi 1 $4.2 $4.2
=58 University of California, Hastings 1 $4.1 $4.1
=58 University of Houston 1 $4.1 $4.1
=58 Hosei University 1 $4.0 $4.0
=58 Tashkent University 1 $4.0 $4.0
=58 Pennsylvania State University 1 $4.0 $4.0
=58 Vassar College 1 $3.9 $3.9
=58 Washington and Lee University 1 $3.9 $3.9
=58 Northern Illinois University 1 $3.9 $3.9
=58 VU University Amsterdam 1 $3.9 $3.9
=58 University of Sheffield 1 $3.8 $3.8
=58 Radford University 1 $3.8 $3.8
=58 Stockholm School of Economics 1 $3.8 $3.8
=58 Drury University 1 $3.8 $3.8
=58 Colorado State University 1 $3.8 $3.8
=58 University of Miami 1 $3.7 $3.7
=58 University at Buffalo 1 $3.7 $3.7
=58 University of Haifa 1 $3.7 $3.7
=58 University of Chicago 1 $3.7 $3.7
=58 Yeshiva University 1 $3.7 $3.7
=58 Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology 1 $3.6 $3.6
=58 École Nationale Supérieure du Pétrole et des Moteurs 1 $3.6 $3.6
=58 DePauw University 1 $3.6 $3.6
=58 Brooklyn College 1 $3.6 $3.6
=58 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 1 $3.6 $3.6
=58 McPherson College 1 $3.6 $3.6
=58 American University 1 $3.6 $3.6
=58 Russian State University of Physical Education, Sport, Youth and Tourism 1 $3.6 $3.6
=58 University of Greenwich 1 $3.6 $3.6
=58 Adam Mickiewicz University 1 $3.6 $3.6
=58 National Technical University of Athens 1 $3.5 $3.5
=58 Gujarat University 1 $3.5 $3.5
=58 Williams College 1 $3.5 $3.5
=58 California State University, Long Beach 1 $3.5 $3.5
=58 Pepperdine University 1 $3.5 $3.5
=58 Iowa State University 1 $3.5 $3.5
=58 King Saud University 1 $3.4 $3.4
=58 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 1 $3.4 $3.4
=58 Ca' Foscari University of Venice 1 $3.4 $3.4
=58 Miami University 1 $3.4 $3.4
=58 San Diego State University 1 $3.4 $3.4
=58 Georgia Southern University 1 $3.3 $3.3
=58 University of Notre Dame 1 $3.3 $3.3
=58 Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics 1 $3.3 $3.3
=58 Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey 1 $3.3 $3.3
=58 Ohio Northern University 1 $3.3 $3.3
=58 University of South Carolina 1 $3.3 $3.3
=58 Shanghai Jiao Tong University 1 $3.3 $3.3
=58 University of Erlangen-Nuremberg 1 $3.3 $3.3
=58 Technical University of Munich 1 $3.3 $3.3
=58 Tsinghua University 1 $3.3 $3.3
=58 University of Nebraska-Lincoln 1 $60.8 $60.8
=58 National Autonomous University of Mexico 1 $50.0 $50.0
=58 Trinity University 1 $32.3 $32.3
=58 Liaoning University 1 $28.7 $28.7
=58 University of Oregon 1 $24.4 $24.4
=58 University of Cambridge 1 $23.8 $23.8
=58 Bryn Mawr College 1 $23.4 $23.4
=58 Stockholm University 1 $20.8 $20.8
=58 Cheung Kong University 1 $20.5 $20.5
=58 Hangzhou Normal University 1 $20.5 $20.5
=58 Institute of Chemical Technology 1 $19.3 $19.3
=58 International Institute for Management Development 1 $18.5 $18.5
=58 Duke University 1 $18.1 $18.1
=58 University of St Gallen 1 $18.1 $18.1
=58 Washington State University 1 $17.5 $17.5
=58 Syracuse University 1 $17.3 $17.3
=58 Long Island University 1 $15.6 $15.6
=58 Karlsruhe Institute of Technology 1 $15.6 $15.6
=58 Al-Azhar University 1 $15.4 $15.4
=58 University of Washington 1 $15.1 $15.1
=58 SUPAERO 1 $14.7 $14.7
=58 Samara Institute of Civil Engineering 1 $14.4 $14.4
=58 Polytechnic University of Milan 1 $13.4 $13.4

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