Power Players

From Jeff Bezos to Mark Cuban: What some of the world's richest billionaires studied in college

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are friends and leading voices promoting philanthropy.
Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris

Most billionaires have a college degree. And in the U.S., the technology is industry is "a major wealth" engine and one of the top industries to produce billionaires, according to the Wealth-X's 2019 Billionaire Census report.

So if you aspire to be a billionaire one day, does it matter what you study in college? Maybe so. Among the world's top 10 richest people, half studied engineering or computer science.

But some billionaires did study other things. Here's what some of America's most famous billionaires studied in school.

Jeff Bezos

Net worth: $125.8 billion
What he studied: electrical engineering and computer science

Before he became CEO of Amazon (and the world's richest person), Bezos graduated from Princeton University in 1986 with a degree in electrical engineering and computer science, after changing his major from physics.

Had Amazon not worked out, Bezos would have put his degree to good use: "I would be an extremely happy software programmer somewhere," he said at a fireside chat in India on Jan. 14. He would, however, be a lot less rich – today, the average salary for a software programmer is around $92,000 per year, according to Glassdoor.

Bill Gates

Net worth: $112.1 billion
What he studied: pre-law

Gates attended Harvard University for two years before he dropped out in 1975 to co-found Microsoft with classmate Paul Allen. While at Harvard, he studied law, but also enrolled in mathematics and graduate level computer science courses.

Thirty years after dropping out, Harvard awarded Gates with an honorary law degree.

However, if he were to enroll now, Gates said he would study a different subject: "I would go into software, which today that means going into artificial intelligence," he said during a Q&A with Harvard students in 2018.

Gates has also recommended studying science, engineering and economics during a 2016 interview with LinkedIn editor in chief Daniel Roth.

Mark Cuban

Net worth: $4.1 billion
What he studied: management and administration

Mark Cuban on ABC's "Shark Tank"
Jessica Brooks

After attending night classes at the University of Pittsburgh during his junior year of high school, Mark Cuban was able to graduate a year early, according to podcast "Your Turn with Corby Davidson," and start his freshman year at the University of Pittsburgh at 17.

After a year, Cuban transferred to Indiana University in Bloomington, because it had the cheapest tuition among the top 10 business programs at the time. Cuban graduated from its Kelley School of Business with a bachelor's degree in management and administration.

Although Cuban supports getting a college degree, "I am not a fan of getting MBAs," he said at a Turning Point USA event in 2018.

"There are so many online ways to learn and I think you can get far more experience in the workforce and learn more and be in a better position to succeed," he said. "[T]here are so many online MBA equivalents that if you are disciplined enough, you can do it for a lot less money and still get a quality education."

Sara Blakely

Net worth: $1.1 billion
What she studied: legal communications

Spanx founder and CEO Sara Blakely studied legal communications at Florida State University.

After receiving her bachelor's degree in 1993, Blakely wanted to follow in her father's footsteps and become a trial attorney — but things didn't go as planned. Blakely took the LSAT exam twice but scored poorly both times, despite studying her "a-- off," according to "Getting There: A Book of Mentors."

Warren Buffett

Net worth: $89.8 billion
What he studied: business administration and economics

Warren Buffett originally enrolled at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania at age 16 and studied business, but he transferred to the University of Nebraska to finish his undergraduate degree in three years.

"I didn't want to go to college," Buffett told Bloomberg in 2016. "After the first year [at Wharton] I wanted to quit and go into business. My dad said, 'Well, give it one more year.' So I went the second year, and I said 'I still want to quit.'"

Buffett graduated and has spoken highly of his time at Nebraska: ″[T]here wasn't a class that disappointed me," he said in a 2001 article in Nebraska Business magazine.

After being rejected by Harvard Business School, Buffett attended Columbia University and received a master's degree in economics.

"If you are interested in business, or likely to be in business, an MBA is very useful," he said in 2001.

Ray Dalio

Net worth: $18.7 billion
What he studied: accounting

Before founding Bridgewater Associates, the world's largest hedge fund, Dalio attended Long Island University and studied accounting. He then received his master's in business administration from Harvard Business School in 1973.

But his advice for college students isn't all about what to study: "Party like crazy and don't make the grades your highest priority," Dalio said on Reddit in 2019. "Make the friendships and your experiences most important."

Mark Zuckerberg

Net worth: $77.6 billion
What he studied: computer science and psychology

Zuckerberg studied computer science and psychology at Harvard University before dropping out to pursue Facebook.

And the CEO had an interest in computers from an early age. At around 12-years-old, Zuckerberg coded Zucknet, a messaging program for his father's dental office, he said on the Masters of Scale podcast in 2017.

As a high school student at the Phillips Exeter Academy, Zuckerberg and his friend, Adam D'Angelo, created Synapse, an MP3 player "that would keep track of every song the user played on a computer" and make targeted playlists, according to The Harvard Crimson.

Huge companies, including Microsoft, wanted to buy the online MP3 player, but Zuckerberg and D'Angelo declined. The two wanted to go to college.

Oprah Winfrey

Net worth: $2.7 billion
What she studied: speech communications and performing arts

Winfrey earned a full scholarship to Tennessee State University, where she studied speech communications and performing arts before graduating in 1986.

Winfrey's advice to other graduates is that "the truth is, success is a process," and life is about making decisions, she said in a commencement speech to the Colorado College Class of 2019 in May.

She also advised graduates to get a job that "pays your rent."

"You do need a job. And may I say, it doesn't have to be your life's mission, or your greatest passion, but a job that pays your rent and lets you move out of your parents house — because yes, they are tired of taking care of you, and they're hoping this education will pay off," she said.

"And it will in ways that you can't imagine."

All net worth estimates are according to Forbes' Real Time Billionaires List.

Like this story? Like CNBC Make It on Facebook!

Don't miss:

VIDEO1:0901:09
Why the best time to apply for college financial aid is now
make it

Stay in the loop

Sign Up

About Us

Learn More

Follow Us

CNBC.COM