Now, before we start we should make one thing clear. By no means is this post implying that you must get a degree in order to be successful! There are plenty of examples of highly successful people, like Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson, who achieved huge and global success without having a degree or completing it. We are interested, though, in what those who did complete their academic degrees and then went on to achieve professional success, chose to study.
A research done by the British Council in 2015 compared the educational background of 1,700 world leaders and highly successful people from 30 different countries. 10 of them were also interviewed at length and asked as to what degree do they feel that their academic and educational choices have affected their success later. Here are some of the more interesting results.
Humanities & social science rule
A total of 55%, more than half of the leaders in the study, have opted for a degree in either social sciences (44%) or humanities (11%). There was a correlation between their professional background and the educational one, as those who later went for government jobs were most likely to have studied social sciences, and the leaders who ended up working in non-profit were more likely to study humanities.
A very interesting and also a bit surprising finding is that the younger leaders, meaning under 45 years of age, had a tendency to study social science or humanities, while those over 45 were more likely to have studied STEM (science, technology, engineering or math).
It is important to note that these findings do not suggest that a certain choice might lead to more success, but only that people from different academic backgrounds find themselves in different types of jobs, according to their degree choice.
International experience is highly valuable
Almost half of all the leaders in the research experienced a sort of international experience, whether they studied overseas or had international work experience. In fact, the higher the degree – the more likely it is that the person had international experience. The benefits of such experience according to the leaders are mostly in what they refer to as “soft skills” such as communication, flexibility, understanding of other cultures, and the ability to solve problems.
Don’t underestimate extracurricular activities
Higher education is not just about learning in class, but also about opening your mind to other activities which can later boost your success. The leaders that were interviewed for the research mentioned some extremely helpful skills they learned while in college, but not in the traditional way: sports helped them develop qualities such as competitiveness and discipline, meeting foreign students exposed them to different cultures and the differences between them, and many also mentioned that just being in a studying environment helped spark creativity and entrepreneurship in them.
All of the leaders also mentioned another very important fact. They all used extracurricular activities in order to build their social and professional networks, which are still helping them out in their current professional lives!