In the competitive job market, students who majored in liberal arts may ask themselves if their degree was “worth it.” This is often because of a common
Just ask these current and former CEOs who successfully rose to the top of their organizations, dispelling doubts about the value of a liberal arts education.
1. Susan Wojcicki, Former CEO at YouTube
Studied History and Literature at Harvard University
Susan Wojcicki’s upbringing fostered a diverse range of interests, thanks to her teacher parents who encouraged exploration over a strict path. She embarked on her academic journey at Harvard University, where her studies in history and literature eventually led her to explore computer science during her senior year.
In a significant turn of events, Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, operated their budding company from Wojcicki’s garage when it was formally incorporated in 1998. She assumed the role of Google’s inaugural marketing manager, making essential contributions to various ventures, including Google Images, Analytics, AdWords, and the acquisition of YouTube for $1.65 billion. In 2014, Wojcicki assumed the role of CEO at YouTube, where she has earned recognition as “the most important person in advertising,” “the most powerful woman on the internet,” and was featured on Time’s list of the most influential people in 2015.
“I wasn’t focused on revenue. I was focused on whether this will make a difference in people’s lives. What I saw was [that] this is something that’s providing information for people in a better way.”
2. Oprah Winfrey, CEO Harpo Productions and the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN)
Studied Communications at Tennessee State University
Oprah Winfrey, the renowned talk show host, actress, author, billionaire, and CEO, initially studied communications at Tennessee State University before embarking on her illustrious career.
She began as a news anchor in Nashville and Baltimore. Winfrey’s breakthrough arrived in 1983 when she secured her own local Chicago show, which rapidly soared to number one and extended to an hour-long format. Subsequently, she built an extensive media empire, established herself as one of the world’s most accomplished figures, and utilized her platform to initiate and support numerous charitable causes.
Throughout her remarkable journey, Oprah always emphasized the significance of education, attributing much of her success to it, and advocating for education, particularly for young women worldwide.
3. Stewart Butterfield, Former CEO at Slack
Studied Philosophy at University of Victoria
Stewart Butterfield’s early life was marked by living off the grid in the Canadian wilderness and self-learning computer programming from a young age. Despite an early foray into web design, he pursued a Liberal Arts degree in Philosophy at the University of Victoria during the nascent days of the World Wide Web. Concurrently, his love for jam bands led to creating one of the first Usenet newsgroups. Throughout the early 2000s, he ventured into multiple businesses, including founding Flickr.com. In 2013, Butterfield launched Slack, the instant messaging service, which rapidly secured $340 million in funding and earned recognition as one of Inc. Magazine’s Companies of the Year. Butterfield attributes much of his entrepreneurial success to his liberal arts education.
“Studying philosophy taught me two things. I learned how to write really clearly. I learned how to follow an argument all the way down, which is invaluable in running meetings. And when I studied the history of science, I learned about the ways that everyone believes something is true–like the old notion of some kind of ether in the air propagating gravitational forces–until they realized that it wasn’t true.”
4. John Mackey, Former CEO at Whole Foods
Studied Philosophy and Religion at the University of Texas at Austin
John Mackey’s college years were a bit atypical. He didn’t bother with a traditional liberal arts degree; instead, he enrolled in classes that really sparked his interests, and if something seemed dull, he’d drop it. During his time at the University of Texas, Mackey racked up over 120 hours of electives, but here’s the kicker: not a single one of them had anything to do with business! He much preferred courses in fields like philosophy, religion, history, and world literature – the stuff that truly intrigued him.
Inspired by his time in a vegetarian commune, Mackey and his girlfriend launched SaferWay, a health food store that merged with Clarksville Natural Grocery just two years later, forming Whole Foods. What sets Mackey apart is his unconventional path to success. He attributes his achievements to his lack of formal business training and his deep-rooted focus on liberal arts.
“I actually think that has worked to my advantage in business over the years. As an entrepreneur, I had nothing to unlearn and new possibilities for innovation.”
5. Howard Schultz, Former CEO at Starbucks
Studied Communications at Northern Michigan University
Howard Schultz’s journey to success began in Brooklyn, New York, where he grew up in a working-class family. As a first-generation college student, Schultz earned a football scholarship to attend Northern Michigan University. While maintaining a solid B-average, he didn’t fully apply himself in his studies unless it was for exams or presentations.
After completing his undergraduate education without a clear post-graduation plan, Schultz dabbled in some business courses but still lacked a clear sense of direction. He returned to New York and explored various sales jobs while awaiting that elusive spark of inspiration.
In 1982, Howard Schultz joined Starbucks as their Director of Marketing, marking the start of a 26-year tenure that led him to the position of CEO. Schultz attributes his liberal arts education as the foundation that equipped him with the skills to lead the world’s largest coffee chain.
“It took years before I found my passion in life, but getting out of Brooklyn and earning a college degree gave me the courage to keep on dreaming. I can’t give you any secret recipe for success. But my own experience suggests that it is possible to start from nothing and achieve even beyond your dreams.”
Your Liberal Arts degree is worth it for so many reasons.
Liberal arts students have every reason to take pride in their degree path they’ve chosen. Pursuing a field that falls under liberal arts will not only give you the skills necessary to become an outstanding employee in the future, but it will also nurture the qualities that can transform you into a leader in a wide range of career fields beyond Liberal Arts.
When combined with a study abroad program or an international internship, a liberal arts degree can be a powerful tool for kickstarting the career of your dreams — and we’re here to help. With a range of program options and destinations to choose from (including the possibility of a remote internship!), the path to advancing your career is one click away.