Most leaders majored in the liberal arts

Only 14% of leaders majored in engineering

A new survey suggests leaders in the public and private sector are most likely to have a liberal arts degree—despite the recent focus on degrees in business and technology, Inside Higher Ed's Scott Jaschik reports.

They study was conducted by the British Council and collected information on 1,709 leaders in 30 countries. Leaders were considered "those who are in a position of influence within their organization and their sectors more broadly."

Survey findings

Overall, 44% of leaders had a social science degree and an additional 11% studied the humanities. The strong representation of the liberal arts among leaders comes as some are questioning the value of such degrees. For instance, a Republican-sponsored bill in congress would significantly curtail federal spending on social science.

Why employers love liberal arts graduates

"The world needs leaders who can handle complexity and give diverse perspectives on the challenges we all face," says Rebecca Hughes, director of education at the British Council. "[A]cademic training that encourages [leaders] to explore the human dimensions behind empirical data" is strong preparation for leadership positions, she added.

Even so, 22% of leaders had a professional degree in addition to an undergraduate one, usually in business. International experience was also relatively common; around 46% of leaders say they have experience abroad. However, among leaders in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, only 25% of leaders had international experience.

Two other common fields of study among leaders were business and engineering, with 14% and 12% respectively. Male leaders were more than twice as likely to major in engineering as women, while the inverse was true for the humanities (Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 6/1).

Can colleges teach leadership? Join the conversation on Twitter and message us @eab_daily


  • Manage Your Events
  • Saved webpages and searches
  • Manage your subscriptions
  • Update personal information
  • Invite a colleague