MAR 17, 2020 • 6 min read
There is no doubt that the track to success for many of the world’s most powerful women has been carved by impressive post-graduate degrees at some of the world’s best business, medical, engineering and law schools. However, what most people don’t realise is that these women started along their path to success as teenagers - straight out of school.
The US’s eight Ivy League universities recognise the importance of educating young women with an eye to their future success and as such, most Ivy faculties - which include some of the best professors and lecturers on the planet - teach students from their freshman year onwards with a determined focus on undergraduate education.
Spanning industries as diverse as finance, retail, entertainment, philanthropy, medicine, law and politics, here is a list of just some of the world’s most powerful women who completed an Ivy League undergraduate degree and went on the change the world!
Michelle Obama followed in her brother Craig’s footsteps when she attended Princeton University (her brother was a Princeton basketball recruit), eventually majoring in sociology. In 1985 she graduated cum laude and then went on to study law at Harvard Law School. Obama, a constant advocate for education, health care and gender equality last year launched the Global Girls Alliance, a new Obama Foundation program that seeks to empower adolescent girls around the world through education.
Back in 1999 Susan Wojcicki became the 16th employee of a (then) small company called ‘Google’. The Harvard undergrad, who majored in history and literature, advocated for Google’s $1.65 million acquisition of YouTube in 2006. Since becoming CEO of YouTube in 2014, she has built the video service’s worth to $90 billion. Wojcicki is also an advocate for paid family leave and gender equity in Silicon Valley (she was Google's first employee to take maternity leave) and is active in empowering young women to pursue careers in STEM.
Social networking giant, Facebook invited Sheryl Sandberg - the first woman onto their board - in 2012. An economics major at Harvard College, Sandberg graduated summa cum laude in 1991 and was also awarded the John H Williams prize for being the top graduate student in economics. At Harvard Business School she co-founded an organization called Women in Economics and Government. Sandberg has also served as a board member for companies such as Starbucks and The Walt Disney Company. Her current net worth is estimated at $1 billion.
The Israeli born Safra Catz, who moved to the US as a child, was named the 7th on Fortune’s Most Powerful Women list last year. The co-CEO of technology giant Oracle, Catz completed her undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania’s coveted Wharton School of Business before gaining a law degree from UPenn’s Law school in 1986. In 2018 she was estimated to be the highest paid female CEO in the world, earning approximately $40.7 million.
The first Dartmouth alumni elected to US Congress, Kirsten Gillibrand, graduated magna cum laude in 1988. After graduating Law at UCLA in 1991, Gillibrand worked her way up the corporate legal ladder in New York City before entering politics in 2006 and winning the New York congressional district election. An advocate for the protection of abused women and the rights of working families, Gillibrand announced in January 2019 that she will run to be the Democratic candidate in the 2020 presidential election.
This Harvard Business school graduate made Fortune’s most powerful women list in 2015 when, as CEO of America’s largest drug/convenience store chain CVS, she managed over 9,600 retail stores. In 2018 she was ‘poached’ to refashion Department Store conglomerate company Hudson Bay’s (the owner of Saks Fifth Ave etc.) business strategies. In 2014, as CEO of CVS, Foulkes removed cigarettes from all CVS stores in an attempt to move towards a tobacco-free America.
While Emma Watson gained international notoriety for her portrayal of Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, the Brown University English literature major is also universally acknowledged for her work with the UN and specifically her role as spokesperson for the UN’s gender equality HeForShe campaign.
The Princeton grad, who originally wanted to be a doctor, switched to an economics major graduating with honors in 1977. She then went on to graduate with an MBA from Harvard. In 2018, Whitman who served as CEO of global conglomerate Hewlitt Packard announced she was joining forces with Dreamwork’s Jeffrey Kratzenberg to launch a new streaming service for smartphones - Quibi - with investors including Disney, NBCUniversal, Sony, Viacom and AT&T.
Widow of Apple co-founder and former CEO, Steve Jobs, Lauren Powell Jobs graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School with a degree in economics before completing her MBA at Stanford. The former Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs strategist has since founded both the Emerson Collective - which advocates for policies concerning education and immigration reform, social justice and environmental conservation and College Track - which prepares disadvantaged students for college in the US.
Beyond her notoriety as an actress and model, Brooke Shields, who graduated with a major in romance literature from Princeton University in 1988, is also a global advocate for health care and support for women suffering from postpartum depression. In 2007 Shields became an ardent campaigner for the Mother’s Act - a then proposed legislation which aimed at establishing a comprehensive federal commitment to combating postpartum depression through research, education initiatives and voluntarily support service programs. In 2010, the act passed Congress and became law as part of landmark health insurance reform.