How to Become a CEO: A Guide for Aspiring High School Students

06/07/202317 minute read
How to Become a CEO: A Guide for Aspiring High School Students

Do you have dreams of running a successful company? Have you been told you have strong leadership skills, but you’re unsure how they translate in the “real world”? Many people dream of becoming the CEO of their own company, but few take the time, energy, and effort to master the critical steps along the way.

While there are many ways to fast-track your way to the top, investing in your education early and learning business and people management skills will give you a firm foundation, helping you stay on top.

What is a Chief Executive Officer (CEO)?

A CEO is the highest-ranking person in a company. They are responsible for the businesses’ overall success. Although they often ask for advice and input from other top-level executives, a CEO makes all final managerial decisions. CEOs are also called presidents, managing directors, and chief executives.

What are the responsibilities of a CEO?

A CEO’s responsibilities differ, depending on the organizational structure and size of the business they run. While a CEO of a smaller company might take a “hands-on” role, a CEO of a larger company typically only deals with high-level decisions and strategies. In general, a CEO leads and executes the long-term strategy, ensuring the longevity and success of the business.

Typical duties of a CEO include:

  • Communicating with shareholders, the board of directors, and the public
  • Developing and leading long-term and short-term strategies
  • Creating implementing company vision and mission
  • Evaluating the work of other executive leaders in the company
  • Setting organizational culture
  • Assessing risks to the company
  • Creating and executing the company’s vision and mission
  • Setting high-level goals for the organization

How much does a CEO earn?

The salary range for a CEO varies depending on several factors, including the company’s size, type, and location. Here are the average salary ranges for the following countries.

Median Starting Salary for CEOs in Australia, UK, and US
Median Starting Salary
AustraliaAUD 249,975 - AUD 692,560
UK£215,009 - £595,686
US$622,300 - $1,060,800

What are the benefits of being a CEO?

Some of the benefits of being a CEO include:

  • Being your own boss
  • Making big decisions and taking your company in the direction you want
  • Being the face of the company
  • Company perks, including profit sharing, expense and entertainment accounts, and use of the business property.
  • Making a direct difference in your field
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Skills that help make a CEO

Successful CEOs often start their first business in high school, succeeding and failing along the way. While not every future CEO starts a business in high school, the invaluable lessons and skills attained early to pave the way to future success.

If you want to succeed as a CEO, you should also have the following key skills:

1. Communication

Strong communication skills are crucial in leadership. In your first few months in the workforce, try to develop your understanding of the appropriate methods of communication throughout the business. This includes face-to-face interactions as well as grammar, structure, style, and tone of emails and online communications.

Find ways to improve your communication skills outside of work hours. Try participating in a workshop or completing a short course. Another habit that many CEOs share is reading every day. Consider joining a book club where you can practice communication skills and read.

2. Strategic, Big Picture Thinking

A CEO is required to understand how to think strategically about the direction of their business. Try and expose yourself to as many areas of the business as possible so you can start understanding how the different departments fit into the big picture.

To help develop management skills early, find a mentor who can guide you through the big decisions companies make. While it’s easy to get caught up in churning out work, take time to reflect on the “why” of what you’re achieving.

3. Listening

While strong communication skills are the backbone of a successful CEO, a truly successful CEO also has powerful listening skills. Effective leaders take time to listen to all voices and make a decision based on what they’ve heard.

Additionally, good leaders don’t have to have all the answers. A good leader places people in positions based on their expertise. They listen to their ideas and trust they can get the job done.

4. Connection-building

CEOs build connections and relationships within their business and with business partners, board members, stakeholders, and others outside the business. They should be able to build, maintain and balance relationships on a personal and professional level.

Develop your networking and relationship-building skills by attending industry networking events and workshops. You might even meet a board member who hires you as their next CEO!

5. Leadership and Management

Start developing your leadership and management skills in high school by getting involved in extracurricular activities that help you improve these traits. Organizing events, starting a group, founding a company, or even volunteering for a charity can help you develop these skills. However, just because you start extracurricular activities in high school doesn’t mean they have to stop once you enter college or the workforce.

Participating in and organizing hobbies and activities beyond your regular work hours will help you continue your personal development as a strong leader, team player, and manager. Additionally, when you take time to switch off from work, it allows you to bring a new perspective into the office, possibly providing you with a new direction or strategies.

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How long does it take to become a CEO?

Every situation is a bit different, but the short answer is most CEOs have at least a bachelor’s degree and five years of management experience before they become a CEO. It is also recommended to have an MBA to become a CEO. Future CEOs gain relevant management experience by either working their way up the corporate ladder or holding progressively higher positions at various companies. Some companies provide development training to help prepare professionals for management positions.

What should I study to become a CEO?

Most CEOs have formal training and work experience along with exceptional leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills. They also hold bachelor’s degrees in fields related to business, including business administration, management, or public administration. Most CEOs also have a master’s degree in business administration, economics, management, or another related degree.

Steps to becoming a Chief Executive Officer

1. Choose the right subjects in high school

If you’re serious about becoming a CEO, you should begin preparing in high school. Run for leadership positions, join your school’s debate team, participate in extracurricular activities, or start your own business. Extracurriculars should involve building skills aligned with CEOs, including decision-making, communication, leadership, managerial, and organizational skills.

Additionally, if your school offers business or management-related classes, you should take as many as possible. At a minimum, you should take the following:

Minimum Prerequisites:

  • Australia/NZ: Business studies
  • UK: Business studies
  • US: Economics

Highly recommended:

  • Australia/NZ: Finance, economics, engineering (VET)
  • UK: Finance, economics
  • US: Finance, business studies

Planning ahead will help you build a good foundation of knowledge and experience and help you achieve your CEO goals faster.

2. Get your undergraduate degree

Nearly every CEO has a bachelor’s degree. Without a degree, you’ll struggle to become the leader of any business. Unless you’ve started your own company, the chance of becoming a CEO without a degree is virtually zero.

While you’d rather climb the corporate ladder than spend four years at a university, a degree is essential, and it will pay off in the long run. Getting a degree shows your future employer that you work hard and manage your time well. It also shows you have leadership skills, initiative, and drive.

Best undergraduate degree for CEOs

There are many ways to become a CEO. Choosing an undergraduate degree from a top university is a great way to start. Here are five of the best undergraduate degrees for anyone hoping to become a CEO


If you have a business degree, you’ll have a better chance of becoming a CEO. With this degree, you’ll learn business basics, study with top-notch business professors, and gain practical experience in the workforce. A business management degree will also teach you about big picture management, not just the day-to-day grind.


There’s a strong argument that studying economics is essential for any hopeful CEO. Economics is all around you. From determining the price of produce to why housing costs vary widely between countries, studying economics gives you an understanding of the world.

Check out our video on the Top 7 Economics Schools in the US

Accounting and Finance

Like business, pursuing a degree in accounting and finance gives you a solid understanding of how business works. The difference is that accounting and finance degrees focus heavily on money and numbers. This degree pairs well with a humanities degree because it shows you can work with numbers and people.

Check out our video on the Top 7 Finance & Accounting Schools in the World

Engineering or Science

While half of Fortune 100 CEOs studied business, economics, or accounting, 27% of the CEOs studied engineering or science, the largest percentage of any one subject. Interestingly, over a quarter of the world’s top CEOs studied engineering or science.

Check out our video on the Top 5 Engineering Schools in the US

Liberal Arts

As business standards progress, employees need to know everything from tech and marketing to analytics. A liberal arts degree helps you gain knowledge in several areas, making you very appealing to future employers.

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3. Get an MBA

After completing your undergraduate degree, you will also need an MBA. We recommend you take your MBA alongside your first graduate job, so you build the necessary skills and experience required to manage a company.

Additionally, becoming a CEO not only depends on what you study but where you study. For this reason, it’s important to be strategic in your university selection. While location matters, it’salso about the quality of your university. For example, a degree from an Ivy League, Oxbridge, or Russell Group university will give you a head start on your path to becoming a CEO. The following is a list of some of the top business schools in the world.

Top MBA Programs to help you become a CEO

1. Stanford

Stanford is an elite university with a strong business major. Twenty-three billionaires on the Forbes 400 list graduated from Stanford, the second most of any college. Their location in Silicon Valley makes this university even more desirable for people who want to become CEOs. Technology companies in need of CEOs pop up regularly in this area.

2. Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

As the world’s first business school, Wharton School has helped thousands of visionaries, inventors, and business executives get their start. Wharton School continues to bring new ideas, deeper insights, and transformative leadership to its classrooms and out into the world.

Crimson Students are 4x more likely to gain admission to Penn.

3. MIT Sloan School of Management

The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to “develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice.”

MIT Sloan School of Management brings together the brightest business minds in the world to tackle some of the most significant issues facing the world today. They offer opportunities for students to experience hands-on learning, engaging people around the world through impactful global experiences.

Crimson Students are 3x more likely to gain admission to MIT.

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4. Harvard Business School

If you want to become a CEO, a degree from Harvard should get you there. Harvard is famous for its world-renowned postgraduate MBA program. However, it’s not just the MBA program that makes it so desirable. Even an undergraduate degree from Harvard makes you an incredibly desirable employee and future CEO.

Harvard is also a great starting point for the world’s billionaires. Twenty-eight billionaires on the Forbes 400 list graduated from Harvard.

5. HEC Paris

Located near the center of Paris, HEC Paris MBA is part of the Paris-Saclay Innovation Cluster, an area designed to unite France’s best hi-tech businesses, universities, and research institutions. Students receive personalized career development assistance, hands-on learning, and unique leadership opportunities through their MBA program.

HEC Paris MBA has graduated more CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies than any other university in Europe. Nearly 4,000 of their graduates are currently CEOs, CFOs, or have founded their own companies.

Honorable Mentions

Oxford and Cambridge

Oxbridge Admissions

About 15% of the world’s top CEOs attended either Oxford or Cambridge. If you’re looking to study in the UK, an Oxbridge college should be the aim. Beyond their world-renowned reputation, the UK education system is known for going in-depth in subject areas. If you’re passionate about a particular major, the UK will teach you all you need to know!

Professional Certifications

Many professionals with dreams of becoming CEOs also hold professional certifications to help them achieve their goals faster. Certifications for CEOs include:

  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
  • Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA)
  • Project Management Professional (PMP)
  • Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

4. Build Connections in the Workforce

Even before you graduate from college, start making connections. Connections will help you get your foot in the door when you start looking for your first post-graduate job. Internships are vital to building connections. Your training should align with the industry you hope to join. Entering an industry while you’re still at your university will provide you with a head start, and you’ll have a more substantial chance of securing a job sooner and becoming a CEO.

Additionally, choose a work environment where you can thrive, and support your career growth, so you have more opportunities to move up. Once you select your industry, learn as much as you can so you can work your way through the ranks.

5. Work Hard and Get Promoted

To reach the top, you need to get promoted. Future CEOs have management positions before they reach the top spot. Three-quarters of Fortune 100 CEOs come from operations.

But, how do you get there? First, work hard! From simple tasks to elaborate business plans, throw yourself wholeheartedly into everything you do. Be someone with the traits of a future CEO. Then, prove yourself by demonstrating what you’ve achieved. Show how your work has impacted the business and why you deserve a promotion.

Here are some examples of how young people reached the top before they turned 30!

The overall sentiment of the three young CEOs was that it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, do it to the best of your ability.

Typically, board members appoint CEOs. If you’re hoping to move from employee to CEO at the same business (instead of joining a new company), build strong relationships with the board. Building relationships early means you’ll be on their radar and when future leadership positions arise.

What Makes Crimson Different

Final Thoughts

There’s no one-size-fits-all to becoming a CEO. It takes a whole combination of desirable assets, including a degree from a top university. If you’re willing to work hard, a path to the top is possible.

If you want to become a CEO but don’t know where to start your academic journey, we can help! Crimson Education is the world’s leading university admissions support company specializing in helping students gain entry to some of the world’s most competitive universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, and the Ivy League. Our expert academic advisors can pave a customized roadmap to help get you started on your journey to become a CEO! Book a free consultation to learn more about our Admissions Support Program.