More Than One-Fourth Of America’s 400 Richest Went To One Of These 12 Colleges

Spoiler: At the top of the list is Harvard.

10/17/2021 8:36:00 PM

Spoiler: At the top of the list is Harvard.

While the nation's wealthiest graduated from more than 150 universities, these schools have the most Forbes 400 alumni.

Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images, David Paul Morris/Bloomberg, Tim Pannell for Forbes, Neilson Barnard/Getty ImagesNot surprisingly, ​most of the Ivy League universities are among the dozen institutions, as are a couple of high-ranking state schools.“It was all about money, because I had none,”

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says Rocco Commisso, billionaire founder and CEO of cable company Mediacom, of his decision to attend Columbia University as a soccer player on a full scholarship in the late sixties and early seventies. Commisso, an Italian immigrant, felt he needed to stay in New York City to support his family when his father got sick. 

At Columbia, Commisso gained the confidence and motivation that later propelled him onto The Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans. “It gave me a sense of ‘If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,’” says Commisso of Columbia, where the soccer stadium on campus is named after him in recognition of his donations to the school. (While the amount of his Columbia donations hasn’t been disclosed,

Forbes estimates his total lifetime giving to all causes to be approximately $36 million.)      “When somebody gives you a chance like Columbia did [for me], it’s up to you to go out and say, ‘I’m going to do my best to make you believe I’m worth the money you gave me’.”  

Columbia is one of just 12 schools that together can claim more than a quarter of this year’s Forbes 400 as alumni — 112 list members, to be exact. Seventy-one of these billionaires went to seven Ivy League schools — Brown University is the only school from the conference that failed to make it into this elite college dozen. 

At the top of the list is Harvard, which has more alumni on The Forbes 400 than any other university — with 15. That doesn’t include two of its most famous dropouts: Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. The University of Pennsylvania, which topped our last ranking

 of schools with the most Forbes 400 alumni in 2019, placed a close second this year with 14. Yale and Stanford rounded out the top three — tied with 12 graduates each.        Speaking of his time at Stanford in the late eighties and early nineties, John Overdeck, cofounder of hedge fund Two Sigma, recalls it being a “charmed time” to be in Silicon Valley. “I was in a freshman dorm with Jerry Yang, the founder of Yahoo, and several others who have gone on to be prominent venture capitalists,” says Overdeck, who

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Forbes estimates is worth $6.5 billion. “The vibe was one of opportunity, and when I ultimately cofounded a company at 31, I felt like a little bit of a late bloomer.”Two public universities — the University of Michigan and the University of California at Berkeley —  are also among the top 12 schools for Forbes 400 members. Berkeley also ranked No.1 on

 Forbes2021 list of top colleges, the first time a public university took the top spot.For Berkeley grad and Forbes 400 member Charles Simonyi, the California school had a big impact. “I left Hungary as a minor (going legally under the curtain so to speak), was working like an adult programmer in Denmark for a year, and then became a poor student at Berkeley all within 15 months,” recalls Simonyi. His connections at the university led him to join the newly formed Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, which, he says, became “one of the shrines of the personal computer revolution.” There, Simonyi worked on developing one of the first personal computers. He joined Microsoft in 1981 and built the group that created Microsoft Word and Excel—two extremely successful software products.

While more than one-fourth of Forbes 400 members attended just a dozen schools, just under 70% attended more than 140 other schools as undergrads. Many went on to earn graduate degrees as well — at least 82 earned an MBA. Thirty-seven dropped out of college, often to jumpstart their entrepreneurial journeys, including four of the top 20 richest: Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates, Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell Technologies. And another 19 never attended college at all, including two Oklahoma City-based billionaires: Hobby Lobby founder David Green and fracking pioneer Harold Hamm. 

Clearly, graduating from a top 12 school isn’t a requirement for admission to The Forbes 400. Nor is it a guaranteed ticket onto the list. But this select group of schools must offer some advantages, given their disproportionate share of the country’s wealthiest graduates. 

Read more: Forbes »

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