If you have ever wished to be a CEO, then it’s worth exploring the chief executive career path. Chief executives receive a lot of benefits to go along with their view from the top, but they also face a lot of responsibility. To become a chief executive officer or other C-level manager, you should plan to get a college education. In fact, many chief executives hold a master’s degree.

C-Suite Job Roles

Chief executives are the highest-ranking of a company’s senior managers. They direct the company’s overall operations, as opposed to lower-ranking management roles like operations manager and general manager, which have more to do with overseeing the business’s daily operations. CEO, the most well-recognized C-level job title, also encompasses the job titles of president, executive director and managing director. This position is the company’s number-one leadership role, responsible for choosing what direction the company should move in as well as what policies to implement and how to achieve performance goals.

What Degree Do People in Chief Executive Roles Have?

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Beyond the CEO are more specialized C-suite positions. A chief financial officer (CFO) is accountable for the company’s financial performance and policies. A CFO’s work includes everything from analyzing financial reports and data to checking for company compliance with government and industry regulations. Chief operations officers (COOs) oversee many different areas of operations, including making decisions about how to run the company to achieve the goals set by the CEO.

For CEOs and other chief executives, earning potential is very high. The BLS reports a median wage of $189,600 for chief executives. In the industries of manufacturing and the professional, scientific and technical services, the median salary is above $200,000. However, many CEOs earn far more than that. It’s not unheard of for CEOs to earn millions or tens of millions of dollars per year, and the highest-paid CEO in the United States made over $100 million in a single year, CNBC reported. In addition to their salaries, many chief executives enjoy perks like massive performance bonuses, stock options and company expense allowances, according to the BLS.

Half of all top executives, which includes both chief executives and general and operations managers, report working more than 40 hours per workweek, the BLS reported.

Business Degrees for Chief Executives

In some industries – particularly, technical, scientific and healthcare industries – a degree in the field or industry is needed for chief executives. However, many chief executives go to school for business administration. As undergraduates, they study subjects like management, finance, accounting, marketing and economics as part of a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree. Most BBA programs encourage students to choose a specialization or concentration. For aspiring CEOs, management is always a wise choice, but you can also benefit from choosing marketing, international business or finance.

More chief executives have master’s degrees than bachelor’s degrees only. The Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree is the most common choice for chief executives. In fact, there are special executive MBA programs created to help prepare the next generation of CEOs and other chief executives for the challenges of leading a company at the highest levels of management.

Executive MBA programs can be completed in the same amount of time as a traditional MBA program, but they may come with a more intensive workload.

What to Know About Becoming a Chief Executive

The largest employment group – accounting for about 23 percent of all chief executives – is self-employment, the BLS reported. This means most chief executives are the managers of their own companies. One way to interpret this data is to say that the surest way to become a chief executive is to start your own business. However, not all business enterprises will become successful. It is possible for business professionals with sufficient experience and a strong reputation to be brought into an established company as a chief executive, or to work their way up within a company from entry-level to management and finally C-level management roles (after all, more than three-quarters of chief executives are not self-employed).

The competition for chief executive roles is fierce, and not only because of the high earning potential and the level of prestige. The BLS expects jobs for chief executives to decrease by four percent over a decade, which will make these senior-level roles even harder to attain.

Additional Resources

What Degree Do Top Executives Have?

Do I Need a Graduate Degree to Become a Manager?

What Kind of Job Can You Get With a Degree in Business Administration?