Success stories: 7 public figures with advanced degrees

  • Former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both have advanced degrees.
    Former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both have advanced degrees.

    Success stories: 7 public figures with advanced degrees

    For many people, making the decision to return to higher education to study for an advanced degree is a strategic one, designed to help open a greater number of career doors and maximize earning potential. After all, as reported by Good Call, a 2015 study from Georgetown University found that graduates with master's degrees, on average, earn around $17,000 a year more than graduates with bachelor's degrees. 

    But it isn't just six-figure salaries and C-suite executive roles that advanced degrees can lead to. Studying for a master's or PhD can actually serve as a stepping stone to a rewarding career in the public spotlight. Indeed, from politics to entertainment and innovation, a number of public figures have furthered their education at the advanced degree level. 

    Here is a look at seven inspiring success stories of famous faces who excelled in academia:

    1. Kim Jeong
    American actor and comedian Kim Jeong is best known for his roles in film and television, with notable credits including appearances in "The Hangover" trilogy and a recurring guest stint on popular sitcom "Community." Jeong also starred in his own short-lived show for ABC entitled "Dr. Ken." It may be surprising to read, however, than Jeong is actually a qualified medical doctor in real life, The Richest stated. Studying at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Jeong earned his medical doctorate in 1995 before heading to New Orleans to complete his residency at Ochsner Medical Center.

    As detailed by, although Jeong enjoyed a successful career as a physician, he decided to nurture his gift for comedy by performing at comedy clubs throughout Los Angeles. He came to national attention thanks to guest stints in shows such as "The Office," "Curb your Enthusiasm" and "Entourage." His first move credit was "Knocked Up," a film from famed director and producer Judd Apatow. His success in these endeavors led to more high-profile roles. Jeong remains an active actor and comedian today, and his success is a testament to the fact that it's never too late to change your career, even if you do have a doctorate in medicine!

    2. George W. Bush
    Born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1946, George W. Bush, the son of former President George H.W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush, was seemingly destined for a career in politics. His professional life began, however, in the public sector. According to, the oil industry is where Bush started his career, an arena in which he enjoyed relative success. He transitioned into politics in 1995 after being elected Governor of Texas. This was immediately followed by a presidential campaign which saw him secure victory over Democratic opponent Al Gore. Bush won a second presidential term, and served in the White House until January 2009.

    While many people remember Bush's presidency, which was marked by a number of widely debated policy decisions, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, fewer people are likely aware that President Bush has an advanced degree. According to Bentley University, Bush earned a Master's of Business Administration degree in 1975 from the prestigious Harvard Business School. Bush's accomplishment is noteworthy, as he was the first president to enter the White House with the degree. This wasn't Bush's only stint in the Ivy League, however – he earned his undergraduate degree from Yale University. 

    3. Mayim Bialik
    An accomplished actress, California native Mayin Bialik is perhaps most well known for her role in wildly successful CBS comedy "The Big Bang Theory," in which she plays Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler, as well as for her lead turn in the sitcom "Blossom," which concluded in the 90s. Her portrayal of Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler has been met with widespread critical acclaim, earning her two Primetime Emmy Award nominations, as well as a Critic's Choice Television Award win.

    Bialik isn't just talented in front of the camera, however. She is also a gifted scientist, having earned her doctorate in neuroscience from the University of California, Los Angeles, The Richest reported. She earned the degree in 2008. Bialik is a testament to the fact that it's possible to embrace and excel in disparate areas.  

    "Actress Mayim Bialik is a gifted scientist, having earned a PhD in neuroscience."

    4. Brian May
    When people think of Brian May, the first thing that usually comes to mind is his role as a guitarist in the acclaimed British rock band Queen. What is perhaps less well known, however, is the fact that May is also a talented astrophysicist, The Richest reported. He continues to publish scientific research today, having started his academic career at Imperial College, London, where he earned an undergraduate degree in mathematics and physics. Eager to progress his knowledge even further, May studied for a PhD program, earning his doctorate in 2008 from the same institution in where he was an undergraduate. 

    In addition to the momentous success he enjoyed with Queen, May has actively fostered his academic career, publishing research papers and securing the position of Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University in 2008 – a role he held until 2013.

    5. Barack Obama
    Serving as the 44th President of the United States from 2009 until early 2017, Obama started his political career by working as a community organizer in Chicago. Born and raised in Hawaii, he progressed to study at Occidental College in Los Angeles and then Columbia University in New York City, from which he earned his undergraduate degree, the Miller Center at the University of Virginia explained. Obama was passionately interested in community service and politics, and while he enjoyed some success working as an organizer in Chicago, he soon realized that he needed an advanced degree to make a real difference.

    Consequently, he applied to law schools, getting accepted into the world-renowned Harvard Law School in 1988. His tenure at the institution was wildly successful and he became the first African-American president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review. This remarkable achievement foreshadowed an even greater feat – his election to the White House as the nation's first black president in 2008. He graduated from Harvard with a Juris Doctor degree, magna cum laude.

    In addition to opening the doors of the White House, Obama's JD degree enabled him to enjoy a successful career in academia. Before entering politics Obama served as both a professor at the University of Chicago and an attorney, focusing on civil rights. He became a U.S. senator in 2004, representing the state of Illinois, before winning the presidency four years later.

    6. Angela Merkel
    Angela Merkel currently serves as Chancellor of Germany, and, according to, she is the first-ever female to hold this position. She secured the premier title after winning the general election over a decade ago, beating incumbent Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. 

    Despite her remarkable success in the political sphere, Merkel actually began her career in the sciences. She worked as a chemist for well over a decade at the Central Institute for Physical Chemistry, Academy of Sciences, a role that was made possible thanks to the doctorate degree she earned from the University of Leipzig in 1978. Merkel's PhD focused on physics. She made her transition into politics in 1989, a decision in part inspired by the fall of the Berlin Wall, noted. Her transition from the sciences to politics was notably successful, and by the year 2000 Merkel was the party leader of the Christian Democratic Union – a position which enabled her to become Chancellor in 2005.

    7. Tim Cook
    Alabama native Tim Cook has enjoyed a long and successful career in the business world, primarily working within organizations dedicated to computer technology, outlined. He is best known for his current role as the CEO of Apple – the world-famous technology company responsible for seminal inventions such as the iPad and the iPhone. He assumed the role after the passing of Apple pioneer Steve Jobs. 

    Cook's successful career began after he opted to study for a Master of Business Administration degree. He earned his M.B.A in the late 1980s, graduating from Duke University's highly selective Fuqua School of Business. Prior to his ascendency at Apple, Cook enjoyed successful stints at organizations such as Compaq and IBM.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Subscribe to our Graduate School Newsletter for Graduate Program News

Form is temporarily not available. Please visit our contact page.