How to Become a Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

Find out how to become a chief executive officer (CEO). Research the education requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in executive management. View article »

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

94% college-bound high school students
…said it was important to communicate with colleges during the search process. (Source: Noel-Levitz 2012 trend study)

Select a school or program

View More Schools
Show Me Schools
  • 0:01 Should I Become a…
  • 1:01 Career Requirements

Find the perfect school

Video Transcript

Should I Become a Chief Executive Officer?

Chief executive officers work alongside other top executives to establish a corporation's policies and vision. CEOs are considered the head of a corporation and are responsible for providing direction for the company and making certain that goals are met.

CEOs can work at a variety of businesses, from small startups to corporations with thousands of employees. This can lead to a lot of stress, particularly since many CEOs must put in overtime on a regular basis. Travel may also be needed for the job.

In addition to all this, CEO's must be effective in communication, possess leadership and management skills and have the ability to work under pressure and handle the aforementioned stress of the job.

One of the perks though, is the salary. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual wage of a chief executive was $185,850 as of May 2015.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Actuarial Sciences
  • Business and Commerce, General
  • Business Statistics
  • Customer Service Management
  • eCommerce
  • Logistics, Distribution, and Materials Management
  • Management Science
  • Office Management
  • Operations Management
  • Public and Nonprofit Organizational Management
  • Purchases, Acquisitions, and Contracts Management
  • Transportation Management

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; MBA preferred
Degree Field(s) Liberal arts, business administration, public administration or field of specialty chosen (i.e. health care administration)
License/Certification Voluntary certification available
Experience Previous management experience
Key Skills Effective communicator; possess leadership and management skills; ability to work under pressure and handle the stress
Average Annual Salary (2015) $185,850

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

According to the BLS, the minimum education for most chief executive officer positions is a bachelor's degree. Majors for aspiring CEOs might include liberal arts, business administration or public administration. If a prospective CEO plans to enter a specific industry, such as health care administration, prior coursework or a bachelor's degree in that field can be useful.

Step 2: Complete a Master's Degree Program

Many aspiring chief executive officers choose to pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a similar graduate degree. These programs can be pursued before finding work within an industry or after having been employed for some time. Those who are currently working in a corporate or managerial position can enroll in a part-time professional or executive MBA program that integrates practical work knowledge into the curriculum. MBA students might take classes in strategic management, finance, organizational theories and managerial economics.

Here are some success tips that might help you with this part of the process.

Complete an Internship

Graduate programs often include internship opportunities that can allow future CEOs to acquire work experience while still enrolled in school. Students might also pursue study abroad options that allow them to study international business and develop practical skills.

Choose a Concentration

Most MBA programs require their students to select a concentration to focus their studies on. These individuals can take advantage of this opportunity by selecting an emphasis that relates to the industry they wish to advance in. Many programs allow students to specialize in fields like marketing, finance, information technology, environmental sustainability, public policy, and health administration.

Step 3: Gain Experience

It is rare to enter straight into a career as a chief executive officer. Instead, most aspiring CEOs start at a lower-level management position within a company and work their way up until a CEO opening is available. Many also keep an eye on openings within other organizations, so there is potential to change companies while still advancing.

Here's a success tip for this step of the process that you should consider.

Get Involved

Companies may offer corporate training or development programs, which can help potential chief executive officers learn the tricks of the trade and teach them how to be a high-level manager. It's also important to show dedication in the field; the BLS reported that those who wish to rise into executive positions must often work long hours that include nights, weekends, and holidays.

Step 4: Consider Voluntary Certification

Voluntary certification is another way for CEOs to demonstrate knowledge and proficiency and advance their careers. The Institute of Certified Professional Managers offers the designation of Certified Manager, which requires a minimum amount of education, experience, and training, as well as a passing exam score. Eligibility to sit for the exam is determined by a system of points based on the years of education and experience that a candidate has accumulated.

So to sum up, in order to become a chief executive officer you need to first earn a bachelor's degree, usually in a business related field, then earn a master's degree (an MBA), gain professional experience, and consider voluntary certification.

What is your highest level of education?

Some College
Complete your degree or find the graduate program that's right for you.
High School Diploma
Explore schools that offer bachelor and associate degrees.
Still in High School
Earn your diploma or GED. Plan your undergraduate education.

Schools you may like:

Popular Schools

The listings below may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users.

Find your perfect school

What is your highest level of education?