The American president may be the most powerful single person in the world. You have to hope and pray that he or she is extremely smart.
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But there’s certainly no standard degree to get or school you can attend to become president. As you’ll see on this list, the education of US presidents is as diverse as the politicians themselves. While several of our leaders have earned degrees from the top schools in the country, many, including some recent presidents, have come from humble backgrounds and studied at small, less-famous colleges.
Nine presidents never went to college, Harry Truman being the most recent non-college grad. A whole lot of them – 25 including Barack Obama – were lawyers, though not all of those 25 actually completed law school. Four chief executives were professional soldiers. Just one president, William Harrison, attended medical school.
An odd statistic that has little to do with education, but may say something about socialization: there has never been a single president elected who was an only child.
Here’s a picture of the higher education of American presidents, since the beginning of the republic:
1732 – 1799
President 1789 – 1797
College of William and Mary (received a surveyor’s license)
1735 – 1826
President 1797 – 1801
1743 – 1826
President 1801 – 1809
College of William and Mary
1751 – 1836
President 1809 – 1817
1758 – 1831
President 1817 – 1825
College of William and Mary
John Quincy Adams
1767 – 1848
President 1825 – 1829
1767 – 1845
President 1829 – 1837
No college education.
Read law for two years and became practicing lawyer with no degree.
Martin Van Buren
1782 – 1862
President 1837 – 1841
Kinderhook Academy (school near his home which no longer exists)
1773 – 1841
President 1841 (died of pneumonia after just one month in office)
Hampden-Sydney College – left to study medicine.
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine – left to join the army
1790 – 1862
President 1841 – 1845
College of William and Mary
1795 – 1849
President 1845 – 1849
University of North Carolina (now known as UNC Chapel Hill)
1784 – 1850
President 1849 – 1850 (died halfway through first year in office, apparently from eating cherries and milk containing some type of type of contagion at a July 4th celebration)
No college education – joined the army early in life and had a military career until entering politics
1800 – 1874
President 1850 – 1853
No college education. Read law and worked in law firms, and was admitted to New York State bar at age 23
1804 – 1869
President 1853 – 1857
1791 – 1868
President 1857 – 1861
1809 – 1865
President 1861 – 1865
No college education. Lincoln had less than one full year of formal education in his life, in a log cabin school taught by unqualified teachers. He did a great deal of reading at home, and later worked in a store, where he had an opportunity to spend time reading numerous newspapers and other periodicals of the day. Went into Illinois politics after a very brief military career.
1808 – 1875
President 1865 – 1869
No college education. Johnson grew up in poverty. Opened a tailor shop as a young man began participating in debates at an academy in his home town, which led him into politics.
Ulysses S. Grant
1822 – 1885
President 1869 – 1877
Attended United States Military Academy (West Point) only because his father pressured him to do so, and graduated in the middle of his class.
Rutherford B. Hayes
1822 – 1893
President 1877 – 1881
Kenyon College, undergraduate
Harvard Law School
1831 – 1881
President 1881 (died after being shot by a lawyer upset by the fact that he had not been given a post in Garfield’s administration)
Williams College (although fatherless, he was able to earn enough money driving canal boat teams to finance his college education)
Chester A. Arthur
1829 – 1886
President 1881 – 1885
1837 – 1908
President 1885 – 1889 and again from 1893 – 1897
No college education. Cleveland only attended school from age 11 to 16. Father’s death forced him to drop out of high school at age 16 to support his family. No college education, though he studied law independently to become admitted to the bar.
1833 – 1901
President 1889 – 1893
Miami University, Ohio, undergraduate. Also read law to become a practicing attorney.
1843 – 1901
President 1897 – 1901 (assassinated)
Enrolled in Allegheny College, Pennsylvania, but dropped out in first year due to illness. Fought in the Civil War, and afterward attended Albany Law School, New York, enabling him to become an attorney in 1867.
1858 – 1919
President 1901 – 1909
As a child, learned from his aunt and a series of private tutors.
Harvard University (undergraduate – studied science primarily).
Attended Columbia Law School for one year, before dropping out to enter politics.
1857 – 1930
President 1909 – 1913
Yale University undergraduate
University of Cincinnati Law School
1856 – 1924
President 1913 – 1921
Davidson College (1 year)
Transferred to Princeton University, undergraduate
University of Virginia School of Law (1 year – withdrew due to poor health and finished his law study independently)
After growing bored the law, got a Ph.D. in political science from Johns Hopkins University
1865 – 1923 (died of a heart attack while in office)
President 1921 – 1923
Ohio Central College (started at age 15)
1872 – 1933
President 1923 – 1929
Amherst College (graduated with honors)
1874 – 1964
President 1929 – 1933
Stanford University (attended the school in 1891, the first year it was open. Received a degree in mine engineering)
1882 – 1945
President 1933 – 1945
Harvard University, undergraduate
Columbia Law School
1884 – 1972
President 1945 – 1953
After finishing high school, worked in various jobs until age 33, when he attended University of Missouri, undergraduate
Kansas City School of Law (attended two years, and did not receive degree)
1890 – 1969
President 1953 – 1961
United States Military Academy (West Point)
Became president of Columbia University after his political career
1917 – 1963
President 1961 – 1963 (assassinated)
Graduated from elite prep school Choate, voted “Most likely to become President” by classmates there
Entered London School of Economics, undergraduate, but returned home after just three weeks due to poor health
Princeton University, undergraduate. Attended six weeks before being sent home to be observed for possible diagnosis of leukemia
Harvard University, competed undergraduate degree, graduated cum laude
Stanford Graduate School of Business. Left before completing degree to join military
1908 – 1973
President 1963 – 1969
Southwest Texas State Teachers College (now called Texas State University-San Marcos) undergraduate. Dropped out but returned after one year to complete his degree in education.
Georgetown University Law School. Withdrew before completing degree
1913 – 1994
President 1969 – 1974 (resigned)
Whittier College (small, Quaker college in California), undergraduate
Duke University Law School. Attended on scholarship (came from poor family), graduated third in class
1913 – 2006
President 1974 – 1977
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, undergraduate degree in economics & political science (played on school’s football team, which won national championship twice. Turned down offers from two NFL teams)
Yale Law School. Graduated in top 25% of class
President 1977 – 1981
First member of his family to complete a high school education
Georgia Southwestern College, transferred to Georgia Tech, then transferred to United States Naval Academy, where he received a B.S. degree
After serving on submarines in both Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, did graduate study in nuclear technology and physics at Union College. Left before completing graduate degree to be senior office on U.S. Navy’s second nuclear submarine, the Seawolf.
1911 – 2004
President 1981 – 1989
Eureka College, undergraduate degree in sociology and economics (school of less than 250 students in Illinois where Reagan said he could have reasonably been “accused of majoring in extracurricular activities.”)
George H. W. Bush
President 1989 – 1993
After attending prestigious prep school Andover Academy, became the youngest pilot in the U.S. Navy at to win his wings at age 18.
After military career, attended Yale University, undergraduate (captain of Yale baseball team)
President 1993 – 2001
Georgetown University Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service (partial scholarship), undergraduate, Earned Bachelor of Science degree in Foreign Service
University of Oxford – Studied government on a Rhodes Scholarship
Yale Law School, J.D. Degree
George W. Bush
President 2001 – 2009
Yale University, undergraduate. Received Bachelor’s Degree in history
Harvard Business School, earned M.B.A. degree
President 2009 – 2017
Occidental College, attended 2 years.
Columbia College of Columbia University, completed Bachelor’s degree in political science, specialized in international relations.
Harvard Law School, earned J.D. degree
President 2017 –
Fordham University, attended 2 years.
Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, completed Bachelor’s degree in economics.