Where every U.S. president went to college

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August 27, 2020

Where every U.S. president went to college

More than 66% of high school grads between the ages of 16 and 24 are currently enrolled in college, up from just 9% of Americans in 1950 between the ages of 20 and 24. That nation-wide trend is reflected in the educational histories of America's presidents. While a college degree is mostly standard for modern politicians, this wasn't always the case. In fact, several American presidents never went to college, opting instead to pursue work, politics, or the military. Abraham Lincoln never attended college. William Henry Harrison did, and even enrolled in medical school—but he never completed his studies.

Stacker pored through presidential historical societies and libraries, Whitehouse.gov, and the Library of Congress to create a list of where every U.S. president went to college—if they did at all. Read on to discover where your favorite presidents went to school, which programs they did or didn't finish, and what they studied. Perhaps you even share an alma mater with an American leader.

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George Washington

School: Never attended college

George Washington's education is a bit contested. Some sources say he never went to college, while others say he enrolled for a time at the College of William and Mary. Nonetheless, he did not have a college degree—though William and Mary did issue him a surveyor's license.

John Adams

School: Harvard College (undergraduate)

John Adams started the legacy of Harvard alumni-turned-presidents, which still continues today. He attended from 1751 to 1755. His time at the school helped develop his love of books.

Thomas Jefferson

School: College of William and Mary (undergraduate)

Thomas Jefferson enrolled at the College of William and Mary when he was 17. He graduated after two years and went on to study law with his legal mentor George Wythe.

James Madison

School: Princeton University (undergraduate)

Due to poor health, James Madison had to wait two years before heading to college. When he did eventually attend in 1769, he enrolled at what was then the College of New Jersey—now Princeton—and studied a full range of subjects. He graduated in 1771, but stayed another year to study Hebrew and political philosophy, making him the college's first "graduate student."

James Monroe

School: College of William and Mary (undergraduate, did not graduate)

James Monroe enrolled at the College of William and Mary in 1774, expecting to study law. Two years later, however, he left school to fight in the American Revolution.

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John Quincy Adams

Schools: University of Leiden (undergraduate, transferred), Harvard University (undergraduate)

When John Adams, former president and father of John Quincy Adams, relocated to Amsterdam in 1780, his son studied at the University of Leiden. John Quincy left the school in 1781 and traveled around Europe. When he returned to the U.S. in 1785, he went to Harvard as an advanced student and graduated two years later.


Andrew Jackson

School: Never attended college

As a young man growing up in the Carolinas at the end of the 18th century, Andrew Jackson's early education was inconsistent. As an older teenager, he decided to read law and became a lawyer in Tennessee after two years.

Martin Van Buren

School: Never attended college

Like many other young men at the time, Martin Van Buren did not go to college. Instead, he worked as a law clerk, eventually learning enough to become a lawyer in 1803.


William Henry Harrison

Schools: Hampden-Sydney College (undergraduate, did not graduate), University of Pennsylvania (medical school, did not graduate)

Homeschooled for most of his early life, William Henry Harrison was just 14 when he began undergraduate studies at Hampden-Sydney College. He studied the classics and history there for three years before his father insisted he withdraw. Next, he briefly enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania's medical school, dropping out when his father died and joining the military in 1791. Harrison was the first president to die in office.

John Tyler

School: College of William and Mary (undergraduate)

John Tyler was destined to go to the College of William and Mary. He enrolled in the college's prep school when he was 12, then graduated from the actual college in 1807 when he was 17.

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James K. Polk

School: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (undergraduate)

James Polk was educated at home except for a brief stint in a Presbyterian school in Tennessee. He enrolled at University of North Carolina in 1816 as a sophomore and graduated with honors in 1818.

Zachary Taylor

School: Never attended college

Zachary Taylor knew from a young age that he wanted to join the military. Instead of attending college, he joined the ranks in 1808.


Millard Fillmore

School: Never attended college

Although Millard Fillmore did not receive a college education, he attended the New Hope Academy in New York. There he met his wife, Abigail Powers, a teacher at the school.

Franklin Pierce

Schools: Bowdoin College (undergraduate), Northampton Law School (law school)

Franklin Pierce almost flunked out of Bowdoin College, focusing so much on his social life during his initial time there that he was last in his class. He refocused and ended up graduating fifth in his class in 1824. Following that, he studied law at the short-lived Northampton Law School.

James Buchanan

School: Dickinson College (undergraduate)

Because James Buchanan went to a college prep high school, he was able to enter Dickinson College as a junior in 1807. He was expelled for poor behavior the following year but convinced the school to readmit him. He graduated with honors in 1809.

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Abraham Lincoln

School: Never attended college

Abraham Lincoln had virtually no formal education. He practiced as a lawyer, but like most lawyers of the time, did not go to law school—a law degree was not necessary for the work.


Andrew Johnson

School: Never attended college

After a tumultuous youth spent as an apprentice and a runaway, Andrew Johnson returned home to start a tailoring business. He married in 1827 and began his political career two years later.

Ulysses S. Grant

School: United States Military Academy

Because his family couldn't afford college, Ulysses S. Grant's father secretly applied for him to go to the United States Military Academy. At first, the boy didn't want to attend, but he went to West Point at his father's urging. Grant attended the school from 1839 to 1843. By all accounts, he was a subpar student with excellent military potential.


Rutherford B. Hayes

Schools: Kenyon College (undergraduate), Harvard University (law school)

Rutherford Hayes was an excellent student and graduated as valedictorian from Kenyon College in 1842. He took a year off to study law in an office before entering Harvard Law School and graduating in 1845.


James Garfield

Schools: Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (now Hiram College) (undergraduate, transferred), Williams College

When James Garfield was growing up, he wanted to be a sailor. When that didn't work out, he went to study at the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute from 1851 to 1854. He transferred out to enter Williams College as a junior, graduating in 1856.

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Chester A. Arthur

Schools: Union College (undergraduate), State and National Law School (law school, did not graduate)

The first year of Chester Arthur's college career was spent at home. He entered Union College as a sophomore in 1845, graduating in 1848. He then went to State and National Law School—now closed—while teaching on the side.

Grover Cleveland

School: Never attended college

Grover Cleveland was born into a poor family. Though his father was a Yale-educated man, the elder Cleveland died when Grover was just 16. Grover had to skip college to support his family.


Benjamin Harrison

Schools: Miami University (undergraduate)

Benjamin Harrison's first foray into higher education was at Farmers College, a prep school. He stayed there for two years, until 1850, when he entered Miami University. He graduated among the top students in his class in 1852.


Grover Cleveland

School: Never attended college

Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms as both the 22nd and 24th president of the United States. His initial win in 1884 was due in part to the support of activist Republicans calls Mugwumps who switched parties to vote for Cleveland.

William McKinley

Schools: Allegheny College (did not graduate), Albany Law School (law school, did not graduate)

William McKinley thought education was incredibly important and enrolled in Allegheny College in 1860 after studying at a seminary school. He only stayed for one term before dropping out due to lack of finances and health concerns. After the Civil War, he entered Albany Law School. He dropped out after one year, passed the bar, and started his own practice.

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Theodore Roosevelt

Schools: Harvard University (undergraduate), Columbia Law School (did not graduate)

Theodore Roosevelt entered Harvard in 1876. Two years later, his father died, but it only made him work harder. He graduated magna cum laude in 1880. After getting married, he enrolled in law school but dropped out after only one year to enter politics.

William Howard Taft

Schools: Yale University (undergraduate), University of Cincinnati (law school)

William Taft was always a good student, graduating second in his high school class. In 1878, he graduated second in his class at Yale in as well. While at Yale, Taft became a member of the Skull and Bones Society—his father co-founded the society in 1832. After college, Taft went to law school, graduating in 1880.

Woodrow Wilson

Schools: Davidson College (undergraduate, transferred), Princeton University (undergraduate), University of Virginia (law school, did not graduate), Johns Hopkins University (graduate, Ph.D.)

Woodrow Wilson's early education was sporadic and hampered by his possible dyslexia. He was 16 when he enrolled at Davidson College in 1873. He left after a year and in 1875 went to Princeton, where he earned his degree after four years. He next attended the University of Virginia for law school but dropped out after two years. Wilson earned a Ph.D. in history and political science from Johns Hopkins University in 1886.

Warren G. Harding

School: Ohio Central College (undergraduate)

Warren Harding entered Ohio Central College in 1879 when he was just 14. He earned his B.S. in 1882. While in college, he edited the campus newspaper, a role that would prepare him for his eventual job as the owner of the Marion Daily Star.

Calvin Coolidge

School: Amherst College (undergraduate)

In 1891, Calvin Coolidge enrolled at Amherst College, where he immediately gained a reputation for his humor and wit. He participated in debate, public speaking, Republican Club, and the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. He graduated cum laude in 1895, giving the facetious Grove Oration at graduation.

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Herbert Hoover

School: Stanford University (undergraduate)

Herbert Hoover was a poor student in high school, but he was determined to go to the then newly opened Stanford University in 1891. He passed the entrance exam and pursued a degree in geology, graduating in 1895.


Franklin D. Roosevelt

Schools: Harvard University (undergraduate), Columbia Law School (did not graduate)

After attending an exclusive prep school for boys, Franklin D. Roosevelt enrolled in Harvard in 1900. He was an average student but was the editor of the college newspaper and an Alpha Delta Phi member; he graduated in 1903. In 1905, he registered at Columbia Law School but left two years later after he passed the bar exam.

Harry S. Truman

Schools: Spalding's Commercial College (did not graduate); University of Missouri, Kansas City (did not graduate)

Harry Truman is one of the few presidents that did not obtain a college degree. That's not for lack of trying, though—he attended business school at Spalding's Commercial College in 1901 but quit to help with the family business. He then attended a few night classes at the University of Missouri's law school before dropping out.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

School: United States Military Academy at West Point (undergraduate), Command and General Staff School (graduate), Army Industrial College (graduate), United States Army War College (graduate)

Before going to college, Dwight D. Eisenhower and his brother had an agreement that they would pay for one another's college education. Dwight paid for his brother's but was then accepted to the United States Military Academy in 1911 (where tuition is free). He graduated in 1915. After some time in the military, he enrolled at Command and General Staff School and graduated first in his class in 1926.


John F. Kennedy

Schools: London School of Economics, Princeton University (withdrew due to illness), Harvard University (undergraduate), Stanford University (graduate, did not graduate)

JFK's entered Princeton in 1935, where he stayed only a short while before withdrawing due to chronic illness that plagued him all his life. In 1936, he enrolled at Harvard, earning a degree in government and international relations. Following Harvard, he went to Stanford but only audited classes, leaving early to join the military.

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Lyndon B. Johnson

School: Southwest Texas State Teachers College (now Texas State University) (undergraduate), Georgetown University Law Center (did not graduate)

From 1927 to 1930, Lyndon Johnson pursued a degree in teaching at Southwest Texas State Teachers College. He didn't care much for regular classes but participated in a lot of extracurriculars: debate, journalism, and student government. He also did well in student teaching while at the school, leading to his first job out of college as a teacher during the Great Depression.

Richard M. Nixon

Schools: Whittier College (undergraduate), Duke University (law school)

A particularly active student while an undergrad at Whittier College from 1930 to 1934, Richard Nixon participated in student government, drama, and football. He was also intelligent and earned a scholarship to Duke University's law school. He graduated there in 1937, after serving as president of the Student Bar Association and a member of the law review.

Gerald R. Ford

Schools: University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (undergraduate), Yale University (law school)

Although Gerald Ford graduated from the University of Michigan with two majors (economics and political science), his real claim to fame at the school was his football career. He played on the college's championship football team and in 2006, was named one of the 100 most influential student athletes of the last century by the NCAA. After graduating from University of Michigan in 1935, he attended Yale for law school, casting football aside and earning his degree in 1941.

Jimmy Carter

Schools: Georgia Southwestern College (transferred), Georgia Institute of Technology (transferred), United States Naval Academy (undergraduate), Union College (graduate)

Jimmy Carter was the first person on his father's side to graduate high school. He followed that with engineering studies at two Georgia colleges and ultimately, a bachelor's of science from the competitive U.S. Naval Academy. He graduated in the top 10% of his class in 1946.

Ronald Reagan

School: Eureka College (undergraduate)

Ronald Reagan graduated from Eureka College in Illinois with degree in economics in 1932. During his time at school, he played football, participated in drama, and became class president his senior year. Now, there's a Ronald Reagan Museum on Eureka's campus.

George H. W. Bush

School: Yale University (undergraduate)

Immediately after high school, George H. W. Bush joined the Navy. When he was discharged after World War II in 1945, he enrolled in college along with a flood of other veterans. Bush went to Yale and studied economics in an accelerated program that allowed him to graduate early. While at the school, he was the captain of the baseball team and a member of the Skull and Bones Society.

Bill Clinton

Schools: Georgetown University (undergraduate), Oxford University (Rhodes Scholarship), Yale University (law school)

Bill Clinton graduated in 1973 from Yale Law School, where he met his wife, Hillary Rodham. Prior to that, he earned an international affairs degree at Georgetown and went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He actually went to Oxford twice; the second trip kept him out of military service.

George W. Bush

Schools: Yale University (undergraduate), Harvard University (business school)

Just like his father and grandfather, George W. Bush attended Yale University, majoring in history with specialties in European and American studies. Bush joined Delta Kappa Epsilon his freshman year, and when he was a senior, he was initiated into the secret Skull and Bones Society. He graduated in 1968. In 1973, he enrolled at Harvard Business School and graduated with a master of business administration in 1975.

Barack Obama

Schools: Occidental College (transferred), Columbia University (undergraduate), Harvard University (law school)

Barack Obama spent his freshman and sophomore years at Occidental College in Los Angeles before transferring. In 1983, he graduated from Columbia University in New York City with a political science degree. From there, he went to Harvard for law school, where he was the editor of the Harvard Law Review; he graduated in 1991.

Donald J. Trump

Schools: Fordham University (transferred), Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (undergraduate)

Donald Trump began his college career at Fordham University in New York City, where he studied from 1964 to 1966. He then transferred to The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania to study real estate, an education that would shape his career. He graduated in 1968 with an economics degree.

Joe Biden

Schools: University of Delaware (undergraduate), Syracuse University (law school)

Joe Biden double majored in political science and history, and minored in English, during his time at the University of Delaware. He graduated with his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1965, then went to law school at Syracuse University. The College of Law's alumni association noted that when Biden became vice president it was the highest office held by a graduate, writing, “Professor Emeritus Thomas Maroney recalled teaching his former student Joseph R. Biden Jr in his third-year legislation course, and commented, “‘I had the impression that this student was a young man who was going to do well and go a long way.’”

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