As one might imagine, most Americans agree that the President of the United States should be intelligent and well educated, although some opinions differ as to extent of education required. Since 1953, all presidents have had at least a bachelor’s degree, and many had graduate degrees. Woodrow Wilson is the only president who have earned a doctorate. In fact, before he became president of the United States, he presided over Princeton University as president.
An Education for the Nation
The 2016 presidential candidates are no different from previous candidates, bringing a variety of educational and professional backgrounds to the table. Some have advanced degrees, and others have only a bachelor’s degree. While you might expect the candidates to hold a law degree, that is not true in all cases.
Interested in finding out what major your favorite candidate took during their years in college? Or perhaps you’re wondering what major might help you advance your political aspirations? Here are some details about the 2016 political candidates’ education and what they were doing before they aspired to the highest political office in the United States.
The democrats currently in the 2016 presidential race are historically supportive of education, but of the two frontrunners, only one advanced beyond a bachelor’s degree. Both have extensive political backgrounds and varied professional careers before they entered politics.
This Democrat candidate attended Wellesley College, a private women’s college in Wellesley, Massachusetts. After graduating from this Ivy League school in 1969 with a B.A. and departmental honors in Political Science, Mrs. Clinton attended Yale Law School. In 1973, she received a Juris Doctor (J.D.).
Hillary Clinton can also claim what no other candidate can, and that is experience living in the White House. She was First Lady of the United States from 1993 to 2001, and prior to that, she was First Lady of the State of Arkansas. Mrs. Clinton served in the United States Senate and as the U.S. Secretary of State until 2013.
Professionally, Mrs. Clinton worked as an attorney and as an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas Law School. She is also an author.
Once considered the underdog in the presidential race, Mr. Sanders has surged ahead in the polls. He attended the University of Chicago and graduated with a B.S. in political science in 1964.
Mr. Sanders has had vast political experience, having represented the people of Vermont through service in both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. He also served as Mayor of Burlington, Vermont from 1981 to 1989.
Prior to his successful bid as a representative, he had several unsuccessful bids running for Governor, U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. He eventually made it, though, and currently serves as a U.S. Senator. Outside politics, Mr. Sanders worked as a lecturer at both Hamilton College and Harvard University. He is also an author and documentary filmmaker.
Green Party Candidate
Dr. Jill Stein is a candidate for the Green Party. This Harvard grad earned a B.A. in psychology, sociology and anthropology and then went on to earn her M.D. at Harvard Medical School in 1979. Dr. Stein has made unsuccessful bids for several political offices in her home state of Massachusetts. She is a physician and author, and she is a passionate advocate for solutions to environmental threats facing the world.
College majors among the 2016 presidential candidates in the GOP cover a range of subjects. Candidates’ degrees range from B.A.’s in Latin American Studies and psychology, to J.D.s and even an M.D.
John Ellis Bush (Jeb is an acronym) graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in Latin American Studies. Mr. Bush is the son of former President George Herbert Walker Bush and the brother of former President George W. Bush.
As a politician, Mr. Bush served as Florida’s governor and secretary of commerce. He chaired several political campaigns, including his brother George’s Florida presidential reelection campaign as well as the reelection campaign of Bob Martinez. Outside of politics, Mr. Bush has served as CEO and president of Codina Group and representative/vice president of Texas Commerce. Following his term as governor, he launched the Foundation for Excellence in Education.
Dr. Ben Carson studied psychology at Yale University and graduated in 1973 with a Bachelor of Arts. He went on to earn his M.D. at the University of Michigan Medical School. Dr. Carson is a former neurosurgeon and an author.
Chris Christie graduated with a degree in political science in 1984 from the University of Delaware. He went on to study law at Seton Hall University School of Law, earning a J.D. in 1987. After an unsuccessful bid for a seat in the N.J. State Assembly, Mr. Christie became a lobbyist for the energy industry. He was appointed as United States Attorney for New Jersey prior to being elected as governor of the state of New Jersey in 2010.
Rafael Edward (Ted) Cruz
Ted Cruz graduated cum laude from Princeton University in 1992 with a Bachelor of Arts in public policy, then he earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1995.
In addition to serving in the U.S. Senate since 2012, Mr. Cruz’s political experience includes working as the domestic policy advisor to the George W. Bush presidential campaign from 1999 to 2000.
Outside of politics, Mr. Cruz has held a wide variety of positions, including clerk for Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist of the Supreme Court, coordinator and associate deputy attorney general of the Department of Justice and director of the Office of Policy Planning for the FTC. He is a former adjunct professor of law at the Texas School of Law, an author and the former solicitor general of Texas in the Office of the Attorney General.
Cara Carleton “Carly” Fiorina
Ms. Fiorina attended Stanford University where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and Medieval history in 1976. She attended UCLA Law School, but dropped out. Instead, Ms. Fiorina earned an M.B.A. from the University of Maryland and a M.S. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management.
Her career includes management positions in AT&T and Lucent and as Hewlett Packer’s first female CEO. Ms. Fiorina has been a Republican candidate consultant and had an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate.
Jim Gilmore attended the University of Virginia where he earned a B.A. and J.D. He served as Governor of the state of Virginia and chair of the Republican National Committee. Mr. Gilmore also worked as a counterintelligence agent, a county prosecutor and as the Attorney General of the state of Virginia. This is the second bid Mr. Gilmore has made for the office of U.S. President.
John Kasich, current governor of Ohio, earned a B.S. in political science at Ohio State University in 1974. In addition to his years in the governor’s office, Mr. Kasich served in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the Ohio State Senate. He previously made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Presidency as well. In addition, he has also worked as a commentator for Fox News and in the banking and investment industry.
Marco Rubio attended the University of Florida and graduated in 1993 after earning a B.A. in Political Science. In 1996, he earned a J.D. from the University of Miami School of Law. Mr. Rubio has served in the United States Senate and in the Florida State House of Representatives as Majority Leader, Representative, and Speaker. As an author, Mr. Rubio also worked as a visiting professor at the Metropolitan Center of Florida International University and as a political analyst.
Mr. Trump graduated from Fordham University with a B.S. in Economics and Real Estate. Then he attended the University of Pennsylvania/Wharton School of Business, graduating in 1968 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics and Anthropology.
The billionaire real estate mogul is the only 2016 presidential candidate who has never held an elected office. He is chairman of Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts as well as founder/CEO of The Trump Organization. He has also written several books. Until recently, Mr. Trump was also the host of the reality television show, “The Apprentice.”
Past and Present Presidential Education
Of the former (and current) Presidents of the United States, all since 1953 have had at least a bachelor’s degree. Prior to that, some presidents never earned a degree, although several studied and practiced law without obtaining a law degree.
George Washington attended the College of William and Mary, but he earned a surveyor’s license, not a bachelor’s degree. Abraham Lincoln skipped college altogether.
Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, and Grover Cleveland also chose not to attend college.
Of the rest of our nation’s presidents, four others attended college, but never matriculated. Harry S. Truman studied business in Kansas City and law at the University of Missouri’s Kansas City law school.
Like George Washington, James Monroe studied in the College of William and Mary for a brief period of time before enlisting in the Continental Army. President William Henry Harrison studied medicine at The University of Pennsylvania, but he didn’t complete a degree. William McKinley attended both Allegheny College, but he left after a year. He also studied at Albany Law School. While he never earned a degree, he was still admitted to the bar.
Modern-day presidents all have earned at least a bachelor’s degree, and most have at least one graduate degree. President Barack Obama earned his undergraduate degree in political science from Columbia University. He had transferred from Occidental College after spending two years there. Then, President Obama graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. Afterward, he taught at the University of Chicago Law School.
President Obama’s predecessor, former President George W. Bush attended Yale University where he earned a B.A. in history. After a ten-year stint in the Texas Air National Guard, George W. attended Harvard Business School where he earned his M.B.A.
Gerald Ford earned a B.S. in economics and political science from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He passed on offers from two different NFL teams to play football and instead, attended Yale Law School where he graduated in the top 25% of the class. He also worked as a fashion model, appearing on the cover of Cosmo.
Jimmy Carter, the first of his family to graduate from high school, attended three different colleges before earning a B.S. degree in engineering from the United States Naval Academy. While in the Navy, President Carter served on submarines, piquing his interest in nuclear technology. He did graduate work at Union College, but he left before completing his degree.
President Ronald Reagan studied economics and sociology at the tiny Eureka College and earned his bachelor’s degree. Before leading the nation, Ronald Reagan had a fairly successful acting career.
Former President George H.W. Bush also attended Yale University and studied economics, but not until after a distinguished military career as a Navy pilot.
William Jefferson Clinton had a diverse education. He attended Georgetown University and earned a B.S. in foreign service. Bill Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar, studying government at the University of Oxford. He then went on to earn a J.D. from Yale Law School.
It’s interesting to take a look at the education of past and current presidents. Here are some other presidential education and trivia tidbits you may not know:
- Perhaps the most surprising college majors of former U.S. Presidents include journalism (Dwight D. Eisenhower), geology (Herbert Hoover), and education (Lyndon Johnson).
- Woodrow Wilson is the only U.S. President to have earned a doctorate. He earned his degree at Johns Hopkins University.
- George W. Bush is the only president to have earned an M.B.A.
- Bill Clinton is the only president to be awarded a Rhodes Scholarship.
- James Madison was Princeton University’s very first grad student.
- It is theorized that the term O.K. is linked to Martin Van Buren, whose nickname was “Old Kinderhook” because of his birthplace of Kinderhook, NY.
- Millard Fillmore met his first wife at the New Hope Academy in New York when he was a 19-year-old student, and she was his teacher.
- President James Buchanan traveled to Washington, D.C. on a regular basis. There, he bought slaves and took them to Pennsylvania, where he freed them.
- While thirteen presidents had attended law school, more than half withdrew.
- Andrew Johnson was a tailor and continued to make his own suits after becoming President.
- Abraham Lincoln was inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame. Throughout his youth, he lost only one out of approximately 300 wrestling matches. The self-taught man had only one year of formal schooling.
- John F. Kennedy studied at five universities but earned a degree at only one — Harvard.
- James Garfield was ambidextrous and had the odd talent of being able to write in Greek with one hand and Latin with the other, simultaneously.
Those who have led our country come from wide and diverse educational and experiential backgrounds. This just goes to show that sometimes the path to get where you want to go can be an indirect route, but if you put your mind to it, you can achieve your goals — even if it’s becoming President of the United States.