These Are the Presidents Who Attended Harvard and Other Ivy League Schools (and How Donald Trump Compares)
An Ivy League education isn’t a requirement for presidential hopefuls. But given the educational credentials of our recent presidents, you’d be forgiven for assuming it is. Both Barack Obama and Donald Trump attended Ivy League universities. And they’re far from the first presidents to receive their educations at the most esteemed colleges and universities on the east coast.
Below, get the inside scoop on exactly which presidents attended Harvard University and other Ivy League schools. And get all the details on Donald Trump’s education, including the university where he started his undergraduate education before he became an Ivy League student, on page 16.
1. John Adams
- Harvard University: Class of 1755
The first president to attend an Ivy League school was John Adams. Town and Country notes that Adams enrolled at Harvard at the age of 16. Harvard Magazine reports that as an anxious 15-year-old, Adams had a harrowing experience taking his admission exam.
When he showed up in Camrbidge, Adams thought he had to translate an English passage into Latin without a dictionary. But was soon given a dictionary and a grammar textbook to help him — and passed the test.
Next: This president stayed at his alma mater to study more after he graduated.
2. James Madison
- Princeton University: Class of 1771
Biography reports that when James Madison attended Princeton, it was actually called the College of New Jersey. Madison graduated from the university in 1771, just a few decades after its founding. Town and Country reports that as an undergraduate, Madison founded the American Whig Society.
He also spent some of his time at Princeton learning Hebrew, which later landed him on the list of presidents who have spoken multiple languages. And after graduating, Madison stayed longer at Princeton to continue studying with the school’s president, Reverend John Witherspoon.
Next: This president completed his Harvard education in just two years.
3. John Quincy Adams
- Harvard University: Class of 1787
The Miller Center reports that thanks to the education he received abroad — he accompanied his father to Europe when the elder Adams became a diplomat and special envoy for the United States — John Quincy Adams took just two years to complete his undergraduate education at Harvard.
Town and Country notes that Adams graduated as a member of Phi Beta Kappa, an honor society for the liberal arts and sciences.
Next: This president never actually graduated from the Ivy League school he attended.
4. William Henry Harrison
- University of Pennsylvania: Withdrew
Town and Country reports that William Henry Harrison switched majors as an undergraduate, demonstrating that even future presidents can change course during their studies. Harrison began his undergraduate career studying medicine at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.
The Daily Pennsylvanian reports that Harrison continued his studies at the University of Pennsylvania, but it wasn’t until he was there that he realized he disliked the study of medicine. He abandoned his study of medicine, and he never received a degree. However, the university considers him a non-graduate alumnus of the Medical Class of 1793.
Next: This president switched loyalties from the political party he supported in college.
5. Rutherford B. Hayes
- Harvard University Law School: Class of 1845
Most people don’t know much about Rutherford B. Hayes. But now you know that he numbers among the presidents who attended Ivy League schools! Town and Country has a single entry for Hayes’s activities as a law student: “Being a Whig enthusiast.”
The White House Historical Association notes that after graduating, Hayes flourished in Cincinnati as a young Whig lawyer. He then aligned himself with the Republican Party as a Congressman, as the governor of Ohio, and as president.
Next: This president dropped out of law school to begin his career.
6. Theodore Roosevelt
- Harvard University: Class of 1880
- Columbia University Law School: Withdrew
As one might expect of Theodore Roosevelt, he did plenty to keep busy while in college. He famously participated in boxing, joined several clubs, and served as the editor of the Harvard Advocate. After his undergraduate education at Harvard, Roosevelt enrolled as a law student at Columbia.
However, he withdrew before completing his education. The Miller Center notes that he wanted to begin his career in public service instead of completing his education. But in 2008, he was awarded a posthumous honorary J.D. as a member of the class of 1882.
7. William Howard Taft
- Yale University: Class of 1878
Taft participated in many extracurricular activities as an undergraduate, according to Town and Country. He became a member of the Linonian Society, a literary and debate club. Taft also became a member of the Skull and Bones, a secret society that his father co-founded.
Thus, Taft numbers among the many presidents who joined secret societies, some more exclusive than others. A total of three members of the society — at least so far — have served as president of the United States.
Next: This president took a long time learning to read. But he still got an Ivy League education.
8. Woodrow Wilson
- Princeton University: Class of 1879
The Miller Center reports that Woodrow Wilson struggled with weak eyesight and possible dyslexia, both of which delayed his learning to read as a child. But Wilson didn’t let that stop him from pursuing an Ivy League education. (Nor did he let his lack of a formal education, poorly prepared as he was by the sparse public schooling of the post-Civil-War South, stand in his way.)
Wilson enrolled at the College of New Jersey, later called Princeton University. Town and Country reports that as a student at Princeton, Wilson served as the assistant manager of the baseball team. He also got involved in cycling.
Next: This president was a “C” student at the Ivy League school where he studied as an undergraduate.
9. Franklin D. Roosevelt
- Harvard University: Class of 1903
- Columbia University Law School: Withdrew
Franklin D. Roosevelt attended two Ivy League universities, but only graduated from one, according to Town and Country. He earned his undergraduate degree at Harvard, where he also served as editor-in-chief of the Harvard Crimson.
However, Biography notes that he was only a “C” student at Harvard, and “the general consensus by his contemporaries was that he was underwhelming and average.” Roosevelt then enrolled at Columbia’s law school, but withdrew before finishing his studies. In 2008, he was posthumously awarded an honorary J.D. as a member of the class of 1907.
Next: In his first couple of years at college, this president spent more time on athletics than academia.
10. John F. Kennedy
- Harvard University: Class of 1940
It should surprise basically nobody that John F. Kennedy attended Harvard, arguably the most storied of the Ivy League institutions. There, he became a part of the varsity swim team, undertook a college football career, and joined the sailing team.
The Miller Center reports that Kennedy also wrote a senior essay on England’s lack of readiness for World War II. “It was published and well received by critics, becoming a bestseller under the title Why England Slept,” the organization notes.
Next: This president turned down a professional football career to go to Yale.
11. Gerald Ford
- Yale University Law School: Class of 1941
Town and Country reports that Gerald Ford spent some of his time as a student at Yale’s law school “recovering from being a football star at the University of Michigan.”
Ford had achieved the most distinguished college football career of any president, and could actually have played professional football. The Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers made offers to him, but Ford turned them both down and enrolled at Yale instead.
Next: This president attended an Ivy League school after serving in World War II.
12. George H.W. Bush
- Yale University: Class of 1948
The Miller Center reports that George H.W. Bush attended Yale University as “part of a surge of World War II veterans who flooded colleges and universities after the war.” He studied economics in an accelerated degree program and became involved in student activities on campus.
As a student at Yale, Bush served as captain of the baseball team, according to Town and Country. (He actually numbers among our most athletic presidents.) Bush also participated in cheerleading, and became a member of the Skull and Bones society.
Next: This president avoided the draft by going to law school.
13. Bill Clinton
- Yale University Law School: Class of 1973
Biography reports that as an undergraduate, Bill Clinton attended Georgetown University, an elite school that nonetheless doesn’t number among the exclusive ranks of Ivy League colleges and universities. He won a Rhodes scholarship and planned to study at Oxford University, but his draft notice forced him to return to Arkansas.
Clinton avoided military service by enrolling in the ROTC program at the University of Arkansas Law School, but then returned to Oxford and later matriculated at Yale. Town and Country reports that as a law student at Yale, Clinton became a member of the Order of Demolay, a youth group affiliated with the Freemasons.
Next: This president became the first to have an MBA.
14. George W. Bush
- Yale University: Class of 1968
- Harvard University Business School: Class of 1975
Despite popular criticism of his intelligence, George W. Bush attended two elite Ivy League universities. Town and Country notes that as an undergraduate at Yale, Bush participated in cheerleading. Biography characterizes him as a popular student at Yale, and notes that he prioritized his social life over academia as an undergraduate.
Bush became a member of the Skull and Bones society. After graduating from Yale and serving in the Texas Air National Guard. Bush then went to business school and Harvard, and later became the first president to have earned an MBA.
Next: This president channeled the struggles of his youth into an Ivy League education.
15. Barack Obama
- Columbia University: Class of 1983
- Harvard University Law School: Class of 1991
After struggling in his youth with racism and with the absence of his father, Barack Obama began his undergraduate education at Occidental College in Los Angeles, according to Biography. He studied at the college for two years, then transferred to Columbia University. He graduated with a degree in political science.
Post-graduation, Obama worked as a community organizer in Chicago. He then attended Harvard University’s Law School, where Town and Country reports he became the first black president of the Harvard Law Review.
Next: Here’s how Donald Trump’s educational achievements stack up.
16. Donald Trump
- University of Pennsylvania: Class of 1968
Donald Trump has often boasted about his Ivy League background. But like a few other presidents, he didn’t begin his education at the elite university from which he graduated. After attending a military academy — chosen by his father for its strict discipline — Donald Trump enrolled at Fordham University, according to Biography. Two years later, he transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned an undergraduate degree in economics.
During his time as a college student, Trump spent his summers working at his father’s real estate business. Trump also secured education deferments for the Vietnam War draft, and then got a medical deferment after he graduated.
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