The United States of America has had 44 presidents. With only a few exceptions, each president attended college or law school. Most were educated at one of the Ivy League schools, but there are some interesting exceptions to this trend as well. Read on to see which presidents went to which schools!
Colleges That Presidents Went To
George Washington; King’s College (New York, N.Y.)
Washington attended King’s College in New York City, now known as Columbia University. He was a member of the class of 1752 and was one of only two students who graduated with honors during that year. Washington received his bachelor’s degree in 1751, which made him the first President to attend college and receive a bachelor’s degree.
Washington was a good student and he received good grades throughout his time at King’s College. He also won several prizes for academic excellence, including one for being “most improved student” during his junior year (1750–1751).
John Adams; Harvard University (Cambridge, Mass.)
The second president of the United States graduated from Harvard University in 1755. He was also a member of the Hasty Pudding Club (the oldest collegiate social club), Fly Club (a secret society for juniors and seniors at Harvard), and Porcellian Club (another secret society for juniors and seniors).
Back then, Harvard didn’t have a four-year undergraduate degree program; you either got your Bachelor’s in three years (at which point you’d be 21) or took another year to finish up a Master’s. John Adams received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1755—second in his class after William Ellery Channing—and went on to earn his Master’s two years later.
Thomas Jefferson; William and Mary (Williamsburg, Va.)
Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, in Albemarle County, Virginia. He attended William and Mary from 1760 to 1762. He was the third President of the United States.
James Madison; Princeton University (Princeton, N.J.)
James Madison, the fourth president of the United States and main author of the U.S. Constitution, attended Princeton University (Princeton, N.J.).
James Monroe; William and Mary (Williamsburg, Va.)
You’re probably familiar with James Monroe as the fifth President of the United States, but you may not know that he was also a founding father. He was born in 1758 in Virginia, then called Williamsburg, where his father served as sheriff. He graduated from William and Mary College (now the College of William and Mary) in 1776 at age seventeen. While attending this college, he worked at a printing press owned by his older brother. After graduation, he joined George Washington’s regiment during America’s war for independence against England. He continued his military career after becoming president and eventually retired as a general in 1824 at age sixty-six.
John Quincy Adams; Harvard University (Cambridge, Mass.)
John Quincy Adams was the son of President John Adams, and he went to Harvard University. He was only the second president to graduate from Harvard (his father being the first). John Quincy Adams graduated in 1787 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and government.
During his time at Harvard, he joined four honor societies: Phi Beta Kappa Society; Hasty Pudding Club; Fly Club; and Porcellian Club.
Andrew Jackson; none
Andrew Jackson may have been the first president to be a public school drop-out, but he was certainly not the last. In fact, there have only been five presidents with college degrees.
- Andrew Jackson did not finish his undergraduate studies at what is now Washington and Lee University because of financial reasons. He later studied law and opened up his own practice in Nashville.
- Ulysses S. Grant went to West Point after applying while working as a clerk in his family’s leather goods store (and being recommended by his father). He graduated from there before going on to fight in the Mexican-American War, where he earned three brevets (temporary promotions). After serving one term as President himself, Grant returned for several years as Commanding General of the United States Army during which time he oversaw some successful campaigns against Native Americans who were resisting federal control over their lands but also failed against Robert E. Lee’s forces during The Battle of Shiloh which resulted in high casualties on both sides; this battle was later memorialized by artist Charles Deas’ painting titled “Battlefield at Corinth”.
Martin Van Buren; Kinderhook Academy (Kinderhook, N.Y.)
Martin Van Buren was the first president to have a formal education. He attended Kinderhook Academy, which was a one-room schoolhouse that taught Latin and Greek. The school was founded by Rev. John H. Livingston in 1794 and only lasted for about 15 years before being replaced with a larger building in 1809. Today, it is still standing and operates as a museum.
Kinderhook Academy was also known as “Collegiate School,” as it offered secondary education to boys who could afford the tuition fee of $8 per quarter year. The curriculum included classical languages such as Greek, Latin and Hebrew; modern languages like French or Italian; mathematics (including geometry); natural philosophy; history; geography; grammar school work such as writing or spelling lessons
William Henry Harrison; Hampden-Sydney College (Hampden-Sydney, Va.)
William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the United States, attended Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. Founded in 1775, it is the oldest college in the South. Although it was originally founded as a school for boys and young men, Hampden-Sydney became coed in 2007 when it merged with Mary Baldwin College.
Today, Hampden-Sydney’s student body numbers around 1,300 students; its curriculum includes English, mathematics/computer science and history courses as well as more than 20 clubs and organizations. Graduates have gone on to earn numerous awards including Rhodes Scholarships (three recipients), Marshall Scholarships (two recipients) and Fulbright Scholarships (four recipients).
John Tyler; The College of William and Mary (Williamsburg, Va.)
John Tyler was born in Charles City County, Virginia. He was the son of Judge John Tyler Sr. and Mary Armistead.
Tyler graduated from the College of William and Mary (Williamsburg, Va.) in 1807 with a bachelor’s degree, which is equivalent to an undergraduate degree today. He then studied law at Harvard University and earned his license to practice law when he passed the bar examination in 1809.
James K. Polk; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, N.C.)
James K. Polk was born in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina on November 2, 1795. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1818 to 1820, where he was a member of the Philanthropic Society and later served as its president.
Polk graduated with honors from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1818 and went on to study law at another school in North Carolina for two years before returning home to establish his own practice.
He then moved to Tennessee before settling down in Columbia, Tennessee where he ran an iron foundry until 1825 when he became involved in public service by serving on the Tennessee House of Representatives for two terms (19th and 20th).
Zachary Taylor; U.S. Military Academy at West Point (West Point, N.Y.)
Zachary Taylor was the 12th president of the United States. A career military officer, Taylor led American forces in the Mexican-American War and later served as a state governor and U.S. president.
Taylor attended West Point where he excelled at math and engineering. When he graduated in 1839, he was commissioned second lieutenant in the 1st Artillery Regiment of the U.S Army Corps (it’s now called Artillery School). He had two sons who also attended West Point: Richard Taylor became a Confederate general during the Civil War; Jefferson Davis graduated from West Point but resigned his commission after only one year to serve with his father in Mexico City during their conquest there for freedom from Mexico’s dictator Santa Anna; Jefferson Davis then married Varina Howell who would later become First Lady when her husband became President of Confederacy for seven years until 1865 when General Robert E Lee surrendered unconditionally at Appomattox Courthouse ending any hope for Southern Independence from North America’s Union Government under Abraham Lincoln
Millard Fillmore; New Hope Academy in Locke, New York and Franklin College of New York in Aurora, New York for two years before being recruited to become a law clerk for a judge in Buffalo, New York. He never graduated from any of the three schools he attended.
Millard Fillmore was born in a log cabin in Locke, New York on January 7, 1800. He was the first president to be born after the American Revolution and the first president to be born in the 19th century. He also holds another distinction: he is one of three presidents who never graduated from college. While Fillmore did attend several schools, he never completed his formal education, instead starting working as a law clerk at age 18 and then becoming a lawyer by age 21.
With a little research, you can figure out which colleges the presidents went to. You may even discover some new facts about the presidents in general.