It’s not uncommon in Silicon Valley for entrepreneurs to reach the top without a college degree, but the U.S. presidency is a different story. Most presidents have had at least a bachelor’s degree — all since 1953 have done so — but you may be surprised at which ones never earned a college diploma.
First on the list is George Washington, who vies with Abraham Lincoln as being the greatest president in U.S. history. Washington earned a surveyor’s license at the College of William & Mary in Virginia but not a bachelor’s degree. And Lincoln didn’t attend college at all. Yet both are etched onto Mount Rushmore, a tribute to our greatest presidents.
Other presidents who never attended college were Andrew Jackson (1829-1837), Martin Van Buren (1837-1841), Zachary Taylor (1849-1850), Millard Fillmore (1850-1853), Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) and Grover Cleveland (1885-1889 and 1893-1897, the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms).
Four other presidents enrolled in college but did not complete a degree, including Harry S. Truman, who is often said to have never attended college, though he actually spent a semester at a business college in Kansas City before dropping out to get a job and later attended some night classes at the University of Missouri’s Kansas City law school. James Monroe enrolled in the College of William & Mary but stayed only a short while and then joined the Continental Army (there are buildings named after him at at least four universities). William Henry Harrison (who died on his 32nd day in office in 1841), started at the University of Pennsylvania studying medicine but never graduated. And William McKinley (1897-1901) attended Allegheny College for only a year; he later attended Albany Law School but was admitted to the bar without earning a degree.
Only one president, Woodrow Wilson, had a doctorate (1913-1921), and, in fact, was president of Princeton University before becoming U.S. president.
A number of presidents have law degrees, including President Obama (2009-present) and Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881), both from Harvard; and Gerald Ford (1974-1977) and Bill Clinton (1993-2001), both from Yale. Two presidents, Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909), and his cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945), both attended Columbia law school, both withdrew, and both were posthumously awarded degrees in 2008.
As for the other two presidents on Mount Rushmore, Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) earned a bachelor’s degree from the College of William & Mary and later founded the University of Virginia, and Theodore Roosevelt earned a bachelor’s degree at Harvard.
(Fixing typos in dates of Teddy Roosevelt presidential administrations)