Holding a bachelor’s degree doesn’t mean a person will do better or worse at the job of being president. Some leaders without college degrees are regarded as the best presidents in American history. Find out which presidents never earned a college degree — and learn who was the most academically decorated president (page 13).
He was a lawyer without a degree. | Wikimedia Commons
Andrew Jackson enrolled in the Continental Army at 13 years old as a courier, History says. During his time in the army, he was a prisoner of war by the British. As an adult, he became a lawyer, albeit one without a college degree, according to The Washington Post. As the seventh president of the United States, Jackson served two consecutive terms from 1829 to 1837.
Hint: This dropout went on to become president.
Martin Van Buren
Here’s another lawyer without a degree. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Martin Van Buren dropped out of school at age 14, the Washington Examiner says. He went on pursue a career in law and later politics. By 21, Van Buren earned his place on the New York State bar. Van Buren served as president from 1837 to 1841, according to The Washington Post.
Hint: This president could barely write.
He could barely write. | National Archive/Getty Images
Another president who chose a life in the military over school, Zachary Taylor didn’t earn a college degree. In fact, he could barely write. Biographer K. Jack Bauer called Taylor’s handwriting “that of a near-illiterate,” the Washington Examiner says. Taylor died unexpected during his first term as president on July 9, 1850, Biography says.
Hint: This president fell in love with his teacher.
Like his predecessor, he didn’t have a degree. | National Archive/Newsmakers
Succeeding Taylor after his untimely death, Millard Fillmore also earned no college degree. However, while attending school as a teenager, Fillmore fell in love with his teacher, who later became his wife, the White House says. Although Fillmore didn’t earn a college degree, he became a lawyer.
Hint: One president admitted to not knowing much.
Lincoln learned on his own. | Alexander Gardner/U.S. Library of Congress via Getty Images
“Of course when I came of age I did not know much,” Abraham Lincoln wrote, months before receiving the presidential nomination, according to the White House. “Still somehow, I could read, write, and cipher … but that was all,” Lincoln wrote. Lincoln didn’t attend college, The Washington Post says. Instead, he learned by doing. “His ambition was a little engine that knew no rest,” Lincoln’s law partner said about him, according to the White House.
Hint: This president made a living as a tailor.
He ran away a child. | Library of Congress/Handout/Getty Images
Andrew Johnson ran away as a child and opened a tailor shop, according to the White House. An avid debater, Johnson became well-versed in speeches, which led him to a career in politics. Following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson took on the role as president.
Hint: This president wore many hats in politics.
He gained experience in local government. | National Archive/Newsmakers/Getty Images
While Grover Cleveland didn’t earn any degrees, he gained experience in politics by acting in local government. First, he became a lawyer. Then, he was elected mayor of Buffalo, New York, and later governor. His political experience is what may have helped him be the only president to ever have left office and run for another term and win, the White House says.
Hint: This president dropped out of school twice.
Harry S. Truman
Truman was a former farmer. | Fox Photos/Getty Images
A former farmer and haberdashery owner, Harry S. Truman did not earn a college degree. Truman became an elected official in the 1920s, sitting as a judge and then a senator. Truman dropped out of school twice — a business school in Kansas City followed by night classes to earn his law degree, the Washington Examiner says.
Hint: The Army led this president to leave school.
Like many early presidents, he chose the military over education. | Wikimedia Commons
The last president from the Founding Fathers, James Monroe enrolled in school at the College of William & Mary but left after a short time to join the Continental Army, The Washington Post says. Attending college for a short time doesn’t mean Monroe didn’t make an impact. He has buildings named after him on college campuses across the country. After leaving the College of William & Mary, Monroe went on to become a senator, governor, and of course president.
Hint: Studying medicine was this president’s intention.
William Henry Harrison
He was the oldest person to be elected president. | White House
William Henry Harrison enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania to study medicine but never completed his degree, The Washington Post says. Like many other presidents, Harrison went into the military before running for office. He spent much of his life in the Northwest with the Army, the White House says. Harrison, the oldest person to be elected president, died 32 days after being in office.
Hint: This president became a lawyer without earning his degree.
He became a lawyer without a degree. | Photos.com/Getty Images Plus
William McKinley attended Allegheny College for a year before the Civil War broke out. He enlisted as a private in the Union Army, the White House says. Later in life, McKinley attended Albany Law School. However, McKinley became a lawyer without earning his degree, according to The Washington Post.
Hint: This president only has a license.
He used his brilliant military skills to get ahead, not a degree. | Wikimedia Commons
George Washington earned his surveyor’s license from the College of William & Mary but no degree, according to The Washington Post. He helped survey lands at the age of 16, the White House says. An accomplished military man, Washington earned the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1754, at the age of 22. In 1789, Washington became the first U.S. President ever.
Hint: This president earned the highest degree of any president.
Only 1 president has earned a Ph.D
He was the only president to receive a Ph.D. | Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons
The outlier among fellow presidents is Woodrow Wilson. Wilson is the most academically decorated president. He earned his doctorate in political science from Johns Hopkins University, History says. He even worked at a prestigious university. Wilson was the president of Princeton University before becoming President of the United States, according to The Washington Post
Hint: These presidents earned their law degrees.
Presidents who earned law degrees
Obama was one of many presidents with a law degree. | Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images
A number of presidents hold law degrees. While some were admitted to the bar without a degree, these presidents earned their degrees. Barack Obama and Rutherford B. Hayed earned their law degrees at Harvard, according to The Washington Post. And Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford received their degrees from Yale.
Hint: Two presidents earned degrees after their passing.
Posthumous college degrees
Both Roosevelts received degrees after their deaths. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Two U.S. presidents have received college degrees after their deaths. Theodore Roosevelt attended Columbia University along with his cousin and fellow U.S. president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Both men dropped out of law school at Columbia, according to The Washington Post. And both received law degrees from Columbia in 2008.
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