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Which President Would Have Dominated the GRE?

what higher education did the presidents haveOn this President’s Day, I thought it would be fun to look at the education level of our various Presidents of the United States. Specifically, has higher education been an important criterion for ascending to that highest office? And which President had the most education? Which President might be considered the smartest based on the letters following his name?

First, we should remember that higher education hasn’t always been the norm the way it is today. Some of our earliest Presidents had previously been practicing lawyers, for example, but that was at a time when having an official law degree wasn’t even necessary to practice law in some cases. And today having at least a college degree is assumed, whereas 200 years ago a college education was still very much an esteemed prize (note: some of our Presidents weren’t even college grads!).

Now with all of that said, let’s take a closer look at the post-graduate education levels of the U.S. Presidents.


Only one U.S. President received a doctorate. That was Woodrow Wilson, who received his Ph.D. in political science from Johns Hopkins University. Does that make him the smartest U.S. President? It certainly makes him the most educated President — and the one most likely to have dominated the GRE!

Incidentally, Wilson was also admitted to the bar after a combination of law school and independent study. That’s one smart cookie!

Business School

Two U.S. Presidents attended business school:

  • John F. Kennedy attended the Stanford Graduate School of Business (withdrew)
  • George W. Bush attended Harvard Business School

Medical School

Is there a doctor in the house? If that question were posed in the White House at the time of William Henry Harrison‘s presidency, the answer would have been yes! Well sort of. Harrison attended the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine for a time, but never graduated.

Law School

The legal profession is probably the most popular of the professions of our Presidents, at least if the number of Presidents who attended law school is any indication. As noted earlier, 16 Presidents practiced law without ever obtaining a degree. That includes the likes of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Abraham Lincoln.

Nevertheless, quite a few U.S. Presidents did in fact go to law school, as follows:

  • William McKinley, Albany Law School
  • Theodore Roosevelt, Colombia Law School (withdrew)
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt, Colombia Law School (withdrew)
  • Richard Nixon, Duke University Law School
  • Lyndon B. Johnson, Georgetown University Law Center (withdrew)
  • Rutherford B. Hayes, Harvard Law School
  • Barack Obama, Harvard Law School
  • Franklin Pierce, Northampton Law School
  • Chester A. Arthur, State and National Law School (did not graduate)
  • William Howard Taft, University of Cincinnati College of Law
  • Harry S. Truman, University of Kansas City School of Law (withdrew)
  • Woodrow Wilson, University of Virginia School of Law (withdrew)
  • Gerald Ford, Yale Law School
  • Bill Clinton, Yale Law School

So what’s the moral of the story? Unless your name is George Washington, you probably need at least a college degree if you have aspirations for the Presidency. Increasingly, an advanced degree is helpful as well — perhaps one for which you’ll need to take the GRE for admission!

When you’re ready to dominate the GRE, you know where to find us. In the meantime, Happy President’s Day!

Discussion Question: Who was your favorite U.S. President and why? Post your comments below!