They say politics is an insiders club, and to be fair, the data supports much of the stereotype.
There are nearly 3,000 four-year institutions in America, and yet over a third of U.S. presidents attended one of just five elite schools.
And when you consider that only 32 of 44 presidents attended college in the first place, the influence of those five schools becomes even more obvious. Roughly half of all college-educated commanders in chief went to the same handful of universities.
Still, StartClass wanted to recognize the other presidential colleges as well, so we made a list ranking all 22 schools attended by at least one chief executive.
While we ranked the list by the number of presidents attending a given school for undergraduate study, we used the following tie-breaking procedure:
- Law school attendance
- Business school attendance
- Vice president undergraduate attendance
- College Smart Rating*
With those rules in mind, let’s run down the list.
*The StartClass Smart Rating scores each institution according to five factors, including financial affordability, career readiness, admissions selectivity, expert opinion and academic excellence. See further details on StartClass.
Also, note that we only counted one undergraduate institution for each president. So if a president transferred in the middle of his collegiate career, the first school will not be reflected here. Sorry, Occidental (Barack Obama).
#22. Eureka College
President: Ronald Reagan
Eureka College is distinctive: it’s one of only two institutions on this list not widely regarded as a top American college. Still, the GOP can thank this small liberal arts school for its favorite modern president.
#21. Miami University – Oxford
President: Benjamin Harrison
Not to be confused with a Florida university of a similar name, Miami University is in Oxford, Ohio, and also the site of Benjamin Harrison’s undergraduate education.
Political buffs will also note that Harrison hails from Ohio, one of only two states that have produced eight presidents (the other being Virginia).
#20. Allegheny College
President: William McKinley
A small liberal arts school in Meadville, Pennsylvania, Allegheny is among the nation’s older colleges, having been founded in 1815.
#19. Dickinson College
President: James Buchanan
Another Pennsylvanian college, Dickinson was founded in 1773—a school even older than America itself.
#18. United States Naval Academy
President: Jimmy Carter
The most selective military school in the nation is the alma mater of Jimmy Carter, a fact that might come as a surprise to many of the president’s conservative critics.
#17. Kenyon College
President: Rutherford B. Hayes
The oldest private college in Ohio, Kenyon College is a liberal arts college with Ivy League-esque selection criteria.
#16. Union College
President: Chester A. Arthur
Union College got an early reputation as an insider’s school when it established three of nations earliest fraternities in the 19th century.
The college only began enrolling women in 1970.
#15. Bowdoin College
President: Fraklin Pierce
Bowdoin College was an all-boys college for nearly two centuries, between its opening in 1794 and its first female students in 1971.
#14. Williams College
President: James A. Garfield
Routinely ranked as one of the three best liberal arts schools in the nation, Williams College has an academic pedigree that would seem to indicate a long line of presidents. For now, however, only one president has attended the school.
#13. Texas State University
President: Lyndon B. Johnson
Vice President: Lyndon B. Johnson
Texas State University is the second mid-tier college on this list—a status it shares with Eureka. But TSU earns this spot on a bit of a technicality. Because LBJ serves as both a president and vice president, TSU earns a tie-break over its competitors.
#12. Whittier College
President: Richard Nixon
Vice President: Richard Nixon
Like TSU, Whittier places above several other schools on the strength of Nixon’s dual service: once as vice president and again as president.
#11. University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
President: James K. Polk
Vice President: William R. King
The University of North Carolina might be known best for its world-class basketball program, but the school also produced both a president and vice president.
#10. University of Michigan
President: Gerald Ford
Vice President: Gerald Ford
A top research university and home to over 43,000 students per year, the University of Michigan has produced exactly one president in its nearly two-century history.
Note that Gerald Ford has the rare distinction of being the only person to serve as both president and vice president without being elected by the Electoral College.
#9. Amherst College
President: Calvin Coolidge
Vice President: Calvin Coolidge
Like Williams, Amherst is a top liberal arts college. The two Massachusetts colleges have a close relationship and an ongoing rivalry. Each has produced a single U.S. president, though Amherst gets the nod due to Coolidge’s vice presidential service.
#8. Stanford University
President: Herbert Hoover (undergraduate); John F. Kennedy (business school)
With Stanford, we finally arrive at a school with both undergraduate and graduate representation in the White House.
Note, however, that JFK ended up withdrawing from business school before graduating—giving Stanford only the slightest of edges over previous schools.
#7. Georgetown University
President: Bill Clinton (undergraduate); Lyndon B. Johnson (law school*)
Two of the Democratic Party’s more admired presidents each attended Georgetown.
The school has produced a variety of other top political names as well, such as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Note that LBJ ended up withdrawing from Georgetown.
#6. Columbia University in the City of New York
President: Barack Obama (undergraduate); Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt (law school)
Vice President: Daniel D. Tompkins
Columbia’s representation looks strong at a glance, but there are several caveats. Barack Obama transferred to the school from Occidental. The two Roosevelts each started law school there, but each withdrew before graduating.
Only Tompkins enjoyed a full education at the school, though he attended way back in the 18th century.
Still, with four presidential figures in its history, Columbia ranks sixth overall.
#5. United States Military Academy (West Point)
Presidents: Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower
Unsurprisingly, West Point ranks high on the list. Its two representatives are also quite fitting: Ulysses S. Grant (the Union’s commanding general in the Civil War) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (a five-star general during World War II).
#4. Princeton University
Presidents: James Madison and Woodrow Wilson
Vice Presidents: Aaron Burr, George M. Dallas and John C. Breckinridge
With Princeton, we officially reach the presidential powerhouses. The Ivy League institution has five former executives to its name, including two presidents and three vice presidents.
#3. College of William and Mary
Presidents: Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and John Tyler
Vice Presidents: Thomas Jefferson and John Tyler
The College of William and Mary had an excellent run in America’s early days, playing host to the country’s third, fifth and tenth president.
The institution’s presidential production has been scant since, but the school ranks high on legacy alone.
#2. Yale University
Presidents: William Howard Taft, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush (undergraduate); Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton (law school)
Vice Presidents: John C. Calhoun and George H.W. Bush
Already a presidential school, Yale got a big boost in the rankings from the Bush family. Between two Bushes as undergraduates at Yale—and H.W. Bush serving as vice president—the Ivy League institution earns a second-place ranking overall.
#1. Harvard University
Presidents: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy (undergraduate); Rutherford B. Hayes and Barack Obama (law school); George W. Bush (business school)
Vice Presidents: John Adams, Elbridge Gerry, Theodore Roosevelt and Al Gore
Harvard University has educated no fewer than five U.S. presidents—eight if you factor in law and business school.
Throw in the four vice presidents who have attended the college, and Harvard is the clear winner. It’s a position we don’t see the school giving up anytime soon.
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