10 Most Surprising College Majors in Presidential History

By Caitlin Smith

U.S. Presidents have to manage a mind-boggling range of issues, from international affairs to domestic cultural issues to the environment to national security to economics. And just as no presidents deal with the same exact issues in the same circumstances, no presidents have prepared for the job in the same way. Some presidents enjoyed long careers in politics and studied political science, U.S. history and international relations, but others had careers in journalism, education and even geology before entering into politics. Read on to discover the 10 most surprising majors in presidential history.

  1. William Henry Harrison: William Henry Harrison, born in Virginia, is unfortunately most famous today for dying in office after contracting a bad cold virus. The ninth President of the United States, and the last president born before the American Independence was also a medical school dropout, and only boasted 32 days in office.
  2. Ronald Reagan: Ronald Reagan’s legacy includes the end of the Cold War and the toppling of the Soviet Union, as well as the U.S. Republican Revolution, which re-strengthened the Republican party for decades. Before getting into politics however, the 40th President of the United States was an actor from Illinois who enjoyed a successful film career in Hollywood in the 1930s – 1940s, even serving as 3rd Vice President of the Screen Actors Guild after serving in the military. His dual major at Eureka College in sociology and economics no doubt helped him for each of his future careers.
  3. Jimmy Carter: Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States, is still regarded for his peace-keeping projects and sensibility. Born in Georgia, Carter was actually the first president born in a hospital, in 1924. He attended Georgia Southwestern College and Georgia Tech, studying mathematics but never graduating from either. Ultimately, Carter enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated 59th out of 820 students.
  4. Warren G. Harding: Warren G. Harding, the 29th U.S. President, does not have a very positive political legacy and favored friends from his Ohio circle when picking Cabinet members. But before entering politics, Harding was a prominent newspaper publisher in Marion, OH. He attended Ohio Central College in Iberia, where he studied printing and journalism.
  5. Lyndon B. Johnson: LBJ is one of U.S. history’s most controversial presidents, due to his failure in Vietnam. But LBJ also played a significant role in progressing the civil rights movement and NASA. Johnson–who, as Vice President, succeeded President John F. Kennedy when he was assassinated–had humble beginnings and was born in a farmhouse in south central Texas. Johnson studied education at the Southwest Texas State Teachers’ College and favored teaching Mexican immigrant children in Cotulla and Pearsall, TX, before taking a position as a public speaking teacher in Houston. As President, Johnson continued to support education and even signed the Higher Education Act of 1965, which created scholarships and increased the amount of federal money given to colleges and universities.
  6. Herbert Hoover: Though when he was sworn in to office as the 31st President Hoover had no previous experience as an elected official, Hoover was a Renaissance man for the times. He was an author, a mining engineer and had served as the United States Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge. He was also in the first class at Stanford University in 1891, where he studied geology. As for his legacy, Hoover was harshly criticized during and after his Presidency for his treatment of the 1929 stock market crash and heavy taxation laws.
  7. George H.W. Bush: George H.W. Bush was the 41st U.S. President and had served as Vice President under Ronald Reagan and as Director of Central Intelligence under Gerald R. Ford. He was part of the Republic Revolution inspired by Reagan but was unable to get reelected against Democrat Bill Clinton after his first term. After World War II, during which Bush served as a naval aviator, he attended Yale University, where he studied economics, perhaps a surprise since Bush’s economic legacy was used against him by the Clinton camp during the 1992 presidential campaign.
  8. George W. Bush: George W. Bush, 43rd President of the U.S. and son of President George H.W. Bush, enjoyed serving for two terms but has an uncertain legacy as the Commander in Chief who started the second Iraq War, detained prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and pursued the phantom Weapons of Mass Destruction. Bush, considered to be the cowboy president, is also the only president to have an MBA, which he earned in the 1970s from Harvard Business School.
  9. Harry S Truman: Harry S. Truman was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Vice President and succeeded him after he died during his third term, in 1945. When Truman became President, he was almost immediately in charge of making the decision to drop the atomic bomb in Japan. Though Truman studied law for a couple of years and had solid experience in politics–serving as county judge, U.S. senator and Vice President before becoming President–he never earned a degree from college.
  10. Woodrow Wilson: President Wilson, most famous for helping resolve the post-WWI treaties and helping start The League of Nations (which the U.S. never joined) also has a Nobel Peace Prize and was the President who first declared national Mother’s Day. Earlier in life, however, Wilson was an esteemed faculty member at Bryn Mawr College and Wesleyan University, as well as the first Constitutional Law lecturer at New York Law School, which is better known today as New York University School of Law. The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University is also named for him. Wilson was himself a dedicated student. He graduated from Princeton in 1879, attended one year of law school at the University of Virginia, and ultimately earned a Ph.D. in history and political science from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland in 1883. He is the only U.S. President to have earned a doctorate degree.

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