In this guide, we’ve shared the stories of U.S. presidents that didn’t graduate from college but still found themselves in the country’s highest office. While we aren’t arguing in favor of skipping college, we do wish to present this historical tribute in honor of Presidents’ Day weekend. Some of our country’s most transformational figures may not have received a post-secondary degree, but they all shared a zest for learning and exceptional intelligence.
Our nation’s first president had an extremely active life as he headed into adulthood. By his 22nd birthday, Washington had started a fulfilling farming career, was a major in the Virginia army, and earned a surveyor certificate, which he would use in Culpeper County. However, he never attended college.
Born in a tiny log cabin, Lincoln had a rough-and-tumble upbringing that didn’t allow for costly university studies. In fact, he only received about a year of formal education during his childhood, but that didn’t stop him from being a voracious reader. His self-directed learning led him to develop impressive writing and oratorical skills, leading to timeless speeches like the Gettysburg Address.
Jackson’s childhood was filled with tragedy, as his immediate family died in the Revolutionary War, and he was left an orphan by age 15. Our nation’s seventh president did not attend university, but he still built a successful law practice and became a landowner before his peers even received their diplomas.
Truman briefly attended business school at Spalding’s Commercial College, in Kansas City, and took night classes at the University of Kansas’ law school as well. However, he dropped out of both programs to help his father’s business, and he never completed a post-secondary program.
After his father passed away, Cleveland dropped out of the Clinton Liberal Academy at age 16 to help his struggling family. His brother William was teaching at the New York Institute for the Blind, and he helped Grover find a job there as an assistant teacher. Although a church elder offered to pay for Cleveland’s college tuition if he became a minister, he turned the elder down and began a law career in Buffalo. By 1859, he would pass the New York bar.
Whether or not you decide to attend college, there’s so much wisdom to gain from our country’s brief, yet incredible history. At GraduationSource, we encourage people to develop a lasting curiosity and become lifelong learners, just like our illustrious presidents that didn’t graduate from college. Visit the GraduationSource blog to learn how higher education can help you achieve those goals.