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US Constitution
Education
High School

Do presidents need high school diploma?

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January 19, 2012 7:14AM

There was no official rule about it, and in fact, in the old days, not everyone was able to go to high school. Several presidents were self-taught, tutored at home, or had much less than a high-school education. A good example is Abraham Lincoln: he had very little formal education, but he continued to study on his own and also apprenticed himself to educated men who could train him; eventually, he learned enough to pass the Bar Exam and became a lawyer. On the other hand, even back in the earliest days of the United States, a few presidents attended a university-- for example, John Adams went to Harvard, and Thomas Jefferson attended the College of William and Mary.

As education became more formal (with laws that prevented a young person from dropping out until a certain age), it also became more widely available. Having a good education was soon considered essential for certain occupations; and it was expected that the leader of the United States would be an educated person, with at least a high school diploma and maybe even more. Thus, all presidents over the past 140 years not only finished high school: they attended or completed college. And one president, Woodrow Wilson, even had a PhD.