The nine best colleges for aspiring presidents of the United States of America

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As of 2012, the United States has seen 44 presidencies (Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms). Of the 43 presidents who have served the republic, some have been great leaders. A few have been abysmal failures. (We’re looking at you, James Buchanan.) Most have fallen somewhere on a broad continuum of mediocrity.

Still, it’s a plum job that looks nice on any resume. The pay is relatively low and the work is demanding. However, the perks include significant free travel, free food and free housing (albeit in a large office building).

If you are thinking about becoming the president of the United States, it definitely pays to attend the right schools and make the right connections. These nine schools are your best bets. All told, 20 of the 43 American presidents – almost 47% — have attended one or more of them.

There’s a slideshow below. If you like esoteric history and trivia, though, keep reading.

1. Harvard University. Harvard has produced seven presidents of the United States of America, which is just over 16% of the total. John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams each received two degrees from Harvard. After an embarrassing dry spell of nearly a century, Harvard finally produced another president when all-around bull moose Theodore Roosevelt graduated magna cum laude in 1880. Teddy’s fifth cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, got his sheepskin from Harvard in 1903, majoring in history. John F. Kennedy left the school in 1960 with a diploma in international affairs. George W. Bush received his B.A. from hated rival Yale but went on to earn an MBA from Harvard Business School. Most recently, Barack Obama earned a law degree from Harvard Law School.

2. Yale University. Five American presidents — 11% in all — were Yalies. In 1878, William Howard Taft graduated second in his class at Yale. His nickname was “Old Bill” and he was an intramural wrestling champion. Gerald Ford graduated from Yale Law School in 1941. George H. W. Bush received an economics degree from Yale in 1948. He was the captain of the Bulldog baseball team. Bill Clinton received his J.D. from Yale in 1973. (He also met fellow student Hillary Rodham there.) George W. Bush, like his father, also attended Yale. He received a B.A. in history in 1968.

3. United States Military Academy. Occasionally, we Americans like to elect highly successful generals to serve as our presidents. Such was the case with Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower, both graduates of West Point. As a cadet, Grant (Class of 1843) was an expert equestrian and a bit of an artist. Eisenhower (Class of 1915) played running back and linebacker for the football team. Jefferson Davis, president of the ill-fated Confederate States of America during the Civil War, is also an alumnus. He graduated in 1828.

4. Princeton University. James Madison graduated from Princeton (then called The College of New Jersey) as a regular Renaissance Man. He founded what is now the oldest debate union in the country while he was there. Woodrow Wilson is another graduate (Class of 1879). Wilson also served on Princeton’s faculty and as the president. Presidential footnote Ralph Nader (Class of 1955) is also a Princeton grad.

5. The College of William & Mary. William & Mary is the second oldest college in the nation (behind Harvard). The school has been star-crossed as far as producing presidents these last couple centuries, but it was a heavy hitter back in the day. Thomas Jefferson graduated in 1762, after just two years. Circa 1774, James Monroe spent a year at W&M but the brewing caused him to take a commission in the Continental Army, never to return. John Tyler also graduated from William & Mary, in 1807.

6. Columbia University. Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt both attended Columbia Law School, but dropped out before graduating. Barack Obama, Columbia’s most famous transfer student, graduated in 1983 with a major in political science. (Obama transferred from Occidental College.) Dwight Eisenhower didn’t attend Columbia but he was its 13th president. Also worth noting: Alexander Haig (MBA Class of 1955) was Reagan’s secretary of state. When Reagan was shot in 1981, Haig famously told reporters, “I am in control here, in the White House.”

7. University of Virginia. Other than Woodrow Wilson’s brief, unfinished stint at the law school, not a single American president attended UVA but it is nevertheless hallowed in presidential history. Thomas Jefferson founded the school in 1819 and designed much of the collegiately perfect campus. James Monroe lived on land now occupied by the University, and served on the school’s Board of Visitors. Upon Jefferson’s death on July 4, 1826, James Madison served as UVA’s second president until his own death in 1836.

8. Eureka College. Tiny Eureka College in central Illinois is Ronald Reagan’s alma mater. Reagan graduated in 1932 with a degree in — what else? — economics. He was captain of the swim team, a member of the football team, and active in theater and Greek life. He was also elected student body president and, perhaps, occasionally found time to sleep. A few other schools have graduated presidents, obviously, but only Eureka College graduated Ronald Reagan. And that’s more than enough to garner a spot on this list.

9. United States Naval Academy. In 1947, Jimmy Carter graduated 59th out of 820 midshipmen at the Naval Academy. He later went on to become a failed one-term president. John McCain (Class of 1958) and political gadfly Ross Perot (Class of 1953) were also Midshipmen. Actually, you could argue that the Naval Academy is the worst undergraduate school for would-be American presidents to attend. But somebody’s got to break through and be good eventually, right? Right?

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Eric Owens