4 Undergraduate Majors That Might Lead You to the White House
No law exists that says the U.S. president must possess a college degree. We all know, though, that a diploma is a mark of distinction and that higher education expands the scope of careers for which one might be suited. In addition to providing a knowledge base in a specific discipline, post-secondary studies aid in the development of skills that serve any leader well — communication, critical thinking, global awareness, and interpretation of numbers, to name a few.
The first president to hold a college degree was John Adams, who graduated from Harvard University back in 1755. Every U.S. president since Dwight D. Eisenhower took office in 1953 has been a college graduate. The two most prominent candidates in the 2020 election continue this pattern. Donald Trump has an undergraduate degree from Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania, and Joe Biden earned a bachelor’s at University of Delaware and a law degree at Syracuse University.
Which undergraduate programs of study might best fit someone with presidential aspirations? Any major could potentially be the starting point on a road to the White House. If history is bound to repeat itself, however, consider one of these choices popular among past occupiers of the Oval Office:
Not a big surprise here. Someone with an inkling toward politics can get a great introduction from immersion in this discipline. Barack Obama is the most recent president to choose this route as an undergraduate. Woodrow Wilson holds a Ph.D. in the area and the distinction of being the only U.S. president to earn a doctorate.
Highlights of many political science programs include:
- Exploring political questions, tactics, and strategies from various perspectives
- Learning how to think critically about issues facing contemporary society
- Gaining a thorough understanding of the U.S. political system
- Understanding how to communicate to audiences effectively
- Analyzing current and historical political issues
A strong grasp of the past certainly can make someone better equipped to deal with the future. Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and George W. Bush all studied history before making history.
Things often covered in history classes include:
- Understanding societies and cultures through time
- Developing close-reading skills
- Becoming informed citizens
- Analyzing links between past, present, and future
- Learning about different parts of the world and the events that shaped them
Every leader makes decisions about money, so a foundation in economics can be great preparation for dealing with the complex financial issues bound to arise. Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, and George H.W. Bush are three former presidents who studied economics as undergrads.
The curriculum for an economics major commonly focuses on:
- Understanding resource allocation, economic modeling, and market outcomes
- Analyzing human decision-making, from individual choices to international relations
- Honing quantitative and qualitative research skills and interpretations
- Exploring various fiscal and monetary policies and the factors that shape them
Building relationships with other countries always has been an important presidential endeavor. As technology and travel continue to boost the concept of people as global citizens, being well-versed in international matters will remain critical. Bill Clinton chose this as his major at Georgetown University (which, incidentally, is located about 10 minutes from the White House).
Coursework in international affairs typically focuses on:
- Understanding both past and present connections between countries
- Appreciating cultural differences
- Exploring global issues such as trade, war, poverty, human rights, environment, disease, economics, and diplomacy
- Learning about foreign policies and factors that influence them
Of course, most individuals studying these fields (or any other) will not end up becoming president. However, all college graduates emerge as stronger thinkers ready to make an impact in whichever career they ultimately pursue.
By Beth Hering