Barack Obama Education. Does Barack Obama Have a College Degree?

About Barack Obama Education

Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, was born on August 4, 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii to Barack Obama, Sr. (1936–1982) (born in Rachuonyo District, British Kenya) and Stanley Ann Dunham, known as Ann (1942–1995) (born in Wichita, Kansas, United States).

Barack Obama spent most of his childhood years in Honolulu, where his parents met while attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Obama started a close relationship with his maternal grandparents. In 1965, his mother remarried to Lolo Soetoro from Indonesia. Two years later, Dunham took Obama with her to Indonesia to reunite him with his stepfather. In 1971, Obama returned to Honolulu to attend Punahou School, from which he graduated in 1979.

Barack Obama Education at University Manoa
Barack Obama Education at University of Hawaii at Manoa

As a young adult, Obama moved to the contiguous United States, where he was educated at Occidental College, Columbia University, and Harvard Law School. While living in the South Side of Chicago, Obama worked at various times as a community organizer, lawyer, Lecturer and Senior Lecturer of constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School, and later published his memoir Dreams from My Father before beginning his political career in 1997 as a member of the Illinois Senate.

Barack Obama Education Occidental College
Barack Obama Education Occidental College

Following high school, Obama moved to Los Angeles in 1979, where he studied at Occidental College for two years. On February 18, 1981, he made his first public speech, calling for Occidental's divestment from South Africa. In the summer of 1981, Obama traveled to Jakarta to visit his mother and half-sister Maya, and visited the families of Occidental College friends in Hyderabad (India) and Karachi (Pakistan) for three weeks.

Barack Obama Education at Columbia University
Barack Obama Education at Columbia University, New York City

He then transferred to Columbia University in New York City, where he majored in political science with a specialization in international relations. Obama lived off campus in a modest rented apartment at 142 West 109th Street. He graduated with a B.A. from Columbia in 1983, then worked at Business International Corporation and New York Public Interest Research Group.

Barack Obama study at Punahou Academy
Barack Obama study at Punahou Academy

While living with his grandparents, Obama enrolled in the esteemed Punahou Academy, He excelled in basketball and graduated with academic honors in 1979. As one of only three black students at the school, Obama became conscious of racism and what it meant to be African-American. He later described how he struggled to reconcile social perceptions of his multiracial heritage with his own sense of self: "I noticed that there was nobody like me in the Sears, Roebuck Christmas catalog. . .and that Santa was a white man," he wrote. "I went into the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror with all my senses and limbs seemingly intact, looking as I had always looked, and wondered if something was wrong with me."

Obama also struggled with the absence of his father, who he saw only once more after his parents divorced, when Obama Sr. visited Hawaii for a short time in 1971. "[My father] had left paradise, and nothing that my mother or grandparents told me could obviate that single, unassailable fact," he later reflected. "They couldn't describe what it might have been like had he stayed."

Ten years later, in 1981, tragedy struck Obama Sr. when he lost both of his legs in a serious car accident. Confined to a wheelchair, he also lost his job. In 1982, Obama Sr. was involved in yet another car accident while traveling in Nairobi. This time, however, the crash was fatal. Obama Sr. died on November 24, 1982, when Obama was 21 years old. "At the time of his death, my father remained a myth to me," Obama later wrote, "both more and less than a man."

After high school, Obama studied at Occidental College in Los Angeles for two years. He then transferred to Columbia University in New York City, graduating in 1983 with a degree in political science. After working in the business sector for two years, Obama moved to Chicago in 1985. There, he worked on the impoverished South Side as a community organizer for low-income residents in the Roseland and the Altgeld Gardens communities.

Barack Obama Education at Harvard Law School

Obama entered Harvard Law School in late 1988. In an interview with Ebony in 1990, he stated that he saw a degree in law as a vehicle to facilitate better community organization and activism: "The idea was not only to get people to learn how to hope and dream about different possibilities, but to know how the tax structure affects what kind of housing gets built where." At the end of his first year he was selected as an editor of the Harvard Law Review based on his grades and a writing competition.

Barack Obama Education Harvard Law School
Barack Obama Education Harvard Law School

In February 1990, his second year at Harvard, he was elected president of the law review, a full-time volunteer position functioning as editor-in-chief and supervising the law review's staff of 80 editors. Obama's election as the first black president of the law review was widely reported and followed by several long, detailed profiles. He got himself elected by convincing a crucial swing bloc of conservatives that he would protect their interests if they supported him. Building up that trust was done with the same kind of long listening sessions he had used in the poor neighborhoods of South Side, Chicago. Richard Epstein, who later taught at the University of Chicago Law School when Obama later taught there, said Obama was elected editor "because people on the other side believed he would give them a fair shake."

Barack Obama Education Chicago Law School
Barack Obama Education University of Chicago Law School

While in law school he worked as an associate at the law firms of Sidley & Austin in 1989, where he met his future wife, Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, and where Newton N. Minow was a managing partner. Minow later would introduce Obama to some of Chicago's top business leaders. In the summer of 1990 he worked at Hopkins & Sutter. Also during his law school years, Obama spent eight days in Los Angeles taking a national training course on Alinsky methods of organizing. He graduated with a J.D. magna cum laude from Harvard in 1991 and returned to Chicago.

Barack Obama Education Summary

Grade Dates School Location Type Degree
Kindergarten 1966–1967 Noelani Elementary School Honolulu, Hawaii Public  
1st–3rd grade 1968–1970 St. Francis Assisi Jakarta, Indonesia Private Catholic  
4th grade 1970–1971 State Elementary School Menteng 01 Jakarta, Indonesia Public  
5th–12th grade 1971–1979 Punahou School Honolulu, Hawaii Private High school diploma, 1979
Freshman–Sophomore year 1979–1981 Occidental College Los Angeles Private Transferred to Columbia
Junior–Senior year 1981–1983 Columbia University New York City Private B.A., political science major with
international relations focus
1L–3L 1988–1991 Harvard Law School Cambridge, Massachusetts Private J.D., magna cum laude 
President, Harvard Law Review

 

References:

[1] Barack Obama - WhiteHouse.gov https://www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/presidents/barack-obama/

[2] Harvard Law Review president on publishing Obama https://today.law.harvard.edu/harvard-law-review-president-publishing-obama/

[3] Obama joins list of seven presidents with Harvard degrees https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2008/11/obama-joins-list-of-seven-presidents-with-harvard-degrees/