× Startups Business News Education Health Finance Technology Opinion Wealth Rankings Politics Leadership Sport Travels Careers Design Environment Energy Luxury Retail Lifestyle Automotives Photography International Press Release Article Entertainment

October 1, 2021

School pride runs deep at any university, but perhaps no institute of higher learning has more to crow about than Harvard. The Cambridge, Massachusetts, school, founded in 1636, is not only one of the best universities in the world, it’s a factory for famous alumni.

From presidents to business leaders to top-tier entertainers, the school’s graduates have racked up some incredible accomplishments. And more than a few dropouts have taken what they learned at Harvard and gone on to become captains of industry as well.

Here’s a look at some of the most famous people with either an undergraduate or graduate degree from Harvard — and a couple who made it without one.

Barack Obama

Before he was a U.S. president, a Nobel Prize winner or even a U.S. Representative, Obama made history as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review in 1990. A bit older than his classmates, due to spending some time as a community organizer in Chicago before enrolling, he graduated magna cum laude in 1991. His time at the school has become a family tradition. Daughter Malia will attend Harvard in the fall of 2017.

Al Gore

As Gore was about to graduate high school, he only applied to one university — Harvard — and got in. The environmental activist and former vice president had planned to be an English major, but he ultimately got his degree in government, graduating cum laude in June 1969. It was at the school that his interest was first sparked in global warming, after taking a class with oceanographer and theorist Roger Revelle.

Gore, who went on to serve under the Clinton administration, had his own brush with future fame at the school, rooming with future Academy Award–winning actor Tommy Lee Jones.

George W. Bush

Bush’s stint at Harvard Business School, where he graduated in 1975, made him the first U.S. president to hold an MBA. He wasn’t a star student, but he had a reputation as a quick study, with a relaxed attitude and a healthy ego (something that’s hardly in short supply at Harvard). He seemingly stayed close to his classmates, too. Thirty of them reportedly showed up at his inauguration in 2000.


Henry Kissinger

The American diplomat didn’t start his academic career in Cambridge. Initially, he went to City College of New York. But after being drafted into the U.S. Army, he returned and received a bachelor of arts summa cum laude from Harvard in 1950. He stayed at the school for the master’s and PhD programs as well. From 1954 until 1969, he served as a Harvard faculty member, until he was tapped to become National Security Advisor in the Nixon administration, which led to his role as the 56th Secretary of State a few years later. He later received the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize.

Neil deGrasse Tyson

The most famous astrophysicist in the world (and pop-culture icon) received his bachelor’s degree in physics at Harvard in 1980. Tyson is known for his passion for science and attempts to make often dense subjects relatable to the public at large through TV and podcasts, but at school he was also known as something of a jock. He was a formidable force on the wrestling squad and did a stint on the crew team during his freshman year. Now director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, he has received awards from NASA and the National Academy of Sciences.

Steve Ballmer

The former CEO of Microsoft is not the most famous former Microsoft employee with ties to Harvard, but he does have a diploma to show for his time there, graduating magna cum laude with a BA in applied mathematics and economics in 1977. While at school, he was a manager for the Harvard Crimson football team and worked on both The Harvard Crimson newspaper and the Harvard Advocate. He’s the dream of any alumni office as well, donating more than $50 million in 2014 to help the school grow its computer sciences department. Today he is also the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.

John Roberts

The chief justice of the United States was not only the first person from his Indiana high school to attend Harvard, he made fast work of the school, graduating summa cum laude in just three years. After finishing his undergraduate work, he attended the law school, where he was managing editor of the Harvard Law Review, graduating in 1979. Things could have easily gone differently, though. While a student at the college, Roberts told his roommates he planned to be a history professor.

Ted Cruz

Before he was a Texas senator or a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, Cruz was a Harvard Law School student, graduating magna cum laude in 1995. Along the way, he was also an editor of the Harvard Law Review and the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. He also founded the Harvard Latino Law Review. Among his professors was Alan Dershowitz, who called Cruz “off-the-charts brilliant.”

Tim Kaine

Hillary Clinton’s running mate (and the former Virginia governor) was a 1983 graduate of Harvard Law School. Beyond getting an education, the vice presidential hopeful also met the woman he would eventually marry — Anne Holton — at the school. Harvard Law wasn’t always a smooth experience for Kaine, though. He started in 1979 but took a break after his first year, spending nine months as a Christian missionary in Honduras.

Sheryl Sandberg

Facebook’s chief operating officer enrolled at Harvard in 1987, long before her future boss stepped foot onto the school’s campus. She graduated summa cum laude in 1991 with a degree in economics and was the winner of the John H. Williams Prize, which is given to the top graduating student in that field. (Her thesis advisor was future Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.)

Two years later she enrolled at Harvard Business School, earning an MBA with highest distinction in 1995. She recently returned to her alma mater, where she gave a stirring speech about overcoming tragedy. Before joining Facebook, she was a vice president at Google. Now a billionaire, she is the founder of the Lean In Foundation.

Mark Zuckerberg (dropout)

The founder of Facebook famously dropped out of Harvard in his senior year to focus on the fast-growing social network he developed in room H33 of Harvard’s Kirkland House. He announced his decision in an interview with The Harvard Crimson when he was on campus in 2005, attempting to recruit other students to join his company. Among those was future wife Priscilla Chan, to whom he offered the job when she walked by as he spoke with the paper’s reporter. At press time Facebook’s market cap was $368 billion.

Bill Gates (dropout)

The Harvard Crimson has called Gates “Harvard’s most successful dropout” — and it’s easy to see why. The founder of Microsoft left Harvard in 1975 after just two years. In his short time at the school, though, he made a key acquaintance: Steve Ballmer, who would join Gates and Paul Allen at the software company in 1980. In 2007, Harvard honored its most famous dropout, giving him an honorary law degree. Today he is a technology advisor to Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella and a global philanthropist who helps run the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.