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Graduate Schools Prepare U.S. Presidential Candidates

A theme among many of the 2012 presidential candidates: a grad school education.

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Students may decide to attend a graduate school program for a multitude of reasons: to advance their current careers, to change career paths, or to improve their current financial state, to name a few. For many students, graduate school also helps build leadership skills that can translate to careers in politics.

A graduate school education is one constant among most of the candidates in the 2012 presidential race. Among 11 notable politicians who are currently seeking election, or who have suspended their campaigns, for president as either a Republican or Democrat, eight have received a graduate degree—including five who have received law school degrees. In addition, all four GOP candidates involved in today's Super Tuesday primaries are graduate degree holders.

"Graduate school is an opportunity to reflect on what [students] do and their roles as professionals," says Roger Manus, a professor at the Campbell University School of Law. "We're trying to help people become reflective practitioners. With that sort of consciousness, they're more likely to be effective leaders, at least in the servant leadership role."

[See photos of politicians and find out where they went to graduate school.]

There is arguably no position in the country like the presidency of the United States that requires such a diverse set of skills—including the ability to lead. Although a graduate degree is not an indicator of whether a person can assume the highest office in the country—George H.W. Bush is the most recent president without a graduate degree—the experiences gained in a graduate school setting can motivate a student and may positively impact the trajectory of his or her career.

For President Barack Obama, law school was the place where he "first became a political sensation," notes a 2007 New York Times article. Arriving at Harvard Law School in 1988 as a relatively unknown student, Obama ultimately became the first African-American elected president of the Harvard Law Review—an act that, at the time, propelled him into the national spotlight.

"It's not a coincidence that so many leaders went to law school," says Shauna Marshall, academic dean at the University of California Hastings College of Law. "Between the classroom, the clinical experiences, where they're stepping into the shoes of lawyers, and all the extracurricular activities … I think by the time [students] leave, some of them who have risen to the top in one or many of these arenas are future leaders."

[Find out where Fortune 500 CEOs went to college.]

And while it's not the overwhelming trend among the current and former presidential candidates, a few have attained multiple graduate degrees: Michele Bachmann, a congresswoman from Minnesota, received her J.D. from Oral Roberts University and her LL.M. from the College of William & Mary Marshall-Wythe School of Law; former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich received his M.A. and Ph.D. in modern European history from Tulane University; Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, received his J.D. and M.B.A. from Harvard University; and Rick Santorum, former senator from Pennsylvania, received his M.B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh Katz Graduate School of Business and his J.D. from the Dickinson School of Law at Pennsylvania State University.

Below is a table highlighting the graduate school education of eight past or present 2012 presidential candidates:

Presidential candidate* Degree Graduate school
Michele Bachmann J.D.
Oral Roberts University
College of William & Mary (Marshall-Wythe)
Herman Cain M.S. in computer science Purdue University
Newt Gingrich M.A. and Ph.D. in modern European history Tulane University
President Barack Obama J.D. Harvard Law School
Ron Paul M.D. Duke University
Tim Pawlenty J.D. University of Minnesota
Mitt Romney J.D. and M.B.A. Harvard University
Rick Santorum M.B.A
University of Pittsburgh (Katz)
Pennsylvania State University (Dickinson)

*Jon Huntsman, Gary Johnson, and Rick Perry did not receive graduate school degrees.

Searching for a graduate school? Get our complete rankings of Best Graduate Schools.