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Surprising Degrees of U.S. Presidents

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Back in the 1880s, Congress decided that February 22nd -- George Washington's birthday -- should be a federal holiday. While still officially known as George Washington's birthday, the holiday has evolved throughout the years. Today, the third Monday of February is commonly known as Presidents' Day and is a time to remember the accomplishments of presidents past and present.

In honor of Presidents' Day 2012, here's a look back at the education of some of those elected to our nation's highest office.

George Washington

School: William & Mary

Degree: Surveyor's license

As the son of prosperous parents, the first president was likely taught by private tutors or in private schools for much of his education. However, he did attend William & Mary to earn his surveyor's license. One can speculate his surveying expeditions into the Virginia wilderness likely came in handy during the battles of the Revolutionary War.

Today, Washington would likely need a bachelor's degree in surveying before becoming licensed by the state. However, there are also vocational education programs in surveying and surveying technology available through technical schools and community colleges. In May 2013, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found surveyors had mean annual salaries of $59,570.

William Henry Harrison

School: University of Pennsylvania

Degree: Medicine

Harrison holds the dubious distinction of serving the shortest term in office of any U.S. President. He studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania but dropped out to join the Army. In a cruel twist of fate, Harrison died exactly one month after taking office. Cause of death? Pneumonia.

If Harrison had finished his studies, his future may have been quite different. He may have gone on to become a doctor or a surgeon. Today's top medical professionals require extensive schooling. They often have four years of undergraduate studies, four years of medical school and up to eight years of internships and residency. To compensate for their extensive knowledge, physicians and surgeons earn average annual incomes of $187,200 depending on their specialty, according to the BLS.

Herbert Hoover

School: Stanford

Degree: Bachelor's degree in geology

As a member of the "Pioneer" class of 1895, Hoover was among the first to graduate from what was then known as the Leland Stanford Jr. University. At what is now known simply as Stanford University, Hoover earned a bachelor's degree in geology. Regrettably, his term in office coincided with The Great Depression. Perhaps history would judge him differently had his degree been in economics instead.

A bachelor's degree in geology is still the starting point for many geologists and geoscientists today. However, some positions are now requiring a master's degree in geosciences as well. In May 2013, the BLS found geoscientists earned mean annual incomes of $108,420.

Gerald R. Ford

School: University of Michigan and Yale

Degree: Bachelor's degree in economics and law degree

Ascending to office during the Watergate scandal, Ford is the only president in history who was not elected to office. He was appointed Vice President after Spiro Agnew's resignation and moved into the Oval Office after Richard Nixon's departure in disgrace. Ford held two degrees: a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Michigan and a law degree from Yale.

If Ford had decided not to pursue law or politics, he may have used his bachelor's degree in economics for a career as an economist, accountant or auditor, although master's degrees are increasingly common in these fields. Economists earned mean annual wages of $101,450 in May 2013 according to BLS data.

Barack Obama

School: Columbia and Harvard

Degree: Bachelor's degree in international relations and law degree

As the current Commander in Chief, President Barack Obama took a more conventional route to the White House. He earned a bachelor's degree in international relations from Columbia University and a law degree from Harvard. With his election, Obama became the eighth Harvard alumni to reach the presidency. The university can claim more presidential alumni than another other school.

Dating back to colonial times, an education in law seems to be the most common course of study for future U.S. presidents. Many future presidents went on to work as lawyers before entering the political arena. If Obama were working as a lawyer today, he might expect to earn $131,990 -- the mean annual salary for the profession in May 2013 according to the BLS. Presidents, however, earn more, drawing a $400,000 annual salary.