The 25 Most Famous Harvard Students of All Time

Harvard’s reputation as one of the best universities in the world stems, in part, from the many famous and successful people who have attended the Massachusetts school since it was founded in 1636.

We have compiled a list of the 25 most famous students, including from the outstanding actress Natalie Portman, to greats of history like Ralph Waldo Emerson.

1. US President Barack Obama.

He entered Harvard Law School in 1988 and eventually became the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. During his time at the school, he also played basketball on the Law Student Association team.

2. Former US Vice President Al Gore.

He graduated cum laude from Harvard in 1969 with a degree in government. He wrote a thesis entitled: “The Impact of Television on the Conduct of the Presidency, 1947-1969.”

3. Ben Bernanke, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve. 

He graduated with maximum distinction (“summa cum laude”) in 1975 with a degree in economics. He scored 1590 out of 1600 on his SAT (College Selection Test).

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4. Bill Gates.

He began studying at Harvard in 1973 and decided to specialize in applied mathematics. Two years later, he dropped out of school to found Microsoft with his friend Paul Allen. One of Gates’ former colleagues explained to Harvard magazine that Gates studied for 36 hours non-stop, with 10-hour breaks in between.

5. The comedian Conan O’Brien.

He graduated in 1985 with a degree in American history. He was president of the Harvard parody magazine “The Harvard Lampoon” twice.

6. Dean Norris, known for his role as Hank Schrader on the show “Breaking Bad.”

He graduated in 1985 with primarily social studies. He was the first member of his family to go to college.

7. Former US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

He entered Harvard in 1900 and was always heavily involved in extracurricular activities. Roosevelt was president of the university newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, was secretary of the glee club, and one of the founders of the political society.

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8. Former US President George W. Bush.

He graduated from Harvard Business School in 1975. He is the only US president to graduate with an MBA (Master of Business Administration) from this school.

9. Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

He graduated “summa cum laude” in 1950 and later obtained a doctorate from the school’s government department. He taught at Harvard from 1954 to 1969.

10. Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase.

He attended Harvard Business School in 1980 and met his wife, Judy, through the program. His daughter also attended business school.

11. NBA player Jeremy Lin.

He graduated from Harvard in 2010 with a degree in economics. He scored 1,483 points for the Harvard Crimson basketball team, the fifth-best in school history.

12. Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of the New York Times.

He graduated magna cum laude in 1976 with a degree in history. She will return to Harvard in late 2014 to teach nonfiction narrative to undergraduate students.

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13. Former US President John F. Kennedy.

He graduated cum laude in 1940. He wrote his thesis on why England was not prepared to fight Germany in World War II, and it ended up being published as a book entitled “Why did England fall asleep?”

14. The author John Updike.

He graduated from Harvard in 1954, and like Conan O’Brien, he was president of the “Harvard Lampoon.” He has won two Pulitzer Prizes, as well as several National Book Awards.

15. Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs.

He graduated from Harvard in 1975 and attended the University’s law school. Blankfein grew up in a Brooklyn housing project and applied to Harvard at the insistence of a school representative.

16. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook.

He enrolled at Harvard in 2002 and created Facebook before dropping out of college to dedicate himself full-time to his website. While at Harvard, he also created a program called Course Match, which allowed students to choose classes based on what other people were taking.

17. Actor Matt Damon.

He began his career at Harvard in 1988 but suspended classes for a time during his sophomore year to shoot the television movie “Rising Son.” Due to interruptions from his performances, he was unable to earn enough credits to graduate. However, in 2013 he received the Harvard Medal of the Arts in recognition of his work in the entertainment industry.

18. The politician and businessman, Mitt Romney.

He studied at Harvard from 1971 to 1975, obtaining a double degree from law and business schools. He was 24 years old when he began his studies and was already married with a son. Before entering Harvard, he did Mormon missions in France.

19. Actress Natalie Portman.

He graduated in 2002 with a degree in psychology. Portman was considered exceptionally intelligent by her teachers; In the seminar “Neuropsychology and the Law,” she received an A + for her role in lie detection, and that professor later hired her as his research assistant.

20. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

He entered Harvard in 1817 and graduated 30th out of a class of 59 students. Between classes, he taught in children’s schools to earn money.

21. Rashida Jones, best known for her role as Ann Perkins on “Parks and Recreation.”

He graduated from Harvard in 1997 with degrees in religion and philosophy. You once had plans to become a judge or president.

22. Sumner Redstone, Chairman of the Board of Viacom and CBS Corporation.

He graduated from Harvard in 1944 after only two and a half years. During his stay there, he was chosen by his Japanese history teacher to work on the decipherment of Japanese military and diplomatic codes with a special intelligence group.

23. Former President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt.

He attended Harvard in 1876 and originally chose to study natural history. However, after his father passed away from stomach cancer, Roosevelt decided to pursue history and government degree to honor his memory.

24. Tommy Lee Jones.

He graduated cum laude from Harvard in 1969 with a degree in English literature. He was a roommate of the future vice president of the United States, Al Gore.

25. Renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

He attended Harvard when he was only 16 years old. He told Harvard magazine that his favorite classes were translated German literature, anthropology, fine arts, and of course, a course on Dostoevsky.

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