John F Kennedy

John F. Kennedy attended prestigious Harvard University from 1936-1940. His time at Harvard shaped JFK's worldview and prepared him for national leadership.

8 Min Read

John F. Kennedy, often referred to as JFK, served as the 35th President of the United States from 1961 until his assassination in 1963. Kennedy’s legacy as president centers around his charismatic personality, his leadership through difficult international crises, and his vision for America’s future through progressive policies and national programs. But before Kennedy became president, he was simply a young man working to get an education. So where did JFK go to college?

A Quick Look at JFK’s Early Life and Education

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born on May 29, 1917 in Brookline, Massachusetts. He came from the influential Kennedy family and was the second oldest of nine children. Kennedy grew up privileged but competitive – his father Joseph Kennedy Sr. had high expectations for his children.

JFK attended a Catholic boys’ boarding school, Canterbury, from 1930-1931, then went on to elite preparatory school Choate from 1931-1935. While at Choate, young “Jack” Kennedy competed on the tennis and golf teams. He was scrappy and ambitious, traits that would carry into his later political career.

Kennedy’s Time at Harvard

For his higher education, John F. Kennedy enrolled at Harvard University in 1936 at age 19. He graduated cum laude in 1940 with a Bachelor of Arts in government, concentrating specifically on international affairs.

At Harvard, Kennedy focused on strengthening his knowledge of history and government. He kept busy with extracurricular activities – he swam for Harvard’s varsity swim team and worked on the student newspaper, the Harvard Crimson. Kennedy lived on campus in Winthrop House during his college years.

In 1940, JFK wrote his senior thesis on British’s unpreparedness for war; it was later published as a book titled Why England Slept. Kennedy’s thesis helped launch his political career, as he sent copies to influential people in Washington including President Roosevelt.

Overall at Harvard, Kennedy was a driven and ambitious student. He set his sights on a future in leadership. Kennedy cultivated his political interests and made connections that would help him achieve his aspirations.

Getting Experience in the Real World

After graduating Harvard, JFK briefly enrolled at Stanford for graduate studies. But his education was cut short in 1941 with the U.S.’s entry into World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Kennedy left school to join the U.S. Navy, working in naval intelligence in Washington D.C. He was assigned command of small PT boats in the South Pacific. In August 1943, Kennedy’s boat PT-109 was struck and sunk by a Japanese destroyer. Kennedy displayed extraordinary courage and leadership, helping save his surviving crew members. His PT-109 story became legendary and established Kennedy as a WWII naval hero.

After the war, Kennedy worked as a journalist, covering the 1945 founding conference of the United Nations for the Chicago Herald-American. Kennedy also got his political start working for the Democratic Party, running for Congress in Massachusetts’s 11th district in 1946.

So while Kennedy’s formal higher education at Harvard was impactful, his real-world experiences during WWII and as a young politician were equally formative. Kennedy brought this varied background with him when he entered national politics.

Fun Facts About JFK’s Time at Harvard

  • Kennedy played freshman football but quit due to injury. He was more successful at swimming and golf.
  • He wasn’t afraid to break the rules – Kennedy was caught cheating on an exam during his freshman year.
  • Kennedy traveled through Europe, the Soviet Union, and the Middle East during breaks from school.
  • He was a mediocre student in high school, but got serious about academics at Harvard.
  • Kennedy lived in the Winthrop House dorms all four years at Harvard.
  • His roommate was Torbert Macdonald who later became a Massachusetts congressman.
  • Kennedy’s Harvard thesis focused on England’s lack of preparation before WWII. It became a bestselling book.
  • He was awarded the Harvard Boylston Prize for oratory and debate.
  • Kennedy graduated from Harvard with a degree in international affairs in 1940 at age 22.

The Impact of Kennedy’s Harvard Education

John F. Kennedy’s four years at Harvard shaped him into an ambitious and worldly young man passionately interested in leadership, history, and global affairs. Kennedy the energetic Ivy League student laid the foundation for Kennedy the visionary president.

Specifically, Kennedy’s Harvard education impacted him in the following key ways:

  • Cultivating his competitive nature – Kennedy strived to win, whether in academics, sports, socializing, or student organizations. This drive propelled him towards success.
  • Fostering global thinking – Learning about history and foreign policy made Kennedy keenly interested in international relations. His worldview informed his presidency.
  • Developing political aspirations – Kennedy’s time on campus nurtured his budding ambitions for leadership. He met influential figures and formulated big plans.
  • Building confidence – Kennedy grew surer of himself and his capabilities at Harvard. He seized opportunities and overcame setbacks.
  • Forging important connections – The relationships Kennedy made at school later aided his political rise. Harvard opened doors for the ambitious upstart.

So for JFK, Harvard represented a transformative life experience that equipped him with the skills and vision for national leadership. Overall, Kennedy’s undergraduate education set him on the path that would lead him to the White House.

FAQs about JFK and Harvard:

What year did JFK graduate from Harvard?

John F. Kennedy graduated from Harvard University in 1940 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

What was JFK’s major in college?

Kennedy majored in government, specifically concentrating on international affairs. His coursework focused on history, economics, and political science.

Did JFK play sports at Harvard?

Yes, Kennedy was active in athletics at Harvard. He played on the varsity swimming team and golf team. He also tried out freshman football but quit due to injury.

Was JFK a good student?

After mediocre grades in high school, Kennedy became a serious, disciplined student at Harvard. He graduated cum laude, meaning with honors. However, he wasn’t afraid to break rules and was caught cheating on an exam in his freshman year.

Who were JFK’s closest friends at Harvard?

Some of Kennedy’s Harvard friends included Torbert Macdonald, Phil Kaiser, Kirk LeMoyne Billings, and Lem Billings. Many went on to work on Kennedy’s campaigns and presidential administration.

What campus activities was JFK involved in at Harvard?

At Harvard, Kennedy worked on the student newspaper the Harvard Crimson. He was also active in student political organizations and the undergraduate debate club.

Did Kennedy enjoy his time at Harvard?

Yes, overall JFK flourished during his Harvard years. He relished campus life and thrived amongst the school’s competitive and ambitious student body. Kennedy called his Harvard experience the best four years of his life.