Beth Dumbauld

Not everyone knows where they will end up when they first start college. Many don’t know what they want to do, or what degree they need, until later in life. You can, however, still dream big even if your degree plans shift along the way.

We're offering a special tribute to transfer students, students who have taken online courses or gone back to school to finish their college degree. We hope you will be inspired by these stories of famous men and women who completed their education on their own terms.

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Check out the success of these famous college transfer students, including 7 presidents of the United States:

Barack Obama

President Barack Obama may be the world’s most famous transfer student. Following high school, Obama moved to Los Angeles in 1979 to attend Occidental College. In 1981, he transferred to Columbia University in New York City, NY where he majored in political science with a specialty in international studies and international relations and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1983.

In late 1988, Obama entered Harvard Law School. He became a U.S. Senator in 2005, and was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States on January 20, 2009.

Barack Obama is not the only president who found success as a transfer student. Other U.S. presidents who began their college career at one institution but graduated from another include:

  • John Quincy Adams — Studied in Paris, Amsterdam, and at the University of Leyden, but graduated from Harvard.
  • James Garfield — Started at Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in Ohio (now known as Hiram College) but graduated from Williams College.
  • Benjamin Harrison — Started at Farmer’s College (near Cincinnati), then transferred to Miami University of Ohio.
  • Woodrow Wilson — Began at Davidson College but graduated from Princeton University.
  • John F. Kennedy — Enrolled at Princeton University but withdrew because of illness. Graduated from Harvard University.
  • Jimmy Carter — Attended Georgia Southwestern College and the Georgia Institute of Technology for a year each. Then, transferred to — and graduated from — the U.S. Naval Academy.

George Lucas

Film producer, screenwriter, director and founder of LucasFilm. George Lucas is perhaps best known for being the creator of  Star Wars and joint creator of Indiana Jones. Yes, a transfer student is one of the American film industry’s most financially successful independent directors and producers!

Long before Lucas became a film maker, he wanted to be a racecar driver, and he spent most of his high school years racing and hanging out at garages. However, a car accident just days before his high school graduation, quickly changed his plans. Instead of racing, he attended Modesto Junior College to study anthropology.

He eventually developed a passion for cinematography, so he transferred to the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. During his years at USC, he also became very good friends with fellow student filmmaker and future Indiana Jones collaborator, Steven Spielberg.

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Steven Spielberg

Academy Award Winner, film director, screenwriter, producer, and studio entrepreneur. Spielberg is also the co-founder of the DreamWorks movie studio. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, he spent his childhood in New Jersey, and then moved to California, graduating from Saratoga High School in 1965.

Spielberg began film school at USC’s School of Theater in the late 1966 but because of poor grades had to drop out. He then attended California State University at Long Beach where he majored in Film and Electronic Arts but did not initially finish his degree. USC awarded him an honorary degree in 1994, and in 1996 he became a trustee of the university.

In 2002, thirty-five years after starting college, Spielberg finished his degree via independent projects at CSU Long Beach, and was awarded a B.A. in Film Production and Electronic Arts with an option in Film/Video Production.

Lucy Liu

Actress, film producer. Liu graduated from New York City’s Stuyvesant High School and attended New York University for one year, before transferring to the University of Michigan, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Asian Languages and Cultures.

It was in college when Liu began acting, after auditioning for a role in the University of Michigan’s production of Alice in Wonderland during her senior year.

Jackie Robinson

Baseball Hall-of-Famer “Jackie” Robinson became the first black Major League Baseball (MLB) player of the modern era. He was selected for six consecutive All-Star Games from 1949 to 1954, was the recipient of the inaugural MLB Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, won the National League MVP in 1949 – and was also a transfer student!

Robinson attended Pasadena Junior College, where he participated in basketball, football, baseball, and track. On the football team, he played quarterback and safety. He was a shortstop and leadoff hitter for the baseball team, and he broke school broad jump records held by his brother Mack.

Robinson transferred from PJC in the spring of 1939, to UCLA, where he became the school’s first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football, and track. In the spring semester of 1941, Robinson left college just shy of graduation.

Billy Crystal

Actor, writer, producer, comedian and film director. After graduation from high school in New York, Crystal attended Marshall University in West Virginia on a baseball scholarship, having learned the game from his father, who pitched for St. John’s University.

Crystal never played a game at Marshall because the program was suspended during his freshman year. He did not return to Marshall as a sophomore, staying back in New York with his future wife. He instead attended Nassau Community College and later transferred to New York University, where he graduated in 1970 with a BFA from its Tisch School of the Arts.

Grow into Your Dreams with Transfer Credits

Starting a college degree doesn’t have to be a risky business. When you earn college credits that are guaranteed to transfer, you are free to live your life and go where your dreams take you.

Need to know how to get started? Download our free guide on How to Go back to College today!

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