Where Did Donald Trump Go to College?

Spoiler alert: It wasn't Trump University.
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Anne Dennon
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Anne Dennon covers higher education trends, policy, and student issues for BestColleges. She has an MA in English literature and a background in research strategy and service journalism....
Updated on May 17, 2023
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  • Trump, who is making his third run for president in 2024, went to Fordham University before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania.
  • He earned an economics degree from Penn's prestigious Wharton School.
  • His Trump University was accused of scamming students out of millions of dollars.

Former president Donald Trump is positioning himself for a third run at the White House in 2024, by taking on a foe familiar to the modern Republican party: higher education.

Trump in a video released by his campaign May 2 sounds a lot like Florida Gov. (and potential GOP presidential candidate) Ron DeSantis with his vows to reshape "radical Left" institutions of higher education.

In the video, Trump promises to defend American tradition, to eliminate "wasteful" administrative positions, and to remove "diversity, equity, and inclusion bureaucrats" from the higher education system. He also promises to ensure students who invest in college are learning and getting their money's worth.

"We are going to have real education in America," he said.

Trump often speaks highly of his own academic record. The former president is proud of his bachelor's degree from the prestigious Wharton School. The business school is considered among the top in the world. But in his 1987 bestseller "The Art of the Deal," Trump wrote, "Perhaps the most important thing I learned at Wharton was not to be overly impressed by academic credentials."

Despite Trump's misgivings about the value of higher education, he clearly saw an opportunity to make money in it, and opened his own Trump University, a real estate-investing program that went defunct in 2011 amid multiple lawsuits.

Trump's East-coast Private School Education

Donald Trump attended East Coast private schools throughout his life. First the private Kew-Forest School, from kindergarten through seventh grade, in the New York City borough of Queens. Concerned about his behavior, Trump's parents next sent him to New York Military Academy, a private boarding school in upstate New York.

During his senior year, Trump was promoted to captain among the student cadets. After graduating, Trump returned to New York City. He enrolled at Fordham University, a Jesuit and Catholic college in the Bronx.

After two years, Trump transferred to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, an Ivy League school. Trump's younger brother, Fred Trump Jr., secured Donald an interview with a Penn admissions officer who was one of his close friends, The Washington Post reported. Fred Trump Sr. accompanied his son to the interview.

“In my opinion, [my] degree doesn’t prove very much, but a lot of people I do business with take it very seriously”
Donald Trump, The Art of the Deal

Trump graduated from Penn in 1968 with a bachelor of science in economics from The Wharton School, then called Wharton School of Finance. In 1973, a year before Trump became president of the conglomerate that would be The Trump Organization, The New York Times reported Trump graduated "first in his class" from The Wharton School.

According to The Washington Post, Trump’s name was not among the top honorees at his commencement, nor was he on the dean’s list. Trump's longtime attorney Michael Cohen testified to Congress that Trump had him send letters to schools he had attended to warn of legal action if they revealed his grades.

Trump's performance as a student remains highly contested. For Trump himself, it's mostly about what a high-powered degree signals to others.

"In my opinion, that degree doesn’t prove very much, but a lot of people I do business with take it very seriously," he wrote in "The Art of the Deal." "So all things considered, I’m glad I went to Wharton."

Trump’s son, Donald Jr., and daughter, Ivanka, also attended Wharton.

Six Years of Trump University End in Lawsuits

On the heels of business ventures that spanned construction, casinos, TV shows, and beauty pageants, Trump launched the for-profit Trump University to teach real estate investing in 2005. He told reporters at the time that he hoped to establish a "legacy as an educator."

Trump claimed the curriculum was developed by faculty from Northwestern, Stanford, and Columbia Business School. All three schools distanced themselves from Trump University when questioned by reporters, some admitting individual faculty may have been involved.

Trump University began by offering online courses, then moved to in-person seminars. In a double bid to get students to start investing and to sign up for premium programs, instructors urged students to use their savings and increase their credit card limits, according to alumni.

“While initial seminars were free of charge, top-tier programs cost up to $35,000.”

While initial seminars were free of charge, top-tier programs cost up to $35,000. Though at that point more expensive than the average online bachelor's degree, Trump University did not award diplomas and was not an accredited university. In 2010, the New York Education Department warned Trump University that its use of the word "university" in its name violated the state’s education laws.

The New York attorney general sued the company, accusing it of scamming students. Two class action lawsuits alleged the school defrauded students through misleading marketing and aggressive sales tactics.

Trump initially denied the allegations, but he agreed to pay a $25 million settlement to those who attended Trump University in 2007, 2008, 2009, or 2010. Of the thousands of students who attended Trump University between 2005 and 2010, 6,000 are covered for damages under the settlement agreement.