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Malia Obama will be the 23rd presidential kid to attend Harvard

President Obama Departs The White House Enroute To Chicago Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

After one of the most closely watched college-selection processes in recent memory, first daughter Malia Obama has made her decision: She'll be attending Harvard — but will be taking a gap year first — so she won't enroll until after her father's out of the White House.

The news itself is not especially surprising. In October, the New York Times' Nicholas Fandos reported that Malia had toured Harvard, along with Stanford, Berkeley, NYU, Tufts, Barnard, Wesleyan, and every Ivy besides Cornell and Dartmouth.

And then there's the fact that both Barack and Michelle Obama went to Harvard Law School, and it's long played host to presidential children. Reporting Malia's decision, The Times' Fandos and Julie Hirschfeld Davis note that, "Malia will join a long list of presidential children who have attended, including John Quincy Adams and his son, John Adams II; Abraham Lincoln’s son Robert; the sons of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt; Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of John F. Kennedy; and George W. Bush, who went to business school there."

This actually undercounts things. Two of Quincy Adams' brothers, and two more of his sons attended. Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Ulysses S. Grant, and Grover Cleveland all had kids get Harvard degrees. According to the book America's Royalty, 22 presidential children have attended Harvard; the next-most popular schools were tied at six kids each.

Malia will also join the ranks of many in her father's administration. The secretary of treasury, attorney general, secretary of commerce, secretary of education, secretary of labor, secretary of health and human services, secretary of housing and urban development, OMB director, trade representative, UN ambassador, and CEA chair all have Harvard degrees. So do four of the eight members of the Supreme Court; Stephen Breyer was also a professor there, and Elena Kagan was dean.

None of this is exactly surprising. Harvard's long been a breeding ground for American government elites, and so it's not shocking to see a presidential child headed there. But it's worth pausing from time to time and considering just how massive the influence of this one school has grown to be, and how much more massive the combined influence of a small handful of schools — Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Oxford — has become too.

There's nothing wrong with Malia choosing to go to whatever school she wishes (as a Harvard alum it'd be hypocritical of me to say otherwise), but the increased concentration of powerful social networks in a tiny number of educational institutions is at least slightly concerning.

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