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The 10 Most Powerful Alumni Networks

Once you graduate, your alumni network can help you find jobs, stay connected to your university, and introduce you to some pretty powerful players, all willing to meet you simply because of your common education background. Some alumni networks are more influential than others, of course, because of the vast size of the network and because of the distinguished leaders who have graduated from those schools. From business schools to law school to programs that prepared future politicians, these colleges and universities can brag about educating presidents, CEOs, actors and some of the richest, most powerful people in the world.

  1. University of Pennsylvania: Any university that boasts Donald Trump and Warren Buffett — the latter being the third richest man in the worldhas to have a pretty powerful alumni network. Nine current alumni have won Nobel Prizes, and other influential alumni still living include powerful lawyer Marty Lipton, philosopher and activist Noam Chomsky, and counter-terrorism adviser Richard A. Clarke. Eight signers of the Declaration of the Independence went to Penn, too.
  2. Harvard: Known as one of the most distinguished universities in the world, Harvard has educated five U.S. presidents, including the last two — George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as well as John F. Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt, and former Vice President Al Gore. Other politicians include two Canadian Prime Ministers, and the presidents or prime ministers of Israel, Taiwan, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Canada, and Mexico. Beyond politics, Harvard has a root in Hollywood, counting powerful celebrities and entertainers like Matt Damon, Natalie Portman, Tommy Lee Jones, Darren Aronofsky, and many others among its alumni network. Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg started his social network at Harvard, and was named Time magazine's 2010 Person of the Year. The university also reported an endowment of $27,557,404,000 for that same year.
  3. Princeton: Another Ivy that's educated three U.S. presidents is Princeton. First Lady Michelle Obama is also a Princeton alum, as are current Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Samuel Alito. The founder of, Jeff Bezos, graduated from Princeton in 1986, and other powerful alumni in business range from the President and CEO of the Quaker Oats Company, to the founder of The Princeton Review to the CEO of Avon to former executives at Goldman Sachs. Meg Whitman, Ben Bernanke, Paul Krugman, Nobel laureate John Forbes Nash, Fast Food Nation creator Eric Schlosser, New Yorker editor and Pulitzer Prize winner David Remnick, Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Jodi Picoult, Brooke Shields, Boston Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, Dallas Mavericks CEO Terdema Ussery, and other alumni prove that Princeton's network permeates and directs all industries.
  4. Yale: Three living US. presidents attended Yale for undergraduate or graduate studies — George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, as well as three current Supreme Court Justices — Sonia Sotomayor, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, giving Yale alumni in Washington and in politics a competitive edge. Some of the most powerful people in Hollywood also went to Yale for undergraduate or graduate study, including Meryl Streep, Jodie Foster, Claire Danes, Sigourney Weaver, Ed Norton, and Paul Giamatti. Additionally, the former presidents of the Philippines, Mexico and Federal Republic of Germany went to Yale.
  5. Columbia: As the fifth oldest university in the country, Columbia has racked up an impressive number of Pulitzer Prize, Nobel Prize, Academy Award, National Medal of Science and other award winners and members. In fact, Columbia has the most Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize winners of any U.S. university. Barack Obama graduated with a B.A. from Columbia, and several senators, governors and Supreme Court Justices went to the university as well. Over the years, twenty-six heads of state belonged to the alumni network, and other prominent alumni who are still living include George Stephanopoulos, Matthew Fox, Ed Harris and Kathryn Bigelow.
  6. University of Texas at Austin: Time listed all the colleges of the current Fortune 500 CEOs in 2006, and three went to the University of Texas, including Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, ConocoPhillips head James Mulva, and UnitedHealth Group CEO William W. McGuire. Michael Dell dropped out of UT to start his first computer company, and former First Lady Laura Bush attended graduate school at UT. In entertainment, top-earning directors and actors Renee Zellweger, Owen Wilson, Matthew McConaughey and West Anderson are included in the alumni network, as are CBS anchor Betty Nguyen and Nobel Prize for Literature winner J. M. Coetzee.
  7. MIT: MIT had an endowment of $8,317,321,000 in 2010, most likely thanks to its impressive alumni network, at least in part. The distinguished university is one of the best in the world for educating future leaders in science, engineering and other fields. Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Ben Bernanke earned his PhD from MIT, and Benjamin Netanyahu, Kofi Annan, Buzz Aldrin, and various presidents and leaders of other universities like the University of California system, Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, Rensselaer Polytechnic, Purdue and Rochester Institute of Technology. A Kauffman Foundation study found in 2009 that MIT alumni-founded companies in the U.S. have generated an entire "entrepreneurial ecosystem," and their combined revenues would make up a nation equal to having the 17th-largest economy in the world. That "nation" would have the 11th largest economy in the world if all companies founded by MIT graduates — including those outside the U.S. — were counted.
  8. Texas A&M: Called The Aggie Network, Texas A&M's alumni association is one of the biggest, most active, and most enthusiastic in the world. It's also the seventh-largest university in the country, meaning there are hundreds of thousands of living alumni. From presidents and deans of other universities to the former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force to Emmy Award winners and journalists to top musicians like Grammy winner Lyle Lovett, A&M has reached the top of a range of industries.
  9. University of Michigan: The University of Michigan's alumni network is also in the hundreds of thousands, estimated at 460,000 in 2007. Its endowment in 2010 reached well over $6.5 billion, and an impressive number of Fields Medal, Pulitzer Prize, Nobel Prize and Rhodes Scholar winners attended the school. Vice Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System Donald Kohn, Turkish Airlines CEO Temel Kotil, Dick Gephardt, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Ann Coulter, Michael Phelps and Lucy Liu round out some of the most successful alumni.
  10. Northwestern University: Northwestern also touts one of the largest endowments in the country, at just under $6 billion. The distinguished school is located outside of Chicago, and features a well-respected business and law school, in addition to other professional and undergraduate programs. Almost 200,000 alumni have found success across all industries, and some of the most notable alumni include Stephen Colbert, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court John Paul Stevens, NBC correspondent Kelly O'Donnell, Rahm Emanuel, former U.S. politician George McGovern, and actors Warren Beatty, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, David Schwimmer and Patricia Neal.

March 14th, 2011 written by Staff Writers

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