Heard on the Hill

One Foot in Congress, the Other in Grad School

Staffers starting your higher education, you’re in good company

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., received his law degree from Georgetown University. Here he is addressing the law center in 2012. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As orientation kicks off for graduate school programs, staffers who are going part time and keeping their Capitol Hill jobs begin the balancing act.

Those higher knowledge-seekers are not alone. It’s common for staffers to get degrees on top of work.

Claire Viall, a senior legislative assistant for California Democratic Rep. Mark Takano, said it’s not easy to juggle two loads, but it’s worth it. She graduated in May with a master’s in public policy from George Washington University.

“There were times I had to miss class due to late votes, but my professors were very understanding, because they themselves are longtime D.C. professionals,” she said. “Going part-time made graduate school much more affordable, and I was able to apply what I was learning in class directly to my job and vice versa.”

Cost is one reason to keep a foot in both worlds. Love of the job is another.

“I did not want to leave behind the experience I was getting from my job to get a graduate degree, so it was win-win for me to be able to continue to gain experience on the Hill and take advantage of an excellent part-time program,” Viall said.

While D.C. doesn’t boast an Ivy, some prominent alumni have come through its graduate schools — including dozens of members of Congress. 

A law degree from Georgetown is a popular congressional accessory. At least 15 sitting members of Congress have a Hoyas J.D.

Only one member can say he’s a Catholic University law school alum — Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who graduated in 1988.

Check out some other members with advanced D.C. degrees from:


M.D.: Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., M.D. in 1978 

Ph.D.: Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., Ph.D. in 2015

J.D.: Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., J.D. in 1986 Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., J.D. in 1986 Rep. John Delaney, D-Md., J.D. in 1988 Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., J.D. in 1969 Rep. John J. Faso, R-N.Y., J.D. in 1979 Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., J.D. in 1973 Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, J.D. in 1978 Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., J.D. in 1966 Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., J.D. in 1984 Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., J.D. in 1964 Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., J.D. in 1994 Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., J.D. in 1978 Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, J.D. in 1993 Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., J.D. in 1990

Master’s: Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., M.A. in 1998 Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., M.P.P. in 1986 Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., M.A. in 2012 and 2013 Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, R-Ind., M.P.P. in 2014 Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., M.P.P. in 1994 Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., M.S.F.S. in 2004 Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, B.A. in 1980 Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, M.S.F.S. in 1993 Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, B.A. in 1985 Rep. Peter J. Visclosky, D-Ind., L.L.M. in 1982

American University

Ph.D.: Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., Ph.D. in 1995

J.D.: Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-V.I., J.D. in 1994

M.B.A.: Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., M.B.A. in 1979 Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., M.B.A. in 1987

M.P.A.: Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., M.P.A. in 1984

George Washington

M.D.: Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Fla., M.D. in 1979

J.D.: Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Tenn., J.D. in 1973 Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., J.D. in 2004

Master’s: Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., M.A. in 1992 Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, M.S.I.A. in 1974

Catholic University

J.D.: Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., J.D. in 1988

Howard University

J.D.: Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, D-N.Y., J.D. in 1978

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