Michelle Obama: Timeline of Higher Education

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Becoming" by Michelle Obama. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What did Michelle Obama’s timeline of higher education look like? What major events happened while Michelle was at Princeton? What led Michelle to apply to Harvard Law School?

During her time at Princeton, Michelle met her first mentor, got her first job working with children, she experienced the decline of her father’s health, and she made the decision to go to law school. All of these events would affect her later in life.

Continue on to learn more about Michelle Obama’s college years.

Michelle Obama’s College Timeline

The first event in Michelle Obama’s timeline of college events was to get a job. As part of her financial aid package at Princeton, Michelle needed a work-study job. She worked as an assistant to Czerny Brasuell, the director of the Third World Center, a Princeton institution dedicated to supporting students of color. The center offered tutoring services and hosted parties and shared meals, and Czerny became one of Michelle’s early and most important mentors. 

Michelle quickly learned to be prepared for any assignment—typing up memos, babysitting Czerny’s son, answering questions from students, even driving around New York City while Czerny ran errands. The job’s many demands and Czerny’s mentorship helped Michelle overcome her inhibitions. Through her work, she came to realize she was a capable, responsible adult who could handle whatever came her way. 

Working With Children 

Czerny suggested that Michelle open up a day care center at Princeton because many Princeton professors needed childcare for their kids. Michelle enjoyed watching over Czerny’s child, so she agreed to expand her services. She quickly found that working with children was exhausting but immensely satisfying. She loved to play with the professors’ kids and help them with their elementary school homework. 

Fraser’s Health Declines 

The second major event in Michelle’s college timeline was the decline of her father’s health. Michelle called home from school every week to tell her parents all about her life at Princeton and to learn what was new in her extended family and her South Side neighborhood. On every call, her father Fraser always spoke as if everything was fine. He never mentioned that his condition was worsening. When asked about his health, he changed the subject or refused to talk about it.  

One day when her parents drove all day from Chicago to Princeton to see Craig play in a basketball game, Michelle was shocked to see her father was now using a wheelchair. Marian had to push him into the gym to watch Craig play. Michelle begged Fraser to see a specialist or go to physical therapy, but her father refused, preferring to cope with his condition himself.

Elder Relatives Die

Shortly before her junior year, Michelle experienced the death of two close relatives. Both her great-aunt Robbie, the piano teacher, and her jazz-loving grandfather died that summer. The combination of their passing and the nostalgia she felt as her family came together after the funerals felt like a shock compared to her quiet, controlled college life. She realized that while she was focused on her small, selfish world of academic achievement, members of her family were aging and dying. But she didn’t know how to reconcile this dissonance, or what she could do about it, so she headed back to Princeton to study even harder. 

Applying to Law School

The last event in Michelle’s college timeline was applying to law school. Still hyper-focused on success, Michelle started to burn out from the endless pressure of achievement. Even though she needed a mental break, she kept climbing the academic ladder and basking in others’ approval. 

When it came time for her to make plans for life after Princeton, she took the Law School Admission Test and got into Harvard Law School. As expected, everyone praised her.  


Looking back, Michelle realizes she didn’t choose law school out of logic or passion for the law. She did it for the same reason that her six-year-old self told adults that she wanted to grow up to be a pediatrician: Telling her friends and classmates that she would attend Harvard Law School made people admire her, which made her feel worthy

In hindsight, Michelle understands that caring too much about what other people think can lead you in the wrong direction. When you’re overly concerned about how your life looks to others, you may keep striving and achieving until you’re so far along the wrong path that it’s nearly impossible to turn around. Without realizing it, you handcuff yourself to the wrong future.   

Michelle Obama: Timeline of Higher Education

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Michelle Obama's "Becoming" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Becoming summary :

  • How Michelle Obama went from the South Side of Chicago to the White House
  • Why much of her success came from her being determined from a young age
  • How Michelle Obama continues to push herself and discover new opportunities

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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