At Yale, he was a fraternity president and member of the secret Skull and Bones Society.
At Harvard Business School, one image stands out in the yearbook: the two-term Texas governor and would-be Republican presidential nominee, sitting in the back of class, blowing a bubble.
On the campaign trail, Bush's carefree demeanor and natural affability win him rave reviews and rock star-like adulation.
But his record as a school socialite, his recent fumbling over the names of world leaders and slip-ups such as calling Greeks "Grecians" have raised a question: Does Bush have the intellectual heft to be leader of the free world?
To quiet the speculation, Bush has been attending policy school with a verve unseen during his high school and college years.
The first classes for Bush convened last spring at the governor's mansion, a white Greek Revival home with porch columns that lend a university air.
The instructors included a variety of experts in foreign affairs, economics and social and domestic issues.
At the core are fellows at Stanford's conservative Hoover Institution, notably George Shultz, who was former President Reagan's secretary of state, and Condoleeza Rice, who worked for Bush's father at the National Security Council. She is now the governor's chief foreign policy adviser.
The cram sessions are anchored by outsiders such as Lawrence Lindsey, a former Federal Reserve System governor who advises Bush on economic matters, and Al Hubbard, an Indianapolis businessman with a bent for domestic policy.
Bush also has built an in-house policy team, led by Josh Bolten. One way he helps Bush is by distilling material into single-volume binders, one labeled "Airplane Reading" that the governor carries while traveling.
Bush's tutors have some common impressions: He asks as well as he listens, he can delve into the minutiae as well as frame the big picture, and he isn't embarrassed to admit what he doesn't know.
"He's not afraid to say, 'Explain that again,' or, 'Lindsey, give me that in English,"' Lindsey said.
Bush did not want for a top-notch education. He attended prep school at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., and graduated from Yale University in 1968. In 1975, he received a master's in business administration from Harvard University.
Critics say Bush has benefited not from smarts but from family connections. Admirers say he is a sharp businessman adept at public relations.
Hubbard said Bush is different from when they attended business school together. "He was not a very serious student. He's changed a lot since then. Not his personality, but his seriousness about what he's doing vocationally."
As Bush attempts to make the move from Austin to Washington, he has been aggressive about bolstering his policy background.
Domestic issues appear to have come esiest to Bush. He runs the second largest state in the country both in terms of size and population, and he has dealt with microcosms of the challenges facing the nation.
Advisers say the bigger challenge has been foreign policy, with all of its nuance.
One resource has been his father. As president, the elder Bush was known for his foreign policy prowess. He was head of the CIA, U.S. ambassador to China and the United Nations, and in 1990 cobbled together a 28-nation coalition against Iraq in the Persian Gulf War.
Another tutor has been Rice, a former Stanford provost, and former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.
Today when he's on the stump, Bush takes questions on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty [he opposes it] and isn't afraid to say that the United States should treat Russia and China less as strategic partners and more as economic rivals.
Yet he stumbles when pressed for specifics, such as a recent television interview when he was asked to name the leaders in world hot spots like Taiwan, India, Pakistan and Chechnya. He could only name one.
The education of Bush is still a work in progress.
In an interview Tuesday, Bush read from a draft of an upcoming speech to say he would take action "if the Russian government attacks innocent women and children in Chechnya."
Asked whether that was now happening, Bush moved the phone away from his mouth and shouted, "They are attacking women and children, aren't they?"
Answer in hand, he resumed the interview and said, "Condi Rice is shaking her head in agreement."