Sheila Jackson Lee grew up in a working-class family in the Queens borough of New York. She stood out among her peers at Jamaica High School and subsequently won a prestigious scholarship, inspired by the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to attend New York University (NYU).
After a year at NYU, Jackson Lee was then selected as part of the first class of women to attend Yale University. While an undergraduate, she was heavily involved in the student movement. She graduated from Yale University with Honors with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science. She earned her J.D. from the University of Virginia Law School.