Celebrities Who Graduated From Top-Ranking Colleges

You'll never guess what they studied too.
Harriet King October 12th 2018 Entertainment
Your favorite stars of stage, screen, music and everywhere else may seem like untouchable super-humans, but once upon a time they were just like us. Before they became famous, they had childhoods like yours. The same embarrassing school photos, the same awkward first kisses, and the same questionable fashion choices.
This is where you have the advantage. The secrets of your college years are probably stashed away in a drawer somewhere, unless you've been brave and shared them on social media. Nobody will ever see them. For many celebrities, every part of their youth is a matter of public record!
Let's see where they spent those formative years. Which colleges did they attend when they had their first big night out? Where did they spend sleepless nights worrying whether they'd done enough to get a pass, or how they were going to survive the week on $20? Let's find out!
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1. Amy Poehler - Boston College
Years before she was making us laugh on 'Saturday Night Live', 'Blades of Glory' and 'Mean Girls', Amy Poehler could be found honing her craft at Boston College. She studied for a degree in media and communications but must have discovered her true calling early on. While at Boston, she joined the college's improvisational comedy gang, who were known as 'My Mother's Fleabag'. We bet the rest of the gang are still wondering when they'll get a call to share the screen with her.
We're not going to second guess what Poehler actually got up to during her college years, but she once joked with Tina Fey on stage at the Golden Globes that she'd actually graduated with a 'Masters of Sex'. It was a reference to a TV show. Or at least, we think it was...
2. John Legend - University of Pennsylvania
The most interesting thing about John Legend's college career is all the places that he actually could have gone but didn't. Legend was a gifted student across many fields, and was offered scholarships by Georgetown and Morehouse, as well as the chance to attend Harvard. Instead, he followed his heart and studied English at the University of Pennsylvania, with a particular focus on African American studies.
Despite his literary interests, his love of music always shone through. He was both president and musical director of the university's jazz and a cappella group, the Counterparts. Imagine having Legend singing to you in your dorm room every night. We have a funny feeling he was very popular with the ladies. Since then he's done everything in the world of entertainment, including the title role in a big money adaptation of 'Jesus Christ Superstar'. Roles don't come much bigger than that!
3. Kristen Bell - New York University
Known to millions of children the world over as the voice of Anna from 'Frozen', it's obvious that Kristen Bell had a very clear idea of what she wanted to do with her life right from the start. She studied musical theater (which made her perfect for the role!) at the famous Tisch School Of The Arts at New York University, and she must have been great, because she was already famous by the time she left.
While still studying, Bell won a role on Broadway in a musical adaptation of 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer', and she's never really looked back. The following year, she was back on Broadway to star in 'The Crucible', and by the year after that she was a movie star. It may not happen very often, but sometimes life works out exactly as you planned it. It looks like it's been that way for her.
4. Giuliana Rancic - University of Maryland
If you're going to make a career out of reporting entertainment news, it helps a lot if you look and sound like you belong in that world. Giuliana Rancic spent her entire time in education making sure she had the perfect skill set to make that happen. Known to many as the face of E! News, she honed her skills at the University of Maryland, where she gained a bachelor's degree in journalism. Demonstrating that she was capable of covering more than just celebrity stories, she cut her teeth during her time at university working for a Capitol Hill news bureau, where she covered the world of politics.
Knowing that she'd need to not only need to know her topic but look great doing it, Rancic also attended the Barbizon Modeling and Acting school. That's probably how she's always able to get the emotion of a story over like very few others!
5. Ben Stiller - University of California
Not every name on this list managed to make it all the way through university! Sometimes, you go into further education and find out that it's just not for you. Ben Stiller probably thought he was making the logical move when he signed on at the University of California. He enrolled as a film student, which, given his chosen career, makes a lot of sense. Despite that, he didn't even make it through a full year, and ended up going home and moving back in with his parents.
Stiller can see the funny side of his failed attempt at getting a degree, describing himself as a 'typical dropout', but his success tells us that sometimes it isn't always about picking up a certificate after a few years of hard study. For the exceptionally talented few, you can do it all on your own without the qualifications.
6. Mindy Kaling - Dartmouth College
Mindy Kaling is a star who seems to be able to do it all. You might know her voice better than her face - she's done voiceover work in massive hits like 'Inside Out' - but she's also starred in 'The Office' and 'Oceans 8'. When she's not performing on screen, she's writing New York Times Bestsellers.
That 'do it all attitude' was very apparent even in her early years. While at Dartmouth College, she wrote her own comic strip, performed with the 'Dog Day Players' comedy improv troupe, and took time off to work as an intern on 'Late Night With Conan O'Brien' - although she now admits that she spent most of that time following Conan around like a star struck kid! Despite all that, she still somehow found the time to graduate with a bachelor's degree in play-writing.
7. Lily Collins - University of Southern California
Lily Collins is somebody who probably could have made her way through life quite comfortably without ever having to worry about a proper education. With legendary British musician Phil Collins as a father, she could have had anything she ever wanted. What she truly wanted, though, was a career of her own. With that in mind, she enrolled to study broadcast journalism at the University of Southern California. She successfully graduated, despite battling an eating disorder at the time, which she later recounted in her 2017 autobiography 'No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me'.
She persisted with journalism for some time, both as a newspaper columnist and fashion critic, but eventually a combination of her natural beauty and media profile saw her cross over into modeling, and then acting. Don't expect to see her in Hollywood blockbusters, though; she prefers deeper and more complicated roles.
8. Tom Hanks - California State University
Some actors pursue a career in acting because they want to be famous, or rich, or because they're attracted to the world of celebrity. In Tom Hanks's case, it was almost a form of therapy. He describes himself as being a 'Bible toting, painfully shy nerd' when he was young, and only really found solace in theaters. He would buy tickets, travel and go to see theater shows alone, studying the works of the greats.
Unsurprisingly, he studied theater at California State University. Quite surprisingly, he didn't stick around to finish the course. At the suggestion of actor and director Vincent Dowling, Hanks took an internship at the Great Lakes Theater Festival. Becoming more and more engrossed in the internship, he eventually dropped out of classes and focused his time on learning all there was to know about theater, from the lighting to the stage management.
9. Sandra Bullock - East Carolina University
It must be a wonderful thing to have a dream as a child and then see it all the way through to fruition, without ever taking a step away from it. Sandra Bullock studied ballet and vocal arts as a child and won small parts in opera productions. From there, she proceeded gracefully though high school where she was a cheerleader, and straight into the University of East Carolina, where she graduated as a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama in 1987.
It may sound like it was all plain sailing, but even the best have to endure a little struggle. Her initial roles were hard to find, and she moved to New York seeking more work. To make ends meet, she worked as a bartender, cocktail waitress and coat checker. Oh, and that little scar above her eye? She got it from falling into a creek!
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10. John Krasinski - Brown University
John Krasinski is another actor who had a crisis of head versus heart in their formative years. Although all the signs of his youth pointed to someone destined to succeed in the performing arts - he was in a stage performance of 'Annie' when he was still in the sixth grade - he almost gave it all up for a career in teaching. Despite meeting and working with future 'The Office' co-star B. J. Novak while still in high school and being accepted to study theater arts at Brown University, Krasinski had a crisis of confidence and went to teach English as a foreign language in Costa Rica.
Despite the beautiful location, Krasinski quickly realized that he should have stayed in acting. Returning after one semester, he picked things back up at Brown and graduated as a playwright with honors. From there he moved on to the National Theater Institute in Connecticut, and the rest is history.
11. Brooke Shields - Princeton University
Everybody has that one former college friend who has done better than everybody else, and you're always secretly jealous of them. Imagine how it felt going to school or college with Brooke Shields. She was already famous by the time she was 12, having had a starring role in the movie 'Pretty Baby'. Despite that, her passion for French literature just wouldn't quit. She followed it all the way to Princeton University where she was an all-star student, and a member of both the Cap and Gown Club and the Triangle Club.
We imagine it takes a lot of work to complete a degree in French literature, but Shields somehow squeezed in time to write her autobiography, too - and it was released two years before she graduated! She also wrote her senior thesis about herself. To us, that feels like cheating.
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12. Aziz Ansari - New York University
Aziz Ansari has been quoted in the past as saying he just wanted to make his parents proud during his educational career. He was an excellent student and a high achiever, but underneath it all he just wanted to make people laugh. We imagine that his sense of humor may have made the marketing course he did at New York University more bearable for the other students.
Ansari was performing at New York's comedy clubs in the evenings after studying throughout the day, and his reputation grew quickly. He stayed on to graduate in 2004, but by 2005 he was already listed as one of Rolling Stone magazine's most promising new standup comedians. We're guessing his parents were OK with his career change; both of them have made appearances on his show 'Master of None'!
13. Denzel Washington - Fordham University
If you look back on your university days fondly, you might occasionally get together with former house or classmates and attend a reunion. You might also involve yourself with charities associated with the university. In Denzel Washington's case, his connection to Fordham runs a lot deeper than that. In 2011, he gave his former university two million pounds to establish the Denzel Washington Chair in Theater, along with a $250,000 scholarship for disadvantaged students.
It's easy to understand why he cares so much. He was at Fordham when he experienced a crisis of confidence about which course to major in, having studied journalism and acting. Lecturers at Fordham nudged him towards acting, offering him starring roles in 'Othello' and 'The Emperor Jones', and he finally felt he had a direction in life. Fordham loves him just as much as he loves them - they gave him an honorary doctorate in 1991.
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14. Matthew McConaughey - University of Texas at Austin
If you know you want a career in entertainment, but you're not sure which aspect of entertainment, why not hedge your bets and go for several at once? That's what Matthew McConaughey did when he enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin. Instead of focusing on one particular area, he majored in radio, television and film. We're sure he would have done just fine on radio, but imagine a world without his face on the big screen. We'd all have been poorer for it.
McConaughey developed a deep bond with the university during his time there. He can still be seen regularly attending the Longhorns football games, and he recently returned as a lecturer to deliver acting classes for a semester. We bet the students could hardly believe their luck. How many people can say they were tutored by an Oscar winner?
15. Kourtney Kardashian - Southern Methodist University and University of Arizona
The Kardashians have been so famous for so long that it's hard to imagine that they were ever just regular people. In truth, they weren't - all the children were both into vast wealth - but they still had to go through education just like the rest of us. In Kourtney's case, she split her time between two universities, studying theater arts, with an additional minor in Spanish. She's never really had to make use of either qualification.
She doesn't sound like she actually had the best of times during her college years. She was stung by a scorpion, which is a pretty painful experience, and actually failed two classes because she was too nervous to stand up and give speeches in front of her classmates. Given what she does now, with her reality television shows and prominent social media presence, she definitely got past her shyness at some point!
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16. Julia Stiles - Columbia University
Julia Stiles is yet another actor who already had their career sorted out long before they had to worry about which subject to major in. She'd been performing in movies since she was fifteen years old. Like seemingly many of her acting contemporaries, she decided to focus her studies on English literature. She must have been well liked by her professors during her time at Columbia - in 2010 they presented her with the John Jay Award, an annual prize handed out to five university alumni to celebrate their outstanding personal achievements since leaving college.
Once a go-to choice for coming of age films and teen comedies, perhaps Stiles took her degree to enhance her knowledge of more 'serious' dramatic works, because in more recent years she's diversified into grittier and darker films.
17. Elizabeth Banks - University of Pennsylvania
Elizabeth Banks' time at the University of Pennsylvania studying communications and theater arts was actually a happy little accident. It's likely she'd never have gone down the path into the performing arts if it wasn't for an injury she suffered as a child. She was an avid sports player at school and was involved in Little League baseball when she broke her leg sliding into third base during a game. Looking for something to do during her recovery time, she tried out for the school play and found out she loved acting.
Whilst at university, she was a member of the highly exclusive and internationally renowned "Delta Delta Delta" sorority. Based on that, we're betting that she didn't find her role in "Pitch Perfect" to be much of a stretch. It sounds like she got a lot of practice for it!
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18. Maggie Gyllenhaal - Columbia University
A lot of the stars on this list took a course directly related to their field of interest, or even something that went hand in hand with a career they'd already started. Maggie Gyllenhaal took a different route. Although she'd already started to build a career in TV and film by the time university rolled around, she actually put that career on hold and tried something completely different. Specifically, she went to Columbia to study literature and Eastern religions. She would have been there at the same time as Julia Stiles, although it's unclear whether they ever met.
The studies presumably complemented her complex and diverse background - she's from a Swedish-English ancestry and identifies as part Jewish and part Swedenborgian when it comes to spirituality. She topped off her studies by attending London's prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art before resuming her career.
19. Eva Longoria - Texas A&M University
Eva Longoria has a serious dose of brains to go with all that beauty. She's a Bachelor of Science, specializing in kinesiology, which is the theory of how the body moves from a mechanical perspective. She supported herself through school by working in fast food restaurants, which she credits for giving her a high work ethic. Whilst at Texas A&M, she won the Miss Corpus Christi beauty pageant, which led to her being spotted by a talent agent, and her acting career began. Without that, she'd probably be working in a science lab right now. Her success wasn't immediate; she spent four years working in recruitment before she was finally able to make acting pay the bills full time.
Longoria never lost her interest in the sciences, more recently returning to study for a masters in Chicano Studies at California State University. Her final thesis focused on Latina representation within science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.
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20. Rashida Jones - Harvard
Growing up can't be easy when your father is one of the most famous record producers in the world, and Rashida Jones admits that she struggled with her identity when she first got her independence at college. She had up until then been a straight A student, but says she went 'wild' for a couple of years and went to a lot of parties and raves. Given that she attended Harvard, we're sure she has a lot of stories she could tell about who she partied with if she wanted to.
Jones originally wanted to pursue a career in law, but was put off by press coverage of the O.J. Simpson case. From there, she studied religion and philosophy, which she feels furthered her understanding of herself and the world around her. In the end, the lure of showbiz was too much, and she became the huge star we all know her as today.
21. Adam Sandler - New York University
Every school classroom in the world has that one kid who never stops telling jokes and playing pranks. We can be pretty sure that if Adam Sandler was in the classroom, that kid was always him. He always wanted to be a performer, and the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University has a reputation for helping aspiring performers get to where they need to be.
No sooner had he enrolled, fame knocked on his door. During his freshman year he was offered, and accepted, a recurring role on the Cosby Show. With his foot firmly in the door of the television world, he's worked almost constantly ever since. He didn't let it distract him from his studies though, and left New York with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. He probably owes his true breakthrough to comedian Dennis Miller, who saw him performing stand up and recommended him to Saturday Night Live.
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22. Meryl Streep - Vassar College
Meryl Streep seems to have been almost dragged into a career in acting. Although she was a school play regular whilst she was growing up, she was never interested in taking performing arts seriously until she was cast in 'Miss Julie' at Vassar College and the bug finally bit her. From then on, she was a natural. She graduated from Vassar with a Bachelor of the Arts cum laude and went on to obtain a Master of Fine Arts from Yale.
Even despite all that, she almost walked away from the profession again a few years later. Having to balance waitressing with a number of stage roles that weren't paying the bills, she almost quit and went back to school to study law. It was only by working with Jane Fonda in 'Julia' that she was finally able to turn her hobby into a career, and she still credits Fonda with 'opening doors for me that I never even knew about'.
23. James Franco - University of California
James Franco's education - and whole career - didn't come easily for him at all. His parents did not want him to become an actor under any circumstances. He'd had a difficult childhood, narrowly escaping being sentenced to juvenile hall for theft when a judge took petty on him, and his father ordered him to get good grades or face withdrawal of support. With that in mind, he enrolled at the University of California to study for an English major. However, when he was told he'd have to wait a full two years to audition for their acting program, he dropped out, and started taking acting lessons with Robert Carnegie at Playhouse West.
With no support from his parents, he worked night shifts at McDonald's to support himself, and would practice accents on customers to hone his craft. After he began to experience success as an actor, he returned to California to take - and pass - a creative writing qualification.
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24. Zach Braff - Northwestern University
He may have been one of the best known and loved medical students in the world during his time on 'Scrubs', but medicine was the furthest thing from Zach Braff's mind when he went to university. Attending the Northwestern University's School of Communication, he actually came away with a Bachelor of Arts in Film. Whilst he was there, was a frat boy within the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, and probably had a pretty wild time!
Braff chased his dream with a particular vigor - he was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder at the age of ten, and never wanted to be involved in anything other than film making, so he was never going to let his dream go. He also had well connected friends - Lauryn Hill of the Fugees was a childhood friend, and he went to high school with Natalie Portman, Mandy Moore and Joshua Radin.
25. Ashley Judd - University of Kentucky
In a lot of households, parents are wary of their children pursuing careers in the performing arts because of the limited chances of success. For Ashley Judd, the reserve was true. She comes from a whole family of successful actors and singers. When you take that into account, her educational career could almost be seen as an act of rebellion.
Judd is probably one of the most educated actors in the world. While at the University of Kentucky, she completed a major in French, and also obtained minors in Women's Studies, Art, Theater and Anthropology. She then moved on to Harvard to study law, where she received the Dean's Scholar Award for her work along the lines of law and justice where it relates to gender violence. She may not have pursued a career in law, but her interests may explain why she's always maintained an interest in humanitarian and political causes alongside her career.
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26. Jodie Foster - Yale
Her most famous role might have been as junior FBI agent Clarice Starling in 'Silence of the Lambs', but actor Jodie Foster's own educational interests were a little more classical in their nature. She majored in literacy at Yale, and she received a magna cum laude, with her final thesis being on the work of Toni Morrison. She remains one of Yale's most celebrated artistic students, and the university awarded her an honorary Master of Fine Arts degree in 1997.
Foster was already a performer with a growing reputation by the time university came around. She'd been working on television since childhood, including a little-known appearance in an episode of 'Ironside'. She says the main reason she pursued a qualification is because she wanted to know more about the writing aspect of the industry she works in. She probably needn't have worried - she was able to write in both English and French from the age of three!
27. Rachel Dratch - Dartmouth College
Celebrated comedian Rachel Dratch knew what she was going to be almost from the moment she learned to walk. She had a natural talent for both physical and verbal comedy, and freely describes herself as 'the class clown type' when she was growing up. She attempted to refine her performances by appearing in more 'serious' school plays as she grew up, but always found herself instinctively drawn back to comedic roles.
Unsurprisingly, Dratch majored in drama during her time at Dartmouth. Perhaps more surprisingly, she also studied psychology. Maybe she was looking into the science of making people laugh? Like many comedy performers, she spent time with an improv comedy troupe - in her case Dartmouth's "Said and Done". It gave her the perfect grounding to secure appearances on 'Saturday Night Live' which led to her breakthrough.
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28. Renée Zellweger - University of Texas at Austin
Renée Zellweger sounds like that girl at school who literally all of the boys wanted to date. She was both a cheerleader, drama club member and a gymnast, and must have had the personality to back it up, because she was also a member of the speech team. When she wasn't busy with all of that, she also played on the soccer, basketball and baseball teams. Obviously confident, and happy to be the focus of attention, she somehow didn't warm to the idea of acting until she went to university.
She actually took a B.A. in English at university, only taking drama as an elective, but it was enough to light a fire in her and persuade her to pursue the career full time. She made it onto the big screen the hard way, with her first roles being in commercials for Coors Light and a beef jerky company.
29. Will Ferrell - University of Southern California
If we told you that Will Ferrell didn't show any of his natural comedic talent to any of his peers during his time at the University of California, you'd probably be disappointed. Fortunately, we don't have to tell you that. Apparently, Ferrell's pranks during his student years are the stuff of legend. A favorite trick of his was to dress up as a janitor and wander into his friends' classes. He was also fond of streaking, along with the rest of his Delta Tau Delta frat brothers.
When he wasn't getting himself and everybody else around him into trouble, Ferrell was studying for a qualification in sports broadcasting. He followed through by taking an internship at a local television station, where he worked in the sports department, but didn't enjoy it. Regardless of that, the experience probably served him very well for his future role in 'Anchorman'.
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30. Brad Pitt - University of Missouri
In an environment where everybody's looking for their first true romantic experience, imagine being a boy and trying to compete with Brad Pitt. It must have been a living nightmare. Pitt studied journalism with a focus on advertising at the University of Missouri, so somewhere in a parallel universe, there's a very handsome man working in marketing. In our reality, he changed course at the very last second.
Pitt was only two weeks away from earning his degree when he dropped out of university and headed to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. By that point, he'd probably realized that his combination and looks and personality stood him in very good stead. His logic for going to Los Angeles was simple, but sound. In his own words, "Nobody made films In Missouri". You can't fault that!
31. Conan O'Brien - Harvard
Conan O'Brien frequently gives the impression that he's a very wise man playing the role of the fool, and all evidence suggests that he is. He's extremely well educated, having graduated from Harvard magna cum laude in history and literature. His interest in the world of comedy was always apparent at the same time, though - he wrote for Harvard's satirical newspaper the Harvard Lampoon, and was the magazine's president in his sophomore year.
His interest in the arts also extended to music, as he drummed for the band 'The Bad Clams' during his university years. He wasn't always well behaved, either - years after the event, he now admits that he stole an outfit worn by Robin in the 1960s 'Batman' series while it was being displayed at the university! Eventually, as we all know, he landed his own self-titled television show - where he would be followed around backstage by star struck intern Mindy Kaling.
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32. Ashton Kutcher - University of Iowa
Both in his film appearances (especially in 'The Butterfly Effect') and in his demeanor as a younger man, Ashton Kutcher has the aura of being the ultimate frat boy back in his university years. That may well be true; he was a member of the Delta Chi fraternity whilst he was at Iowa. The pranks he played as a fraternity brother may have inspired him to create 'Punkd'. That's not to suggest that all of his interests were juvenile - he actually studied biochemical engineering.
Kutcher wasn't fortunate enough to come from a rich family, and so had to get inventive in order to support himself and fund his studies. He would take on the occasional shift in the cereal department at General Mills when the opportunity presented itself. Also, on more than one occasion, he actually sold his own blood for medical research purposes to balance the books!
33. Lisa Kudrow - Vassar College
Vassar College has proved to be a popular choice for our acting talent, and Lisa Kudrow is another name to add to the list of their famous alumni. However, in the case of the 'Friends' star, she wasn't there for any reason related to acting or comedy. In fact, she was trying to cut her teeth as a research scientist!
Kudrow actually wanted to follow in her father's footsteps as she was growing up. She graduated as a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Vassar and worked on her dad's research staff for a full eight years. She's even credited by name on his study about the prevalence of cluster headaches in left handed people as opposed to right handed people. It was Jon Lovitz of 'Saturday Night Live' who finally persuaded her that she was naturally funny, and she joined famous Los Angeles improv comedy troupe the Groundlings at his insistence.
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34. Dwayne Johnson - University of Miami
Like Michael Jordan, Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson was an athlete who was approached by universities for a sporting scholarship and may have surprised the university with the decisions he made about majors. Johnson is the proud holder of degrees in both criminology and physiology. He doesn't just understand why criminals do what they do, he also knows the most effective way to beat them up.
We wonder if that knowledge came in handy in the world of professional wrestling? Johnson comes from a long family line of professional wrestlers, and when he signed with WWE shortly after graduation, he seemed to be fulfilling his destiny. He'd considered trying out for the NFL - it was his football skills that attracted the University of Miami to him - but an injury put paid to that dream. What nobody could have predicted, however, was that he'd go on to become the biggest grossing movie star in the world.
35. Jake Gyllenhaal - Columbia University
We've already seen his sister's academic career, so it would feel rude to leave Jake Gyllenhaal off the list. Unsurprisingly, he and his sister attended the same university. She undertook a wide ranging and complex set of qualifications, and he actually took the same courses - Eastern religions and philosophy. He didn't have quite the same enthusiasm. Within a year, he'd dropped out to pursue acting full time.
Gyllenhaal's parents were happy for him to chase his dream - after all, they were all performers themselves - but insisted that he worked to support himself in order to ensure he'd stay serious and committed to his training. As a result, he worked as a bus boy and a lifeguard to bring in money. He is on record as saying that one day he'd like to return to university and finish the degree. He just hasn't quite got around to it yet!
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36. Lupita Nyong'o - Yale
Lupita Nyong'o is a woman with a rich cultural background. Born in Mexico to Kenyan parents, she has spent time living in both countries as well as the USA and has split her education across all three countries. She comes from a performing family, where children were encouraged to put on plays for their parents, and so she was destined for the big screen from an early age.
She actually started her career in the movie industry working as a production assistant on films like 'The Constant Gardener', where she met Ralph Fiennes. She credits the British actor for having a major influence on her career. She timed her move into full time acting perfectly, landing her breakthrough role in '12 Years A Slave' at the precise time she graduated from the Yale School of Drama.
37. Matt Damon - Harvard
Matt Damon didn't quite complete his degree whilst at Harvard, but he did do some very important work during his time there. The original treatment for 'Good Will Hunting' was originally written by Damon as a project for his English class. Imagine writing an Oscar winning screenplay while you were still at university. We were still trying to work out which grocery aisle toothpaste was on.
Damon didn't drop out of Harvard for no good reason; he'd been offered the lead role in 'Geronimo: An American Legend'. Harvard obviously bore him no hard feelings because they awarded him the Harvard Arts Medal in 2013. He has a lot to thank his time in education for; he met his best friend and future collaborator Ben Affleck while he was still in high school, and the pair have been almost inseparable ever since.
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38. Mayim Bialik - University of California
We've come across actors on this list who've done degrees that the characters they're known for playing would never have dreamed of. Here's one who seems to have been playing their most famous character long before they were ever cast. 'Big Bang Theory' star Mayim Bialik graduated from the University of California with a degree in neuroscience, along with minors in Hebrew and Jewish studies. Isn't that just perfect?
She was of course a fairly well-known actor long before she took her degree, and has continued her career in both acting and neuroscience simultaneously, often taking a pause from one to focus on the other. She was actually accepted by both Harvard and Yale had she wished to attend either one but opted for the University of California because she wanted to stay living close to her mother. How adorable!
39. Jessica Chastain - Julliard
Ever bunked off school because your class was doing Shakespeare that day, and you just wanted to stay at home watching TV or playing video games? Jessica Chastain was the exact opposite. She struggled academically, feeling no connection or enthusiasm for traditional subjects, and only really coming alive when a drama class rolled around. She considered herself, in her own words, to be both a 'loner' and a 'misfit'.
Because she was a poor student, Chastain didn't qualify for graduation. However, she later obtained an adult diploma, and gained entry to the exclusive Julliard School in New York via a scholarship that had been set up years earlier by Julliard alumni Robin Williams - who had himself qualified for the school via a scholarship. There, she finally found both her confidence and her true calling and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 2003.
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40. Ken Jeong - University of North Carolina
Imagine, if you can bear the thought, the idea of a child being delivered by Ken Jeong's character from 'The Hangover'. Pretty terrible idea, right? And yet it could actually happen in real life. Jeong's qualifications have nothing to do with acting; he left the University of North Carolina in 1995 with a medical degree, and he's a licensed obstetrician.
He stuck with his trade for a while, too. He actually had a residency at a New Orleans surgery for a while after graduating, but when he wasn't working he was perfecting his standup comedy routines in the city's nightclubs. He was even still working in medicine when he landed his first movie role in 'Knocked Up', but the success of that film finally persuaded him to put the stethoscope down and transition into acting and comedy full time.
41. Ellie Kemper - Princeton University AND Oxford University
It's the dream of every smart student in the USA or the UK to attend either an Ivy League school, or England's Oxford or Cambridge University. It takes a real show off to do both, but Ellie Kemper wasn't going to let that put her off. She was an excellent school student, but quite by chance her high school drama teacher was an aspiring actor himself. It was Jon Hamm. Hamm ignited Kemper's interest in comedy and performance, and so she set off in his footsteps.
She majored in English at Princeton, where she also enjoyed her time in the university's improv comedy troupe 'Quipfire'. Not content with that, she then moved to England and studied the same subject at Oxford, working towards a graduate degree. That probably makes her more qualified in English than almost any teacher in the world.
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42. Steven Spielberg - California State University
We think that legendary film director Steven Spielberg deserves a special mention in this list. Earlier on, we said that Jake Gyllenhaal one day hopes to go back to university and finish his degree. Maybe he did. Spielberg did, and it took him thirty-four years. We do think he cheated slightly, though. He submitted 'Schindler's List' as an entry for his degree in Film and Electronic Arts. Unsurprisingly, it graded well.
Spielberg had good reason to drop out of university the first time around. He'd been doing unpaid intern work at Universal Studios to get real life experience as he did his course but impressed his bosses when he wrote and directed a short film named 'Amblin'. They offered him a seven-year directing contract, making him the youngest full time director in Hollywood. We think pretty much anyone would have jumped at that chance!
43. Michael Jordan - University of North Carolina
Sports stars sometimes get an unfair reputation for not being all that bright. They often focus on sports while they're at school, and if they're really good, a professional sports team signs them up long before they get the chance to graduate. That wasn't the case for Michael Jordan. Even universities jockey to secure the most promising athletes - Duke, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia all offered him basketball scholarships.
Jordan may have surprised his suitors when he enrolled to major in cultural geography. Nobody expected him to finish the course when he was drafted as a professional basketball player in 1984. He didn't exactly start slowly either - he was named rookie of the year in his debut season and made the All-Star team. Despite all the hype and media attention, Jordan pressed on with his studies, and secured his major, graduating from the University of North Carolina in 1986.
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44. Emma Watson - Brown
Despite every fiber of your being want to scream that Emma Watson went to Hogwarts, we're afraid it wasn't really the case. Instead, she went to the prestigious Brown University in Oxford, England. There are no records of her appearing on the Quidditch team. Watson has a degree in English literature, and getting it was a struggle for her.
Because of her acting work, her education was delayed. She wasn't able to finish her course until she was 24. She also had to contend with the fact that she became one of the most famous people in the world, and all of her classmates knew it. According to Watson, it was common for her peers to respond with 'Three points for Gryffindor' every time she correctly answered a question during a lecture. We're guessing that got really old, really fast!
45. Octavia Spencer - Auburn University
Octavia Spencer has quite the impressive set of awards. She's won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a British Academy Film Award. She also showed no interest at all in acting as a career until her time at university was almost over!
Spencer actually studied English at Auburn, with double minors in theater and journalism. She could have easily have been the person asking the questions on the red carpet instead of being the one answering them. It was two years later she finally decided to give acting a real try, after serving as an intern on the set of Whoopi Goldberg picture 'The Long Walk Home'. The fact that she chose to study - and passed - courses in both English and journalism is an impressive feat for most people, but even more so for Spencer, who suffers from dyslexia.
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46. Oprah Winfrey - Tennessee State University
It might seem like there's very little left about Oprah Winfrey's wife that isn't public knowledge, but her route to Tennessee State University might surprise you. She came from an exceptionally poor family; she remembers that she used to have to wear potato sack dresses as a child occasionally. The prospect of her family being able to support her going to university was highly unlikely. So, she did what she has always done best - talked.
Winfrey entered, and won, an oratory contest. The prize was full scholarship to Tennessee State University. She didn't waste the opportunity. Majoring in communication, she raised her profile locally when she won the Miss Black Tennessee Beauty Pageant at the age of seventeen. That was enough to get her noticed by local radio station WVOL, who hired her part time to read the news. Her style made her popular with listeners, and she never looked back.
47. Natalie Portman - Harvard
Natalie Portman's work ethic and achievements, both in education and in acting, have been nothing short of phenomenal. Achieving excellence in both fields, she's compromised on neither, and her resume must make for fascinating reading. Portman was already famous as a teenager, having worked on the film 'Leon: The Professional' when she was thirteen. She knew she wanted to be an actor but had high educational goals and was determined not to drop the ball on them.
She was so serious about getting qualifications that she missed the premiere of her 'Star Wars' movie so she could study for her final high school exams. While at Harvard, she studied psychology, and has been cited for her work on the role of the frontal lobe in memory, as well as a research paper on how to derive hydrogen from sugar. She's also been a guest lecturer at Columbia University on the topic of counter-terrorism, and speaks English, French, Japanese, Arabic and German. How does she do it all?
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48. Anne Hathaway - Vassar College
It sounds like Anne Hathaway's experiences in education were something of a wrestling match between her and her parents. In truth, she'd been in love with the idea of becoming an actress ever since seeing her mother star in a performance of 'Les Miserables' and wanted to follow in her footsteps. Her mother's career hadn't been a huge success, though, and she was keen for her daughter to take on a more reliable career. Therefore, Hathaway found herself studying English and political science at Vassar College in New York. She believes, at the time, she was heading for a career in teaching or psychology.
It wasn't to be. Eventually her passion won out - she never stopped performing in amateur plays while studying, and when the opportunity arrived to appear in the Princess Diaries in 2001, she dropped out and never returned.
49. Lil Wayne - University of Houston
Most people go to college or university with the idea that they'll do a course which will help them find employment in later life. Lil Wayne turned that idea completely on its head. Wayne grew up with a strong passion for music. He was writing and recording his own rap music from the age of nine years old. Although he was an honors student at school, he was signed to a record label when he was just 14 and dropped out completely to focus on his new career.
Despite all his success, in 2005 he decided it was time to go back to school and finish what he started. He enrolled for a degree in political science at the University of Houston. He didn't quite get over the line at the time, but tried again at the University of Phoenix two years later, this time studying psychology. He's a man of many interests!
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50. Chris Pine - University of California
What is it with people who go to university without a single idea about becoming an actor, then fall in love during their studies and go on to be hugely successful in it? That's got to be so annoying for people who've wanted to act for their whole lives but never made it! Chris Pine is another one who accidentally found out acting was their calling whilst pursing a major in English.
He was nervous of making friends when he arrived at university and didn't like the idea of joining a fraternity. He decided that joining a theater group would be the easiest way of socializing with new people, and promptly discovered that he had quite a natural talent. A year after graduating, he landed a small part in 'E.R', and his new career was already off the ground. Some people have all the luck!

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