Student Life

Where 50 Celebrities Went to College

Where did your favorite celebrities go to college? Read on to find out.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

December 30, 2020

Where 50 Celebrities Went to College
When asked about her education impacting her fame, Natalie Portman reportedly told the New York Post, “I don’t care if [college] ruins my career. I’d rather be smart than a movie star.”
If you were rich and famous, would you still find value in a college education? These celebrities certainly do! James Franco, Lupita Nyong’o and Natalie Portman are among the many celebrities who moonlight as brainiacs – offering beauty and brains. Sometimes, life just isn’t fair. In a star-obsessed society, with hopes in the form of articles like, “stars-they’re-just-like-us,” we rarely actually regard stars as being just-like-us. Perhaps the following stars may pleasantly surprise you since they see the true value in a college education. Check out the following celebrities who graduated from college, many of whom still continue their education on the off-season.

1. Elizabeth Banks

Before starring in Hunger Games and Pitch Perfect, Elizabeth Banks attended the University of Pennsylvania, where she was in a sorority and graduated magna cum laude in 1996. She also earned a Master of Fine Arts in 1998 from the American Conservatory Theater.

2. Sacha Baron Cohen

Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen studied history at the University of Cambridge before taking on alter-egos like Ali G. Who knew that Borat was such a smarty pants?

3. Kristen Wiig

One of the funniest women ever, Wiig didn’t even want to be an actress going into college. She started her higher education at Roanoke College and after a series of moving around and trying an outdoor-living program, she went on to study art at the University of Arizona. It was there that she took her first acting class, and after encouragement from a professor to try to become a professional actress, she moved to Los Angeles.

4. Dylan and Cole Sprouse

Ok…so technically, the article should be titled, “Where 51 Celebrities Went to College,” but these twins are a package deal, right? They both graduated from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. Dylan obtained a degree in video game design, while Cole pursued archaeology.

5. Steve Carell

The Office actor and The 40-Year-Old Virgin star earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Denison University.

6. Gal Gadot

Before she was Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot was just your average Israeli teenager. Ok…not quite. At age 18, she was crowned Miss Israel in the nation’s pageant. She then went on to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces, a mandatory two-year military service commitment for all Israeli citizens, as a combat fitness instructor. Afterwards, she attended IDC Herzliya and studied law and government.

7. Luke Bryan

Before moving to Nashville to pursue a career as a singer/songwriter, Bryan graduated from Georgia Southern University with a degree in Business Administration.

8. Common

The American hip-hop artist known as Common (formerly known as Common Sense) attended Florida A&M University, thanks to a two-year scholarship, where he majored in business administration.

9. Kerry Washington

Before she was fixing Washington D.C.’s biggest scandals on the fictional television show, Scandal, Washington actually created her own major combining psychology, sociology, and anthropology at Georgetown University.

10. Jessica Chastain

Chastain knew she wanted to be an actress from a young age, and her college choice reflected her dreams. She graduated from the Julliard School in New York City, where she attended on a scholarship from Robin Williams.

11. Lupita Nyong’o

Before her film debut in 12 Years a Slave, which won her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, Nyong’o studied film and theatre. She acquired a Bachelor’s degree from Hampshire College and an MFA from the Yale School of Drama.

12. Will Ferrell

Coming to you, live! It seems like our favorite funnyman was always destined to be in front of the camera. He even studied sports broadcasting at University of Southern California, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in sports information in 1990.

13. Tina Fey

This comedienne always had the fame bug, even before Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. Fey attended the University of Virginia, where she studied acting and playwriting and earned her bachelor’s degree in drama in 1992.

14. Octavia Spencer

Despite having dyslexia, Spencer graduated from Auburn University before she became an Oscar-winning actress. While in school, she majored in English with a double minor in theatre and journalism.

15. James Franco

In addition to his bachelor’s degree in English from UCLA and a Master of Fine Arts from Columbia, he recently worked towards his doctorate in English from Yale University. He’s also taken film-making courses at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, fiction writing at Brooklyn College and poetry at North Carolina’s Warren Wilson College. He also attended the Rhode Island School of Design. By the way, this is all in addition to teaching courses at USC, UCLA, CalArts and NYU. Yikes! This guy really gets around – academically speaking, of course.

16. Ken Jeong

This funny guy actually has a very serious academic background. He studied pre-med at Duke University before obtaining his medical degree at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. He moved to Los Angeles and practiced internal medicine while dabbling in comedy on the side.

17. Jennifer Garner

Before Alias and nabbing People’s Most Beautiful Woman in 2019, Jen earned a bachelor’s degree in drama from Denison University.

18. Ricky Gervais

The hilarious creator of The Office attended University College London, where he earned a bachelor’s in philosophy. Maybe that’s why The Office is so deep…

19. Paul Giamatti

He’s got an impressive acting background, but did you know his academic background is equally as impressive? The actor earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Yale University and continued on to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Yale School of Drama.

20. Maggie Gyllenhaal

Setting the bar high for her little brother Jake, Maggie studied literature and Eastern religions, earning a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University. She also studied at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. (For the record, Jake Gyllenhaal followed his big sister to Columbia University but left after two years to pursue his acting career.)

21. Jonah Hill

You’ll likely know Hill from comedies like Superbad and Get Him to the Greek, but many don’t know that he also studied music and sports at The New School in New York.

22. Rashida Jones

Known for roles on The Office and Parks and Recreation, Jones graduated from Harvard University, where she studied religion and philosophy.

22. Beanie Feldstein

Going to college must run in the family. Feldstein, who is Jonah Hill’s little sister, graduated from Wesleyan University with a degree in Sociology.

24. Kourtney Kardashian

After attending Southern Methodist University for two years, the oldest Kardashian sister transferred to the University of Arizona, where she majored in theatre arts and minored in Spanish. Do you think that her bachelor’s degree comes in handy during her on-screen family feuds?

25. John Krasinski

Talk about brains! After teaching English in Costa Rica, Krasinski earned his bachelor’s degree from Brown University in theatre arts. After graduating from Brown, he studied at the National Theater Institute in Connecticut, The Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, England and The Actors Center in New York City.

26. Lisa Kudrow

The former Friends star can offer a lot more than a rendition of “Smelly Cat” (though that’s pretty great, too) since she earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from Vassar College. She even delivered the school’s 2010 commencement address.

27. John Legend

His high school salutatorian, Legend had his choice of offered scholarships to Harvard University, Georgetown University and Morehouse College. He decided upon the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied English with an emphasis on African American literature.

28. David Letterman

Though you’d never know it now, The Late Show host was a self-described average student at Ball State University, where he later created a scholarship for “C-students.”

29. Giuliana Rancic

Before serving as a reporter for E!, Rancic studied journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park. She then went on to receive a Master’s degree in journalism from American University.

30. Mindy Kaling

Perhaps one of wittiest television and film writers in recent years, Kaling got her start at Dartmouth College. As a student, she majored in playwriting and interned on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

31. Andy Cohen

Before he was breaking up couch fights with Real Housewives, Cohen was a college graduate from Boston University. He majored in broadcast journalism.

32. Eva Longoria

A bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from Texas A&M University at Kingsville wasn’t enough for this onscreen housewife. She later returned to college, earning her master’s in Chicano Studies from California State University Northridge.

33. Rachel McAdams

This beauty has brains to boot, and should be recognized for a different type of notebook. The Notebook star graduated with a bachelor’s degree from York University’s four-year theatre program in 2001.

34. Lin-Manuel Miranda

Miranda actually started his career as a playwright while attending college at Wesleyan University. It was there that he wrote and then debuted his first musical, In the Heights. This man was not throwing away his shot as a young college student.

35. Conan O’Brien

It turns out this funnyman likes to hit the books. O’Brien attended Harvard University, where he studied history and literature and graduated magna cum laude in 1985. He was also a writer for the Harvard Lampoon humor magazine during his college years, which he was made president of his sophomore and junior years there.

36. Shaquille O’Neal

Shaq definitely has brains and brawn, since he’s got an impressive academic record with a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University in general studies, an MBA from the University of Phoenix and most recently earned his Ph.D. in leadership and education from Barry University. Maybe his brain is scaled to size with his body?

37. Kamala Harris

The first ever female Vice President is garnering Harris celebrity status. As an undergrad, she graduated from a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), Howard University in Washington D.C., with a degree in political science and economics. Harris then went on to earn her law degree from University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

38. Amy Poehler

This comedienne began her improv comedy career while attending Boston College, where she was a member of America’s oldest collegiate comedy troupe, “My Mother’s Fleabag.” She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in media and communications in 1993 before going on to a bright career on Saturday Night Live and a starring role on the television show Parks and Recreation.

39. Natalie Portman

Talk about a multi-tasker! Portman worked towards her college degree while simultaneously working as an actress, beginning in 1999. In 2003, she officially earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Harvard University. She also took graduate courses afterwards at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and, as a lover of foreign languages, has studied French, Japanese, German and Arabic. When asked about her decision to attend college, Portman reportedly told the New York Post, “I don’t care if [college] ruins my career. I’d rather be smart than a movie star.”

40. Paul Rudd

The actor, comedian and screenwriter went to the University of Kansas. He also spent some time studying Jacobean drama at the British American Drama Academy, in Oxford, U.K.

41. Ivanka Trump

Pandering to both sides of the aisle, Trump attended Georgetown University for two years before transferring to Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She graduated in 2004 with a degree in economics.

42. Steven Spielberg

It took him more than 35 years, but the director, despite struggling with dyslexia, still earned a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) in film production and electronic arts with an option in film/video production. Spielberg proves that it’s never too late to earn that degree!

43. Jimmy Fallon

Showing that it’s never too late to change your major – or graduate from college, Fallon attended The College of Saint Rose, where he changed his major from computer science to communications his senior year. He left college a semester before graduation but returned 14 years later to receive his degree after receiving experiential learning credits for his work in television.

44. Renee Zellweger

This Oscar-winning actress grew her interest in acting while attending college. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English.

45. Meryl Streep

One of the most celebrated and talented actors of our time, Streep received her bachelor’s degree in drama from Vassar College and also enrolled in classes Dartmouth College for a quarter as an exchange student. Afterwards, she earned her Master of Fine Arts from the Yale School of Drama. It looks like that drama degree came in handy, since she has received more Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations that any other actor in the history of either award (amongst many other award achievements).

46. Stephen Colbert

If this list is any indication, you have to go to college if you want to be a late night talk show host. Colbert initially enrolled in Hampden – Sydney College in Virginia but later transferred to Northwestern University when he decided to pursue his passion of performing.

47. Christy Turlington

Really? A supermodel with brains? Not that we’re stereotyping – it just isn’t fair! But, Turlington can prove she’s got brains with her bachelor’s degree in religion and Eastern philosophy from New York University. As if that weren’t enough, she later went back to school and obtained a master’s in public health from Columbia University.

48. Carrie Underwood

After high school, Underwood put her singing aspirations on hold to attend Northeastern State University, where she graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication with an emphasis in journalism. That didn’t stop her from achieving her dreams, though. Underwood went on to become the season four winner of the popular reality singing competition, American Idol.

49. Denzel Washington

The undeniably handsome actor not only earned his bachelor’s degree in drama and journalism from Fordham University, but also played collegiate basketball for the school as a freshman. He also attended graduate school at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre.

50. Oprah Winfrey

Growing up in a low-income, abusive household, Winfrey escaped her situation by becoming an honors student who secured a full scholarship to Tennessee State University, where she studied communication. Then, she went on to become Oprah. Does this change your opinion regarding the value of a college education?

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