We admire celebrities for their talent, charisma, creativity, confidence, style, and sometimes, poise. It’s always a pleasant surprise to discover that in addition to having musical chops or advanced acting ability, a star also has a college degree.
Education is always something to be admired and celebrated. Because so few celebrities go on to use their degrees in their jobs, we don’t always hear what they studied in college or that they went to college at all.
Some of the most famous faces in the world earned degrees in subjects that kind of tie in with what they do now—like the fashion designer who studied art or the author who studied classics. But other celebrities studied subjects with which we would never associate them in a million years, like psychology or kinesiology or criminology.
There are more brains than meet the eye in Hollywood, with some of the world’s biggest names having completed degrees. There are even some doctors among the A-listers in Tinseltown, and we never would have guessed who they are!
Keep reading to find out which celebrities went to college before or after they made it big, and what subjects they studied.
25 Kanye West: Art
Say what you like about Kanye West, but it’s hard to deny that the man is talented. On top of being a successful rap artist and fashion designer, Yeezy is the latest celeb to be awarded an honorary doctoral degree.
Entertainment Tonight reports that Mr. West was awarded a Ph.D. from the Art Institute of Chicago.
Normally straight-faced, West was full of smiles at the ceremony (from what we could see from the snap wife Kim Kardashian posted on IG). West’s late mother, Dr. Donda West, was an English professor at Clark Atlanta University, so we guess smarts run in the family.
24 Dwayne Johnson: Criminology
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson has played some pretty intense characters during his professional life, and we’re wondering whether his degree in criminology helped him to really get into those roles.
In 1995, prior to becoming a household name but after his time as a college football player, Johnson earned a bachelor's in general studies, spanning criminology and physiology, from the University of Miami.
Following this, Johnson began working as a professional wrestler and soon rose to international fame. Today, he’s a successful actor and producer.
23 Aziz Ansari: Marketing
Originally, Parks and Recreation star Aziz Ansari was interested in becoming an entrepreneur, and so he decided to study marketing at New York University. “But it was such a weird culture,” he revealed to Paste Magazine. “I wasn’t aware of that whole finance culture of kids who wanna work at Goldman Sachs and all that stuff and blah blah blah. It was just … not interesting me.”
Though Ansari quickly figured out that marketing wasn’t his calling, he stuck with it because he was able to “coast by and work on stand up.”
22 America Ferrera: International Relations
When America Ferrera’s acting roles first took off, she was studying at the University of Southern California. Understandably, she became too distracted to focus on her studies!
But a decade later in 2013, she finally returned to finish what she started and get her degree.
“I am using so much of what I learned in the School of International Relations in my life,” she said in 2013. “I’ve learned about the root causes of so many issues I’m passionate about and how to improve people’s lives.”
21 Rebel Wilson: Law
The characters she plays tend to be less than intelligent, so many fans are surprised to learn that Rebel Wilson graduated from law school in 2009 and she could give many academics a run for their money. The Pitch Perfect star confirmed her college history on Late Night with Seth Meyers.
“A lot of people look at me and think I’m stupid. But no, I graduated from a school that’s kind of like the Harvard of Australia,” she said of her old school, the University of New South Wales.
20 Carrie Underwood: Communications
Country music phenomenon Carrie Underwood graduated from Northeastern University in 2016, eleven years after becoming a star through the reality show American Idol. Better late than never!
She completed her bachelor’s degree in mass communications that year, juggling it with the demands of her successful life as a country star and marriage to husband Mike Fisher.
Underwood has admitted that if fate were different and she never made it as a singing sensation, she would have tried to pursue work in TV news, hence the communications degree.
19 John Legend: English
At the impressive age of sixteen, John Legend began studying at the University of Pennsylvania. Most fans are surprised to discover that it wasn’t music he was studying at college, but English. In 1999, he graduated with a degree in English with a concentration in African-American literature and culture—long before making it as a musician.
Although he didn’t earn a degree in music, his talents were already showing at the time, and while he was studying, he also performed as part of the a cappella group Counterparts.
18 Kourtney Kardashian: Theatre Arts
The Kardashians receive a lot of flak for being famous without singing, acting, dancing, writing, painting, or other things for which people generally achieve fame. But eldest sister Kourtney did have an interest in acting, or at least performing arts of some kind, at one point in the past.
She started studying at Southern Methodist University in Dallas before transferring to the University of Arizona. There, she completed a degree in Theatre Arts with a minor in Spanish. Kardashian didn’t end up becoming an actress, but she does have a TV show that’s more successful than what she probably dreamed about in college.
17 Ken Jeong: Medicine
Before he became a recognizable face on screen, Ken Jeong was a licensed doctor. Born in America to immigrants from Korea, Jeong attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill received his MD in 1995.
It wasn’t until many years later that he decided to explore acting, at the suggestion of his wife Tran Ho, who could see how much he loved the craft.
Interestingly enough, Jeong went on to play a doctor more than once in his acting experience. In 2008’s Knocked Up, he plays the obstetrician who delivers Alison’s baby, Dr. Kuni. He also plays the titular role in the television show he created, Dr. Ken.
16 J.K. Rowling: French
J.K. Rowling’s original plan was to study English literature, but her parents wanted her to do something that had more professional prospects. In order to compromise, Rowling decided to study Modern Languages, which her parents believed would get her further in life than English Lit.
While she was at the University of Exeter, Rowling was drawn to “the Classics corridor” instead of her German classes, where she no doubt found lots of inspiration for her future creative writing path. She later told the story during a commencement address at Harvard University after rising to superstardom following the release of her Harry Potter books.
15 Gerard Butler: Law Degree
In most of his roles, Gerard Butler doesn’t strike us as the law student type. He’s got more of the rough and rugged vibe going on, having played an ancient Greek warrior, a criminal mastermind, and a loveable guitar-playing husband, among many other characters.
As it turns out, the actor graduated from Glasgow University with a law degree.
Though the degree hasn’t really helped him to find a job (not that he needs help in that department), it has helped him to stay on the right side of the law while living life as a global movie star.
14 Bradley Cooper: English
Bradley Cooper is more than a talented actor. Before making it in Hollywood, he graduated from Georgetown University with honors in English. In an interview with GQ, Cooper admitted that on one occasion, he read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in the campus library and it made him shed “actual tears.”
As if we needed another reason to love him! Now we can’t stop picturing him in the next Shakespeare adaptation … The A Star Is Born actor also revealed that he wrote his thesis on Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.
13 Gabrielle Union: Sociology
Gabrielle Union has appeared in a string of successful movies, including 10 Things I Hate About You, Bring it On, Meet Dave, and Girls Trip. She’s also a prominent author and activist for women’s rights, and a mom to Kaavia James Union Wade, whom she shares with husband Dwyane Wade.
But before all of that, she earned a sociology degree from the University of California.
On Twitter, the actress revealed that she paid for her education with “student loans & [a] job at the book store.”
12 Ben McKenzie: Economics & Foreign Affairs
On The O.C., Ben McKenzie played high school student Ryan Atwood. But at the time, he’d already ticked university off his list. In 2001, two years before the first season of the show first aired, McKenzie graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in Economics and Foreign Affairs.
“The ability to study econ and foreign affairs during the day and perform onstage at night was a true blessing,” he told the school’s alumni magazine. “I’m not sure I would have had the opportunity to receive such a well-rounded education anywhere else.”
11 The Sprouse Twins: Geographical Information Systems & Video Game Design
It’s easy to still think of Dylan and Cole Sprouse as Ross’ young son Ben on Friends, but these former child stars are all grown up now.
In 2015, in between filming several TV series, both brothers went off to school.
Cole earned a degree from New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where he created his own major of Geographical Information Systems. On Live with Kelly and Ryan, he explained that it’s “basically like virtual cartography.” Dylan attended NYU along with his brother and completed a degree in video game design.
10 Regina Hall: Journalism
A lot of celebrities interact with journalists as part of the press and publicity aspect of their job, but few actually thought of becoming journalists themselves. Regina Hall, of Girls Trip fame, is one exception. She earned a master’s degree in journalism from New York University before breaking onto the movie scene.
“I loved to write,” she said to the Los Angeles Times. And although Hall has found a lot of success an actress, it seems like she was dreaming about a different kind of success. “I still write articles sometimes, but I actually wanted to produce segments for shows like 60 Minutes.”
9 Mara Wilson: Creative Writing
Unlike many of the other stars on the list, Mara Wilson earned her college degree after the height of her fame, and not before. That’s a given, since she was famous during her childhood after starring in hit films like Mrs. Doubtfire and Matilda in the 1990s.
Once Wilson arrived at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, she realized that her calling wasn’t acting after all, but writing.
“I do act sometimes in friends’ projects but, when I do, it’s just for fun. It is actually a hobby for me now,” she revealed to Parade. “Writing is my life now.”
8 Natalie Portman: Psychology
Black Swan star Natalie Portman is another actress who was already a huge star by the time she attended university. “I felt like there had been some mistake,” she later revealed. “… I wasn’t smart enough to be in this company, and that every time I opened my mouth I would have to prove that I wasn’t just a dumb actress.”
Dumb is definitely NOT the right word to describe Portman, whose IQ is 140. Genius is probably a better word! She finished her psychology degree in 2003.
7 J Cole: Communications
Rapper J Cole graduated summa cum laude, or with very great honor, from St. John’s University in Queens. He majored in communications and minored in business, earning a GPA of 3.82. Not bad at all!
Interestingly enough, Cole officially graduated in 2007, but he didn’t receive his physical degree until 2015, around eight years later.
There was a dispute involving owed money for a missing university library book, but the important thing is the rapper did eventually get his hands on his own degree!
6 David Duchovny: English
Another star who graduated summa cum laude is X-Files actor David Duchovny. Prior to getting involved in acting, Duchovny attended Princeton University and earned a degree in English literature. Following this, he did a master's in English at Yale. He never actually finished his doctoral thesis, called ‘Magic and Technology in Contemporary Fiction and Poetry’ and so his degree remains ABD (All But Dissertation).
Since leaving college, the actor has published three books, so his degree didn’t go to waste after all!
5 Lisa Kudrow: Biology
Before hitting the big time on Friends, Lisa Kudrow completed a biology degree from Vassar College, graduating in 1985.
In an interview with Public Radio International, the star admitted that she was drawn to biology in particular because her father was a doctor.
She also said that she believed the subject was “going to be the answer to unlocking all the mysteries of humanity.” Hollywood.com reports that Kudrow has an IQ of 154 and worked with her father on his research paper while trying to make it as an actress.
4 Will Ferrell: Sports Information
23 years before he delivered a commencement speech at the University of Southern California, Will Ferrel graduated with a degree in Sports Information. During his address, the comedian couldn’t help but poke fun at his degree.
“Yes, you heard me, sports information,” he said. “A program so difficult, so arduous, that they discontinued it eight years after I left. Those of us with sports information degrees are an elite group. We’re like the Navy SEALs of USC graduates. There are very few of us, and there was a high dropout rate.”
3 Eva Longoria: Kinesiology
Desperate Housewives actress Eva Longoria studied kinesiology—the study of the mechanics of body movement—at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.
Later in 2013, after becoming a household name, she completed a master’s in Chicano studies at California State University.
“You’re never too old or too busy to continue your education!” she tweeted the day she graduated. While her degree in kinesiology did not impact her profession, it’s clear that Longoria’s love of exercise and understanding of its importance in a healthy lifestyle has lasted until this day!
2 James Franco: Creative Writing
After achieving major success as an actor, James Franco branched out to pursue other artistic interests. In 2010, he completed an M.F.A. at Columbia University in New York City. That year, he also released his collection of short stories entitled Palo Alto.
Later, he pursued a Ph.D. in English at Yale, and has also studied at UCLA, NYU, Brooklyn College, and Warren Wilson College. Since then, he has published a number of other poems and short stories in various outlets. Franco’s IQ is about 130, according to Hollywood.com.
1 Chris Martin: Greek & Latin
It turns out that Coldplay frontman Chris Martin isn’t just a musical prodigy—he’s also got the book smarts to back up his artistic talent!
After boarding school, Martin attended University College London, where he earned a degree in Greek and Latin with first-class honors.
UCL ended up being quite a fateful choice because it’s also where Martin met all three of his future Coldplay bandmates: Jonny Buckland, Guy Berryman, and Will Champion. He met Coldplay manager Phil Harvey while boarding at Sherborne School in Dorset.
Sources: Entertainment Tonight, Cosmopolitan, Hollywood