Just because you’re a celebrity doesn’t mean you’re not a brainiac. With great talent comes great wisdom, and some super smart celebs didn’t just ditch school because they became famous. Though many actors and actresses miss out on higher education in favor of starring in blockbuster hits, some make a real effort to lead somewhat of a normal life. Hey, even movie stars need backup plans and a college degree (especially from an Ivy League school) is great insurance.
These smart celebs attended Ivy League schools, even if they were already busy with the red carpet.
You may know Ellie Kemper as Kimmy from The Impossible Kimmy Schmidt. On her Netflix series, the actress finally made her way to college after figuring out how to survive on her own in New York City.
In real life, this starlet went to Princeton. She even attended college aboard at Oxford University in England.
Lupita Nyong’o may be known for her role in 12 Years A Slave, which landed her nominations for several awards including a Golden Globe, BAFTA and Screen Actors Guild nom. She won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, becoming the first Kenyan actress and first Mexican to win the award, but the star’s acting credits aren’t her only impressive feat. She also has two diplomas.
The actress studied at Hampshire College where she earned a degree in film and theater studies then moved onto to Yale University where she graduated in 2012 with a Masters of Fine Arts.
Rashida Jones is a ground-breaking actress who rose to fame after landing a lead role on Parks & Recreation and I Love You, Man. The famous daughter of musician Quincy Jones wasn’t always an actress. In 1997, Rashida graduated from Harvard with a degree in religion and philosophy. She was a member of the Hasty Pudding Theatrical Club, which is where she realized her love for acting.
“The big twist in events is that, after college, I realized I wanted to be an actor,” she told The Guardian. “Because that wasn’t what I had thought I wanted from my life.”
Once Emma Watson graduated from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, she hopped on over to Brown University. Though the actress was rumored to have left Brown because she was bullied about her celeb status, the starlet assured that wasn’t the case.
Watson had never even been asked for an autograph on campus and she maintains the fact that she’d never have “wussed out of university because someone said ‘Wingardium Leviosa.'” Though Watson did end up dropping out of Brown briefly, citing that she just wanted a normal life, she graduated with a degree in English literature in 2014.
The first rule of attending Yale is to…probably tell everyone about it because you should be so, so proud. Edward Norton, who we all know from the creepy-as-anything thriller Fight Club and the harrowing American History X graduated from Yale in 1991. He was a competitive rower and acted in a number of university productions. He graduated with a history degree.
Since his graduation, Norton hasn’t just stuck to acting. He became an environmental and social activist and is on the board of trustees of Enterprise Community Partners, a non-profit dedicated to developing affordable housing. He also ran the New York City Marathon. Basically, he’s superman.
John Legend is actually kind of a Brainiac. He graduated as salutatorian from his college class and was offered admission into Harvard University. He also got offered a scholarship to Georgetown and Morehouse College, but ended up attending University of Pennsylvania. Legend graduated with a degree in English that had an emphasis on African-American literature.
Legend always had a love of music and he was the president and musical director of a jazz and an a Capella group while he was at university. He was also a member of Sphinx Senior Society, a very prestigious club for seniors. Upon graduating, the singer became a management consultant upon graduating and started sending his music to labels. Cue an intro to Kanye West in 2001 and the rest is history.
Claire Danes got her start on the teen drama My So-Called Life which won her a Golden Globe Award and a Primetime Emmy nomination. By the time she started attending Yale in 1998, she was already a bona fide movie star.
It’s not surprising that Danes didn’t last very long in college because she was busy doing double time as super in-demand actress. While she attended university, she was in an Off-Broadway production of The Vagina Monologues. Danes ended up dropping out of Yale after two short years so she could focus on acting, which paid off. The actress has won two Primetime Emmys for her character on Homeland.
Natalie Portman may have shaved her head, starred in Star Wars and had a harrowing performance in Black Swan, but she’s also a total bookworm. The actress is extremely serious about her studies and graduated from Harvard in 2003.
After filming Where the Heart Is, Portman moved right into the Harvard University dorms to pursue a degree in psychology. The actress went by her birth name Natalie Hershlag when she attended school to help her keep a more low-key profile. Aside from Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, which she filmed during summer break, Natalie took a four year leave from acting to focus on her studies.
Jake Gyllenhaal’s older sister isn’t just an actress; she’s an Ivy League graduate and full-time mommy! The daughter of filmmakers Stephen Gyllenhaal and Naomi Achs had Hollywood in her blood but moved away from tinsel town to attend Columbia University in New York.
She studied literature and Eastern religions and graduated in 1999. Gyllenhaal also took a summer term at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, England to brush up on some new acting techniques (though she’s always been a star since the moment she was put in one of her dad’s films). Currently, Gyllenhaal focuses on acting and activism. She’s done work for numerous charities including Witness, an organization that uses video to expose human rights violations.
Ellie Kemper isn’t the only The Office alum who attended an Ivy League school. John Krasinski, who played the loveable Jim, attended Brown University. He graduated in 2001 with a degree in theater and playwriting. Krasinski didn’t actually pursue acting until after he graduated from college.
While he was attending university, he started experimenting with sketch comedy by joining the group Out Of Bounds. He also helped coach a youth basketball team. After college, Krasinski attended the National Theater Institute then moved to New York City to pursue acting. From here, he eventually landed a role on The Office.
Most of us didn’t have any doubts that funny man Conan O’Brien was really, really smart. He wouldn’t have been able to host his own show for so long if that wasn’t the case. O’Brien was actually the Valedictorian of his high school and went on to attend Harvard University. He graduated magna cum laude in 1985 with a history and literature degree.
While at Harvard, O’Brien actually served as the Lampoon’s president during his junior and sophomore years. O’Brien’s future NBC boss, Jeff Zucker, was president of Harvard’s newspaper The Harvard Crimson during this time. After graduating, O’Brien went on to write for HBO show Not Necessarily the News before his big break writing for Saturday Night Live.
The Office staff turned out to be one highly qualified cast – maybe a bit to qualified to work at a paper company. Mindy Kaling is the third Ivy League alum to go on to star in America’s version of The Office. Kaling graduated from Dartmouth in 2001 with a theater degree. In her book Hanging Out Without Me? she joked that she attended such a prestigious college to “pursue [her] love of white people and North Face parkas.” After graduating, the funny woman pursued acting and eventually landed a role on The Office. She went on to star in her own sitcom The Mindy Project.
Julia Stiles is best known for her roles in Save The Last Dance and 10 Things I Hate About You. Despite her success, the starlet decided to further her education and attend Columbia University. During her studies, she managed to rake in mostly As even though she reputedly filmed during classes.
While attending Columbia, Stiles spent a week in Prague filming The Bourne Identity and carved out some time to host Saturday Night Live in between classes. How she practiced for that, we’re not sure. Stiles credits and early schedule to the reason she could pull double duty. “I get up early on the weekends,” she told Rolling Stone. “because I usually have schoolwork to do.”
David Duchovny may be busy hunting aliens in on TV, but in real life, the actor is a Princeton University graduate. He graduated from Princeton in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in English Lit. Duchovny went on to attend Yale where he got an M.A. in English. The actor also enjoyed Greek life. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
Duchovny is so much more than an actor, and his dedication to higher learning helped him craft a career as a novelist. The actor penned two books Holy Cow: A Modern-Day Dairy Tale, which he released in 2015,and Bucky F*cking Dent, which was published in 2016.
Connie Britton has gone on to score major leading roles on TV dramas. She held the lead in American Horror Story’s first season (how creepy was her character Vivian?) and crafted a seasons-long stay on Friday Night Lights and Nashville. Still, everyone has to start somewhere. Before she was an actress, she was a student – and a good one at that.
Britton majored in Asian studies with a concentration in Chinese at Dartmouth College and spent a semester abroad at Beijing Normal University during her freshman summer. After graduation, Britton moved to New York City and spent two years studying at Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theater.
Tyra Banks is a supermodel, TV host and businesswoman, but her business smarts definitely come from her Ivy League education. Tyra has always been business savvy, there’s no denying that, but Harvard gave her an extra edge.
After hosting America’s Next Top Model, Banks announced that she was heading to Harvard Business School. The model didn’t receive a degree because she took a special syllabus and only attended individual business classes. Her syllabus was called the “Owner/President Management Program” and she received a certificate instead of an M.B.A, but hey, it’s still from an Ivy League school so that’s pretty impressive.
Jodie Foster has starred in some major blockbuster hits including Panic Room and Freaky Friday. She started her career at the ripe age of three years old as a child model. Two years later she starred in a TV series called Mayberry R.F.D. Despite her busy career, Foster made some time to attend Yale University after struggling to transition into adult roles. After graduation, she landed a role as a rape survivor in The Accused, which kick-started her career and landed her an Academy Award and Golden Globe. Undoubtedly, Foster used her smarts to start her own production company, Egg Pictures, in 1992.
Meryl Streep is the epitome of grace, wisdom and talent. She may even be one of the most highly-educated Hollywood actors of all time. The award-winning actress graduated from Vassar College, where she studied drama. She graduated cum laude in 1971. While at school, Streep taught herself to mimic accents and memorize her lines. Even her acting professor Clinton J Atkinson said I don’t think anyone ever taught Meryl acting. She really taught herself.”
Streep went on to get a Master’s degree from Yale School of Drama and enrolled as a visiting student at Dartmouth College in the fall of 1970. She received an honorary Doctor of Arts from Dartmouth in 1981.
Brooke Shields is another brainy beauty. The actress, model and former child star attended Princeton University like a few of her Hollywood peers. Shields was already a top model when she decided to pause to attend school. She rose to fame in the 1980s for her role in The Blue Lagoon, but three years later she found herself on an acting hiatus.
Shields graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Romance Languages. She returned to acting in the 1990s and became the star of the sitcom Suddenly Susan. Shields is still working today, most recently starring in an animated film called Under Wraps with Matthew Lillard and Drake Bell.
James Franco is kind of all over the place. He always has a hand in everything and one of those things is higher education. James Franco holds a bachelor’s degree from UCLA and graduated with a pretty impressive GPA. He managed to keep an average above 3.5 (that’s a high B).
After graduating from UCLA, the former Freaks and Geeks star went on to receive an MFA from Columbia. He also famously studied film at NYU and is currently enrolled at Yale. Franco hasn’t finished his schooling at Yale, but we’re guessing he’s just more than a little busy doing everything else.
Jonathan Taylor Thomas
Better known to some of his fans as JTT, actor Jonathan Taylor Thomas rose to fame with his role as Randy Taylor on the hit 1990s series Home Improvement. He also performed the voice of the cub Simba in Disney’s animated film The Lion King in 1994.
After a few more roles in movies, Taylor left showbiz for a few years to attend not just one, but two Ivy League schools: Harvard and Columbia. He also studied at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland. He’s said that he does not regret his decision to get an education, telling PEOPLE “I’d been going nonstop since I was 8 years old. I wanted to go to school, to travel and have a bit of a break.”
In 1980, actress Angela Bassett graduated from Yale University with a B.A. in African-American studies. The A-list actress then returned to the university a short time later to earn her M.F.A. from the Yale School of Drama.
Angela Evelyn Bassett proved her time spent study acting at the ivy league school paid off. For her role as Tina Turner in the biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It, she was nominated for an Oscar and that same year she took home a Golden Globe Award for the same role.
Jordana Brewster is most known for her work in the Fast and the Furious series but she’s also a grammar expert. Before breaking it big in Hollywood, Brewster studied English at Yale.
Not only did Brewster graduate from Yale in 2003, her family also shares some strong history at the ivy league school. Brewster’s grandfather previously served as Yale’s president.
Ashley Judd is best known for acting in such movies as Double Jeopardy and the TV series Twin Peaks. When she wasn’t standing in front of the camera Judd was taking her ivy league studies seriously — at Harvard University!
In 2010, the Berlin Station star completed her master’s degree in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Amazingly, Judd was still working while attending the program, although her acting schedule definitely eased up during her studies based on her IMDB filmography.
Laura Linney is no stranger to the big and small screens, most recently starring in The Ozarks. From The Big C to the John Adams mini-series, she is the recipient of various awards including two Golden Globe Awards and four Primetime Emmy Awards. We love all of Linney’s roles but we really appreciate her focus on education.
In 1986 she graduated from Brown University after studying acting. She then attended the Juilliard School as a member of Group 19. Linney once again proves that you can find your passion in education and then live out that passion throughout life.
Actress Mira Sorvino made us laugh in Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion and thrilled us in dozens of other TV and movie comedies and dramas. Before she hit it big in Hollywood, Sorvino focused on her ivy league education.
A Harvard University graduate, Sorvino finished her degree in East Asian studies in 1989. Sorvino not only finished her degree, but she also graduated magna cum laude from the program before launching her successful acting career.
Tracee Ellis Ross
It’s hard not to love Tracee Ellis Ross these days. Her role as Dr. Rainbow Johnson in the hit TV series Black-ish has earned Ross plenty of praise. Just like her strong doctor character, Ross also earned a degree from a top-notch university while pursuing her higher education.
The Black-ish star earned a degree in theater while attending Rhode Island Ivy. After graduating in 1994 she started focusing on acting full-time and her first big break came as Joan Clayton, a role she played on the hit series Girlfriends for 172 episodes.
In 1991 TV super-producer Shonda Rhimes completed her studies at Dartmouth College. Rhimes, perhaps unsurprisingly, studies English with a focus on creative writing, studies that no doubt helped her become one of TV’s biggest producers of all time.
From How To Get Away With Murder and Scandalto Grey’s Anatomy, and now an exclusive $150 million Netflix deal, it’s safe to say Shonda Rhimes is a very smart Hollywood heavyweight with the ivy league degree to back up her smarts.
Allison Williams has become a household name for fans of the popular series Girls but it was only eight years ago that she was attending Yale University. Williams completed her English degree in 2010 and landed her breakout role in 2012.
You can continue to spot Allison Williams in other TV roles since Girls came to an end in 2017. We expect to see a lot more of her in the near future, although she could always surprise us and put that Yale University degree to use outside of the acting realm.
There are a few Stanford grads we left off our list because the University isn’t one of the original “ivy league” schools despite its top-notch education. However, Sigourney Weaver attended Stanford, earned a B.A. in English in 1972 and then moved on to Yale Drama School.
With a bunch of top-notch education in her corner, Weaver launched a successful acting career that included the starring role in the hit sci-fi flick, Alien where she played the thrilling role of Ellen Ripley.
Two-time Golden Globe nominee, first time Emmy nominee in 2018 Issa Rae is HBO’s rising star. Known for her lead role in HBO’s Insecure, Rae seemingly popped out of nowhere. Long before she was making it in primetime, she had her own series on YouTube that garnered millions of viewers. It was this original series that helped her rise to the upper echelon.
Rae graduated from the prestigious Stanford University located in Palo Alto California. She graduated in 2007 with a degree in African and African-American Studies.
Jake Gyllenhaal has paid his dues in Hollywood. A nominee and winner of multiple awards dating back to 1999, there really isn’t a role this man can’t play. His sister, Maggie, is also a star in the world of entertainment, and we’re sure he draws inspiration from his sibling.
The actor enrolled in classes at Columbia University just like his sister. The only difference between the two, Jake never finished. He only attended the university for two years with a major in Eastern religions.
Many may recognize this face as Ashley from the hit ’90s show Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Back then, she was young and the little cousin of Will Smith. Now, she’s all grown up and keeping busy working. For a period of time, she had a singing career with a great voice but it never really took off.
Ali attended Harvard University. She graduated in 2002 with a degree in anthropology. That is basically the study of human societies and cultures and their development.
Five-time Academy Award nominee Matt Damon is no stranger to stardom. The actor has been in the business since 1988 and still shows no signs of slowing down. He evidently made the correct decision to get into Hollywood after his interesting college choice.
Damon went to Harvard University for nearly a full four years before deciding he was finished. He left to pursue his acting full-time back in 1992. Maybe he’ll go back and finish one day.
Michelle Obama, the former First Lady has a lot going for herself currently and it looks like it’s always been that way. Well before she was inspiring the youth with get active campaigns while her husband was the leader of the free world, she was in the books at one of the best universities there is.
Mrs. Obama attended Princeton University. She graduated in 1985 majoring in sociology and minored in African-American studies, graduating cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts.
Tommy Lee Jones
Here comes the man in black. Tommy Lee Jones might be one of the oldest stars on this list but he still packs a punch when on screen. The Oscar and Golden Globe winner has been around since 1969 in Hollywood, thrilling us with various iconic roles.
The star attended Harvard on a scholarship. During his freshman year, he stayed across the hall from future Vice President Al Gore. He also played offensive guard on their undefeated football team before earning his degree in English back in 1969. He graduated cum laude.
Daughter of Donald Trump, don’t let the charming face and blonde hair fool you, Ivanka Trump is one smart cookie. She’s constantly at rallies campaigning for what she and her family believe in and does quite a good job at it.
Trump graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business back in 2004. She was summa cum laude as well which, if it were easy, everyone on this list would have done it.
The little brother of Ben Affleck might not be as big a star as his big bro, but he might have him outsmarted. He is both an Academy Award and Golden Globes winner for his role in Manchester by the Sea. He’s been active in the acting world since 1988.
Before he went and pursued acting, he was busy gaining brain power. Affleck attended Columbia University where he studied physics. He was reluctant to leave college early to get into acting until he was persuaded otherwise.
Grammy award-winning singer, actress, and musician Alicia Keys was something of a child prodigy. She graduated from the Professional Performing Arts School at the age of 16 as valedictorian. Before she was singing “You Don’t Know My Name” at coffee shops, she went off to an Ivy League.
Keys studied at Columbia University. She ended up leaving early to focus on her music career. And ironically enough, Columbia Records ended up signing her to their record label.
Like daughter like father. Elected president in 2016, Donald Trump has had his fair share of opinions thrown at him. Many dislike, while a lot approve of his style of leading. There have even been mumbles of him possibly getting impeached as President.
One thing you can’t take from his is his education. Trump attended the University of Pennsylvania where he studied economics. Maybe that’s why his daughter went there as well to learn as her father did.