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42 of the smartest celebrities in Hollywood

42 of the smartest celebrities in Hollywood
  • Natalie Portman graduated from Harvard with a psychology degree.

  • Before John Legend was a Grammy Award-winning artist, he worked for a consulting firm.

  • Mayim Bialik played a neuroscientist on "The Big Bang" and is also a neuroscientist in real life.

While some celebrities dropped out of school to pursue their Hollywood careers, others boast impressive academic resumes.

Here are 42 actors who have completed advanced degrees and studied at prestigious institutions.

Melissa Stanger, Ian Phillips, Melia Robinson, and Anjelica Oswald contributed to earlier versions of this slideshow.

Actress Yara Shahidi graduated from Harvard in 2022.

Yara Shahidi wears a green dress at the Emmys.
Yara Shahidi.Rich Fury / Staff / Getty Images

Shahidi, who was classmates with Malia Obama during her time at Harvard, earned a bachelor's degree in social studies in between shooting "Grown-ish," the actress said in a 2023 appearance on "The Tonight Show." She wrote a thesis entitled, "I Am a Man: The Emancipation of Humanness from Western Hegemony Through the Lens of Sylvia Wynter," Vogue reported.

Meryl Streep attended Vassar College and the Yale School of Drama.

Meryl in a red plunging neck dress and glasses.
Meryl Streep.Jordan Strauss/AP Images

Streep earned a bachelor's degree in drama from Vassar in 1971 and master's from the Yale School of Drama in 1975, according to her biography on The Kennedy Center's official website.

Even as a student, it was clear that Streep was going to be a star.

"It was immediately apparent that she was destined for greatness," the Yale drama school's dean at the time, Robert Brustein, said of her talent.

Bradley Cooper holds a bachelor's degree in English from Georgetown University.

Bradley Cooper attends Netflix's "Maestro" Los Angeles Photo Call at Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on December 12, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.
Bradley Cooper.Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/Film Magic/Getty Images

Cooper also earned an MFA from the Actors Studio Drama School in New York City, but missed his graduation ceremony to film "Wet Hot American Summer," according to IMDb.

He has since been nominated for 12 Academy Awards, including three nominations for "Maestro" at this year's Oscars.

Emma Watson did Hermione proud during her studies at Brown.

emma watson
Emma Watson.AP Photo/Steven Senne

In May 2014, the "Harry Potter" actress walked across the commencement stage at Brown University, where she earned a bachelor's in English literature. She also pursued studies at Oxford University during her Ivy years and took a year off in 2011 to film, E! News reported.

Later that year, Watson was appointed UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, and she gave an impassioned speech about women's rights. As part of her new role, she helped launch the HeForShe campaign.

Lupita Nyong'o has a master's from Yale.

Lupita Nyong'o.
Lupita Nyong'o.Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney

The Academy Award-winning actress wanted to go into filmmaking, so she applied to Hampshire College and moved to the United States from Kenya to earn her degree.

"I wanted to be an actor but I wasn't ready to admit it yet," she told the Telegraph in 2014. "So my plan B was filmmaking and that felt more acceptable [than acting] for people in my community."

She then went on to attend a three-year master's program at the Yale School of Drama where she landed her Oscar-winning role in "12 Years a Slave" just a couple of weeks before graduation. While at the university, she was awarded the Herschel Williams Prize for "acting students with outstanding ability" during the 2011-12 academic year, according to the Bulletin of Yale University.

Geena Davis is a member of Mensa.

Geena Davis.
Geena Davis.Clemens Bilan/Getty Images for Kering

The Academy Award-winning actress graduated with her bachelor's in drama from Boston University and as a Mensa member, she is considered to have an IQ score "within the upper two percent of the general population," according to Mensa's official website.

In 2009, she received an honorary doctorate from Bates College for her work through the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, a non-profit research organization focused on analyzing gender representation in the media industry.

Her recent work includes roles on "Grey's Anatomy," "GLOW," and "She-Ra and the Princesses of Power."

Natalie Portman has been published twice in scientific journals.

Natalie Portman.
Natalie Portman.Nicholas Hunt/Getty Image

The "Black Swan" lead has a bachelor's degree from Harvard — making her the first alum to win an Academy Award for best actress — and took graduate courses at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, The Harvard Crimson reported. She enrolled at Harvard as Natalie Herschlag, her birth name, for anonymity, but her professors noted that she was an exceptional student.

She has twice been published in scientific journals. She was voted "most likely to be a contestant on 'Jeopardy!'" in her high school yearbook, People magazine reported.

After learning how to code herself, Karlie Kloss started a program called Kode with Klossy to help more young women learn the skill.

Karlie Kloss in 2019.
Karlie Kloss.Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

Kloss told USA Today that she learned how to code in 2014 when she had a few weeks off from modeling. She went on to found Kode With Klossy, a free two-week coding boot camp for girls ages 13 to 18, to help more young women access computer science.

"I think that me standing up and kind of identifying my nerdy passions has ignited that for so many other girls, and that impact is something that really drives me to want to keep being true to who I am, and supporting other young women," she told ABC News.

Meghan Markle double majored in theater and international studies at Northwestern University.

Meghan Markle.
Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex.Samir Hussein/Samir Hussein/WireImage

Meghan, who graduated from Northwestern in 2003, was also a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, according to the university's official website.

In 2014, she visited her alma mater while promoting "Suits."

Conan O'Brien graduated magna cum laude from Harvard.

Conan O'Brien.
Conan O'Brien.Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images for TBS

Legendary late-night host Conan O'Brien, who was his high school's valedictorian, attended Harvard as a history and literature major. The school newspaper dubbed him the "pre-eminent jokester" of the class of 1985, which makes sense, as he was also the president of the Harvard Lampoon, a semi-secret social organization that published a humor magazine, The Harvard Crimson reported.

His 72-page senior thesis, "The 'Old Child' in Faulkner and O'Connor," argued that "the New South's emerging identity is manifested in the literature of William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor via the motif of children that age too quickly," the Crimson reported.

Allison Williams is more than the smart one on "Girls."

Allison Williams.
Allison Williams.Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

Growing up, the "Girls" actress wasn't allowed to act professionally until she graduated from college. She studied English and archaeology at Yale — taking the kind of classes that make you feel like "lying on the ground thinking about things," she told Town & Country in 2013.

When she didn't get a part in Yale's big musical as a freshman, she joined the improv group instead and found she had a knack for comedy.

Cindy Crawford studied chemical engineering on a scholarship at Northwestern University.

Cindy Crawford.
Cindy Crawford.Mark Davis/Getty Images for Sugar Ray Leonard Foundation

Cindy Crawford, who graduated as the valedictorian of her high school class, signed her first modeling contract in 1984. Initially, she used the money to supplement her scholarship to attend Northwestern University, The Huffington Post reported, but she ditched school to launch her career.

By 1985, she had appeared in the pages of Vogue and would go on to become one of the original Big Six supermodels.

John Legend worked at a prestigious consulting firm.

John Legend
John Legend.Getty Images

The soulful singer was offered scholarships to Georgetown, Morehouse College, and Harvard, but he turned them down to go to the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied English with a focus on African-American literature and graduated magna cum laude, The Washington Post reported. He also served as president and vocal director for the co-ed a cappella group Counterparts.

Before he made it big as a musician, Legend worked at Boston Consulting Group, one of the most prestigious consulting firms in the world.

Nolan Gould graduated high school when he was 13.

Nolan Gould.
Nolan Gould.John Sciulli/Getty Images for WIRED

The "Modern Family" actor took the GED to graduate high school by the time he was 13 and hoped to take some online college courses. During a 2012 interview with Ellen DeGeneres, he said he has an IQ of 150 and is a Mensa member, The Huffington Post reported.

Mindy Kaling is an award-winning playwright.

Mindy Kaling.
Mindy Kaling.Getty Images

At Dartmouth, Kaling studied Latin before switching to theater., according to the college's official website. She earned an Eleanor Frost Playwriting Award in 1999. As a college student, Kaling illustrated a daily comic for the school paper called "Badly Drawn Girl," which "riffed on day-to-day campus life and took a witty stab at everything from fraternity life to alumni," according to Dartmouth's alumni magazine.

The Emmy-nominated actress, creator, and star of "The Mindy Project" has also written multiple books, including "Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)," "Why Not Me?," and "Nothing Like I Imagined."

John Krasinski pursued an array of academic interests at Brown.

John Krasinski.
John Krasinski.Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Krasinski spent his first semester teaching English in Costa Rica before returning to Brown, where his favorite classes were "management of industrial and nonprofit organizations" and an introductory biology course," The Brown Daily Herald reported.

He later held an internship at "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" before getting cast himself on "The Office."

Matt Damon hatched the idea for "Good Will Hunting" as a Harvard student.

Matt Damon
Matt Damon.Getty Images

A playwriting class assignment at Harvard led Damon to develop a rough version of "Good Will Hunting." He later completed the project with his childhood friend Ben Affleck, who also stars in the film.

Damon eventually dropped out to pursue acting, but there were no hard feelings: Harvard awarded him the prestigious Harvard Arts Medal in 2013.

Lisa Kudrow conducted clinical research on headaches.

Lisa Kudrow
Lisa Kudrow.Getty Images

Kudrow graduated from Vassar College with a degree in biology and after graduation she began working with her father — a world-renowned headache specialist — on a study concerning hemispheric dominance and headache types, she said in her 2010 commencement address at the college.

Six months after graduating, Kudrow ditched further education to pursue acting. She became a huge success playing Phoebe on "Friends." She later co-created the critically acclaimed HBO comedy "The Comeback."

Tatyana Ali went to Harvard after "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."

Tatyana Ali.
Tatyana Ali.Brian Killian/Getty Images

The "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" actress studied African-American history and government at the prestigious university and did step, a form of percussive dance, while there, BET reported.

Mayim Bialik plays a neurobiologist on TV and has a PhD in neuroscience in real life.

Mayim Bialik
Mayim Bialik.Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

The lead in NBC's "Blossom" as a kid, Bialik went on to get her bachelor's degree in neuroscience, as well as Hebrew and Jewish studies from UCLA in 2000, though she had also been accepted to Harvard and Yale.

She stepped away from her studies in 2005 to go back to acting and made a huge splash as the über-smart Amy Farrah Fowler on "The Big Bang Theory," but she finished her PhD in neuroscience in 2007, specializing in obsessive-compulsive disorder in adolescents with Prader-Willi syndrome.

Edward Norton worked as an analyst for an entrepreneurial nonprofit.

Edward Norton.
Edward Norton.laven Vlasic/Getty Images for NAMM

The two-time Oscar-nominated actor studied history at Yale, where a back injury forced his early retirement from the crew team. It was then that he tried his hand at theater, he told GQ.

After graduation, Norton moved to Osaka, Japan, to consult on behalf of his grandfather's nonprofit, Enterprise Foundation, a leading provider of capital and expertise for affordable housing. There he studied Aikido, a martial art, and learned Japanese.

Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal studied at Columbia University.

Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal.Jason Merritt/Getty Images

When Maggie Gyllenhaal returned to her alma mater to accept a personal achievement award, she said her Columbia education taught her to "acknowledge that I really know nothing," The Columbia Spectator reported. A thirst for knowledge led her, as a first-year English student, to sneak into the dean's senior seminar.

Little brother Jake Gyllenhaal enrolled when Maggie was a senior and hoped to major in Eastern religions. Following the success of "October Sky," he dropped out after his sophomore year to concentrate on acting, The Guardian reported.

Connie Britton roomed with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand during a summer semester at Beijing Normal University.

Connie Britton.
Connie Britton.Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

The actress, known for her roles on "Friday Night Lights" and "Nashville," focused on Asian studies and Chinese at Dartmouth College before she went to China for study abroad and roomed with Gillibrand, Politico reported.

She moved to New York City after graduation to study at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre.

Rashida Jones got her BA in comparative religion from Harvard.

Rashida Jones.
Rashida Jones.Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images for TBS

The daughter of Quincy Jones displayed musical and theatrical talents as a student at Harvard, writing music scores and performing in campus plays.

Still, the "Parks and Recreation" actress thought about becoming a lawyer until the OJ Simpson trial made her disillusioned with the justice system, she told The Independent. She went on to study religion and philosophy, The Guardian reported.

David Duchovny attended two Ivy League schools.

David Duchovny.
David Duchovny.Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

The "X-Files" actor graduated with a BA in English literature from Princeton University. He also earned his master's in English lit from Yale University but abandoned his PhD studies there after booking a beer commercial in '87 led to other auditions, NPR reported.

During his 2005 "Inside the Actors Studio" interview, Duchovny revealed that the title of his unfinished doctoral thesis was "Magic and Technology in Contemporary Poetry and Prose."

Kate Beckinsale is fluent in four languages.

Kate Beckinsale.
Kate Beckinsale.Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images

Kate Beckinsale has always been an avid reader. Before performing her notable role as Selene in "Underworld," Beckinsale studied French and Russian literature at Oxford University's New College, and she still fluently speaks French and Russian, as well as German, The Guardian reported.

Ken Jeong is a licensed physician.

ken jeong
Ken Jeong.Rich Polk/Getty Images for Sony Pictures Television

Jeong worked as a doctor before becoming a successful actor.

"I was definitely a late bloomer, and I didn't know where I was going to go with this," Jeong told Business Insider in 2019 about his transition to acting. "All I knew was I just had a deep, deep love of performing. I felt like I had an aptitude for it, but more importantly, I had a passion for it."

Best known for his role as Mr. Chow in "The Hangover," his own sitcom "Dr. Ken," and as a judge on "The Masked Singer," Jeong studied pre-med at Duke University, got his MD at UNC Chapel Hill, then completed his residency in New Orleans.

According to The Washington Post, "he treated patients at an HMO clinic [during the day]; at night, he scooped up as many stand-up gigs as he could." His big break came when Judd Apatow cast him as the OB in "Knocked Up."

Alicia Keys dropped out of Columbia at 16 because of her career.

Alicia Keys.
Alicia Keys.Michael Muller/NBC

The Grammy Award-winning musician began to learn classical piano when she was 7, and she enrolled at the Professional Performing Arts School in Manhattan where she began to study jazz, The New York Times reported. By 14, she was writing her own songs, and at 16, she graduated with all As.

Four weeks after starting classes at Columbia University, where she had accepted a scholarship, she had to drop out due to her budding music career.

Kara Hayward has been a Mensa member since she was 9.

Kara Hayward.
Kara Hayward.Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Evenstar Films

Hayward was only 12 when she landed her film debut — and breakout role — in Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom." A Mensa member, she is also a published poet.

She appeared in the Oscar-winning film "Manchester by the Sea" in 2016 and voiced a character in Anderson's "Isle of Dogs" in 2018. She recently starred in the TV series "The Shadow Diaries" and the 2022 film "Slayers."

Jordana Brewster was a nerd at Yale.

Jordana Brewster.
Jordana Brewster.Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

After the success of "The Fast and the Furious," Brewster left Hollywood to study English at Yale, according to IMDb. She is the granddaughter of former Yale president Kingman Brewster.

Eva Longoria has a master's degree.

Eva Longoria.
Eva Longoria.Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Before she started acting, producing, and launching numerous business ventures, Longoria earned her bachelor's in kinesiology from Texas A&M University—Kingsville.

She later went back to school and graduated with a master's in Chicano studies from California State University, Northridge in 2013. Her thesis was titled, "Success STEMS From Diversity: The Value of Latinas in STEM Careers," the Los Angeles Times reported.

Ashton Kutcher hoped to attend MIT or Purdue to study engineering.

Ashton Kutcher.
Ashton Kutcher.Evan Agostini/Invision/AP File

The actor lost his scholarships and was kicked out of the National Honors Society after breaking into his high school as a prank. He ended up at the University of Iowa studying biochemical engineering, but he dropped out at 19 to pursue modeling, according to IMDb.

"The sexiest thing in the entire world is being really smart," Kutcher said during his acceptance speech at the 2013 Teen Choice Awards.

Elizabeth Banks graduated magna cum laude from UPenn.

Elizabeth Banks.
Elizabeth Banks.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Before she was an Emmy-nominated actress and Hollywood star, Banks studied communications and theater arts at the University of Pennsylvania, according to the school's official website. After graduating magna cum laude, she went on to earn her master's at the American Conservatory Theater.

Banks and her husband, Max Handleman, launched Brownstone Productions, their own production company known for the "Pitch Perfect" movies and the 2019 remake of "Charlie's Angels."

Kesha had near-perfect SAT scores.

Kesha
Kesha.Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The pop star broke through with her party music, but Kesha told NPR that she was "studious" growing up.

"I was in the international baccalaureate program, I loved physics and math, and I was in the marching band," she said.

She was going to attend Barnard College to study psychology and comparative religion until her producer convinced her to pursue her music career, The Guardian reported.

Jodie Foster is a French scholar who attended Yale.

jodie foster
Jodie Foster.Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Foster could read on her own before she was 3, and she juggled a childhood acting career with a heavy course load at Lycée Français de Los Angeles, The New York Times reported. She later attended Yale to study literature and went back to acting after graduation, according to Yale's official website.

The critically acclaimed actress has been involved in a variety of roles in film, from acting to directing to producing, and was awarded the Cecil B. Demille honorary Golden Globe in January 2013 for "outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment."

Ellie Kemper went to Princeton and Oxford.

Ellie Kemper smiles against a pink background
Ellie Kemper.Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

The "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" star furthered her love of comedy and improv while studying English at Princeton, and she was even briefly a member of the field hockey team, according to Princeton's official website. She then went to Oxford University to further her English education.

She interned for Conan O'Brien after graduation.

Mira Sorvino graduated magna cum laude from Harvard.

Mira Sorvino
Mira Sorvino.Jesse Grant/Getty Images

Sorvino, an Oscar winner, earned her degree in East Asian studies, The Harvard Crimson reported. She became fluent in Mandarin after a year spent as an exchange student with the Council on International Educational Exchange. She was also a founding member of the a cappella group, the Veritones.

Issa Rae graduated from Stanford with a degree in African and African-American Studies.

Issa Rae
Issa Rae.Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images

While studying at Stanford, Issa Rae was also writing, directing, and acting. Among some of her productions at school was a mockumentary series called "Dorm Diaries," which went viral and helped jump-start her career, The New York Times reported.

After the breakout success of her HBO series "Insecure," Rae signed a five-year deal with WarnerMedia in 2021.

Ashley Judd got her master's from Harvard.

Ashley Judd
Ashley Judd attends the Changemaker Gala in 2018.Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Judd first graduated from the University of Kentucky with a French major and minors in anthropology, art history, theater, and women's studies, The New York Times reported.

She went back to school and got a master's in public administration, with a focus on gender equality, from Harvard in 2010, USA TODAY reported.

In 2016, The Cut reported that she was pursuing a doctorate from UC Berkeley's public policy program, but she took a leave of absence due to migraines.

Angela Bassett got both her bachelor's and master's degrees from Yale.

Angela Bassett
Angela Bassett.Earl Gibson III/Getty Images

Bassett was an A and B student through school — though she did get a C in physical education — and ended up going to Yale.

She wanted to study theater, but she told Oprah Winfrey's O magazine that her aunt told her not to "waste your Yale education on theater," so she picked a different major. She got her degree in African-American studies but continued her education and got a master's from the Yale School of Drama.

Brooke Shields studied French literature at Princeton.

Brooke Shields
Brooke Shields.Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Brooke Shields had already established her career when she took a break to study French literature at Princeton. She wrote in her memoir, "There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me," that almost dropped out because she was homesick, but she stayed until the end, according to Princeton's official website.

Tyra Banks enrolled in a program at Harvard Business School for owners and presidents of companies.

Tyra Banks
Tyra Banks.Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider

Banks enrolled in Harvard's Executive Education Owner/President Manager Program and received her certificate in 2012, The Washington Post reported. The program, which meets for three weeks each year for three years, is designed for CEOs, COOs, presidents, and executive directors of companies to hone their leadership skills. While it doesn't grant participants a degree, Banks is still considered an alumnus of Harvard.

She returned to Harvard in 2019 "to refresh the knowledge I gained and to make sure I am more than equipped to bring you an attraction like you've never experienced before," she wrote on Instagram before the launch of her Modelland attraction in Santa Monica, California.

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