Some celebrities, such as Natalie Portman and Matt Damon, are famous for graduating from impressive institutions. Others, like Ashton Kutcher and Salma Hayek, are known to have dropped out of college before graduation day. But many celebs have gone on to find fame and fortune without earning a degree.
Whether they made it to sophomore or junior year, some celebs were just called to the spotlight (and away from school), and fans are happy they were. Kristen Bell, Madonna or even Lady Gaga might not exist had they finished their education.
1. Ryan Seacrest:
According to AOL, Ryan Seacrest was a proud student at the University of Georgia until he heard California calling. He had been a journalism student but, according to CNBC, a year after starting at UGA he began hosting a TV sports game show for ESPN.
He quit UGA his junior year, moved to Los Angeles and began hosting KYSR-FM’s afternoon talk radio show.
According to Business Insider, Oprah Winfrey was a sophomore at Tennessee State University when she got a job offer from a local TV station. That’s all it took, and Winfrey dropped out to begin her career in media. But Oprah being Oprah, she now has four honorary doctorates from Princeton, Howard University, Duke University and Harvard. Because that’s how you drop out of college.
3. Ellen DeGeneres:
Ellen DeGeneres was attending the University of New Orleans in 1977 majoring in communications when, according to USA Today, she dropped out to devote her time to stand-up comedy. According to BoomsBeat, she did a string of odd jobs to support herself including bartending, oyster shucking and waiting tables and the rest, as they say, is history. According to AXS, Ellen received an honorary doctorate from Tulane University in New Orleans.
4. Tom Hanks:
Tom Hanks was attending California State University, Sacramento in 1976 but, according to AOL, he dropped out to do a three year internship at the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in Ohio. There, according to Time, he learned everything about the theater, from lighting to set design, and it’s where he knew whether to be or not to be.
5. Brad Pitt:
Brad Pitt, like Seacrest, attended college to be a journalist — and, like Seacrest, also dropped out and moved to California. According to AOL, Pitt was attending the University of Missouri as a Journalism major with a concentration in advertising from 1982-1986 — however he left just two credits short of a degree. According to People, Pitt said, “I decided everyone was applying for a job or getting married and I didn’t want to do either.”
6. Jessica Biel:
According to AOL, Jessica Biel was attending Tufts University when she dropped out to costar in the 2003 remake of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Biel told ContactMusic that, "Some days I regret it; some days I don't. So I would tell my younger self ... 'Finish college, if just for the social experience'."
7. Zooey Deschanel:
Zooey Deschanel had been attending Northwestern University for seven months but, according to AOL, dropped out to follow her dreams of acting. She told the Daily News that, “I was like, 'It'd be cool to have a traditional college experience.’" Then I was like, 'Oh, but none of these people understand what's cool about me. My specialness is not appreciated in this place.'"
8. Ashton Kutcher:
Ashton Kutcher was so brainy that he was attending the University of Iowa to study biochemical engineering. According to AOL however, Kutcher dropped out after just one year to pursue a career in modeling, and the only chemicals in his career from then on involved the reactions of his fans to his looks. According to SimpleMost, Kutcher was a member of the Delta Chi fraternity — the same one Kevin Costner was a member of.
No one will be surprised to learn that Madonna attended the University of Michigan on a dance scholarship — but, according to AOL, she dropped out at the end of her sophomore year when she headed to Manhattan to chase after a career in dance. According to DW, she’s since sold 335 million records and has a fortune estimated at more than one billion dollars. If only she’d stayed for her degree she might have been even richer.
10. Vin Diesel:
Action star Vin Diesel was majoring in literature at Hunter College when, according to AOL, he dropped out after three years to chase his acting dreams. But, according to Metro, almost 30 years later the actor, whose real name is Mark Sinclair, was awarded an honorary doctorate from the college.
11. Ben Affleck:
According to AOL, Ben Affleck was attending the University of Vermont, but in 1990, after just one semester, he dropped out. But, according to USA Today, Affleck was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Brown University in 2013 and Affleck said, “This is a spectacular honor for me. Not only for the education but now I surpass Matt Damon."
12. Lady Gaga:
Lady Gaga, real name Stefani Germanotta, was quite the young brainiac. According to AOL she was only 17 when she won early admission to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. But she only lasted a couple of years there before dropping out to pursue her goals of stardom. According to Mic, she’d signed to Interscope Records within a year of dropping out.
13. Julia Louis-Dreyfus:
The star of Veep, Julia Louis-Dreyfus was attending Northwestern University where she was majoring in theater. In fact, according to Brittanica, it was where she met future husband Brad Hall. But it was while working on an improv show with Hall and a couple of others that Dick Ebersol, Saturday Night Live producer, came scouting and the rest is history. According to AOL, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Arts from Northwestern in 2007.
14. Salma Hayek:
According to Town and Country, despite her dyslexia, Salma Hayek graduated high school at just 15. At 16 she was attending the National University of Mexico as a political science major before deciding halfway through to leave school to take acting classes. By 23 she was starring in Teresa, a telenovela that propelled her to stardom.
15. Jennifer Lopez:
In 1987, Jennifer Lopez — or J.Lo — went to Baruch College in New York for all of one semester. According to AOL, she didn’t bother attending classes before dropping out and dancing her way into America’s heart.
16. Kristen Bell:
According to CBS News, Kristen Bell was attending New York University’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts but left just a few credits short of graduating to accept the role of Becky Thatcher in the Broadway musical “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” It closed within a month. Spoiler: it didn’t stop her career.
17. Rebecca Romijn:
18. Sylvester Stallone:
According to Fandango, Sylvester Stallone was a sickly child who suffered from rickets and spent years in and out of foster homes and even schools — being expelled a number of times. He eventually got his stuff together and began attending the University of Miami as a performing arts major in 1967. But in just two years he decided to quit and move to New York City to pursue his dreams of acting.
19. Jake Gyllenhaal:
Jake Gyllenhaal was the third member of his family to attend Columbia University (along with his mom and sister Maggie) but the only one who didn't graduate. According to Business Insider, Gyllenhaal had been studying Eastern religions and philosophy when, as a sophomore, he dropped out to focus on acting.
20. Reese Witherspoon:
Reese Witherspoon set her collegiate sights on Stanford University and enrolled as a literature major in 1994. But according to Zimbio, Witherspoon ditched Stanford after just one year to pursue acting. According to the Houston Chronicle, in 2017 Witherspoon stopped by her alma mater and visited her old dorm room to the delight of the student living there.
21. Sean Combs:
According to the Washington Post, Sean Combs dropped out of Howard University after just two years ditching his business major to focus on a career in music. It more than paid off because, according to University Herald, Combs now sits on a fortune of over $700 million dollars. In 2014 Combs returned to Howard to accept an honorary degree.