The typical celebrity success story goes one of three ways:
1) You start acting young and become a ward of the industry.
2) You act while waiting tables until your big break.
3) You drop out of whatever college you half-heartedly enrolled in because someone noticed you're a regulation hottie.
If all else fails, you just need to be born into the Kardashian family. But in the case of option 3, some celebrities who went to college had some seriously un-dramatic majors... and some even graduated!
1. Ashton Kutcher
Though he rose to fame as brainless hottie Kelso on That ‘70s Show, Ashton Kutcher had real big ambitions when he enrolled in the University of Iowa. “Actually, I went from wanting to act to settling for biochemical engineering. I lived in a tiny town, and I realized that, unless I left for California, there wasn't anywhere for me to go with the acting,” Ashton explained in 2001. “I couldn't afford to move that far, so I decided to go to school and become a genetic engineer. My twin brother had a cardiomyopathy, which is a virus that attacks the heart, and he had a heart transplant. I wanted to find out how to alter the virus.”
Fate had a different plan. Ashton was approached at a bar by a woman who asked if he wanted to be a model. Ashton figured he’d give it a whirl, and, well, here we are.
2. Courteney Cox
Before she became America’s favorite neat freak on Friends, Courteney Cox was studying architecture at Mount Vernon College. She eventually put the draft board down to focus on modeling and acting.
3. Brad Pitt
In 1982, Brad Pitt enrolled in the University of Missouri with a major in — heeey! — journalism with a focus on advertising. Though it was a few decades early for it, I’m enjoying the image of a post-collegiate Brad churning out boatloads of sponsored content. But in no reality was this ever going to happen; he chickened out on grabbing his degree.
“It just came to the time of graduation and everyone — all my friends were committing to jobs — and I just realized I was not ready for that yet,” he explained in 2011. “I packed up my car. I didn’t graduate — I had two weeks left — and I moved out to L.A.”
Which, in a Kutcher-like fashion, worked out splendidly well!
4. Shaquille O'Neal
Shaquille O’Neal cuts such a distinct large figure, and we often think of him dunking hoops, maybe occasionally playing one-on-one with Aaron Carter. Long forgotten is his college career at the Louisiana State University, where he pretty much was player of the year EVERY year while studying business. He left early to play with the NBA, but at 30 finally earned a bachelor of science degree in general studies and went on to earn a doctorate in education.
5. Natalie Portman
Coming from a family of academics, Natalie Portman enrolled in Harvard University fresh off the set of Star Wars: Episode I in an effort to appear serious. This brought on some highly stressful and not-free-from strife years. And though she ultimately graduated with a degree in psychology, she was pretty stoked to get back into acting.
"When I got to my graduation, after four years of trying to get excited about something else, I admitted to myself that I couldn't wait to go back and make more films," she said in a 2015 Harvard commencement speech. "I wanted to tell stories, imagine the lives of others, and help others to do the same. My Harvard degree represents to me the curiosity and invention that were encouraged here, the friendships I've maintained."
6. Will Ferrell
Will Ferrell wasn’t the leader of the Frat Pack for no reason; he was a member of USC's Delta Tau Delta fraternity. He earned a degree in sports broadcasting and information, although obviously comedy was his main calling. No worries — I’m sure he was able to use that degree to inform the Anchorman newsroom (or not — Channel 4 is a hot mess).
7. Lisa Kudrow
Phoebe Buffay is known for wild anecdotes about her on-the-streets upbringing, but Lisa Kudrow could not have had a more different educational experience.
She studied at Vassar College, earning a Bachelor of Science in biology. Her father, Lee Kudrow, was a doctor specializing in headaches, and Lisa joined him in researching the likelihood of cluster headaches in left-handed people. For eight years. Wild.
8. John Legend
If you needed any more proof John Legend is basically perfect, get this: he’s also an Ivy League man. John graduated the magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in English and a concentration on African-American literature and culture. Though he worked a corporate job in the years following, John found himself unsatisfied.
"I had followed the path that the Penn graduate was supposed to take, but I didn't fall in love," John said in his 2014 commencement speech at his alma mater. "I couldn't shake my passion for music." Fittingly, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree.
9. Brooke Shields
Brooke Shields is also an unexpected Ivy Leaguer, having put her nascent career on pause to get a degree in French Literature at Princeton University. But, already a movie star, her time on campus was not without drama.
“The paparazzi tried to sneak onto campus, dressed like what they thought college students looked like, and follow me around,” she shared in her 2014 memoir. The students were great and they alerted the school and me if anyone saw anybody suspicious. One photographer hid in a vent to photograph me walking to a class; another attempted to bribe a Mathey College freshman to take a camera into the showers and snap me in the nude. They would have been in for a surprise if they tried, because I had taken to showering in a one-piece bathing suit!”
10. Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck pulled a real Felicity when it came to college. “I went to the University of Vermont because I had a kind of unrequited love for this high chool girlfriend,” he said in 2007. “She wasn’t even at the university but at another school nearby. But I thought if I went to a school near her, just maybe…I was really remedial about girls in so many ways. Interestingly, there are some parallels for things to come in my life.”
So what happened? ““Two weeks after I got there, I called her room,” he continued. “And some guy answered the phone! ‘Who is this guy?’ ‘He’s helping me study,’ she says. Sure.”
Ben studied Spanish for a hot second before transferring to Occidental College to study Middle Eastern Affairs, and finally transferring to Successful Acting Career.
11. Dakota Fanning
Dakota Fanning by no means needs a college degree — homegirl has been getting roles since she was a kindergartner. But in a classic child actor move, she enrolled in the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University in 2011. Through some rigorous balancing, she actually earned a degree in women’s studies with an emphasis on the “portrayal of women in culture and film.” I would say the Olsen twins sure look foolish now, but I’m pretty sure they’re not fretting about graduation while running a whole fashion empire.
12. Jon Stewart
The former Daily Show host maybe didn’t take his studies at the College of William & Mary super seriously.
"My college career was waking up late, memorizing someone else's notes, doing bong hits, and going to soccer practice," he said.
Nonetheless, Jon didn’t major in hacky sack or basket weaving. He actually had ambitions of becoming a professional soccer player and studied chemistry before switching over to psychology.