Most of our favorite celebrities have well-worn media images. Actors who play lawyers or businesspeople seem to develop sharp entrepreneurial public personas, while a sports star who’s a badass on the field may get a bad boy reputation. Yet, in reality, these stars’ college majors can tell a very different story. And while the academic focus of some celebs definitely match their professional roles, others could not be further from their media images. Here we give you 40 unexpected college majors pursued by A-list celebrities…
40. Sean Penn
Sean Penn has a reputation as a gifted actor who is also an unflinching political activist. He staunchly supports “equal rights for everyone” and portrayed prominent gay rights leader Harvey Milk in the 2008 film Milk. But, in contrast to this image, Penn’s field of study at Santa Monica College, auto mechanics, is something Jeff Spicoli – his burnout surfer character in Fast Times at Ridgemont High – may have found more rewarding.
39. Cindy Crawford
Striking looks and smarts – Cindy Crawford seems to have it all. That’s right: though she is best known as a ’90s supermodel, Crawford also once bagged a place at Northwestern University on a scholarship aimed at funding her schooling in chemical engineering. And no doubt her brains also drove her to become a household name as a host and author.
38. Eva Longoria
Eva Longoria played the saucy and spoiled Gabrielle Solis in Desperate Housewives, and so it may be difficult to imagine her spending her days studying anything other than designer boutique trends or a young gardener’s physique. Nevertheless, the starlet did once pursue a more substantial real-life interest in body mechanics – kinesiology – and obtained a bachelor of science degree from Texas A&M.
37. Gerard Butler
Although Scottish hunk Gerard Butler portrayed Ancient Greek king Leonidas in the 2006 fantasy flick 300, he’s more than just an attractive life-sized action figure. Indeed, Butler is also a catch because he earned a law degree from the University of Glasgow, where he also presided over the law society. Butler was apparently given the axe from his first gig as a trainee lawyer, however, but given that he’s now one of Hollywood’s shining lights, we’d say that all was not lost…
36. Michael Jordan
Legendary pro basketball star Michael Jordan may know better than to travel on the court, but his academic history tells another tale. Indeed, and rather unexpectedly, Jordan has earned a BA in cultural geography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Judging by his well-rounded professional and academic pursuits, then, it sounds like he knows his way around the world, the court and business.
35. Cate Blanchett
A stellar role in 1998’s Elizabeth arguably cemented Cate Blanchett’s reputation as a top thespian. As such, the Australian star has stockpiled awards – Oscars among them. Yet, at one time she was on the academic track to earn letters in economics and fine arts from the University of Melbourne. But there would be no auction house career for Blanchett, who was soon discovered by a casting director while backpacking her way through Egypt. And the rest is her-story…
34. Ashton Kutcher
Ashton Kutcher doesn’t seem to take life too seriously, judging from his goofball image in his pranking TV show Punk’d. And although he has also had brainier acting parts – most notably, by portraying Apple’s Steve Jobs – it’s his role as That ’70s Show’s vapid Michael Kelso for which he’s perhaps best known to this day. But Kutcher may be more than just a hot frat boy; after all, when he first signed up to the University of Iowa in 1996, he chose biochemical engineering as his major. Before graduation, though, the future star began a modeling career and dropped out, finally then turning to acting.
33. Natalie Portman
American-Israeli beauty Natalie Portman is perhaps best known for her raw performance in Black Swan. Equally, her earlier work in dramatically intense movies like 2004’s Closer demonstrates a knack for getting inside characters’ heads – perhaps a side effect of her bachelor’s degree in psychology. And having pursued this honor at Harvard no less, the award-winning star is certainly part of an elite breed.
32. Jake Gyllenhaal
Talented star Jake Gyllenhaal has taken on some intense roles in dark films like Nightcrawler and Zodiac. But however deep this may make him seem, we probably wouldn’t picture him going the quiet way of the Buddha. Yet when Gyllenhaal was a student at prestigious Columbia University, he studied Eastern religions and philosophy. Inevitably, though, Gyllenhaal took a road more often traveled in his entertainment industry-based family and left school to take on acting.
31. Julianna Margulies
Best known for her role as razor-sharp, slightly uptight lawyer Alicia Florrick in The Good Wife, Julianna Margulies could easily be pegged as an uncreative, rigid type. It may therefore surprise fans of the Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning actress to hear that she obtained a bachelor’s in art history from Sarah Lawrence College. Still, she did, however, marry an actual attorney…
30. James Cameron
From Terminator to Avatar to Aliens, acclaimed producer/director James Cameron has a firm grip on making classic box office-topping science fiction movies. But perhaps less known is the fact that he has some understanding of the science part of that equation. Cameron briefly studied physics at Fullerton College before changing majors to English and then abandoning school altogether. He did, however, later receive an honorary degree from the U.K.’s University of Southampton for excelling in the tech of remote vehicles and sub-aquatic filming.
29. Kevin Costner
Kevin Costner rose to fame for his role in Dances with Wolves, which saw him enmesh himself in Native American culture. This earthy vibe has followed the award-winning star, who has also played in a country and western band. But while he may seem laid back and down to earth, Costner actually earned a degree in marketing and finance at California State University at Fullerton. He reportedly made the decision to dive into acting, moreover, after a chance meeting with Richard Burton on a plane ride.
28. Courteney Cox
Actress Courteney Cox is perhaps most famous for playing Monica Geller in the hit U.S. TV show Friends. And while her character in that show was a chef by trade, the actress’ own study of architecture while at Mount Vernon College is perhaps not too far removed from her excellent portrayal of the detail-centric, hearth-obsessed Monica. Cox, however, left school to become a model and, eventually, a star of the small screen.
27. George Clooney
George Clooney’s smooth demeanor in the Oceans movie series seems a natural progression from his time on ER, the popular TV show that propelled him and his traditional good looks to stardom. And while acting and journalism – his college major – couldn’t be more different as professions, the reformed lothario has managed to bridge them, having played a radio news producer in 2005’s Goodnight, and Good Luck.
26. Brad Pitt
A fellow Oceans star and friend to Clooney, Brad Pitt got an early acting break playing a swoon-worthy drifter in the 1991 movie Thelma & Louise. In the early days, this sensibility followed him as he dated some of Hollywood’s most desirable actresses. But his more recent reputation as a family man interested in humanitarian causes is arguably more aligned with what he studied at the University of Missouri: journalism.
25. Will Ferrell
Funnyman Will Ferrell is known to many for his epic role as full-throated narcissist Ron Burgundy in Anchorman. But while Ferrell, whose film and TV career started on Saturday Night Live, may make a living being jocular, he’s not really a jock. And so his college major of sports information while at the University of Southern California comes a bit out of left-field. The talented star has, however, taken the comedic art of being a good sport to different levels.
24. Rooney Mara
Academy Award-nominated actress Rooney Mara is notably one of Hollywood’s most multifaceted talents. Indeed, her complex and stunning performances as a disturbed hacker in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and as a photographer exploring a homosexual relationship in Carol have thrust her to international superstardom. And Mara’s degree in psychology and social policy from New York University has no doubt come in handy when tackling such serious acting roles, too.
23. Harrison Ford
Megastar Harrison Ford began his acting career as Han Solo in the original Star Wars movie, which turned out to be one of his most memorable roles to date – second only to Indiana Jones. Certainly his portrayals of swashbuckling and adventurous characters are well contrasted with his study of the more inward subject of philosophy at Wisconsin’s Ripon College. However, Ford ultimately abandoned higher education not long before graduating.
22. Matthew McConaughey
Through the years, People magazine’s 2005 Sexiest Man Alive Matthew McConaughey has arguably developed a rep as the fun hot guy. But he has also taken on some substantial roles throughout his career: a pharmaceutical-trafficking AIDS patient in Dallas Buyers Club and a passionate lawyer in A Time to Kill, for example. The latter must have resonated, as McConaughey was originally on the pre-law track at the University of Texas before he switched to radio, TV and film studies.
21. Mick Jagger
Fast-living, fast-loving Rolling Stones front-man Mick Jagger is the epitome of rock and roll. But his academic roots betray a squarer side to the British super pop star’s persona. Jagger actually studied accounting and finance at the well-regarded London School of Economics, before abandoning ship to go into music. And with an estimated net worth of over $300 million, the rocker clearly knows how to earn and manage his money, and he didn’t need to get that degree to succeed!
20. Lisa Kudrow
Phoebe from Friends wasn’t the most scientifically minded of people. However, the actress who played her, Lisa Kudrow, actually has a degree in biology. She got it from Vassar College in 1985, before her career in entertainment started. In 2009 she told Public Radio International that she believed the science was instrumental to “unlocking all of the mysteries of humanity.”
19. Danai Gurira
Black Panther actress Danai Gurira earned a degree in social psychology before she was an action star. Speaking to Rolling Stone in 2013, she described it as “the study of why people do what they do.” Her own worked focused on “race, population, gender and how we psychologically function in a way that affects our societal outcomes around those issues.” But she didn’t go to a Wakandan university, instead the Macalester College in Minnesota.
18. Rebel Wilson
Movie star Rebel Wilson is proud of her educational pedigree. “A lot of people look at me and think I’m stupid,” she told Seth Meyers in 2016. “But no, I graduated from a school that’s kind of like the Harvard of Australia.” That school was the University of New South Wales, and she left with a law degree. That helped when Wilson brokered her contracts when she started out as an actress.
17. Freddie Highmore
Freddie Highmore appears to be a fan of languages. While starring in Bates Motel the former child star also juggled studying Spanish and Arabic at Cambridge University in England. “Cambridge is a unique opportunity in that you can’t really do it at another point in your life,” he told the Daily Mail in 2013. “Acting has been brilliant, but so has university.” The following year he graduated with a double first, no small feat.
16. Uzo Aduba
Orange is the New Black star Uzo Aduba has a degree in voice performance from Boston University’s School of Music. This involved things like “ear training” and “sight reading.” And she has put it to good use, having done voice performances for the animated productions Steven Universe and My Little Pony: The Movie. Oh, and she can certainly sing, as well.
15. Bradley Cooper
Bradley Cooper has a wonderfully sensitive soul. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from Georgetown University in 1997, and what he studied certainly had an impact. In a 2013 interview with GQ, he recollected crying in the library over Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. And don’t get him started on poet John Milton. “Paradise Lost? I mean, I just couldn’t… That poem f***ng killed me,” he said.
14. J.K. Rowling
The creator of Harry Potter has a degree in French from the University of Exeter, with a minor in classics. J.K. Rowling’s study of the former was largely due to the insistence of her parents, and she regrets it a little now. In a speech at Harvard in 2018, she revealed that “a compromise was reached that in retrospect satisfied nobody,” when it came to what she’d study. The author now also has a number of honorary degrees too.
13. Allison Williams
Actress Allison Williams could be a shoo-in for the role of a female Indiana Jones, as she studied English and archaeology at Yale. She wanted to be an entertainer from day one, but her parents insisted that she finish college first. “I was annoyed at it for, like, a second, but then I kind of leaned into the idea,” she told Allure magazine in 2017.
12. Chris Martin
Coldplay frontman Chris Martin has a degree in Greek and Latin from University College London. Indeed, he and Gwyneth Paltrow once put out an ad requesting that their new children’s tutor spoke those languages, among others. But something else more important happened to Martin at the university. That’s where he met Guy Berryman, Will Champion and Jonny Buckland, the other members of the band.
11. Aziz Ansari
Like his Parks and Recreation character Tom Haverford, Aziz Ansari wanted to be an entrepreneur. To that end, he went to New York University to study marketing, but he didn’t like it. However, the comedian ended up getting the degree anyway. “[It] was really easy and I was just able to coast by and work on stand up,” he told Paste Magazine in 2012.
10. Gabrielle Union
In January 2012 actress Gabrielle Union tweeted about how people needed to start valuing their schooling more. She wrote, “It’s great your kid wants to model, but is she a model student? We’ve gotta get serious about education!” When someone asked her if she had a college degree, she answered, “Sociology degree from UCLA paid for with student loans and job at the book store.”
9. Sacha Baron Cohen
Ali G has a degree in history? Well, Sacha Baron Cohen does at least. He went to Cambridge and studied the subject there, eventually writing a thesis on the role of Jewish people in the American civil rights protests. But entertainment was his true calling in the end. He embarked on an acting career and the rest is, well, history.
8. Dolph Lundgren
Dolph Lundgren definitely has brawn, but he has brains as well. After spending time in the Swedish Marine Corps he threw himself into chemical engineering, the same field his older brother was pursuing. He graduated from the University of Sydney in 1982 with a master’s degree in the subject. Guess what he’d been doing at the same time as studying? Working as a bouncer.
7. Cole Sprouse
Cole Sprouse, star of Riverdale and one half of the Sprouse twins, has a degree in a pretty unusual field. He studied geographical information systems and satellite imaging. Never heard of it? Sprouse explained on Live with Kelly and Ryan in 2017 that it was “basically like virtual cartography.” It’s used for archaeology, and Sprouse has been on several digs.
6. Jay Leno
When Jay Leno was a child, he struggled with bad grades at school. He had dyslexia, and counsellors told him he’d be better off dropping out. Not only he stay on and graduate, though, he camped outside the admission office at Emerson College to make sure he’d get in. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in speech therapy, and he started a comedy club there in 1973.
5. Ken Jeong
Comedian Ken Jeong played Dr. Ken, but he is in fact a fully qualified doctor. This grants him a set of impressive skills. In 2018 an audience member had a fit while he was performing at a comedy venue in Phoenix, and he leaped into action to help her. Once she’d been taken to hospital, the audience applauded him, and then he slid effortlessly back into telling jokes.
4. Rashida Jones
Before The Office and her comedy career, Rashida Jones studied comparative religion at Harvard, graduating in 1997. She returned in 2016 to give a speech there, and she made sure it was very funny. “Can you name anyone cool who graduated from Harvard? No. I looked it up, and there’s not a single example of a successful person who graduated from Harvard,” she joked.
3. Laverne Cox
Laverne Cox is the first transgender person to be nominated for an acting Primetime Emmy, and the first transgender woman to have a statue of herself at Madame Tussauds. But before she was breaking barriers, she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance at Marymount Manhattan College. She was always sneaking off to the theater department though, even though it wasn’t allowed.
2. America Ferrara
America Ferrara took time away from her studies to act, but she received her degree in international relations from the University of Southern California in 2013. “I am using so much of what I learned in the School of International Relations in my life,” she told USC that year. “I’ve learned about the root causes of so many issues I’m passionate about and how to improve people’s lives.”
1. Gene Simmons
Somewhere out there, there are some lucky people who had Gene Simmons as their teacher. Yep, the iconic, demonic face of KISS has a degree in education from Richmond College and once taught sixth grade in Harlem, New York. He eventually quit, he told Rolling Stone, because he thought being in a band would grant him the attention his students apparently weren’t giving him.