Believe it or not, a lot of your favorite celebrities had totally different dreams and aspirations before they were rich and famous. A lot of the most successful actors, singers, and entertainers actually got their entry to fame by becoming… college dropouts. It’s pretty crazy to think that people like Brad Pitt and Oprah Winfrey were close to pursuing a life of academia instead of heading to Hollywood.
If you’re interested in hearing about all of our fave celebrity college dropouts, we’ve found 19 crazy-successful celebs who kick-started their lives as part of the rich and the famous by dropping out of college for fame.
18. Brad Pitt
Brad Pitt realized pretty late in his college career that school was not the move for him. Before becoming one of Hollywood’s most well-known dreamboats, Brad had a seriously different life plan. After graduating high school, he enrolled in the University of Missouri in 1982. Believe it or not, he majored in journalism with a focus in advertising. However, he had a pretty (okay, really) sudden change of heart his senior year. Just two weeks before his graduation, he ditched school to move to LA and pursue acting. Talk about a bold move.
17. Ashton Kutcher
It’s honestly kind of impossible to imagine Ashton Kutcher in a college classroom. Imagine walking into your 8 a.m. history lecture and seeing Ashton sitting in the back, fast asleep. Either way, before joining the cast of That ‘70s Show, Ashton had some seriously unexpected (and heartwarming) college aspirations. In 1996, he enrolled at the University of Iowa with a major in biomedical engineering. His inspiration for his major was to help find a cure for cerebral palsy, which his fraternal twin, Michael, has. However, after struggling to pay for school and partying way too much, he was approached by a modeling agency and decided to head to Hollywood and try his hand at fame.
16. Mila Kunis
A lot like her hubby Ashton, Mila Kunis is another super-famous college dropout. Mila has had a pretty wild educational career since she started her acting profession at such a young age. She joined the cast of That ‘70s Show while still attending high school, so she received her education from an on-set tutor. After the show ended and she graduated high school, she decided to try out college. Mila spent some time at both UCLA and Loyola Marymount University in California but decided college just wasn’t for her. Who could blame her when she was already crazy-successful by the age of 18?
15. Anne Hathaway
Despite the fact that she was a super-involved high school student, Anne Hathaway eventually realized that higher ed just wasn’t for her. After graduating Millburn High School in Brooklyn, she decided to attend Vassar College, a small, liberal arts school in Poughkeepsie, New York. She majored in English and Political science there, before transferring to New York University at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study. However, after landing a few acting gigs, Anne decided that she was ready to pursue her career instead of her degree, making her another success story for celebrity college dropouts.
14. Kanye West
As you can probably imagine after his super-successful album, College Dropout, Kanye West is another proud, celebrity college dropout. He was a crazy-smart kid and actually studied in Nanjing, China while his mom was teaching at Nanjing University. Once back in Chicago, he got deeply involved in the hip-hop scene, but his mom insisted he attend college. He started at Chicago’s Academy of Art where he studied painting, and then transferred to Chicago State University to study English. However, at the age of 20, he realized that he loved rapping (and was obviously good at it), so he decided to finally drop out and pursue music.
13. Ellen DeGeneres
While Ellen DeGeneres is a strong advocate for education, she realized that college just wasn’t the move for her. After graduating high school, she moved to New Orleans, where she enrolled at the University of New Orleans. There, she majored in communications, which makes total sense for a future talk show host. However, it was at this time she began pursuing gigs as a standup comedian. After just one semester, she left school and began touring as a comedian. Just a few years later she was named Showtime’s funniest person in America.
12. John Mayer
John Mayer‘s placement on this list really isn’t all that surprising. Can’t you totally picture him sitting in the front of your intro-level philosophy class, raising his hand constantly and saying something dark, brooding and kind of pretentious? Anyways, before he was the bad boy of rock and roll, he took his talents to music school. His parents, concerned about his life plans, encouraged him to enroll in the Berklee College of Music in Boston. However, their plan kind of backfired, as he met a pal with similar goals, and the two dropped out to join a band after two semesters.
11. Oprah Winfrey
As far as celebrity college dropouts go, few have success stories as inspiring as Oprah Winfrey. After being born into poverty in rural Mississippi, as well as being a survivor of childhood abuse, Oprah managed to change her life in a major way. Her father was extremely strict in making sure she received a proper education, and she was crazy successful in high school — eventually winning an oratory contest her senior year. That contest secured her a full scholarship to Tennessee University, where she studied communications. However, her passion and talent for performance caught the attention of a local news station, where her signature delivery eventually landed her a talk show. The rest is history.
10. John Lennon
Long before becoming the guitarist of what is arguably the most famous band of all time, John Lennon tried his hand at higher education. Although he was extremely artistically talented during high school, his teachers wrote him off as a “class clown” with no serious future. Although he failed his pre-college exams, he was able to enroll in the Liverpool College of Art after his aunt and high school headmaster convinced the school on his behalf. John clearly had no interest in school, caused countless disruptions, and was almost always in trouble. Technically, he didn’t even drop out but was thrown out of school during his final year.
9. Tom Hanks
Even though he got his acting career started at a pretty young age, Tom Hanks still found some time to explore an education. As you can probably imagine, Tom was a fairly well-behaved kid who did well in high school and was well-loved by his teachers. After acting in a bunch of high school productions, Tom decided to formally pursue acting after graduation. He studied theater at Chabot College in California, then transferred to California State University. During his time there, he landed an internship at the Great Lakes Theater Festival, which inspired him to drop out and pursue theater full-time.
8. Zooey Deschanel
Next, we have Zooey Deschanel, one of the sweetest celebrity college dropouts in Hollywood. With her schoolgirl charm, it’s no surprise that Zooey attended college for a while. TBH, she looks like she was born to be an English major at a small liberal arts college. However, Zooey only spent a brief amount of time at school. After being accepted to the prestigious Northwestern University, Zooey dropped out after seven months to pursue acting. According to Zooey, she felt that her “specialness was not appreciated” at Northwestern. We’re not quite sure what that means, but it seems like her specialness is certainly appreciated now!
7. Ben Stiller
Before his character in Zoolander started the Derek Zoolander’s School for Kids Who Can’t Read Good and Want To Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too, Ben Stiller began getting an education for himself before pursuing comedy and acting. After discovering his love for the performing arts, particularly sketch comedy, in high school, he decided to check out a possible degree in film. In 1983, after graduating from a private high school in New York City, he enrolled in the University of California, Los Angeles, majoring in film. After nine months in school, he decided to go back to NYC and pursue acting classes, and eventually found an agent.
6. Matthew Morrison
You may know him as everyone’s favorite singing high school teacher, Mr. Schue on Glee, but Matthew Morrison never finished receiving his higher education. After going to a performing arts high school in California, it was pretty clear what Matthew wanted to do with the rest of his life. So, like many other celebrity college dropouts, he got his start at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. While attending school, he landed his first Broadway role in Footloose, and dropped out after completing two years. Hey, if we got a role on Broadway, we would probably drop out, too.
5. Ben Affleck
After growing up in a super-artistic household, it’s honestly surprising that Ben Affleck even tried being a college student for a few years. During his time in high school, he befriended Matt Damon. The two of them were apparently extremely bright and talented students but rarely applied themselves. They traveled to New York, picking up acting gigs here and there, but Ben tried his hand at gaining a degree for a few years. At first, he majored in Spanish at the University of Vermont, then dropped out after he fractured his hip playing baseball. He then studied Middle Eastern affairs for a year and a half at Occidental College in California, but finally left to pursue acting full-time.
4. Jessica Biel
Before becoming a multitalented performer and eventually marrying Justin Timberlake, Jessica Biel spent two years enrolled at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. Although not an ivy league, Tufts is a pretty prestigious school. Jessica never technically completed her degree and was only enrolled from 2000-2002. In fact, she was still starring in 7th Heaven during her time in college. Talk about extracurriculars. College is hard enough, so it makes sense that Jessica decided to forego it and instead pursue her already-active acting career.
Now that we know her as the world-renowned queen of pop, it’s kind of crazy to imagine Madonna doing anything aside from performing. Despite the fact that she was a rebellious child at home, Madonna did super well in school growing up. After being a straight-A student and member of the cheer squad in high school, she decided to pursue her love (and obvious talent) for dancing. She enrolled at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theater, and Dance. Then she performed in several shows and gained more experience, enough that her trainer Christopher Flynn persuaded her to drop out and pursue a career in dance. She moved to New York, and after a few years as a struggling backup dancer, her singing talents were discovered by a DJ who introduced her to an exec at Sire Records.
2. Lady Gaga
As someone who made a name for herself by being a rebel in the music industry and beyond, it’s no surprise that Lady Gaga is another one of the most successful celebrity college dropouts of our generation. She had been performing and auditioning her whole life, and decided to pursue music and the arts in college. So, like most edgy, artistic, and ~misunderstood~ youths, she enrolled in New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She even lived the dorm life for a few years while studying music, songwriting, religion, politics — you name it. However, she called it quits after her sophomore year, and began landing the acting and singing gigs that ultimately led to her stardom.
1. Reese Witherspoon
Despite the fact that her character Elle Woods is a Harvard grad, Reese Witherspoon is actually on our list of celebrity college dropouts. However, much like Elle Woods, Reese was able to land a spot at a super prestigious college. She discovered her love for English after graduating from her all-girls high school, Reese’s academics were good enough to get her accepted into Stanford University. Despite the fact that she was a huge bookworm in high school, Reese also realized her love for acting during her time at Stanford. After two years, she decided to drop her English literature major and give her acting career a shot.