As a follow-up to our list of the 10 Most Successful CEO College Drop-outs, we wanted to feature celebrities who also did not finish school but became popular. But then again, aren’t there a lot of stars who did not go to school?
We figured it will be more inspiring and interesting to showcase famous celebrities who not only studied but also received a diploma from either of the two prestigious US schools, Harvard University and Yale University.
Here is our list of the 10 popular stars who went to Harvard or Yale for their undergraduate degrees.
1. Natalie Portman
School: Harvard University ’03
Course: Bachelor of Arts in Psychology
Black Swan‘s Natalie Portman actually enrolled at Harvard University to study psychology while working on the Star Wars prequel trilogy. She completed the degree in 2003.
As a student, Portman co-authored two research papers that were published in professional scientific journals. Her 1998 high school paper, “A Simple Method To Demonstrate the Enzymatic Production of Hydrogen from Sugar,” was entered in the Intel Science Talent Search, in which she was named a semifinalist.
In 2002, she contributed to a study on memory called “Frontal Lobe Activation During Object Permanence” during her psychology studies at Harvard. Apart from English, Portman is also fluent in Hebrew, French and Japanese.
2. Elisabeth Shue
School: Harvard University ’00
Course: Bachelor of Science in Political Science
Elisabeth Shue debuted on-screen as Ralph Macchio’s girlfriend in the 1984 hit movie The Karate Kid.
Despite being popular in the movies, she did not want to give up her education so she enrolled at Harvard University in 1985 to become an attorney. But Shue still had the passion for acting so she dropped out of Harvard just one semester short of earning her degree in Political Science.
In 2000, she returned to Harvard to finish the degree.
3. Edward Norton
School: Yale University ’91
Course: Bachelor of Arts in History
Edward Norton enrolled at Yale University and took up Bachelor of Arts in History. While attending Yale as a History major, he acted in university productions alongside fellow future actors Ron Livingston (#5 below) and Paul Giamatti. He also took as many acting classes as he was allowed without declaring a Theater major.
Following graduation, Norton, who had minored in Japanese, spent some time working for The Enterprise Foundation in Osaka before deciding to move to New York City to become an actor.
He began his acting career in off-Broadway theater, breaking through with his 1993 involvement in Edward Albee’s Fragments at the Signature Theatre Company. His first major film was 1996’s Primal Fear, where he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and won a Golden Globe Award in the same category.
4. Mira Sorvino
School: Harvard University ’89
Course: Bachelor of Arts in East Asian Studies (magna cum laude)
A total opposite of her role as the airheaded Romy in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Mira Sorvino is actually an intellectual who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University with the degree in East Asian Studies.
While studying, she also helped found the Harvard-Radcliffe Veritones, one of Harvard’s premier co-ed a cappella groups. She is affiliated with Amnesty International and has been among the many Hollywood celebrities calling for United Nations action in Darfur.
She spent a year of study in Beijing while attending Harvard. She is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and also speaks French.
5. Ron Livingston
School: Yale University ’89
Course: Bachelor of Arts in English and Theater Arts
Band of Brothers and Office Space star Ron Livingston attended Yale University where he received B.A. degrees in English and Theater.
At Yale, Livingston’s classmates included future stars Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti. At one point, Livingston directed Norton in a production of Chekov’s “The Cherry Orchard.” After graduating from college, he moved to Chicago where he first performed in a small-staged production of Shakespeare before understudying in various productions at Chicago’s Goodman and Touchstone Theaters. He then moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as Hollywood actor.
6. Jodie Foster
School: Yale University ’85
Course: Bachelor of Arts in Literature (magna cum laude)
Two-time Best Actress Oscar winner Jodie Foster graduated in 1980 as class valedictorian from the private academy Lycée Français de Los Angeles.
By the age of 14, she had taken Hollywood by storm with her performance as a young prostitute opposite Robert DeNiro in Martin Scorcese’s “Taxi Driver.” Foster went on to major in literature at Yale University and graduated magna cum laude in 1985.
She was scheduled to graduate in 1984 but took a semester’s leave of absence after the failed assassination of then-President Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley, Jr., in which Hinckley’s fascination with Foster created unwanted adverse publicity for her.
In 1997, she received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Yale.
7. Conan O’Brien
School: Harvard University ’85
Course: Bachelor of Arts in History and Literature (magna cum laude)
Conan O’Brien is not exactly unfamiliar with Harvard University since his father, Thomas O’Brien, worked as physician, epidemiologist, and professor of medicine at Harvard.
After graduating as valedictorian of Brookline High School in 1981, the young O’Brien entered Harvard University and took up History and Literature.
Throughout college, O’Brien was a writer for the Harvard Lampoon humor magazine. His senior thesis focused on the use of children as symbols in the works of William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor.
He graduated magna cum laude in 1985.
8. David Hyde Pierce
School: Yale University ’81
Course: Bachelor of Arts in English and Theater Arts
Playing Dr. Niles Crane on the NBC sitcom Frasier, David Hyde Pierce as a child was musically-inclined, frequently playing the piano at the local Bethesda Episcopal Church in Saratoga Springs.
He began acting in high school, earning recognition as best Dramatic Arts student. His love of music made him decide to study classical piano at Yale University. Unfortunately, he soon grew bored with music history lessons and found that he wasn’t dedicated enough to practice the required number of hours to become a successful concert pianist.
Instead, he graduated in 1981 with a double major in English and Theatre Arts. While attending Yale, Pierce performed in several student productions and also directed the Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s operetta “Princess Ida.”
9. Angela Bassett
School: Yale University ’80
Course: Bachelor of Arts in African-American Studies
With excellent academic and extracurricular records, Bassett was offered a scholarship to Yale University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in African-American Studies before deciding to pursue theater seriously.
While working towards a Masters degree at the Yale School of Drama, Bassett began a valuable association with the dean, celebrated stage director Lloyd Richards, who cast her in his 1984 Broadway production of August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Her promising start led to steady work in movies and television, starring in What’s Love Got to Do With It and How Stella Got Her Groove Back.
In 1983, she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Yale School of Drama.
10. Tommy Lee Jones
School: Harvard University ’69
Course: Bachelor of Arts in English (cum laude)
Tommy Lee Jones attended Harvard on a need-based scholarship. He stayed in Mower B-12 as a freshman, across the hall from future Vice President Al Gore.
As an upperclassman, he was roommates in Dunster House with Gore and Bob Somerby, who later became editor of the media criticism site, The Daily Howler. Jones played offensive tackle on Harvard’s undefeated 1968 varsity football team, was nominated as a first-team All-Ivy League selection, and played in the memorable and literally last-minute Harvard sixteen-point comeback to tie Yale in the 1968 Game.
Jones graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 1969, and his senior thesis was on “the mechanics of Catholicism” in the works of Flannery O’Connor.