Having a degree from one of the Ivy League universities — aka Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania — is quite the status symbol.
Not only are the Ivies elite, but they're also expensive – two factors that prevent a lot of people from attending. However, that doesn't stop some attendees from dropping out to pursue a different dream, whether that's making it as an actor or founding Microsoft.
Here are 23 celebs who have degrees from Ivy League schools:
Warning: Some entries mention stalking.
1. Brooke Shields got her bachelor's in romance languages at Princeton. In 1987, she graduated with honors.
At first, she lived in the dorms with the other students. However, the constant phone calls she received and sporadic run-ins with fans troubled her roommates. So, Brooke had to move into an apartment and hire a pair of bodyguards.
However, fans weren't the only ones causing trouble for her. In her memoir There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me, she wrote, "The paparazzi tried to sneak onto campus, dressed like what they thought college students looked like, and follow me around. The students were great, and they alerted the school and me if anyone saw anybody suspicious."
She continued, "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!"
During her freshman year, she was stalked by an obsessive fan named John Hinckley Jr. He followed her to campus, hand-delivered letters to her door, and called her at home. Then, he attempted to assassinate President Reagan in an effort to impress her.
In a letter found in his hotel room, he wrote, "I will admit to you that the reason I’m going ahead with this attempt now is because I just cannot wait any longer to impress you. I’ve got to do something now to make you understand in no uncertain terms that I am doing all of this for your sake."
By reason of insanity, he was declared not guilty of 13 charges. However, he inspired a second stalker, who only decided not to murder Jodie because she was "too pretty."
In 1982, Jodie told Esquire, "Obsession is pain and a longing for something that does not exist. John Hinckley’s greatest crime was the confusion of love and obsession. The trivialization of love is something I will never forgive him. His ignorance only prods me to say that he’s missing a great deal. Love is blissful. Obsession is pitiful, self-indulgent. This is a lesson I’ve learnt. I’ll always be wary of people who proclaim their love for me."
In 2018, Yale presented her with the Yale Undergraduates’ Lifetime Achievement Award. In her acceptance speech, she said, "This place means more to me than almost any place else. ... I came to Yale, and the second I walked on campus, it was like I had just found the love of my life."
In response, Julia penned her own editorial for the Columbia Spectator. She wrote, "One would assume that as students of an Ivy League university, we have enough insight not to take talk shows too seriously. ... I have received a lot of criticism, both to my face and in print, about flippant comments I made while appearing on talk shows to promote Save the Last Dance. I was denigrated in one Columbia media outlet and nearly slandered in another..."
She continued, "I was asked about the quality of food at school and told to exaggerate for the sake of comedy. Granted, I was not forced to say anything, but under the circumstances, I wanted to get through the interview alive. Having every comment examined under such heavy scrutiny has made me consider the repercussions of what I say."
4. Lupita Nyong'o completed two degrees at Yale — a bachelor's in film studies in 2007 and an MFA in acting in 2012.
For her spot in the acting program, she beat out 950 other applicants for one of only 16 spots. On campus, she was known for being both hardworking and naturally talented.
The same year she graduated, the school awarded her its Herschel Williams Prize for "acting students with outstanding ability." Two years later, she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 12 Years a Slave.
5. Lupita's Black Panther costar Winston Duke was also her classmate at Yale. He earned his MFA in acting in 2012.
He told People, "We saw the first Avengers movie together...and had wondered if we’d ever get to a be in a movie like that — such a big budget, crazy vehicle with special effects and tons of funny, cool people that you admire. And we were just like, 'Yeah, I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen.'"
He continued, "And then, for this to be my first movie, her first Marvel film, we were like, 'Can you believe that happened? Do you remember Avengers in New Haven, Connecticut?'"
6. Mindy Kaling graduated Dartmouth with a bachelor's in playwriting in 2001.
She was involved with both the school's improv group and its comedy magazine, the Jack-o-Lantern. While researching for The Sex Lives of College Girls, she returned to campus to talk with the magazine's current club members.
In 2018, she gave the graduating class' commencement speech and received an honorary doctorate. She also stopped by her old dorm room.
7. After graduating from high school at 16, John Legend turned down an offer from Harvard and enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1999, he graduated with his bachelor's in English with a specialization in African American literature.
He was a member of the campus a capella group, the Counterparts. He even served as their president and music director.
However, John also experienced discrimination on campus. He told People, "I had several interactions with the police where they questioned my right to even be where I was, to get in my own car...so that was where I felt it the most — in west Philadelphia around the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, being treated like I didn’t belong there because I was Black."
In 2014, he returned to campus as the graduation commencement speaker. Then, in 2021, the school awarded him the Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship Alumni Achievement Award because "he’s applied entrepreneurial approaches to important areas outside of business."
8. Meryl Streep earned her MFA in drama from Yale in 1975. In 1983, they awarded her an honorary doctorate.
In 2000, she served as the honorary chair for the birthday party celebrating the Yale School of Drama's 75th anniversary, the Yale University Dramatic Association's 100th anniversary, and Yale University's 300th anniversary.
She told the New York Times, "When I was there, from 1972 to 1975, it was a tiny program, and that was one of the great things about it. ... I felt guilty [about being cast so much]. I felt I was taking something from people I knew, my friends. I was on a scholarship, and some people had paid a lot of money to be there."
She continued, "So I went to see a psychiatrist at the school who said, 'You know what? You're going to graduate in 11 weeks, and you'll never be in competition with five women again. You'll be competing with 5,000 women, and it will be a relief. It will be better or worse, but it won't be this.' He was right. It was excellent advice. After I got out, I had a lot of unbelievably good breaks, but they didn't seem designed at someone else's expense."
9. Rashida Jones earned her bachelor's in religion and philosophy from Harvard in 1997. Her dad, Quincy Jones, spoke at her Class Day.
Initially, she intended to study law, but the O.J. Simpson trial discouraged her. So, she got involved with the a cappella group and drama club on campus.
10. John Krasinski graduated with a bachelor's degree in English from Brown in 2001.
On campus, he got his start in acting by joining the Out of Bounds sketch comedy group.
He told News from Brown, "I went in for the audition, and my entire life changed. Nope, not because I got in, not because I started acting. It was through that group that I found my way into this community. It was through that group that I met my people."
18 years later, he returned as the Baccalaureate speaker for the Class of 2019. The school gave him an honorary doctorate.
11. In 2004, Jenny Slate graduated from Columbia with her bachelor's in English literature.
She told the New York Times, "I use my education a lot, because I tend to make fun of the things that I love. Like any book that’s kind of like A Room with a View, where there’s a young, female protagonist who’s about to have a sexual awakening and just cannot handle it."
Outside of her studies, she focused on acting and comedy. She told Columbia College Today, "Part of the reason I chose Columbia was because it was in New York. That was where all the comedy was happening."
She performed in the university's Varsity Show, and she joined three other improv and sketch comedy groups. During her first Varsity Show rehearsal, she met Gabe Liedman, who became her stand-up and writing partner as well as her first best friend.
12. Tracee Ellis Ross earned her bachelor's in theater arts from Brown in 1994.
In 2015, she returned to campus to speak on a commencement forum, and she was awarded an honorary degree.
The same year, her Black-ish character Dr. Rainbow Johnson visited the Brown campus. On the episode "Charlie in Charge," she took her daughter to tour the school.
13. In 2003, Natalie Portman graduated from Harvard with her bachelor's in psychology.
She told People, "I think I was really lucky to have been there before social media. Actually, Facebook was invented when I was a senior by freshman Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard. So I went to school with no Facebook, no Instagram, no cameras on phones."
"So I was really able to go about my business and not have it documented for public consumption. Which was really lucky 'cause, guess what? It's good to, like, make mistakes and do stupid things when you're a teenager and young adult and not have it haunt you forever," she said.
In 2015, she returned to Harvard as the Class Day speaker. Describing her freshman year, she told students, "I felt like there had been some mistake, that I wasn’t smart enough to be in this company, and that every time I opened my mouth, I would have to prove that I wasn’t just a dumb actress."
14. Shonda Rhimes graduated from Dartmouth with her bachelor's in English Literature with creative writing in 1991.
She was a leader on campus, serving as the student chair of freshman parents’ weekend then running the Black Underground Theater Association.
She told Dartmouth's "Called to Lead" campaign, "On opening night [of George C. Wolfe’s The Colored Museum], as I watched my schoolmates perform the result of our hard work, it had an indelible effect on me. I knew I would always want to work in the arts. "
15. Maggie Gyllenhaal got her bachelor's in English literature and Eastern religions from Columbia in 1999.
She was a legacy student. Her mother, Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal, also graduated from Columbia.
In 2009, the university awarded Maggie with the John Jay Award for "distinguished professional achievement."
16. Emma Watson graduated from Brown with her bachelor's in English literature in 2014.
She told the Sunday Times, "On the first day, I walked into the canteen, and everyone went completely silent and turned to look at me. I had to say to myself, 'It's okay, you can do this. You just have to take a deep breath and gather your courage.'"
In 2011, she announced her decision to take a year off from her education in order to focus on acting projects such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.
However, rumors circulated that Emma left because she was bullied. She told the LA Times, "It made me so sad when all this stuff came out that I left Brown because I was being bullied. ... It made no sense at all. Brown has been the opposite."
She continued, "I’ve never even been asked for an autograph on campus. I threw a party for nearly 100 students, and not a single person put a photo on Facebook."
17. Angela Bassett has three degrees from Yale — the bachelor's in African American studies she earned in 1980, the MFA she got from the Yale School of Drama in 1983, and the honorary doctorate she was awarded in 2018.
Initially, she wanted to get her bachelor's in theater, but a family member warned her not to "waste" her education. However, when she entered the MFA program, she studied under director Lloyd Richards, who ended up casting her in two plays on Broadway.
In 2020, Angela was awarded the Yale Undergraduate Lifetime Achievement Award. It's the only award at any of the Ivy Leagues that's chosen solely by the students.
18. In 2010, Ashley Judd graduated with her master's in public administration from Harvard.
She told the New York Times, "I didn’t go to Harvard Kennedy School to be approved of by anyone, but to immerse myself in some very serious, earnest, practical learning with people who have literally dedicated all they have to public service."
At first, she felt that attending Harvard was as likely as "going to the moon." However, researching the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School and the work it does with women changed her mind. She said, "I thought, this is my home, these are my people, this is where I’m meant to go."
19. Elizabeth Banks graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor's in communications in 1996.
On her very first day of freshman year, she met future sportswriter Max Handelman. They've been together ever since.
20. In 1985, Conan O'Brien earned his bachelor's in history and literature from Harvard.
In a letter celebrating the Department of History and Literature's centennial, he wrote, "Though [my senior thesis] received three different grades from three different professors, everyone in the department agreed on one thing: I should probably go work in television."
In 2020, he gave a virtual commencement speech from his backyard. He told the graduating class, "So, do not despair this online ceremony, but celebrate it. You have been handed two choices: 1) Use the trial of this global pandemic as the inspirational launching pad to a greater destiny or 2) Go the Trump route, and blame all your problems on the previous graduating class."
21. Jordana Brewster earned her bachelor's in English from Yale in 2003.
Before enrolling, she already had a connection to the university. Her grandfather, Kingman Brewster Jr., served as its president from 1963-1977.
Jordana told Collider that her Yale degree helped her as an actor "only in as much as I think people give you a little more cred and take you a little more seriously sometimes."
During her internship as a theater production assistant, she realized that she didn't have to choose between acting and activism. She told Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, "Ed Asner was one of the stars, and I watched him spend every spare second he had doing something charitable. Suddenly, it all kind of clicked...Like, I can do this thing I really love, which is acting, and maybe one day, I’ll be able to parlay it into this bigger thing the way he did."
She also told TIME, "I feel like my experience being able to go to college and study all the things that I studied...absolutely has contributed to the rest of my life. It’s easy to laugh at that and say, 'What does that have to do with being an actor?' For me personally, though, it’s shaped the person that I am, and that’s something that I needed."
23. And finally, David Duchovny graduated with his bachelor's in English literature from Princeton in 1982.
At first, he dreamed of being a poet, but reading a classmate's work changed his mind. He told NPR, "Walter Kirn — who's a terrific novelist — he was a year younger than me. And he was an actual poet. And I think when I read Walter's stuff, I was like, 'You know what? I'm not a poet.' And that kinda woke me up."
And now, here are 10 celebs who dropped out of Ivy League schools:
24. David Duchovny was pursuing a Ph.D. in English literature from Yale when a quiet graduate seminar changed his mind.
He told Yale Alumni Magazine, "Nobody spoke up, except for [one] terrific student. I didn’t understand the question, and I didn’t understand her answer, and I thought: Perhaps I’m not in the right seat here."
After commuting between Yale and his NYC acting classes for a while, he dropped out to focus on acting full-time. He got his big break when he landed the role of Fox Mulder on The X-Files.
25. Like his older sister Maggie, Jake Gyllenhaal got into Columbia.
"I dropped out of Columbia University in 2000 after two years of studying Eastern religions and philosophy to concentrate on acting," he told the Mirror.
He continued, "But I have always wanted to finish my degree."
26. Matt Damon dreamed of attending Columbia, but a Harvard acceptance letter changed his mind. He studied English.
When he first arrived on campus, he told his roommate that he was lucky to be rooming with him since he'd be leaving before the end of the school year to shoot a movie, therefore giving his roommate the luxury of a single dorm.
He continued acting as a student and also began writing screenplays. After landing the lead role in Geronimo: An American Legend, he dropped out.
27. Joseph Gordon-Levitt enrolled in Columbia because he felt like "a spark was missing" and he "wanted a new challenge." His favorite classes were French poetry, history, and literature.
He told the New York Times, "I realized it doesn’t matter what classes you’re taking. It only matters who the teachers are."
He initially paused his successful television career to go to school. However, after two years, he dropped out to pursue a film career.
28. When Claire Danes enrolled in Yale, she "was prepared to be outrageously behind the other students."
She switched from a psychology major to fine arts, but after two years, she dropped out.
She said, "I’m sure I missed something, but I learned how to think critically and read and write. I felt basically fulfilled."
29. As a Harvard undergrad, Mark Zuckerberg had a reputation as a talented software developer, which prompted classmates Divya Narendra, Cameron Winklevoss, and Tyler Winklevoss to ask for his help building a dating site called HarvardConnection.
Eventually, he stopped working with them in order to work on his own website — Facebook. He ran it out of his dorm room with friends Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes.
In 2004, he dropped out to focus on the company full-time. Of course, Facebook's user base, value, and influence grew.
However, the HarvardConnection creators alleged that he stole their idea and sued him. They won a $65 million settlement.
30. Bill Gates is another notable member of the Harvard dropout-turned-billionaire club.
He enrolled as a pre-law major, but he focused on math classes and graduate-level computer science classes. In his dorm, he developed software for MITS, the company that made the world's first PC.
In 1975, he took a leave of absence from Harvard to work on his own software — Microsoft. In 1977, he took a second leave of absence to set his company up in Albuquerque. Within a year, Microsoft made $1 million. He never returned from his second leave of absence.
31. Paul Newman enrolled in the Yale School of Drama's MFA program in 1951.
For his first university role, he was cast in Saint Joan. His character was supposed to cry, which he initially struggled with. He told Alumni Spotlight, "When my fellow cast members started making fun of me, I began to sob. I was filled with frustration. When the waterworks came, I couldn't turn them off. … After that, I concentrated more on studying to become an actor, thinking that it might be my true calling."
He dropped out after only a year in the program, but he returned to campus in 1969 for the premiere of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid — which he starred in.
She told AOL Television, "I did a year [of college] right after high school, because I was curious to see if there was anything else that made me as passionate...and all it really did was clarify that I was exactly where I wanted to be [acting]."
However, she added, "At some point, I do intend to go back and finish."