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Where Celebrities Went to School

  • Celebrities aren't exactly famous for their brilliance (see: Jessica Simpson, anyone on The Hills, LiLo), but Hollywood is actually home to some real smarties. Read on to find out which celebs hit the books at top universities in pursuit of a higher education -- and which fared well despite not even finishing high school.

    Julia Stiles

    Stiles stayed in her New York City hometown to earn at BA in English at the prestigious Columbia University (she also recently picked up the college's John Jay award for achievement). Many of her roles have had a cerebral slant, too: she's played Shakespearean heroines Viola in a Twelfth Night off-Broadway play, Ophelia in a movie version of Hamlet, and Desdemona in O.

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  • Anne Hathaway

    Hathaway's The Princess Diaries alter ego Mia went to Ivy-League Princeton, but the actress herself got some serious studying in at Vassar College as an English major and Women's Studies minor before transferring to NYU. Hathaway hasn't completed her degree, but said in an iVillage interview that college is an important time: "You're learning how to take care of yourself without parental influence, and you're exposed to so many great minds. I feel like I didn't even know how to think until I got to college."

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  • Natalie Portman

    She might have played an intergalactic queen in Star Wars and shaved her head for V for Vendetta, but for a time Portman was just a coed earning her bachelor's degree in psychology at Harvard. In fact, Portman once told The New York Times: "I'd rather be smart than a movie star." (Lucky -- she got both!) When Portman returned to her alma mater to give a speech on microfinance at the Business School, she said, of her time in college: "Harvard prepared me in a great way for having my eyes opened, for asking questions."

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  • Conan O'Brien

    Turns out there's more to our favorite late night host (and cute celeb dad of two) than the hair and the humor: O'Brien has a degree from Harvard in history and literature, and was recently profiled in the Harvard Crimson. His career as a comedic talk show host was foreshadowed by his two-term stint as the president of the Harvard Lampoon humor magazine.

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  • Alec Baldwin

    Baldwin's 30 Rock character Jack Donaghy went to Princeton and Harvard, and the Emmy-winning actor himself also completed higher education. Baldwin, who has a daughter, graduated from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts (he was the university's commencement speaker for 2010), but he began at The George Washington University in D.C. for two years as a political science major.

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  • Angela Bassett

    The Oscar-nominated Bassett -- for her performance as Tina Turner -- did both her undergrad and grad studies at Ivy League Yale. The actress and mom to twins earned her undergraduate degree in African studies at Yale, and completed three years of graduate studies as its famed drama school.

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  • David Duchovny

    Before he was Agent Mulder, Duchovny was playing sports and studying English literature at Princeton as an undergrad. He also earned a graduate degree from Yale in English literature (and started a PhD there as well), and it looks like that's where Duchovny, a dad of two, caught the acting bug: "I was interested in writing for screen and television but I wanted to know what it was like to speak the words," he said in a talk at Yale. "So I started hanging around the Drama School like a stray dog and sat in on classes." He went on to take acting classes in New York City, and then moved to L.A. to begin his acting career.

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  • Jane Fonda

    The two-time Academy-Award winning actress and mom isn't just a Hollywood legend. There's an urban myth at her alma mater, the prestigious Vassar College, that Fonda, upon arriving to tea time and being told that she couldn't enter without the requisite pearls and gloves, left and returned, wearing only pearls and gloves. Vassar's website states this isn't true, but isn't it a great story?

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  • Jodie Foster

    Foster, a double Oscar-winning actress and mom to two boys, is known for taking on serious roles. She also took a serious attitude towards her education, earning a bachelor's degree in literature from Yale. It looks like the actress still drops by her alma mater: She returned last year to give a talk to the university's Film Studies program.

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  • Hugh Grant

    Hugh Grant went to Oxford? Yep, the suave Brit -- who's probably best-known for his performances in silly rom-coms -- hit the books at Oxford's New College on a scholarship studying English literature, and also joined the university's Dramatic Society. On a recent jaunt back to Oxford, though, the UK's Daily Mail published photos of the actor surrounded by young coeds and hitting a nightclub (there's the Hugh Grant we know!).

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  • Tommy Lee Jones

    Before Jones' acting career took off, he was a varsity football-playing, English-studying undergrad at Harvard -- the actor and dad of two also roomed with Al Gore in his upperclass years. Ironically, Jones made his film debut in Love Story, appropriately playing a Harvard student -- although The New York Times obituary of Erich Segal, who wrote Love Story, reported that the author said he based the male lead Oliver on Jones himself.

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  • Brooke Shields

    Shields' acting career was already in its heyday, thanks to her Blue Lagoon role, once she came to Princeton to study French Literature. The actress and mom of two graduated in 1987, much to the relief of fellow students who, as reported in The New York Times, tired after being questioned about knowing Shields personally and wore buttons at graduation saying: ''Yes, I went to Princeton. No, I never met her.''

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  • Meryl Streep

    In addition to being an accomplished actress -- Streep has won two Oscars (one performance for which she learned to speak German and Polish), and been nominated 16 times -- the actress received a top-notch education. Streep studied at Vassar for her undergraduate degree in drama, and continued on to complete graduate studies at the Yale School of Drama. She passed along more than acting genes to her four children, too: one of her daughters attended Vassar as well.

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  • Barack & Michelle Obama

    Our country's First couple has a first-rate education under their belts. President Obama attended Columbia and Harvard, where he was the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review (perhaps foretelling his future career as the first African-American president?). First Lady Michelle Obama is also Princeton and Harvard Law-educated. This bodes well for the educational future of their two daughters, Sasha and Malia.

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  • Emma Thompson

    It's no surprise that the Oscar-winning actress, screenwriter and working mom of two was driven in her studies. Thompson studied English literature at Cambridge, where she also honed her acting chops as a member of the university's comedic theatrical club the Footlights (also a member and brainy celeb: Hugh Laurie).

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  • Emma Watson

    Watson not only plays brainy Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies -- higher education is also important to the British actress herself, who is currently enrolled at Brown University. "If I'm honest, I was [Hermione]," said Watson in a Vanity Fair interview. "I was very keen. I was super-eager to please and be good. And I was always kind of bossy." Watson is also taking acting classes at Brown, on which she surprisingly said: "I think actually I'm the worst person in the class."

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  • Anderson Cooper

    The tenacious CNN reporter started out as a political science major at Yale, and interned with the CIA for two summers. Even though Cooper had Yale on his resume, he had to start from scratch on his journalism career by allegedly forging a press pass and selling his reports to news outlets.

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  • Maggie Gyllenhaal

    Gyllenhaal's acting career didn't fully take off until after she'd graduated from Columbia University with a BA in English. But Hollywood still offered connections in college: the Donnie Darko actress and mom of one took a class with Uma Thurman's father, who was a religion professor.

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  • James Franco

    Franco is perhaps the best-educated in this group -- or at least, the most frequently educated. New York magazine reported that the actor, who rose to fame in his Spider Man role, received a bachelor's degree from UCLA and is now enrolled in Columbia University's writing program, NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and was accepted to Yale for a PhD program -- where he also hopes to be a teaching assistant. The serial student said to People, on why he's actively pursuing multiple degrees: "I love school [...] I go to school because I love being around people who are interested in what I'm interested in and I'm having a great experience." We say: more power to him!

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  • The Surprise High-School Dropouts

    We know that acting often trumps a college degree for many celebs, but we were surprised to find out these successful celebs don't even have a high school diploma!

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  • The Would-Be College Grads

    These celebs got a good start on their higher education, but fell short of getting their degrees:

    • Kate Beckinsale: dropped out of Oxford
    • Matt Damon: dropped out of Harvard (but we still have a soft spot for this hot celeb dad!)
    • Bill Gates: dropped out of Harvard
    • Jake Gyllenhaal: dropped out of Columbia (hopefully he'll follow his sister -- and Columbia grad -- Maggie's footsteps to a college diploma)

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