Famous People & The Schools They Went To

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October 16th, 2008 in Fun Stuff

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Very often, famous people do not continue their education after high school. There is no doubt that in our culture, the prospect of wealth and celebrity status almost always wins-out over the virtue of education. Below, we’ve put together a list of famous people who actually attended college at one point or another (despite many not finishing).

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs graduated from high school in 1972 and while he started going to college at Reed College in Portland, Oregon he quickly dropped out after a single semester. Despite leaving, he occasionally audited classes at Reed College, most notably his well-known course in calligraphy. According to Jobs, “If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.”

Bill Gates

Bill Gates was accepted to Harvard University, one of the best business schools, after scoring a 1590 on the SAT exam. He attended Harvard from 1973 until he dropped out in 1975. It was at Harvard that he met a future Microsoft partner in Steve Ballmer. Gates was given an honorary degree from Harvard in 1997, but that doesn’t really count, now does it;-)

Howard Stern

Unlike the two geniuses above, Howard Stern actually completed his college education at Boston University earning a degree in communications.

Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett actually never planned to go to college; out of high school, he was already earning a solid salary delivering newspapers. However, Buffett’s father pressed the issue and convinced Buffett to attend Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. Buffett was not satisifed with the quality of education at Wharton and transferred to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln he graduated in only three years, despite working full time.

After undergrad, Buffett applied to Harvard Business School but his application was denied (they claimed he was too young!) Instead, Buffett settled on Columbia University for his grad studies where he met his influential mentors Ben Graham and David Dodd.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama attended Occidental College for two years before transferring to Columbia University where he majored in Political Science. He graduated in 1983 and proceeded to work in the private sector for five years, including three years working as a community organizer in Chicago. In 1988 he started graduate work at Harvard Law School where he became the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. Obama graduated with his J.D. from Harvard in 1991.

John McCain

John McCain attended the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis where he received a Bachelors of Science degree in marine engineering. He also did graduate work at the National War College from 1973-1974.

Joe Biden

Joe Biden studied at the University of Delaware in Newark where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree. While at the University of Delaware, Biden majored in both history and political science. Biden went to law school at the Syracuse University College of Law and proceeded to receive his J.D. in 1968.

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin began her college experience at Hawaii Pacific College but after one semester she transferred to North Idaho community college where she was a general studies major. After two semesters, she transferred to the University of Idaho. After two semesters at U of I, she again transferred, this time going to Matanuska-Susitna community college in Alaska. After one semester, she transferred back to the University of Idaho where she spent her final three semesters working towards her Bachelor of Science degree in communications-journalism.

Jay Leno

Jay Leno received his bachelor’s degree from Emerson College where he majored in speech therapy. Interestingly, Leno’s high school guidance counselor recommended at one point that he drop out of high school, no less stay away from college. Rumor has it that this event motivated Leno to not only graduate from high school but to go on and get his college degree.

David Letterman

As everyone who watches Letterman knows, his Alma Mater is Ball State University. This fact is part of a recurring joke on the Late Show. Letterman had originally wanted to go to Indiana University but his poor performance in high school prevented him from doing so. While at Ball State, Letterman graduated with his bachelor’s degree in broadcasting.

Julia Roberts

Julia Roberts attended Georgia State University where she studied to be a veterinarian. However, after graduating she was inspired by her brother to move to New York City and pursue a career in acting. In New York, Julia Roberts took acting classes and by the age of 22 was starring in a major motion picture.

Sandra Bullock

Sandra Bullock attended East Carolina University where she majored in drama. However, like many famous actors and actresses, Bullock did not complete her education, instead opting for an early career in acting.

Reese Witherspoon

Despite her thoughtful demeanor, Reese Witherspoon does not have a college degree. She attended Stanford University and majored in English Literature but did not finish her college education (she dropped out after one year to pursue a career in acting). Because of her performance in the movie Legally Blonde, many people mistakenly think that Witherspoon graduated from the prestigious Ivy League school Harvard.


Madonna studied at the University of Michigan for a degree in Modern dance. However, she was persuaded to leave college early to pursue a career in dance. She proceeded to work the New York City dance clubs and eventually got noticed as part of that scene.

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey attended Tennessee State University on a full scholarship in the early 1970s. While in school, her focus was communication and she graduated with a degree in speech and drama.

Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt studied at the University of Missouri where he majored in journalism and advertising. He left the University of Missouri only two credits short of graduating to pursue a career in modeling and acting.

Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg began film school at USC’s School of Theater but because of poor grades had to drop out. He then attended California State University at Long Beach where he majored in Film and Electronic Arts but did not initially finish his degree due to a successful internship at Universal Studios which led to a long-term contract. More than 30 years after beginning his college education, Spielberg earned his degree from CSU Long Beach.

Ben Stiller

Ben Stiller studied film at UCLA but only lasted one and a half semesters before dropping out in favor of pursuing an acting career in New York City. While at UCLA, Stiller was a popular entertainer at parties thrown by his fraternity Beta Theta Pi.

Adam Sandler

Adam Sandler went to New York University where he majored in Fine Arts; a common degree for those who want to pursue a career in acting. While at NYU, Sandler was well aware of his comedic genius and was a regular atseveral of New York’s many comedy clubs. Sandler graduated from NYU in 1991 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.

Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks majored in Theater at the Chabot College and California State University in Sacramento. His true passion was acting, and when he was offered a prestigious internship at the Great Lakes Theater Festival, he took the opportunity. However, the demanding nature of the internship required that he drop out of college and Hanks never received his degree.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump attended the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Finance where he majored in Economics, one of the top ten most popular degrees currently.. Since he had not yet achieved fame, Trump finished his education and graduated, receiving his degree in 1968.

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods went to the prestigious Stanford University where he majored in Economics. He left college after two years to begin his career in pro golf, despite his father’s earlier commitment to see his son get his degree from Stanford.

Shaquille O’Neal

Shaquille O’Neal attended Louisiana State University where he was a dominant college basketball player. Apparently Shaq could not decide on a specific major and instead earned his degree in General Studies which he received in 2000.

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan went to the University of North Carolina where he majored in Geography. While Jordan left UNC early to enter the NBA, he eventually returned in to finish his education and receive his degree.

George Clooney

George Clooney went to both Northern Kentucky University and The University of Cincinnati where he majored in Broadcasting. There are unconfirmed rumors (started by Clooney himself) that Clooney was thrown out of school for drinking too much and doing drugs.

Matt Damon

Matt Damon went to Harvard University where he majored in English. While at Harvard, Damon pursued a relatively successful acting career (with roles in major Hollywood films) and eventually dropped out without completing his education.

Sean (Diddy) Combs

Sean Combs attended Howard University in Washington, DC where he majored in business. While at Howard, he became an intern at Uptown Records and eventually dropped out of Howard University in favor of a full time high-level position with the record label. Combs did not complete his education and still has not received his degree.

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  • 1

    Sherry States

    October 16th, 2008 at 11:06 am

    That was really interesting, thanks for this. It’s amazing that some of the most successful people out there never finished their degrees!

  • 2

    griff States

    October 16th, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    Most of these people are plonkers. Looks like it started at an early age if you check out the photos.

  • 3

    bbrian017 States

    October 17th, 2008 at 12:27 pm

    wow it’s amazing how your some of them look especially Donald trump I can’t believe he had the same hair cut then as he does now LMAO!

  • 4

    Jennifer States

    October 18th, 2008 at 12:43 am

    WOW!!! Some useful information!!! THANKS!!! =D

  • 5

    Chemoot States

    October 18th, 2008 at 10:18 pm

    you forgot Conan O’Brien, who graduated from Harvard.

  • 6

    Kitty Milkins States

    October 20th, 2008 at 11:14 am

    WOW, you really believe that was Donald Trump in College. Hmmm, no. That was about 15 years ago and the photo was probably a Board of Directors Photo. he did not always have “The Combover”

    I was amazed at Sarah Palin’s esteemed Community College career. If I would have known back then in Jr College that I could possibly be president even if I didn’t try or apply myself, I would have really considered a political post. And here I thought to be president you had to be qualified with a degree in Law from Harvard or Yale like like McCai….oh never mind he went to the Naval Academy.
    (A degree in Marine engineering will help in being president, won’t it?)

    We do know that Barak Obama couldn’t be qualified with, whats his silly degree?
    Occidental College for two years before transferring to Columbia University where he majored in Political Science. He graduated in 1983 and proceeded to work in the private sector for five years, including three years working as a community organizer in Chicago. In 1988 he started graduate work at Harvard Law School where he became the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. Obama graduated with his J.D. from Harvard in 1991.
    Oh, is that all!

  • 7

    bulgarian solicitors States

    October 22nd, 2008 at 8:16 am

    So Howard Stern has a college degree but Tiger Woods does not. Makes ya think.

  • 8

    Luvely States

    October 22nd, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    So what if Howard Stern has a college degree and Tiger woods doesn’t.. it doesn’t mean that Tiger Woods is not capable of finishing his degree, he just opted to pursue what he loves, which turns out pretty damn good for him!

  • 9

    Li Enn/Kai Enn States

    October 26th, 2008 at 4:01 am

    palin is pretty. so is madonna.

  • 10

    Mark Harris States

    October 29th, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    Good stuff! Looks like if actors want to be successful, they should drop out of college. Try explaining that to Mom and Dad.

  • 11

    eranda States

    November 1st, 2008 at 11:48 pm

    For few seconds I was mistaken that p.diddy attended Harvard. I was shocked :-)

  • 12

    Alex Kelly States

    November 3rd, 2008 at 2:43 am

    Brad Pitt left school with only two credits to go? What an idiot to spend all that time, money and effort to piss it all away so close to the end!

  • 13

    karen z States

    May 11th, 2009 at 8:29 am

    Formal education is and will always be an asset to anyone who is willing to learn. HOWEVER it is a minsnomer that it is required in life to succeed. Moms and Dads these days seem to parrot to their children that if you don’t have an education you’ll never make it in this world. How false and unfair to the person who has more insight about themselves to refuse college for other creative endevours. Perhaps for the majority it gives an edge, but for many, college is just not the mode of learning that fits that individual the best. I graduated from UC Berkeley, one son will soon graduate from USC, another has a high school degree and trains college graduates with business degrees to perform the high paying job he got started at age eighteen. Open your eyes and your minds, people! College is often wonderful and yet it is not necessary as you can see by the list above.

  • 14

    mike States

    September 5th, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    weird al has a degree in architecture

  • 15

    reality States

    January 20th, 2010 at 12:27 am

    I am always amazed at the people that will try to say that a degree doesn’t help a person to succeed. These people are the exception not the rule. Get a degree= live better than most that don’t.
    Same old scenario…..early sacrifice = long term success

  • 16

    vogue States

    January 27th, 2010 at 8:10 am

    hi sarah palin i love you !!!!!!!!!! xxxxxxxxx from vogue o’meara

  • 17

    Timothy A. Satrom States

    February 2nd, 2010 at 3:15 am

    I concur that it is intriguing to find out that so many influential people did not or have yet to finish a college education. Thanks for this list. It was rather informative and entertaining. -TAS

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