Lots of our favorite stars were once regular folks with dreams of making it big. Perhaps that's why they once opted to say goodbye to school to follow a path towards Hollywood. Find out which celebs once doubled as dropouts.
Before he was a hopeless romantic on our screens, Ben Affleck was exactly that in reality. Back in the day, the actor studied at the University of Vermont - all because of an "unrequited love," as he confessed to Paper Magazine.
"Two weeks after I got there, I called her room," Ben revealed of joining his then-girlfriend in Vermont. Safe to say, he didn't stay long. "Some guy answered the telephone... 'He's helping me study,' she said. Sure." But while his schooling may not have, um, gone as planned, we'd say he's done just fine for himself since then.
Before the meat dresses, multi-million dollar deals, and making it big in Hollywood, Lady Gaga's reality looked very different: She was Stefani Joanna Angelina Germanotta, an aspiring student at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. But after only one year, she decided to say goodbye to her time in the Big Apple.
"I loved NYU, but I thought I could teach myself about art better than the school could," Gaga told Elle Magazine. "I really felt NY was my teacher... that I needed to bite the bullet and do it alone." And with an alleged $320 million net-worth to show for herself today - as Celebrity Net Worth put it - we'd say she was right.
The son of director Stephen Gyllenhaal and screenwriter Naomi Foner, Jake was born into show-business. But believe it or not, his father actually wanted him to stay in school. Sure enough, after being cast for a starring role in October Sky, the aspiring star finally enrolled in college - at an Ivy League, no less.
Though it didn't last long. "I dropped out of Columbia University in 2000 after two years of studying Eastern religions and philosophy to concentrate on acting," Gyllenhaal explained. "But I have always wanted to finish my degree." From his time at Ivy Leagues to his award-winning roles, is there anything he can't do?
Unlike our other dropouts, Brad Pitt came very close to finishing his degree in Journalism at the University of Missouri; Two weeks shy, to be exact. How did he see it? "It just came to the time of graduation, and everyone - all my friends were committing to jobs - and I just realized I was not ready for that yet," Pitt revealed.
"I just felt I was done; I was done with it. I knew where I wanted to go. I had a direction," Pitt explained. So, "I packed up my car... and I moved out to L.A." Safe to say, with his current estimated $300 million net worth - as Celebrity New Worth put it - we'd say his path certainly led him towards greatness.
If, by some chance, his album College Dropout didn't already do all of the talking, allow us to help out here. Ye once studied at both the American Academy of Art and Chicago State University before dropping out to pursue music. But in 2015, he actually went on to earn a doctorate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
During a speech, West admitted how beneficial his degree has been for his career. "When I went out on that mission to create other space - apparel, film, performance - it would've been easier if I could have said I had a degree at the Art Institute of Chicago," the rapper explained.
Sure, he might be a music mastermind. But back in the day, the Berklee College of Music student's grades said otherwise. "They were pronounced like 'd-d-d-f-f-f-f-f' - like static," Mayer joked of his failing grades. "So I had to kind of totally burn that bridge because I didn't know what I was doing."
After dropping out and moving to Atlanta, the aspiring star began writing music. At first, he sang solo since he struggled to find a band. But two years after leaving school, Mayer began recording his breakthrough debut album, Room for Squares. And well, the rest is now history.
Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter
Before becoming a billionaire - "one of only a handful of entertainers to [become one] - and the first hip-hop artist to do so," as Forbes put it - Carter's status was very different. He was a high school dropout, after saying goodbye to his time at George Westinghouse Career & Technical Education High School in Brooklyn.
But while he may have once felt otherwise, he now values the concept of school. "Education is super important," Jay-Z assured in a 2019 press conference. "I don't have a high school diploma or a college diploma, but still, for me to articulate, I had to have some form of schooling to articulate my thoughts."
When we were first introduced to Harry Styles on the X-Factor stage, the 16-year-old was studying at the Wilmslow High School in Cheshire, U.K. Of course, once One Direction made it big, everything changed. From touring the world to recording new music, the star decided to drop out to focus on his career.
With two solo albums, three Grammy nominations, a Vogue cover, and two starring movie roles, we'd say he has no regrets. And he has an estimated $80 million net worth to show for himself, as Celebrity Net Worth revealed. That's right, despite One Direction's split back in 2015, Harry Styles has gone nowhere but up.
At just 16-years-old, the Barbados beauty dropped out of high school, saying goodbye to her time behind a desk. Instead, she welcomed a record deal with Def Jam Records. And after dropping her debut single Pon de Replay shortly after, her life has never been the same.
From a whopping 33 Grammy nominations to her very own Fenty empire, RiRi is officially unstoppable. Perhaps that's why Harvard University awarded her their Humanitarian of the Year award back in 2017. And we've got a feeling she's not slowing down anytime soon.
Back in the day, Seth Rogen was determined to balance both his grades and a comedy career. Safe to say, fate had other plans. "I dropped out of high school and went and worked on a TV show," he revealed after realizing school was occupying too much of his time. "We were writing a script all throughout high school."
But "it's not like I dropped out... and did nothing," Rogen joked. How did he see it? "If you have a career in mind that isn't academically oriented, then high school is probably not going to lead you to what you want to be." From Superbad to Knocked Up, we'd say he achieved exactly what he wanted to be - and then some.
Before just about everyone knew his name, the former Vine star spent his days studying at a high school in Cleveland. Eventually, the YouTuber decided to drop out, cutting his junior year short. Instead, he made the big move towards Hollywood, which led to his breakout role on Disney's Bizaardvark.
Since then, he's continued to make a name for himself, one click at a time. "I want to be the Dr. Dre of social media," he explained. "This is what I truly love, so that's why I moved to Los Angeles." Sure enough, his online endeavors have earned him an estimated $17 million net worth - according to Celebrity Net Worth.
Long before he was 25 sitting on 25 mil, Drizzy's reality wasn't always smooth sailing. "I actually dropped out of high school... I don't know if a lot of people know that," he confessed of leaving school at 15 to star in Degrassi: The Next Generation. "I never really got like a great school experience."
But fast forward a decade, and a whole lot has changed. And we're not just talking about his reign in Hollywood. "As of tonight, I graduated high school," the rapper gushed back in 2012 of getting his GED. "97% on my final exam. 88% in the course. One of the greatest feelings in my entire life."
That '70s Show star originally had scholarly ambitions… until he was discovered by a talent scout not long after. He soon dropped out of the University of Iowa to pursue a career in modeling and eventually acting and went on to encourage students of UoI to pursue their dreams in his 2020 guest commencement speech.
"The only thing that provided me with an opportunity to be where I am today was a willingness to throw out the master plan," Kutcher said in his speech. "I didn't throw out the hard work. I didn't throw out the morals. I didn't throw my goals. I didn't throw my ambition... I just threw out the master plan."
Kutcher’s wife, on the other hand, didn’t take her college education seriously until after she had made it in Hollywood. She originally started acting at 15, after dropping out to focus on her role in That '70s Show. When the show finally ended, she enrolled in UCLA before transferring to Loyola Marymount.
"I was actually a pretty good student. My problem was that I didn't know what I wanted to study," Kunis said. "Then I realized and spoke to my parents, and I said, 'I do love what I do [acting], and I want to pursue it.' They were like, 'Oh why don't you just drop out.'"
Alicia Keys wasn’t an unruly teen who failed all of her classes. In reality, she was one of the best in her class. "I was sixteen when I graduated as valedictorian. I went to a performing arts high school," she said. She was such a brilliant student that she even gained a scholarship to attend Columbia University.
So it was no doubt a shock when she changed her mind. But in her own words, she chose "the record business over college," and we can’t fault her decision! These days Alicia Keys is a household name, and the superstar has 15 Grammy’s under her belt. She probably isn’t missing that college degree too much.
Ben Stiller enrolled in film school at UCLA in 1983, eager to make a name for himself in the business without relying on his famous parents, comedians Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara. But unfortunately, just 9 months later he dropped out of the prestigious program.
Instead, he chose to branch out into making his own content, including the self-titled The Ben Stiller Show that aired on MTV. Within a few years, he was established as one of the most famous and beloved comic actors in the world - all without a college degree!
Originally hailing from Canada, superstar heartthrob Ryan Gosling attended Lester B. Pearson High School before dropping out before graduation at 17. Four years earlier he had starred in The All-New Mickey Mouse Club for Disney, and he decided to try and branch out rather than seek higher education.
And he’s only one of many stars who broke out with the Mickey Mouse Club, as his predecessors Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake did the same. It may be the recipe for success, as Gosling also went on to meteoric fame, starring in smash hit films and garnering a net worth of $70 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth.
"I struggled through school. I never felt smart," the Hunger Games actress claimed in an interview with 60 Minutes. Acting was "something that she could be confident in." And the much-needed confidence boost drove young Jennifer Lawrence to drop out of high school at only 14-years old.
Many parents would question their child’s decision, but Lawrence’s parents allowed her to seek out an acting career. She never returned to formal education, declaring herself “self-educated.” And what an education it must have been, as she went on to garner a $160 million net worth according to Celebrity Net Worth.
Robert Downey Jr.
Here we have another actor who grew up around the film industry, as Robert Downey Jr’s father was a well-established filmmaker when he was born. So it’s no surprise that when Downey Jr moved to LA with his dear old dad, he soon stopped showing up to classes at Santa Monica High School.
He had no choice, really. At age 16 his father told him "either show up [to school] every day or quit and get a job." And Robert wasn’t one for a traditional career, so he decided to give acting a go. After moving to New York and starring in Firstborn with fellow newcomer Sarah Jessica Parker, his career took off.
"I'm glad I dropped out of high school," is how 30 Rock star Tracy Morgan answered questions about his early life. "I wouldn't be where I'm at. I would have had a net.” High school just wasn’t a priority. And when he got his first acting job on the show, Martin, it was clear that it didn’t have to be.
Over the years he began adding more impressive roles to his resume, with the best-known being 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live. And it’s because of success like this that Morgan doesn’t dwell on his teenage decision. "I'm glad I didn't have anything to fall back on, man, because that made me go for my dreams that much harder."
Hustling was a lifestyle for Chris Rock, who chose to drop out of high school and get his GED instead and begin a string of part-time jobs to make money in the meantime. But, though he dropped out, he did choose to go to community college for a period, building on his knowledge while he pursued a career in comedy.
After one appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show, his career as a stand-up comedian blew up overnight, ending his run of juggling open mic nights and unfulfilling jobs. He then went on to star on Saturday Night Live before heading The Chris Rock Show.
When you’re the lead actor in one of the most popular film franchises in the world, it’s no surprise that getting through high school might be a struggle. Daniel Radcliffe officially became Harry Potter at the tender age of 10 and was always studying with tutors on set. As a result, he never officially graduated high school.
In Radcliffe’s eyes, it made sense not to pursue education. "I figured university is something you do to find out what you want to do,’” he said. “And I knew what I wanted to do, and I was already doing it." He believed that nontraditional schooling helped his career. "I think... I wouldn't have half the confidence that I have."
Rather than focus on schooling, Marshall Bruce Mathers III jumped straight into the Detroit hip hop scene at a young age, after failing to finish his freshman year on three occasions. He dropped out of school and soon began making a name for himself in music.
He shouldn’t feel too bad, as he quickly went on to see massive success, even becoming a Rap God to fans all over the globe. Refashioning himself as ‘Slim Shady’ before becoming Eminem, it’s clear that dropping out of school proved to help rocket his career into stardom and success.
This permanent A-lister started his career off at a young age too, making a name for himself at age 15 with his role in What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Originally the young upstart aimed to finish high school and go onto college. But like many other young stars, fate had other plans in store for him.
Over time DiCaprio managed to get his GED, but he left thoughts of college in the past reportedly saying, "life is my college." We don’t doubt he learned a lot after 30 years in the business, and there’s no doubt that the Oscar winner chose the right career path.
Marky Mark knew he was destined for fame even in 9th grade, when he chose to drop out of high school to enter the music industry, with his hip-hop group Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. He then moved on to acting, earning his first role in the early 90s on Out All Night.
He soon became as successful as he always thought he would. The actor went on to become world-famous and has even made his name as an entrepreneur. But he still had regrets about dropping out. "It's been both humbling and challenging, but I'm happy to report that I am officially a high school graduate," he declared at 42.
Supermodel Kate Moss was discovered as a teenager by Storm Model Management and was soon expected to jet-set around the globe as part of her newfound career. Naturally, the 14-year old decided to drop out of high school with her parents' approval, excited to start her life.
Traveling had been a big part of her eagerness, and she didn’t give much thought to leaving school behind. "I hadn't even thought about what I wanted to do when I left school because I was only 14 when I started modeling," she admitted. She shouldn’t feel too bad, as becoming a fashion icon in her 20s is no small feat!
You wouldn’t know it from looking at him today, but Jim Carrey grew up in a very poor family based in Ontario, Canada. Even while attending school he and his siblings worked part-time to make some money for the family. When his mother fell seriously ill, it just made sense to drop out.
The family moved to Toronto to find more opportunities. "We lived in a van for a while, and we worked all together as security guards and janitors," he said. Jim soon became drawn to stand-up comedy and joined the circuit of clubs and open mic nights. Soon enough, he found fame as an iconic comedy actor.
Before making a name for himself as a golfer, Tiger Woods had every intention of getting a college education at Stanford University while golfing on the side. But after some issues with the NCAA division, he found himself struggling to do both. With some fatherly motivation, he dropped out.
His dad declared, "This is the perfect opportunity for Tiger to say, 'Kiss my yin, yang' and leave school." After two years at Stanford, he left to focus on golf and found resounding success in his chosen career. Despite that, Tiger still regrets not graduating. "I wish I would have gone one more year at Stanford," he said.
Matt Damon is one of the fortunate few on this list who managed to graduate from high school successfully, and he even nabbed a place at Harvard University. And it was during a playwriting class there that he began writing his award-winning screenplay for Good Will Hunting.
Damon took his education seriously, but he was equally devoted to his acting ambitions. After skipping class and losing credits to focus on auditions, he knew he had to drop out. And maybe it was the right choice, as he got a role in the successful 1998 film Mystic Pizza not long after.
Oprah Winfrey is one of the most famous and influential people in the world! So you wouldn’t expect to learn that she dropped out of her second year at Tennessee State University. However, she excelled in high school as a member of the speech team and an employee at her local radio station.
But she was too good at her job - before she could graduate from college, she received a job offer as a TV news co-anchor. The job was too good to give up, and she couldn’t juggle full-time work and study. Fortunately, with the encouragement of her father, she went back to the university in 1987 to get her degree.