13 Celebrities Who Were College Nerds


Here are thirteen famous celebrities in film, TV, and music who aren’t just artistically talented. (but were college nerds too with amazing academic achievements)

You’ll read about actors who graduated at prestigious universities known for their strict and high-level admittance standards, celebrities who took one to three degrees at different colleges, those who joined academic organizations, and those who exhibited more artistic talents aside from graduating with several college degrees!

They’re geniuses in their own right and were once huge college nerds.

13 Celebrity College Nerds

Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman

image source: starschanges.com

You’ve seen her as Padme Amidala in the Star Wars prequels, as Dr. Jane Foster in Thor, and also as Nina Sayers in the Black Swan, which earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress.

But you probably don’t know that Natalie Portman was born in Israel, with the name “Neta-Lee Hershlag”. You might have heard, though, that this beautiful and talented woman is also a huge nerd.

When she was a teenager, she studied dance (ballet and modern) at the American Theater Dance Workshop, and at the Usdan Center for the Creative and Performing Arts in Long Island.

During the premiere of the Star Wars I, Portman chose to dedicate her time studying for her high school exams instead.

She studied at Harvard University, where she earned a AB degree in psychology in 2003 (she used “Natalie Hershlag” to attend the school). She also studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where she took graduate classes.

Portman also lectured at Columbia University on a course about counterterrorism. Aside from being able to speak half a dozen languages, she has been able to publish her works in academic journals.

You will see Portman in an upcoming November 2016 film, “Planetarium”, about sisters believed to be in possession of supernatural powers.

Conan O’Brien


image courtesy thewrap.com

You stayed up late to watch him in Late Night with Conan O’Brien (1993), The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien (2009), and finally in Conan (2010). But did you know that this talented host and comedian graduated from Harvard University with a Latin honor?

O’Brien was born in Massachusetts and grew up surrounded by his Irish Catholic family. When he was just in high school, he became the managing editor of their school paper, The Sagamore, at Brookline High School.

He was the school’s valedictorian, and soon he was on his way to Harvard University, where he studied history and literature. He was also a writer for the Harvard Lampoon, and when he graduated in 1985, he got a magna cum laude award.

O’Brien had a lot of talent that went beyond hosting and into other artistic fields. He once worked as a writer for the show The Simpsons, and Saturday Night Live. He also hosted several national events like the Emmy Awards in 2002, 2003 (co-hosted) and again in 2006.

Conan also won the Favorite TV Talk Show Host at the People’s Choice Awards 2011, Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media – Enhancement to a Television Program or Series at the Emmy Awards 2012, among other awards.

David Duchovny


image courtesy screenrant.com

Duchovny is a lot of things: actor, producer, novelist, and singer-songwriter. But he is most known for his role as Agent Fox Mulder of the famous TV serial, “X-Files”.

He was born in New York, then studied at the Grace Church School, then The Collegiate School for Boys.

He pursued higher education at Princeton University, where he earned a degree in English Literature. While there, he penned a poem that garnered him an honorable mention from the Academy of American Poets.

He went on to study at Yale University to get a master’s degree in English Literature. He wanted to pursue a doctorate program, but was unable to do so when he got a gig for a beer commercial. After a year, he started appearing in some films and TV shows.

Although X-Files had been very successful, Duchovny quit in 2001, after there was a dispute over contracts at the end of season 7.

He went on to direct some films, and appeared in talk shows and celebrity edition games. He also wrote two books in 2015 and 2016.

Duchovny is now back as Agent Mulder for the continuation of the X-Files released on the FOX channel earlier this year.

Emma Watson


image from indianexpress.com

Watson was launched to the international spotlight when she played witty, voice-of-reason young witch Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films. Since then, she had appeared in many more films both in Europe and the USA.

But aside from her acting chops, Watson proved to the world that she might actually be Hermione incarnate when she finished her studies at Brown University, an Ivy League school, where she majored in English Literature. At the same time, Watson also studied at Oxford University while doing her films.

She said that she wanted to go to Brown because, as a student, she was in charge of her own education, being able to design her curriculum, and choose the courses she wanted to attend and take.

Now, Watson is the United Nations Women Goodwill Ambassador, and runs a HeForShe Campaign, which deals with gender discrimination and feminism.

She starred in recent notable films The Perks of a Wallflower, Noah, and Colonia. She will also be on the silver screen live-action Disney adaptation of Beauty and the Beast as Belle.

According to a recent 2016 survey done by YouGov among teens aged 13 to 18, Emma Watson is the most popular personality among Britain’s teens, outranking even US President Barack Obama, singer Ed Sheeran, and actor Tom Hiddleston.

James Franco


image by celebritybeliefs.com

He’s been in countless movies and TV shows, like Freaks and Geeks, where he became a fan favorite. Franco is also an Academy Awardee for the film 127 Hours, which he starred in. But aside from his film roles, he had also been busy with his academic life.

He was born in California, and grew up surrounded by the academia. He interned at Lockheed Martin, and was constantly reminded by his father to maintain his high grades. Unfortunately, he became a delinquent (underage drinking, vandalizing public property, and stealing), and faced time at a rehabilitation center.

He cleaned up his act, and decided to study English at the University of California, Los Angeles. He’d always wanted to be an actor, but was afraid he wouldn’t be good enough. After one year at UCLA, though, he dropped out to pursue acting. His parents no longer supported him, so he worked at McDonald’s, while he took acting lessons.

In 1999, Franco landed his Freaks and Geeks role. It snowballed into more film roles. In 2006, he went back to UCLA to finish a college degree, this time in creative writing (graduating with a 3.5 GPA).

Not stopping there, he went to New York and studied filmmaking at New York University, fiction writing at Columbia University and Brooklyn College, poetry at Warren Wilson College and Yale University for a doctorate in comparative literature.

In 2010, when he was accepted into Yale, he also just finished his master’s act Columbia, and the following year, he finished his NYU degree. Talk about juggling multiple acts.

You’ll see James Franco in an upcoming 2016 film, “Why Him?” about a father meeting his daughter’s boyfriend for the first time.

Rashida Jones


image by fullhdpictures.com

She played Ann Perkins on Parks and Recreation, but Rashida Jones isn’t just an actor.

Jones was born to a mother who was an actor, and a father who produced music. As a young child, Jones had always been fond of reading, even under the bed with a flashlight when it was supposed to be bedtime. She started playing classical pieces on the piano at a young age.

She became part of the National Honor Society at The Buckley School (where other personalities like Alyssa Milano, Nicole Richie, and Natalie Cole also went). When her parents divorced, Jones went with her mother and moved to Brentwood.

She went to attend Harvard University, and joined multiple clubs. She studied comparative religion, while writing musical scores and leading a Capella group.

She also performed in some plays including “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf”, where she said she was able to heal from the racial discrimination she witnessed and experienced.

Currently, Jones is part of the writing team behind Toy Story 4, slated to show in 2017. She will also voice a character in Dreamworks’ upcoming “BOO: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations”, with Seth Rogen and Melissa McCarthy.

John Legend

John Legend

image courtesy billboard.com

Born “John Rogers Stephens” in Ohio, he had always been interested in music. He sang some parts of Kanye West’s songs (back when the latter was still a rising star), and spoken word poet J. Ivy commented that his voice reminded him of legends, and started calling him “John Legend”.

He was mostly home-schooled by his mother, but was able to attend and graduate from a high school. He received multiple scholarship offerings from Morehouse College, Harvard University, and Georgetown College, but he turned them down to enroll at the University of Pennsylvania, where he got a degree in English and African American Literature.

In UPenn, he became the director of the a cappella group “Counterparts”. They recorded a cover of “One of Us” by Joan Osborne. The song landed a spot in the 1998 Best of Collegiate a Cappella.

Legend has won more than ten awards from Grammy, Golden Globe, and the Academy. In 2007, he also received the Hal David Starlight Award.

His single, “All of Me” became so popular that it skyrocketed in the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks in a row. It topped major lists in the USA and the UK. It’s one of the best selling hits in 2013, with more than $12 million in sales.

Kate Beckinsalekate-beckinsale

image from womenshealthmag.com

Kate Beckinsale starred in the film, Underworld, a 2003 dark urban fantasy about the hidden war between werewolves and vampires.

The film was so successful that it spawned a few more movies, but her first film appearance was in a Shakespearean adaptation (Much Ado About Nothing) while she was still studying at Oxford University.

Her school reports showed that she was a smart child, who constantly read books.

She studied at an all-girls school in London, while joining a theater group. Aside from that, she won the WH Smith Young Writers Award for fiction and poetry twice.

She enrolled in Oxford University, and was part of the Oxford University Dramatic Society, which was led by another student, Tom Hooper, who would go on to produce and direct various plays and films like Elizabeth I, John Adams (mini-series), The King’s Speech, and the 2012 Les Miserables starring Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean.

She loved learning different languages and read French and Russian Literature at the university’s New College. She’s fluent in Russian, German, and French (she spent her third year in France for an exchange program).

You can see her again as Selene the vampire in Underworld: Blood Wars, sequel to Underworld: Awakening. The film will be released on January 2017.

Ken Jeong ken-jeong

image koreatimesus.com

Although Ken Jeong starred as a crazy gangster “Chow” in The Hangover, Korean actor Kendrick Kang-Joh Jeong was very serious about his education.

He was born in Detroit. His father was a North Carolina A&T State University professor, so Jeong spent most of his childhood participating in a High IQ team in his high school, practicing the violin, and joining the student council.

He graduated from Walter Hines Page High School at the age of 16, which earned him a Youth of the Year award.

At Duke University, Jeong studied his pre-med degree. After graduating, he pursued his graduate studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

He got his MD in 1995, then went to get his residency in Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans.

While he did his residency, Jeong also tried to pave a way to something else he loved: stand-up comedy. During the day, he would treat patients, but during the night, he would perform as a comedian.

In the year he got his MD, he also won the Big Easy Laff-Off. The judges persuaded him to move to Los Angeles, where he worked at the Kaiser Permanente Hospital.

While in LA, he managed to book appearances in several shows and films like The Office, Entourage, Knocked Up (his film debut), All About Steve, and more.

Jeong’s latest film is the dark comedy “Killing Hasselhoff” released this March 2016.

Mayim Bialek
Mayim Bialek

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In the hit comedy series, The Big Bang Theory, Mayim Bialek plays Amy Farrah Fowler, a genius neuroscientist.

Her role garnered her four nominations for Emmy’s Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, and one award Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series from Critic’s Choice.

Not many know, though, that Bialek’s intelligence is much like Amy’s. Bialek was born in San Diego, California. She went to Walter Reed Middle School (then Walter Reed Junior High School), then attended North Hollywood High School.

For college, she was accepted at Harvard and Yale universities, but she chose instead to go to UCLA because she wanted to study close to her family. She studied at the University of California, Los Angeles, pursuing a degree in both neuroscience and Hebrew/Jewish studies.

She graduated in 2000, then seven years later, she was able to finish her doctorate degree in neuroscience, while she was filming her The Big Bang Theory scenes.

Her doctoral thesis was about OCD in adolescents with Prader-Willi syndrome.

She started her acting career in a Beauty and the Beast 1987 television show, as Ellie. She was also known as Blossom, the titular character of a 90s show which ran from 1990-1995.

Steve Martin steve-martin

image by usmagazine.com

Stephen Glenn Martin is a familiar face in the halls of comedy fame. He was born in Texas, but was raised in California. In high school, he was a cheerleader. As he grew, he developed skills in magic and performance.

He went to Santa Ana College, where he studied poetry and drama.

Martin met starlet Stormie Sherk, who convinced him to transfer to California State University, Long Beach, while Sherk studied at UCLA. They soon parted, and Martin, who pursued a degree in philosophy, wanted to become a professor.

But in 1967, he pursued theater at the UCLA. He started performing at local clubs (he knew how to play the banjo), and eventually dropped out. The story didn’t end there, though.

Martin is a member of Mensa, an organization that provides a venue for people with high IQ to talk and plan about intellectual topics.

This year Martin will be seen in “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”, a film adaptation of a book about one soldier’s experience and opinions about war and coming home.

Tommy Lee Jones tommy-lee-jones

image courtesy biography.com

Tommy Lee Jones is the famous Agent K of the Men In Black film series. He’s a veteran actor and filmmaker who has won many awards.

Jones was born in Texas, and went to study at Robert E. Lee High School. He soon moved to another school, St. Mark’s School of Texas, on a scholarship. Jones had a strong tie to this school, and after many years, served on the board of directors.

His family wasn’t rich, but Jones was able to study at Harvard University because of a scholarship. When he lived there, his room was right across another student’s, Al Gore.

While there, Jones was also a football player, and became part of the first-time all-Ivy League game selection.

In 1969, he graduate from Harvard with a degree in English and a cum laude Latin honor, with his thesis being about the “the mechanisms of Catholicism” in the writings of Flannery O’Connor.

Unlike the others, Jones pursued theater and acting only after he had completed his studies. He performed in Broadway in 1969, then starred in a 1970 film as a Harvard student

His acting career took off, with Jones performing on Broadway, on TV, and on the silver screen.

Tommy Lee Jones will be seen, side by side Jason Statham, in a new 2016 film “Mechanic: Resurrection”. (youtube video below)


Kris Kristofferson kris-kristoffersen

image from telegraph.co.uk

Kris Kristofferson was a singer, songwriter, and musician before he became an actor.

He was born in Texas, but his father, who was in the army, moved the family around a lot. They settled down in California, where Kristofferson graduated from San Mateo High School.

He was torn between military and regular academic education. His father, a US Air Force Major General, wanted him to pursue the former, but Kristofferson decided to just do both.

He enrolled first at Pomona College, where he studied Literature. He was also an accomplished student-athlete of rugby, football, and track and field, and in 1958, he graduated as summa cum laude.

He also earned a Rhodes scholarship that enabled him to study at Merton College in Oxford University. There, he pursued a master’s degree in English Literature and graduated in 1960.

After that, he joined the army and became a captain. He completed Ranger School, and also became a helicopter pilot. When his tour ended, though, Kristofferson left the army to pen songs. His family disapproved and practically disowned him.

He was married at this time, and had a son who was sick. He worked different odd jobs to make ends meet. He sent Johnny Cash a tape he’d recorded of one of his compositions, and after some time, Cash recorded his song, and Kristofferson became songwriter of the year.

When he gained success in music, he decided to pursue acting, and was able to appear in various films like Blume in Love (his debut), A Star Is Born, 2001 Planet of the Apes, Dolphin Tale, and more.

Rob Clark

SchoolCampus.org admin staff managing editor

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