Celebrities with Degrees in English | Top Universities

Celebrities with Degrees in English

By Sabrina Collier

Updated March 18, 2021 Updated March 18, 2021

Curious about where a degree in English literature could take you? Get inspiration from the stars, with our list of celebrities with degrees in English.

Emma Watson
1. Emma Watson 

It’s rare for a celebrity to gain a degree after they became famous rather than before, but Harry Potter star and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson had been determined to continue her  education whilst developing her acting career. After having to take two full semesters off due to her acting work (meaning her course lasted five years instead of four), in May 2014 she graduated from Brown University with a bachelor’s degree in English literature. She has also studied at Worcester College (part of Oxford University) as a visiting student.

2. Stephen Fry 

Best known for his comedic roles in shows such as Jeeves and WoosterBlackadder and as the presenter of QI, Stephen Fry had a troubled early life in which he was expelled from two schools and even spent three months in prison. However, he turned things around and secured a place at Queens' College, University of Cambridge, where he graduated with a 2:1 bachelor’s degree in English Literature. 

While at university, Fry joined the Cambridge Footlights, the famous university dramatic club that has been a starting point for many well-known actors and comedians. This was where he met his long-time collaborator Hugh Laurie. While at university, Fry also appeared on popular British quiz show University Challenge. As well as working in television, he has contributed columns and articles for newspapers and magazines, and written four novels and three autobiographies.

3. James Franco 

Joining Emma Watson among celebrities with degrees earned alongside their acting careers is Spider-Man and 127 Hours actor James Franco. In 2006, Franco was dissatisfied with his career’s direction, so decided to re-enroll at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) as an English major with a creative writing concentration. He received permission to take as many as 62 course credits per quarter, well above the normal limit of 19, while still continuing to act. He received many of his credits from independent study for his involvement on the set of Spider-Man 3. He achieved a GPA of 3.5/4.0 for his bachelor’s degree in June 2008. 

4. Joan Rivers

The late Joan Rivers, then known as Joan Molinsky, graduated from Barnard College (which is affiliated with Columbia University) in 1954 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature and anthropology. Before entering show business, she worked at various jobs, including as a tour guide at Rockefeller Center, a writer/proofreader at an advertising agency, and a fashion consultant at Bond Clothing Stores.2008.

5. Martin Scorsese

Next in our list of celebrities with degrees in English is the director of acclaimed films such as Goodfellas, Taxi Driver and The Departed. Now one of the world’s best-known directors, Martin Scorsese made his first short film in 1959 whilst studying a BA in English at New York University’s film school. After graduating in 1964, he stayed at the university to study an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in Film, and he continued to make low-budget films  until his breakthrough came in 1972 with Mean Streets.

6. Renée Zellweger

Best known for playing the starring role in the popular Bridget Jones series, Renée Zellweger graduated in 1991 with a BA in English from the University of Texas at Austin. While at university, she took an optional drama course, which sparked her interest in acting. She did small acting jobs whilst at university and appeared in several indie and low-budget films to build up her career before she got her breakthrough role in 1996, starring alongside Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire and becoming well known to audiences worldwide.

7. Sting

Back when he was humbly known as Gordon Sumner, the famous musician and lead singer of The Police attended Northern Counties College of Education (inaugurated as Northumbria University in 1992) from 1971 to 1974, studying English alongside qualifying as a teacher. He worked as a Catholic school teacher for two years, performing jazz music in his spare time before deciding to pursue his musical passion full-time. He has since received bonus honorary music degrees from Northumbria University and Berklee College of Music to add to his academic accolades.

8. Jodie Foster

Jodie Foster, like Emma Watson, was already a successful young actor by the time she attended university, having starred in Martin Scorsese’s controversial drama Taxi Driver as well as Bugsy Malone. She decided to ‘get away from it all’ by attending Yale University, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English literature in 1984. She returned to Yale in 1993 to address the graduating class, and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the university in 1997.

9. Mitt Romney

Just in case you think all celebrities with degrees in English are involved in the creative sectors, US politician Mitt Romney is here to add another dimension. Before entering politics, the 2012 US Presidential Candidate attended Brigham Young University and earned a bachelor’s degree in English with the highest honors in 1971. He then moved on to Harvard University for a joint MBA and Juris Doctor four year degree, eventually acquiring a multimillion-dollar fortune running private equity firm Bain Capital.

10. Hugh Grant

Before he shot to fame charming audiences in romantic comedies such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, Hugh Grant attended New College at Oxford University and gained a 2.1 bachelor’s degree in English Literature in 1982. He then pursued acting as a creative outlet, after being unable to secure a grant to study for a PhD in the History of Art at Courtauld Institute of Art (part of the University of London) and has since described himself as a “reluctant actor”.

This article was originally published in August 2015 . It was last updated in March 2021

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