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Celebrities with Surprising Degrees

By Celine Fraimund

Updated March 21, 2021 Updated March 21, 2021

In the hit show The Big Bang Theory, actress Mayim Bialik plays the recurring character of Dr. Amy Farah Fowler, neuroscientist and love interest of fan favorite Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons). Her story went viral when people discovered she was actually a trained neurosurgeon, having completed a PhD at UCLA.

But the talented Bialik is not the only TV star with a surprising academic background. Below is a whole list of successful actors and actresses who prove that drama school is not the only route to an on-screen career.

Hugh Laurie

Before he became one of the best-paid actors on TV, Hugh Laurie attended Selwyn College at the University of Cambridge as an anthropology and archaeology student. Like his father before him, Laurie enrolled in the rowing team and trained to participate in the Olympic Games.

Due to mononucleosis, Laurie was forced to reconsider his future as an athlete. During that time he joined the university’s dramatic club, the Cambridge Footlights, where he met Emma Thompson and Stephen Fry, who were studying English at Newnham College and Queen’s College respectively.

After more than two decades of films and TV appearances, Laurie landed the part of the sarcastic Dr. Gregory House on popular TV series House M.D. The show went on for eight seasons and earned the actor international fame and two Golden Globes. He is set to appear in the BBC’s The Nigh Manager later this year.

Rashida Jones

Jones is such a common last name you probably didn’t make the connection between Rashida and her music mogul father, Quincy Jones, who produced several Michael Jackson albums and won a record 27 Grammy Awards. However, Rashida is more than just her father’s daughter.

She enrolled in Harvard University to become a lawyer, but reportedly lost faith in the law after O.J. Simpson’s trial. She changed major and graduated in religion and philosophy. During her time at university, she became engaged in the performing arts.

Jones went on to star in TV shows such as Boston Public and The Office. She played Nurse Ann Perkins in NBC’s Parks and Recreation for seven seasons, and quickly became a fan favorite. Besides acting, Jones produced documentaries and was involved in Obama’s 2012 campaign. She’s certainly shown it’s possible to combine multiple interests and skillsets with stardom!

Ben McKenzie

Ben McKenzie is best known for his role as Californian heartthrob Ryan Atwood in TV show The O.C. Since the show’s end in 2007, the actor appeared in cop drama Southland and indie movie Johnny Got His Gun.

But McKenzie has more than one string to his bow. He attended the University of Virginia, where he studied … foreign affairs and economics. He stated in an interview that he first got interested in acting out of boredom. After graduating, he moved to New York to pursue his acting career.

He is currently starring as Jim Gordon in Gotham, the origin story of DC Comics’ Batman. He is actually the only actor to have played both Batman and Gordon. How cool is that?

Freddie Highmore

Little Charlie grew up so fast! You probably know Freddie Highmore from his roles in Johnny Depp movies such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Neverland. But did you know he is also a recent Cambridge graduate?

While filming the hit show Bates Motel, Highmore studied Spanish and Arabic at Cambridge’s Emmanuel College and earned a double first, claiming a place among the most outstanding graduates.

The August Rush actor is currently starring in the third season of A&E’s Bates Motel and is set to lend his voice for The Ghost of Canterville adaptation, alongside fellow Cambridge alumnus Hugh Laurie.

Josh Duhamel

Josh Duhamel shot to fame in 1999 when he landed the role of Leo du Pres in ABC’s All My Children. He later starred in Las Vegas and appeared in the first three movies of the Transformers franchise.

But behind the model-turned-actor is actually a biology graduate from Minot State University, in North Dakota. You are totally picturing him in a lab coat aren’t you?

Duhamel’s academic career was, shall we say, laborious. He initially planned to attend dental school but his grades were not good enough, so he enrolled in biology. He then dropped out with only one credit left and finally completed his degree in 2005.

He is currently starring in Bryan Singer’s new series Battle Creek.

Eva Longoria  

 In Desperate Housewives, Texas-born Eva Longoria played the role of serial adulteress Gabrielle Solis. The show earned her a Golden Globe nomination and a place among TV’s best-paid actresses.

In contrast to the bored housewife she portrayed, Longoria is much more than just a pretty face. She studied at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, where she received a degree in kinesiology. She went on to enroll at California State University, Northridge, where she received her master's degree in Chicano studies. Her thesis addressed the lack of diversity in STEM careers.

Aside from acting, Longoria has also opened a restaurant, written a book, created a foundation to help disabled children and raised funds for the re-election campaign of President Obama. She recently produced short documentaries to raise awareness about racism and bullying in sports.

Fred Dalton Thompson

 Politicians are often accused of being good comedians. In the case of Fred Dalton Thompson, it turned out to be true.

Thompson is a former US senator who worked on the Watergate committee and eventually ran for president in 2008. He is also known for his role in Law & Order, in which he portrayed District Attorney Arthur Ranch for five years. He initially joined the show during the August 2002 Senate recess.

Thompson got into acting when a film producer who was making a movie about one of his cases asked him if he would like to play himself. He accepted and went on to appear on many films, including Die Hard 2. His movie credits mostly include roles as presidents and governmental figures.

This veteran actor and politician started out as a student enrolling at Memphis State University in 1964, going on to be accepted at Vanderbilt University, where he earned a juris doctor.

Jack Gleeson

Irish actor Jack Gleeson is best known for playing the evil King Joffrey in HBO’s hugely popular Game of Thrones. Unlike his character, Gleeson’s kindness and professionalism have been praised by his fellow cast members. It came as a shock to many when he announced that he would retire from professional acting when his time on the show came to an end.

Many speculated about his change of heart, but the now former actor has stated that the world of show business is not for him – and that academic life may instead be his true calling.

He enrolled at Trinity College, Dublin, where he is currently studying philosophy and theology.

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

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Written by

Celine is studying a Masters Marketing & Corporate Communications at Université Libre de Bruxelles, and is currently joining QS for an internship in social media. She's a movie fanatic and loves to travel, discover and laugh.