Training is a key part of becoming an actor, but some actors find that the training they need can’t be found through traditional schooling. There are many famous people who didn’t finish college—or who never attended—and went on to have great careers. Here’s a sampling of actors who made it big without higher education.
After high school, Halle Berry enrolled in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga Community College, but she never finished her studies. Instead, she headed to Chicago to pursue a career in modeling. Her decision paid off: Berry soon became a Hollywood star and was the first Black woman to win an Academy Award for best actress for her performance in “Monster’s Ball.”
Timothée Chalamet attended Columbia University before transferring to New York University and eventually dropping out to pursue acting full-time. His breakthrough role as Elio in “Call Me by Your Name” garnered him worldwide fame and an Oscar nomination for best actor. He’s also starred in “Lady Bird,” “Beautiful Boy,” “Little Women,” and “Dune.”
Matt Damon attended Harvard University but never graduated. He rose to prominence with his work on “Good Will Hunting,” for which he received an Academy Award for the screenplay he penned with Ben Affleck. Damon has also been nominated for his acting in “The Martian” and “Invictus.”
After achieving fame as a child star, Claire Danes chose to leave Hollywood to attend Yale University; however, she didn’t complete her degree and returned to acting. Danes has won Emmy Awards for her work on “Homeland” and “Temple Grandin.”
Before Clint Eastwood was an Oscar-winning director and producer, he attended Los Angeles City College. He didn’t graduate and took on a slew of odd jobs to get by, including as a steelworker and a logger. Eastwood first gained fame for his work on the television series “Rawhide,” and has since had an illustrious career.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt left Hollywood to go to college, attending Columbia University after his success in “10 Things I Hate About You.” However, he chose to leave college early to return to his acting roots. He has appeared in numerous films and television series, including “500 Days of Summer,” “Inception,” and “Mr. Corman.”
Five-time Emmy Award winner Kelsey Grammer, best known for playing Dr. Frasier Crane on “Cheers” and “Frasier,” attended the Juilliard School for two years before he was kicked out for poor attendance. Grammer has received a Tony Award nomination for his performance in the 2010 Broadway revival of “La Cage aux Folles,” as well as multiple nominations and awards for his television work.
Jake Gyllenhaal attended Columbia University, but unlike his sister, Maggie, he never completed his degree. Gyllenhaal began acting at the age of 10, but became well known after his work in the indie film “Donnie Darko.” He was nominated for an Academy Award for his work in “Brokeback Mountain” and recognized for his performances in “Nightcrawler” and “Nocturnal Animals.”
Tom Hanks went to California State University, Sacramento but never earned a degree. After a few years in school, Hanks decided to pause his studies to work as an intern at the Great Lakes Theater Festival. Hanks has won Academy Awards for his work in “Forrest Gump” and “Philadelphia,” and made his Broadway debut in Nora Ephron’s “Lucky Guy,” for which he received a Tony Award nomination.
“Les Misérables” Oscar winner Anne Hathaway studied English and women’s studies at Vassar College before transferring to NYU. She didn’t finish her college degree, however, choosing to pursue her acting career instead. She continued her education by training at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and under the Barrow Group theater company’s acting program.
Anna Paquin won an Academy Award for her work in “The Piano” at the young age of 11 and has continued working as an actor since. Although she briefly attended Columbia University, she took a leave of absence to focus on her acting career. Paquin appeared in HBO’s “True Blood” as Sookie Stackhouse, for which she won a Golden Globe.
Ben Platt attended Columbia University and was even a member of the campus a cappella group, but he dropped out to perform in “The Book of Mormon.” Since then, he’s won a Tony Award for his performance in “Dear Evan Hansen” and a Golden Globe nomination for his work on “The Politician.”
Although “Modern Family” star Ariel Winter enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles and said she “loved going,” she stopped attending after six months because she found it difficult to balance school and acting.
Julie Andrews never completed high school, opting instead to take voice and acting lessons. Andrews made her Broadway debut at the age of 19 in “The Boy Friend” and returned to Broadway two years later in “My Fair Lady.” Since then, she’s starred in countless films and musicals, winning an Academy Award for her work in “Mary Poppins” and a nomination for “The Sound of Music.”
Leonardo DiCaprio was 14 when he signed with an agent. He only completed high school with the help of a tutor and never attended college. The A-lister has starred in hits including “Titanic,” “The Great Gatsby,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and “The Revenant”—the last of which earned him his first Oscar after multiple nominations.
Michael J. Fox
Michael J. Fox dropped out of high school to act, but he later got his GED in his thirties. In one of his most iconic roles, he played high school student Marty McFly in the “Back to the Future” franchise. He earned three Emmys for his work on “Family Ties,” a fourth for “Spin City,” and a fifth for “Rescue Me.”
Following his time as a child star on “The All New Mickey Mouse Club,” Ryan Gosling never completed high school, choosing to instead take on roles in indie films. He became a mainstream talent after his work in “The Notebook,” and has since gone on to star in feature films like “Blue Valentine,” “Drive,” and “Barbie.”
Nicole Kidman didn’t finish her high school career in Australia, although she did train at the Australian Theatre for Young People. Instead, she pursued acting jobs until she landed on Hollywood’s radar with her performance in “Dead Calm.” Today, the Academy Award winner is one of the highest paid actors in the industry.
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Jennifer Jason Leigh dropped out of high school six weeks before graduation to take on a role in “Eyes of a Stranger.” She gained prominence a year later for her work as the female lead in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Since then, Leigh is well known for her work on “Single White Female,” “The Hateful Eight,” and “Atypical.”
Another celebrity who didn’t go to college—and never even finished high school—is the legendary Liza Minnelli, who instead chose to apprentice at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Massachusetts. She made her Broadway debut in John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “Flora, the Red Menace,” and the rest is history. She has an extensive list of film, television, and stage credits, and is one of the few members of the elite EGOT club.
Daniel Radcliffe became famous with the “Harry Potter” franchise, and continues to work today, without ever going to college. Radcliffe made his Broadway debut in the 2011 revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” and has appeared in numerous films such as “Kill Your Darlings,” “The Lost City,” and “Horns.”
Emma Stone never finished high school, instead convincing her parents to move to Hollywood so she could pursue an acting career full-time. She was homeschooled so she could audition during the day, and the tradeoff worked: Stone landed a supporting role in “Superbad” and a leading role in “Easy A.” She won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for her performance in “La La Land.”
Hilary Swank never completed high school, dropping out and moving to L.A. with her mother until she found steady work on television. Later on, though, Swank did earn her GED. She’s won two Academy Awards for her work in “Boys Don’t Cry” and “Million Dollar Baby.”