Sure, the entertainment industry is full of pretty faces, but who’s got the brains to match their beauty? Check out our list of celebrities with high IQs, Ivy League degrees, and other academic achievements worth bragging about. One look at their credentials and it would be a safe guess that these smart celebrities were destined for success with or without show biz careers.
Portman was just 11 years old when she was cast in her first film, Léon: The Professional. But even though she had a great acting career ahead of her, she always made education a priority. She enrolled at Harvard in 1999—the same year she debuted as Padmé Amidala in Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Portman graduated in 2003 with a degree in psychology. (She also studied neurobiology and advanced Hebrew literature while she was there.)
Portman happens to be multilingual, too. The actress has spoken Hebrew in various interviews, and once told David Letterman that she studied both Japanese and French in high school.
“I don’t care if [college] ruins my career,” Portman once said. “I’d rather be smart than a movie star.”
Legend isn’t just a talented musician but a former child prodigy. The EGOT winner, who grew up homeschooled, started high school at age 12 and fielded scholarship offers from Harvard, Georgetown, and Morehouse College before attending the University of Pennsylvania at 16. He graduated from the Ivy League school magna cum laude with a degree in English and an emphasis on African-American literature.
“I had followed the path that the Penn graduate was supposed to take, but I didn’t fall in love,” Legend told Penn graduates in a 2014 commencement address. “I couldn’t shake my passion for music.”
He continued, “We all like a little snark and cynicism and irony… but that cool detachment only gets you so far. Passion gets you a lot further. It makes you a better entrepreneur, a better leader, a better philanthropist, a better friend, a better lover.”
Is it any surprise that a brain like Bialik was selected as a replacement for Alex Trebek? The Big Bang Theory star-turned-Jeopardy! host spent her undergrad years at UCLA, majoring in neuroscience and minoring in Hebrew and Jewish studies. In 2007, she earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the same institution with a doctoral dissertation titled “Hypothalamic Regulation in Relation to Maladaptive, Obsessive-Compulsive, Affiliative, and Satiety Behaviours in Prader-Willi Syndrome.”
Not that she’s a braggart about it. “Other actors don’t appreciate when you, like, point things out that are wrong or flaunt your Ph.D.,” she told the NPR show Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! “It doesn’t go over well.”
Growing up with a single mother in New York City, Keys was motivated at an early age to develop a strong work ethic.
“I saw [my mother] struggle and work, and I’m not under any illusions, I know exactly what I could go right back to,” she told the Sunday Mail in 2000. “I saw a variety of people growing up, and lifestyles, lows and highs. I think it makes you realize right away what you want and what you don’t want. If you walk down the street and see a person nodding out from heroin, you know right away ‘I don’t ever wanna be that person.’”
She began classical piano lessons at age 7; she progressed to studying jazz at 14 because her teacher had nothing left to teach. By 16, Keys—a straight-A student—graduated high school and received a scholarship to Columbia University.
But she dropped out in the first semester to focus on her music, and she was signed to Columbia Records by the following year. Thankfully, Keys has never had to regret the decision. This year marked the 20th anniversary of Songs in A Minor, the debut album that launched her to stardom.
Jeong has delivered sidesplitting laughs in films like The Hangover and NBC’s Community, but he didn’t dive into a comedy career without a backup plan. As a child, he was more nerd than class clown as a child: he played violin, served on the student council, and was a member of the High IQ team. Jeong graduated high school at 16 and went on to become a pre-med student at Duke University; in 1995, he earned his M.D. at the UNC School of Medicine.
He eventually moved to L.A., where he worked as an internist at Kaiser Permanente by day and a stand-up comic by night. He even continues to keep his medical license active today.
Beckinsale is more than an A-list bombshell. The Pearl Harbor and Underworld star is also an academic overachiever. As a child, she won the prestigious WH Smith Young Writers competition on two separate occasions—once for fiction, and then for poetry. She then enrolled at Oxford at 17 to study French and Russian literature.
Beckinsale dropped out to pursue her film career, but in July 2021, she told the Daily Mail that she had recently run into her old French tutor while dropping her daughter off at college. The encounter made her reconsider returning to school to complete her degree.
“It’s such a shame university is at this time of your life when you’re thinking, ‘Who should I get off with and am I a lesbian and what posters do I want on my wall?'” said Beckinsale. “Wouldn’t it be better once you’ve actually lived a bit to go, ‘I really like this.'”
Between his transition from child actor to adult actor-producer-director, Gordon-Levitt enrolled at Columbia University, where he immersed himself in French poetry, history, and literature. (He followed in the footsteps of his mother, who majored in French at the University of California, Berkeley, and U.C.L.A.)
“I realized it doesn’t matter what classes you’re taking. It only matters who the teachers are,” he told the New York Times in 2007. “They made me see I wasn’t just alive to have fun. I started to care about the world, and I wanted to somehow connect with it.”
Gordon-Levitt dropped out after three years to return to acting, but he maintains a reputation as one of the more intellectual actors on the scene.
Before HBO’s Insecure made her a star, Rae was a fluent French speaker who attended a magnet high school for medicine and science. In 2007, she graduated from Stanford University with a major in African and African American studies and a minor in political science.
Although she later confessed that she only studied political science to appease her dad, she managed to find like-minded people who supported her more creative pursuits.
“It took me leaving here to realize it, but [Stanford] is truly amazing,” Rae said in a 2021 commencement address. “You can get a good education anywhere, but what made Stanford special for me was two things: 1) it granted me the room to make a space for myself if I didn’t see one, which in turn, gave me the confidence to create a space for myself when I officially entered the outside work; and most importantly and life-changing is 2) the community it allowed me to build.”
Gould played the youngest of the Dunphys on Modern Family, but in real life, he can match wits with even the most seasoned cast members. In a 2012 interview with Ellen DeGeneres (via Us Weekly), the then 13-year-old revealed that he had just earned his GED and had hopes to enroll in online college courses.
He also shared that he has an IQ of 150.
“When people learn I’m a member of MENSA, they’re shocked,” he said.
Watson is best known for starring in Harry Potter, but her contributions to the world are sure to be greater than her role in the fantasy film series. In 2014, she graduated from Brown University with a degree in English literature.
Watson has since used her recognition to do good in the world. She served as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, advocating for gender equality. She also helped launch a free legal advice hotline for victims of sexual harassment and attended a 2019 G7 Advisory Committee For Equality Between Women and Men.