Do you need a college education to get ahead? For some of our favorite celebrities like Gabrielle Union, John Legend, Brooke Shields, and Meghan Markle—who actually put herself through college—getting that prestigious degree was important. While going to university can be invaluable for many—after all, Lady O has pledged millions to help students obtain higher education—it is not the only path to success. If you can sing or dance like Beyoncé, sign a record deal at 16 like Rihanna, or were born into royalty like Prince Harry, well-earned degrees aren’t required. These 20 stars know what we’re talking about.
After graduating from Claremont High School in Claremont, California, Alba decided to take acting classes at the Atlantic Theater Company in New York. In 2000, she got her big break at age 19 when James Cameron cast her as Max Guevara in the series Dark Angel, a role that lead to a Golden Globe nomination. Now a celebrated actress and mother of four, Alba is also the founder and chairperson of The Honest Company, which, according to Fortune, was valued at nearly $1 billion in 2017.
Who isn’t familiar with Beyoncé’s story? Before dominating the music charts and becoming the first Black woman to headline Coachella in 2018, she actually dropped out of Alief Elsik High School in Houston, Texas to focus on her full-time job: being a member of Destiny’s Child. The girl group moved on to drop hits like “Say My Name” and “Survivor” before she launched her own solo career.
Just like his wife, Beyoncé, Jay-Z never went to college. Shawn Corey Carter briefly attended Eli Whitney High School in Brooklyn, and later transferred to both the nearby George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School and Trenton Central High School in New Jersey. He never graduated from either and instead focused on releasing his debut album in 1996, “Reasonable Doubt.” Since then his career has been a non-stop success, becoming the first billionaire hip-hop artist, according to Forbes.
After joining the cast of Disney’s ’90s revival of The Mickey Mouse Club at age 11, Spears returned to Mississippi to attend the Parklane Academy, which she eventually left to pursue music. At 18, she released her debut album, ...Baby One More Time. The lead single of the same name scored her a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1999 while the album received a two-time platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America.
Born in Barbados, Rihanna left school at age 16 to secure her music deal with Def Jam Records. She moved on to drop hits like “Pon de Replay,” “SOS,” and “Unfaithful.” In addition to being a musician, she now has her own beauty line, Fenty Beauty, as well as a lingerie line called Savage X Fenty.
Due to her struggle with dyslexia, Goldberg dropped out of Washington Irving High School in N.Y.C. She eventually relocated to California and landed an iconic role in The Color Purple, which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role plus a legendary career in entertainment.
After earning her GED as a 15-year-old high school freshman, Perry focused on her music career and found her big break in the late 2000s with hits like “Hot N Cold” and “I Kissed a Girl.” The latter was released in 2008 and hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
After attending Eton College, an independent boarding high school in the U.K., Prince Harry took a gap year to work on a cattle station in Australia. In 2005, the Duke of Sussex enrolled in the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where he moved up the ranks and was eventually promoted to the lieutenant level. He went on to marry Meghan Markle in 2018 and welcome baby Archie in May 2019. In January 2020, the couple announced their intentions to “step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent.”
Just like many celebrities on this list, Swank also dropped out of high school to pursue acting. “I’m not proud to say I’m a high school dropout,” she told Today in 2010. After briefly attending South Pasadena High School in California, Swank made her film debut in the 1992 movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Just seven years later, she won her first Golden Globe and Oscar for her portrayal of Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry.
Rock’s parents removed him from James Madison High School in N.Y.C. due to bullying, though he eventually dropped out and earned his GED. In 1990, he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live and skyrocketed to become a legendary actor and standup comedian.
After his junior year, DiCaprio left John Marshall High School in L.A. and eventually earned his GED. In 1992, Robert De Niro chose him to play the lead role in This Boy’s Life, which ultimately lead to his work in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, the film for which he scored his first Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. He went on to star in the 1997 hit movie Titanic, as well as more recently in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
Simpson dropped out of J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson, Texas after signing a contract with Columbia Records, though she later earned her GED. Her debut 1999 album, Sweet Kisses, included hits like “I Wanna Love You Forever,” which earned her a platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of America. Now, she’s an entrepreneur who focuses on The Jessica Simpson Collection, a fashion line available at Macy’s and Lord & Taylor. The star also has a new memoir, Open Book, which reveals intimate details of her life.
Rapper Aubrey Drake Graham was a student at Vaughan Road Academy in Toronto, Canada when he was cast as Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi: The Next Generation. Struggling to keep up with his class and work schedule, Drake dropped out of high school and earned his GED in 2012. He went on become an extraordinarily successful recording artist, breaking a 52-year-old record held by the Beatles, with his chart-topping hits that even have Lady O dancing.
At 16, Moore dropped out of Fairfax High School in L.A. to pursue her modeling career in Europe after getting signed to an agency called Elite. After working as a pin-up girl while taking drama classes there, she moved on to appear on General Hospital, Blame It on Rio, and About Last Night. Her role in the 1990 film, Ghost, earned her a Golden Globe nomination. Most recently, the actress published a memoir, Inside Out, where she gets candid about motherhood, marriages, and her relationships.
Lohan made waves in her 1998 portrayal of identical twins Hallie and Annie Parker in The Parent Trap remake. Following her performance, she attended Cold Spring Harbor and Sanford H. Calhoun High School in Long Island, New York before completing her high school education at home. Instead of going to college, she went off to star in Freaky Friday, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, and Mean Girls.