Celebrities Who Dropped Out Of High School
Some of the names on this list may surprise you.
Some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities took a nontraditional route to success. Instead of finishing all four years of high school and walking across the stage at graduation, these famous figures decided to drop out early to pursue their careers in entertainment. While some faced a few bumps along the way, every person on this list eventually became hugely successful in their own right.
From Christina Applegate to Jay-Z, here are some popular stars who made their professional lives work without a high school diploma.
Before dropping out at age 14, Jennifer Lawrence says she never felt confident in her abilities at school.
“I struggled through school, I never felt very smart,” Lawrence recalled during a “60 Minutes” interview in 2018. But when someone handed her a script, everything changed. “And when I’m reading this script, and I feel like I know exactly what it would look like if somebody felt that way. That was a whole part of my brain that I didn’t even know existed. Something that I could be confident in. And I didn’t want to let it go.”
Though the actress dropped out of high school as a teen, she still believes in the power of education.
“I’m not proud to say I’m a high-school dropout,” she told the Today show while promoting 2007’s “Freedom Writers,” in which she plays a high school teacher. “I’m not proud that that’s something that happened, but it happened. I think school is really, really important and we have an education problem in this country and it’s a shame. It’s a shame for any kid to feel hopeless about their future.”
Jay-Z may not have a diploma of his own, but he continues to encourage students to value their education through his scholarship foundation.
“Education is super important,” he told the Syracuse Post-Standard in 2011. “I don’t have a high school diploma or a college diploma, but still for me to articulate, I had to have some form of schooling to articulate my thoughts.”
Keanu Reeves went to four different high schools in five years. Though he landed a spot at a prestigious performing arts school, the actor recalls the experience as challenging and said administrators expelled him at 16.
“It was a very small school and I guess I didn’t fit in. I had conflicts and run-ins with the staff,” Reeves, who ended up leaving home at 17, told The Daily Mail. “The principal and I didn’t see eye to eye. I was one of those ‘Why?’ kids – I asked too many questions about everything. I couldn’t stop even if it got me into trouble.”
Christina Applegate lived out of most of her teen years on camera rather than in school. The actress nabbed her role as Kelly Bundy in Fox’s “Married…with Children” when she was 13 and remained on the show for nearly a decade.
“I was in this from such a young age and it just never stopped. It was like a continuum,” she told ABC News of her career.
Kate Winslet left school behind to pursue her acting career.
“I left school at 16 and I went to work in a delicatessen to save money to get the train to London to go on auditions,” the actress told “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert in 2017. It didn’t take long for her to find a gig — she starred in her first movie, “Heavenly Creatures,” when she was 17.
Harry Styles dropped out of high school after landing a spot on the U.K.’s “X-Factor.” He didn’t win the show, but he did famously nab a place in Simon Cowell’s boy band, One Direction.
Seth Rogen dropped out of high school at age 14 to pursue his career in comedy, but that doesn’t mean he slacked off.
“I worked really hard. It’s not like I dropped out of high school and just did nothing,” Rogen told CNN in 2013. “I dropped out of high school and went and worked on a TV show. We were writing a script all throughout high school. I probably worked harder than most people who were just doing high school stuff, honestly.”
Whoopi Goldberg struggled in school due to an undiagnosed learning disability and ended up dropping out at the age 14. She began battling a drug addiction shortly after.
“I’d dropped out of high school and into drugs. Simple as that,” she told the Telegraph. “I was a child of the ’60s so I ingested as many mind-altering substances as I could. It was a rite of passage. And when I got clean I was convinced I wanted to be an actor.” She pursued her dreams after getting help from a drug counselor who later became her first husband.
Ryan Gosling apparently had trouble in school long before starting his career in acting. According to the Washington Post, he began getting homeschooled by his mom in the fifth grade after having trouble in class. He cut his studies short when he landed a spot on the “Mickey Mouse Club,” which the actor says he auditioned for on a whim.
The famed director left public school at 15 to pursue a career in the arts.
“I had ditched school so long at a certain period in the ninth grade that it was like one of those things where you’ve ditched so long that you’re afraid to go back because the minute you go back you’re going to get busted,” he told NPR. “Now,” he said later in the interview, “little did I know that actually if I had stayed in school I would’ve actually really liked college. I wasn’t aware enough to know that the junior high I was suffering through would be school at its worst.”
Harry Potter may have graduated Hogwarts, but Daniel Radcliffe never earned his high school degree. The actor says he made the right decision by choosing the franchise over traditional school.
“I’m kind of sure of myself intellectually. And I know I wouldn’t have been if I had stayed in school because, before I did Potter, my confidence had been more or less destroyed by a couple of teachers,” Radcliffe told Parade in 2009. “So I had it all restored by the people who taught me on the films.”
Eminem attended Lincoln High School in Warren, Michigan. He dropped out at 17 after failing to pass freshman year for the third time. That’s when the rapper shifted his attention to music, immersing himself the Detroit hip-hop scene that would eventually catapult him to stardom.
Jude Law left school as a teen after landing a role on the British soap opera “Families.” His parents encouraged him to make the move — something he now, as a parent to five children, looks back on in disbelief.
“I can’t believe that now,” Law told the Telegraph in 2013. “It was so cool and trusting of them.”
The actress didn’t finish high school, as she admitted to Entertainment Weekly in 2015, but she found academic success later.
“I was not a hard worker. I was a terrible student. Eventually, I got my adult diploma, but I did not graduate.” She was admitted to the elite Julliard School at 22, and she hopes others will find inspiration in her story. “I thought that I wasn’t an intelligent person because I did so poorly,” she says. “There are kids out there that aren’t doing well in school — and I hope they never think it means they’re stupid. It’s all about finding where your interest lies and finding what you’re good at.”
Rihanna left school at 16, moving from Barbados to America to pursue a career in music. The teenager moved into the Connecticut home of music producer Evan Rodgers and his wife after impressing him in an audition and began work on a demo album.
“When I left Barbados, I didn’t look back,” Rihanna told Social Lifestyle Mag. “I wanted to do what I had to do, even if it meant moving to America.”
At 16, Jim Carrey left school to help his family deal with their financial problems.
“We lived in a van for a while, and we worked all together as security guards and janitors,” he said on “Inside the Actor’s Studio” in 2011. But the transition wasn’t easy. The actor admitted that working “an eight-hour day in a factory” made him depressed, saying he went from a “straight-A student to not wanting to know anybody’s name, and not wanting to make a friend.”
Luckily, he figured out how to channel his experiences into comedy, and the rest is history.
Avril Lavigne decided to leave school at the age at 15 after landing a record contract with producer L.A. Reid. During an episode of A&E’s “Private Sessions,” the singer admitted that the original plan was for her to be homeschooled, but she didn’t follow through.
“I had books — but I didn’t do it. So basically, I’m a high school dropout,” she said.
John Travolta left high school early to pursue acting, a passion which he says separated him from the other kids.
“Not too many of my friends identified with what I was doing,” Travolta told The Phoenix in 1978. “I participated in football and basketball, and did what they were doing, but not many kids understood my going to acting studios at night.”
Cameron Diaz attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School, where she was a member of the cheerleading team. The actress has discussed how other kids bullied for her skinny physique during her teenage years. But her time in high school didn’t last long — she left at 16 after signing with a modeling agency.
Drew Barrymore began acting at the tender of 3, so it’s no surprise that her childhood wasn’t exactly traditional. She emancipated herself from her parents at the age of 14, an experience she recalled in her memoir, “Wildflower.”
“Once I was emancipated, I had simply dropped out of school,” she wrote in an excerpt published at the Guardian. “I decided to create my own school, to self-educate: I will buy a dictionary and study every word. I will steep myself in all the things I love. I decided right then and there I would not be defeated.”
Of his decision to leave school, Patrick Dempsey told MSN, “I dropped out of high school in my senior year to run away with the circus, basically. I really did. I never got my high school diploma.”
In 2014, Bowdoin College — the same university his “Grey’s Anatomy” character, Dr. Derek Shepherd, graduated from — awarded him with an honorary degree. When his old high school heard about the honor, it decided to present him with its own degree as well.
“I graduated high school on Friday and got the doctorate on Saturday. It was a remarkable weekend,” he said.
After years of acting out in school, Marlon Brando’s father sent him to military school in Minnesota. But that didn’t work out either — he was expelled, according to the Chicago Tribune. He moved to New York at 18, which is where he began pursuing his now widely acclaimed acting career.
Never getting his high school degree didn’t stop Richard Branson from becoming one of the most successful businessmen in the world. The Virgin Group CEO says he had a hard time keeping up with classes due to his dyslexia.
“I was seen as the dumbest person at school,” he told CNNMoney. “The idea that I could be successful didn’t dawn on me.” The billionaire soon realized he had other passions and left school at 15, starting a small mail-order record business that eventually turned into Virgin Records.
Katy Perry left school at the age of 15 to chase her dreams of being a singer. But the pop star says her schooling wasn’t exactly stable even before that. Her parents were pastors, and they moved from church to church often.
“I was being pulled out of school even in the middle of school and sometimes being homeschooled,” Perry told Yahoo. She later earned her GED, but she told Yahoo, “I’m kind of bummed at this stage that I didn’t have a great education because I could really use that these days.”
Al Pacino quit high school at Manhattan’s High School for the Performing Arts after his sophomore year in order to help his single mother, who struggled with depression.
“I wasn’t very good at school,” he told The Washington Post in 2016. “I wasn’t focused on my classes. My mother had problems, and there was no money coming in.” It wasn’t until several years later that he launched his prolific career.
Leonardo DiCaprio began landing modeling and commercial gigs at an early age, and his acting career picked up speed in early high school, according to Page Six. At age 14, he landed a part opposite Robert DeNiro in “This Boy’s Life,” and at 15, he starred opposite Johnny Depp in his Oscar-nominated role in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.” After that, his career really took off, and he dropped out of school to become a bonafide movie star. He later received his GED.
Though Mark Wahlberg never made it past the ninth grade as a teenager, as he recalled in a column for The Huffington Post, the actor made it his mission to graduate from high school later in life. In 2012, Wahlberg enrolled in an online program that allowed him to complete the course requirements that he never finished as a teen. After about a year of studies, the star officially earned his degree in 2013. Now, through his charity, he’s trying to help other teens finish high school.
Kate Moss left traditional school behind after being discovered by Storm Model Management in 1988 at the age of 14. She got her big break in 1990, landing a cover on influential U.K. style magazine The Face, and she remains one of the world’s most in-demand supermodels nearly 30 years later. The Daily Beast reported that Moss also encouraged her younger sister Lottie, an aspiring model, to follow in her footsteps and leave school in order to seriously pursue her career.
Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey Jr. attended Santa Monica High (where Sean Penn and Rob Lowe were his classmates!) in the ’80s but only made it through two years before dropping out at the age of 16. He moved to New York to launch his acting career, where he nabbed roles in a few small productions, met one-time girlfriend Sarah Jessica Parker, and eventually landed a spot on “Saturday Night Live.”
But while his professional life was taking off, Downey Jr. was struggling personally, battling drug and alcohol addiction. It was only after meeting now-wife Susan Levin that he cleaned up his act, entered sobriety, and landed the role of a lifetime as Iron Man a few years later.