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Paulby Paul Russell

60 Reasons Actors Don’t Need a College Degree in Acting

I confess. I have a shame.

During my early career (the ancient acting days)… I fibbed. I lied about my education. I foolishly believed an actor needed to display on a resume evidence of a college education as an actor. Why? Professional validation to being an actor. I should have slapped myself. Often.

But. Time passes. Opportunities arise. Beliefs evolve. My past continual work as an actor nationally; as a director directing at TONY® award-winning theaters and working with legendary playwright John Guare; casting for Broadway and major studios; plus being published by Penguin-Random House proves wrong my youthful immature fears and assumption: an actor needs a college degree in the performing arts B.S.

Yes, a college education eases an artist’s wedging around towering and creaky doors of entertainment’s gatekeepers. Actor training programs broaden skill set, and create networking opportunities. But a bank busting BFA, MFA or any letter assembly that depresses your finances is in no way an absolute necessity.

Why? 60 examples:

Famous Actors Who Never Attended or Graduated College

Sir Sean Connery (Never attended college)

Julie Andrews (Chose not to attend college)

Michael Caine (Dropped out of high school)

Michael J. Fox (Never attended college)

Halle Berry (Briefly attended community college)

Leonardo DiCaprio (Never attended college)

Charlie Chaplin (Dropped out of elementary school)

Tom Cruise (Never attended college)

Marylin Monroe (Never attended college)

Johnny Depp (Never attended college)

Juliette Lewis (Never attended college)

Clark Gable (Never attended college)

Sally Field (Never attended college)

James Dean (Never attended college)

Whoopie Goldberg (Never attended college)

John Travolta (Never attended college)

Jim Carrey (Never attended college)

Catherine Zeta-Jones (Never attended college)

Joe Pesci (Never attended college)

Hilary Swank (Never attended college)

Kevin Bacon (High school dropout)

Drew Barrymore (Never graduated college)

Al Pacino (Never graduated college)

Keira Knightly (Never attended college)

Dennis Hopper (Never attended college)

Christina Applegate (Never attended college)

Robert Downey Jr. (Never attended college)

Quentin Tarantino (Never attended college)

Cameron Diaz (Never attended college)

Humphrey Bogart (Flunked out of prep school)

Diane Keaton (Never attended college)

Ben Affleck (Dropped out of college)

Andie MacDowell (Dropped out of college)

Clint Eastwood (Never graduated college)

Robin Wright (Never graduated college)

Harrison Ford (Dropped out of college)

Michael Keaton (Dropped out of college)

Tom Hanks (Dropped out of college)

Katie Holmes (Never graduated college)

Dustin Hoffman (Dropped out of college)

Julia Roberts (Never attended college)

Richard Gere (Dropped out of college)

Bill Murray (Kicked out of college)

Rene Russo (Dropped out of high school)

Joaquin Phoenix (Never graduated college)

Uma Thurman (Left boarding school at 15)

Brad Pitt (Dropped out of college)

Reese Witherspoon (Dropped out of college)

Sidney Poitier (Never graduated college)

Martin Sheen (Never attended college, though he went for a few months in 2006)

Christian Slater (Dropped out of high school)

Will Smith (Never attended college)

Patrick Stewart (Dropped out of high school)

Ben Stiller (Dropped out of college)

Barbra Streisand (Never attended college)

John Wayne (Dropped out of college)

Bruce Willis (Dropped out of college)

Nicolas Cage (Never attended college)

Marlon Brando (Never attended college)

Gene Hackman (Dropped out of college)

An actor need not be famous to succeed as an actor lacking collegiate training. Thousands of journeymen actors (actors who work constantly but are not celebs) thrive as artists without a framed degree in their dressing rooms.

Encounter a gatekeeper who won’t consider you based on lack of collegiate training? Remind the short-sighted that for every Meryl Streep there’s a Sir Sean Connery. And when snots bitingly reply, “You’re no Dustin Hoffman or Julia Roberts” shoot back, “You’re no Stephen Spielberg or Abraham Lincoln (Spielberg dropped out of college, Lincoln was self-taught).

Do I encourage actors seeking an acting career to do so without training? Would you trust your cardiologist who is trained solely by WebMD? I sure as hell wouldn’t. Do I believe a college education is a waste of resources and time? No. A successful actor needs and requires training. The ‘where,’ ‘how,’ and ‘when’ is your choice.

All of the actors above sought an arts education via various forms; studio classes, apprenticeships, or by being mentored. There’s no single roadmap to your goals. But an actor does need G.P.S.: Great Performance Studies.

My best,


Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher, and former actor has spanned thirty years. He’s worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul’s taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU, and speaks at universities including Elon, Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit