degree subjects of famous people

Career inspiration: what famous people did with their degrees

Need some ideas for what to do after university? Don't miss our at-a-glance guide to the famous graduates who studied your degree subject.

Architecture | Biology | Business | Chemistry | Design | Education | Engineering | English | Geography | History | IT | Law | Maths | Medicine | Modern languages | Philosophy | Physics | Politics | Psychology | Sociology

There’s no need to panic if you’re struggling to decide your next steps after graduation or are considering a change of direction – you might be surprised by the variety of career options open to you. We’ve put together an A to Z of degree subjects and the celebrities who studied them, to show the different and sometimes unexpected paths they took.

Follow the link after each subject for a guide to careers that you might be particularly well suited to coming from that degree background, and an outline of the employability skills you’ll have gained during the course of your studies.

Architecture

  • Tom Ford – studied interior architecture before going into fashion design and film.
  • George Takei – the Star Trek actor studied at the University of California.
  • Samuel L. Jackson – initially studied architecture before turning to acting, including roles in Star Wars, the Marvel films and Snakes on a Plane.
  • Courteney Cox – before playing the role of Monica in Friends, she studied architecture and interior design.

What can I do with an architecture degree?

Biology

  • David Attenborough – graduated with a natural sciences degree in 1947, and went on to become famous for presenting wildlife documentaries.
  • Lisa Kudrow – earned a degree in psychobiology before she rose to fame as Phoebe in Friends.
  • Mayim Bialik – plays neurobiologist Amy in The Big Bang Theory, but also has a PhD in neuroscience in real life.

What can I do with a biology degree?

Business or economics

  • Russell Howard – started his stand-up career while studying economics at the University of the West of England.
  • Cate Blanchett – originally studied economics and fine arts before starring in films including Elizabeth, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Thor: Ragnarok.
  • Ivanka Trump – the daughter of the US president has an economics degree.
  • Konnie Huq – the former Blue Peter presenter studied economics at the University of Cambridge.
  • Mick Jagger – began playing with the Rolling Stones while studying at the London School of Economics.
  • Kunal Nayyar – landed the role of Raj in The Big Bang Theory shortly after graduating from the University of Portland.

What can I do with a business studies or economics degree?

Chemistry

  • Margaret Thatcher – the former prime minister studied at the University of Oxford and then worked as a research chemist before going into politics.
  • Helen Sharman – the first woman and first British astronaut to visit the Space Station is a University of Sheffield graduate.

What can I do with a chemistry degree?

Design

  • Alan Rickman – famous as the Hogwarts potions teacher, but actually set up his own design agency before becoming an actor.
  • Freddie Mercury – studied art and graphic design, later becoming the lead singer of Queen and designing the band’s logo.
  • Peter Capaldi - studied at the Glasgow School of Art before pursuing an acting career that has included playing the twelfth Doctor in Doctor Who.

What can I do with a design degree?

Education or teaching

Teaching is a common starter career for the stars. The following people have previously been teachers after studying a variety of undergraduate subjects:

  • Greg Davies – switched from teaching to acting and is now known for his role as fictional teacher Mr Gilbert in The Inbetweeners.
  • Hugh Jackman – was briefly a PE teacher before acting in films including the X-Men series and The Greatest Showman.
  • Stephen King – worked as an English teacher before his first horror novel Carrie brought him success.

What can I do with an education or teaching degree?

Engineering

  • Rowan Atkinson – he may be known for his comedy acting in Mr Bean and Blackadder, but he actually has an undergraduate degree from Newcastle University and a masters from the University of Oxford.
  • Ashton Kutcher – studied biochemical engineering before pursuing his acting career.
  • Carol Vorderman – studied at the University of Cambridge and later became famous for presenting Countdown.
  • Cindy Crawford – the model and actress once studied chemical engineering.

What can I do with an engineering degree?

English

  • Emma Watson – as bookish as her character Hermione in the Harry Potter films, she studied at Brown University in the US.
  • Jeremy Paxman – now known as the presenter of University Challenge, Jeremy’s own student days were spent at the University of Cambridge.
  • Philip Pullman – studied at the University of Oxford, and later created a parallel version of the city in his fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials.
  • Reneé Zellweger – the Bridget Jones actress studied at the University of Texas.
  • Hannah Murray – otherwise known as Gilly in Game of Thrones and Cassie in Skins.
  • Stephen Fry – the QI presenter studied at the University of Cambridge and even appeared on University Challenge while he was a student.

What can I do with an English degree?

Geography

  • Theresa May – initially worked in finance after graduating, before going into politics and becoming prime minister in 2016.
  • Prince William – studied at the University of St Andrews, where he met his future wife Kate Middleton.
  • Hugh Dennis – the actor and comedian studied at the University of Cambridge before becoming famous as the dad in Outnumbered and a regular participant on Mock the Week.

What can I do with a geography degree?

History

  • Sacha Baron Cohen – the actor and comedian studied at the University of Cambridge.
  • Prince Charles – was the first British heir to the throne to complete a university degree; he read history, archaeology and anthropology at the University of Cambridge.
  • Jonathan Ross – studied modern European history before pursuing a career as a TV presenter, actor and comedian.
  • Al Murray – the comedian and TV personality read modern history at the University of Oxford.

What can I do with a history degree?

IT or computer science

Many of the most successful modern entrepreneurs came from IT backgrounds. These include:

  • Larry Page and Sergey Brin – founded Google
  • Mark Zuckerberg – founded Facebook
  • Reed Hastings – CEO of Netflix
  • Marissa Mayer – CEO of Yahoo

IT graduates can also go on to be successful in other career sectors. Some examples include:

  • Liam Neeson – the actor who voiced Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia series of films studied physics and computer science at Queen’s University Belfast.
  • Jimmy Fallon – the American comedian and talk show host majored in computer science.

What can I do with an IT degree?

Law

  • Nicola Sturgeon – originally became a solicitor after graduating but then moved into politics, eventually becoming first minister of Scotland.
  • Harper Lee – author of To Kill a Mockingbird, featuring fictional lawyer Atticus Finch.
  • Rebel Wilson – plays the role of student a cappella singer Fat Amy in the Pitch Perfect films, and was once a student in real life: she has a Bachelor of Laws degree.
  • Jon Snow – journalist and Channel 4 presenter… not the Game of Thrones character.
  • Hilary Mantel – author of Wolf Hall, a novel about the Tudor lawyer Thomas Cromwell.
  • Gerard Butler – studied at the University of Glasgow and initially began to train as a lawyer before becoming an actor.

What can I do with a law degree?

Mathematics

  • Rachel Riley – studied at the University of Oxford before replacing Carol Vorderman as the presenter of Countdown.
  • Dara Ó Briain – the host of Mock the Week has a degree in maths and theoretical physics from University College Dublin.
  • Lewis Carroll – studied and later taught at Christ Church College, Oxford, where he wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

What can I do with a mathematics degree?

Medicine or nursing

  • Jo Brand – worked as a psychiatric nurse before starting her career in comedy.
  • Emeli Sandé completed three years of a medical degree and became a qualified neurologist, before her music career took off.
  • Harry Hill – was a practising doctor before he became the narrator of You’ve Been Framed.
  • Jay Sean – before pursuing his singing career he initially studied at Queen Mary, University of London.

What can I do with a medicine or nursing degree?

Modern languages

  • JK Rowling – studied at the University of Exeter, where she was later awarded an honorary degree for her contribution to children’s literature.
  • Paula Radcliffe – the long-distance runner has a degree in modern European studies from Loughborough University.
  • Julia Donaldson – studied drama and French at the University of Bristol before writing award-winning children’s books such as The Gruffalo.
  • Huw Edwards – the presenter of BBC News at Ten studied French at Cardiff University.
  • Fiona Bruce – the newsreader and TV presenter read French and Italian at the University of Oxford.

What can I do with a modern languages degree?

Philosophy

  • Ricky Gervais – the comedian and actor studied at University College London.
  • Jack Gleeson – decided to quit professional acting and attend Trinity College Dublin, after his character Joffrey Baratheon was killed on Game of Thrones.

What can I do with a philosophy degree?

Physics

  • Brian Cox – completed his undergraduate degree, masters and doctorate at the University of Manchester, and has since presented science documentaries such as Wonders of the Solar System.
  • Dara Ó Briain – the host of Mock the Week has a degree in maths and theoretical physics from University College Dublin.
  • Brian May – the lead guitarist of Queen has a PhD in astrophysics from Imperial College London.
  • Angela Merkel – worked as a research scientist before becoming Chancellor of Germany.

What can I do with a physics degree?

Politics

  • George Alagiah – the BBC newsreader studied at Durham University, where he developed his interest in journalism.
  • Tim Farron – studied at Newcastle University before being elected as an MP and going on to become leader of the Liberal Democrats.
  • Miranda Hart – studied political science at the University of the West of England before becoming a comedian and actress.
  • Barack Obama – put his political science degree to good use when he was elected president of the US.

What can I do with a politics degree?

Psychology

  • Natalie Portman – has been starring in films since she was a teenager, but managed to complete her degree alongside her acting career.
  • Jessica Ennis-Hill – competed in athletics events including the Commonwealth Games and British Championships while studying at the University of Sheffield.
  • Lil Wayne – the rapper enrolled on the University of Phoenix’s online psychology course after beginning his musical career.

What can I do with a psychology degree?

Sociology

  • Michelle Obama – majored in sociology at Princeton University before she met her husband Barack Obama and became first lady of the US.
  • James Blunt – the singer-songwriter has a degree from the University of Bristol.
  • Ronald Reagan – the actor and former US president majored in sociology and economics.

What can I do with a sociology degree?

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