Where 50 top pop stars went to school
As one might imagine, the life of a pop star is anything but traditional. Before these talented singers and musicians took the world by storm, they were stuck in a classroom just like everyone else. Well, a few of them were at least. Others dropped out of high school to pursue their dreams and passions at any cost. Some were groomed for success at such a young age that their educational upbringings were as unorthodox as anything else in their day-to-day lives. Private tutors and exclusive performing arts academies are all part of the package when obvious talent is on the table.
So where did the 50 pop stars go to school? To determine which artists qualified for the list, Stacker went straight to Billboard, which uses a formula that blends weekly performances on the Billboard “Pop Songs chart.” When a band or vocal group made the list, Stacker ranked either the most well-known member, or the member who made it the furthest in their formal education.
Read on to learn where the top 50 pop stars went to school.
#50. Nicki Minaj
Before becoming one of the foremost names in hip-hop, Onika Tanya Maraj—a.k.a Nicki Minaj—was an aspiring thespian at New York City's Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School. Upon graduation, Minaj struggled to maintain her acting career, and pivoted her focus toward music instead. In recent years, footage of Minaj's high school acting skills has surfaced, proving she was clearly committed to the craft.
#49. Sheryl Crow
Nine-time Grammy winner Sheryl Crow graduated from the University of Missouri (also known as Mizzou) in 1984, where she majored in music, performance, and education. Despite her formal training in composition, she later claimed that as a pop songwriter you “basically throw all those rules out.”
#48. Ellie Goulding
#47. Hootie & The Blowfish
Hootie & the Blowfish takes its name from two college buddies who met as freshmen at the University of South Carolina in the mid-1980s. The band earned a massive following around campus before taking the world stage in the 1990s. To honor the group on its 25th anniversary, the university erected a 17-foot stainless steel monument in the shape of a guitar pick.
OneRepublic lead vocalist Ryan Tedder and guitarist Zach Filkins first met at Colorado Springs Christian High School in 1996, where they played on the same soccer team. The two started jamming together that same year, though they would soon part ways to attend different colleges. After graduating from Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma with a degree in public relations and advertising, Tedder moved to Los Angeles, and convinced Filkins to do the same.
#45. Ariana Grande
By the age of 8, Ariana Grande was already singing “The National Anthem” for the Florida Panthers hockey team, so it's no surprise that this pop princess skipped out on a traditional education. At 13, she stopped attending North Broward Preparatory School to star in a Broadway play. However, the school continued to send her lessons, and she graduated in 2012.
#44. No Doubt
#43. Enrique Iglesias
Unbeknownst to his famous father, Latin sensation Enrique Iglesias performed original songs in restaurants around Miami when he was in high school. He then attended the University of Miami with the intention of pursuing a business degree. When the lure proved too strong to resist, Iglesias dropped out of college to become a full-time musician.
#42. The Weeknd
Back when he was known as Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, musician The Weeknd studied at West Hill Collegiate Institute and Birchmount Park Collegiate Institute in Scarborough, Toronto. In 2007, he dropped out of high school and took off with his friends, later claiming that he derived his stage name because he “left one weekend and never came back home.” With education still on his mind in 2017, Tesfaye donated $50,000 to help the University of Toronto launch a class on the ancient language Ge'ez, spoken in the Horn of Africa.
#41. Boyz II Men
The members of Boyz II Men met in the mid-1980s when they were students at the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (also known as CAPA). Decades later, the group returned to the school to perform a concert, with member Shawn Stockman saying “this is where it all started.” In 2017, the city of Philadelphia established Boyz II Men Boulevard, located just a block away from the school.
#40. Celine Dion
This multi-talented artist attended Las Vegas Academy from the ninth through 11th grades before getting kicked out for breaking a window. In a later interview, Ne-Yo wondered if the school dean used the broken window as an excuse to expel him because she “had it out for [him] anyway.” He ended up graduating from Rancho High School the following year.
#38. 3 Doors Down
Frontman Brad Arnold founded this Mississippi-based rock band when he was still a student at East Central High School in the mid-1990s. During math class, he wrote what would eventually become the band's breakout hit, “Kryptonite.” While Arnold and the band continued to hone their craft, he attended Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
#37. Destiny's Child
Singer Michelle Williams was the only member of Destiny's Child to attend college. In addition to her long-running passion for music, Williams pursued a degree in criminal justice at Illinois State University before dropping out. She met Kelly Rowland and Beyoncé Knowles in 1999, and joined Destiny's Child soon after.
#36. Ed Sheeran
On his hard-earned path to glory and fame, singer Ed Sheeran took the Artist Development course at Access to Music, a U.K.-based independent training provider. He also studied for a brief time at England's Academy of Contemporary Music. In 2015, Sheeran received an honorary degree for his "outstanding contribution to music" from the University Campus Suffolk in Ipswich.
#35. Calvin Harris
#34. Alanis Morissette
A musical prodigy from a young age, Canadian rock icon Alanis Morissette attended Glebe Collegiate Institute by day and recorded music by night during her teenage years. She was also successful as a competitive swimmer. Instead of going to college, Morissette signed a two-album record deal with MCA Records Canada, and launched a wildly successful career.
Recognizing her teenage daughter's talent and passion for music, Adele's mother enrolled her in the BRIT School for Performing Arts & Technology. While still a student, Adele released a three-track demo that soon caught the attention of executives at XL Recordings. Four months after graduation, she signed her first record deal.
Singer Chris Kirkpatrick wasn't just the oldest member of NSYNC, he was also the only one to continue his formal education past high school. He studied at Rollins College and received musical training at Valencia College before joining a doo-wop group called The Hollywood Hi-Tones. After failing to land a spot in the Backstreet Boys, Kirkpatrick teamed up with the other members of NSYNC to make pop history.
#31. Selena Gomez
When most kids her age were entering high school, Selena Gomez was playing one of the lead roles on Disney Channel's “Wizards of Waverly Place.” It's then no wonder that the future pop star was homeschooled in the midst of her meteoric career. On the day she received her high school diploma, Gomez filmed a graduation ceremony in the movie she was working on by sheer coincidence.
Pop phenom Ke$ha attended Franklin High School and Brentwood High School before dropping out at 17 to pursue music. Don't take that to mean the famously wild singer isn't educated or intelligent; on the contrary, it's been reported that she scored 1500 (out of a possible 1600) on her SATs, and has a near-genius IQ of 140.
Rapper Pitbull—born Armando Christian Perez—attended South Miami Senior High School and graduated from Miami Coral Park High School. Rather than go to college, he focused on making music to indisputably successful results. When not dropping singles, he helps oversee SLAM, a sports-focused charter school in Miami.
#28. Backstreet Boys
#27. Justin Bieber
#26. Avril Lavigne
Some things were complicated for this Canadian-born singer, but leaving high school behind was probably not one of them. After signing a $1.25 million recording contract at the age of 16, Lavigne dropped out of Napanee District Secondary School to work on her first album. That album became “Let Go,” certified six times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
Nelly (born Cornell Iral Haynes Jr.) never went to college, but he did attend University City High School in Missouri. He played a range of sports and formed hip-hop group St. Lunatics with his high school friends. Nelly's former group mates would later appear on his successful debut album, “Country Grammar.”
#24. Chris Brown
Given rapper Eminem's affinity for complicated wordplay, it might come as a surprise that the real-life Marshall Mathers failed ninth grade three times in a row. Mathers would later confess that he “didn't go to school. [He] couldn't deal.” By the age of 17, he dropped out to cultivate his true passion.
#22. Jennifer Lopez
#21. Matchbox Twenty
On dropping out of Florida's Lake Brantley High School at the age of 17, Matchbox Twenty leader Rob Thomas claimed his “regular life was in such disarray that going (to school) seemed ridiculous.” Troubles within his family, including a parent with substance abuse problems, contributed to a hectic life. In the time since, Thomas earned his GED, but never attended college.
#20. Jason Derulo
This multi-platinum pop star wrote his first song at 8 years old, and began attending performing arts schools around the same time. A diverse set of skills eventually brought him to the prestigious American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) in New York, where he was selected as one of the school's top five tap dancers. He was also the only student at the time to be cast in an international commercial for AMDA.
Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger got under the skin of various authority figures in his youth. As documented in the song “Photograph,” Kroeger used to break into his high school to steal money, and even spent time in a juvenile detention facility. Despite the obstacles, he went back to graduate high school before hitting the road with his bandmates.
As early as age 7, Beyoncé Knowles was turning all kinds of heads with her innate talent for singing and dancing. She was subsequently enrolled in Parker Elementary, a music magnet school in Houston. While concurrently launching to fame as part of Destiny's Child, she attended the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and then Alief Elsik High School.
#17. Flo Rida
Hip-hop star Flo Rida (born Tramar Lacel Dillard) went to Miami Carol City Senior High School, which counts fellow rapper Rick Ross among its alumni. After graduating in 1998, Dillard studied international business management at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada, dropping out after two months. He also briefly attended Barry University in Miami before once again dropping out, this time to explore his passion for music.
Madonna Louise Ciccone—or Madonna for short—honed her dance skills as a cheerleader at and earned straight A's at Rochester Adams High School in Michigan. Recognizing her talent, the University of Michigan offered her a dance scholarship in 1976. She attended college for two years before dropping out and moving to New York City, where she pursued a career as a professional dancer.
#15. Janet Jackson
Like her siblings, Janet (Damita Jo) Jackson began performing as an actress and singer at a young age. After giving public school a fair shot, she switched over to Valley Professional School, where most of the students were entertainers. Jackson graduated in 1984, then played a gifted high school student in the TV series “Fame” that same year.
#14. Christina Aguilera
This natural-born singer wowed judges on TV's “Star Search” at the age of 9 and soon appeared on “The Mickey Mouse Club.” Drawing envy from her classmates as she continued to snag the spotlight, Aguilera faced bullying at North Allegheny Intermediate High School. As a result, her mother pulled her out in the ninth grade and homeschooled her until graduation.
#13. The Black Eyed Peas
As a teenager, The Black Eyed Peas leader will.i.am (born William James Adams Jr.) was bussed in from Boyle Heights to John Marshall High School in affluent West Los Angeles. It was there he met future groupmate Allan Lindo, better-known today as apl.de.ap. Before striking it big in the music scene, will.i.am studied fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles.
#12. Lady Gaga
As any true fan is likely to know, Lady Gaga (born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) is as intelligent as she is talented. Upon graduating from an all-girls Catholic high school, she attended New York University's exclusive Tisch School for the Arts, dropping out after one year. Lady Gaga is also an alumna of the renowned Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute, hence her reputable skills as an actress.
Usher is yet another pop star who wasted no time in shining, releasing his first album at the age of 15. Around the same time, he attended North Springs Charter School of Arts and Sciences, which specializes in cultivating talent. To pay it forward, Usher later established New Look, a 10-year program that puts underprivileged youth on the track for success.
#10. Bruno Mars
His name is Peter Gene Hernandez, but audiences know him as Bruno Mars. A talented youth in Honolulu, Hawaii, the future Grammy winner attended President Theodore Roosevelt High School. When not in school, Mars would perform oldies tunes at the nearby Ilikai Hotel for friends and family.
#9. Mariah Carey
This wildly successful songbird earned the nickname “Mirage” at Harborfields High School in Greenlawn, New York, because she was always cutting class. After graduating, Carey moved to Manhattan and worked a number of odd jobs while pursuing a career in music. She also studied cosmetology before making it big as a singer.
#8. Kelly Clarkson
Born and raised and Texas, Kelly Clarkson sang in the choir at Burleson High School and won the school's talent show before graduating in 2000. College was quite simply never in the cards for the ambitious singer and future “American Idol” winner. As Clarkson once put it herself: “I didn't want to go to college. My goal was to be a major recording artist.”
#7. Taylor Swift
While pursuing a career in Nashville, the pop music icon also attended Hendersonville High School for her freshman and sophomore years. Given the nature of Swift's songs, it's safe to assume she gathered plenty of inspiration and material during the two-year stint. After her star took off, Swift switched to the Aaron Academy, a private Christian school that allowed for homeschooling, and accommodated her hectic touring schedule.
#6. Britney Spears
After performing as a Mouseketeer as a teen, Britney Spears returned to her home state of Mississippi and enrolled in private school Parklane Academy. Like something straight out of her debut music video, the singer said of her time in high school, “I was so bored...I wanted more.” Fun fact: she played point guard for the school basketball team.
#5. Justin Timberlake
A starbound performer if there ever was one, Justin Timberlake was last seen in a school hallway when he attended E.E. Jeter Elementary School in Tennessee. According to one source, the future pop star was "a straight-A sixth-grader.” After landing a role on “The Mickey Mouse Club” at 12, it was nothing but homeschooling for Timberlake.
#4. Katy Perry
#3. Maroon 5
Four of Maroon 5's original members met at Brentwood High School in Los Angeles, recording an album under the name Kara's Flowers. When the album flopped, the band members parted ways to continue their respective educations. For frontman Adam Levine and guitarist Jesse Carmichael, that meant attending Five Towns College in Long Island, New York, where they soaked up urban styles that would later influence the band's sound.
True to her edgy persona, Pink (born Alecia Beth Moore) was reportedly a troubled student at Central Bucks High School West in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. She would eventually ditch high school altogether and obtain her GED. Later, she attended the Moore College of Art and Design, dropping out after her first year to pursue music.