How Far The Cast Of The Big Bang Theory Got In School

It's no secret that smarts are the main punchline on The Big Bang Theory. Not only does the CBS sitcom center around a misfit group of PhD physicists and aerospace engineers (excluding Penny's blonde moments), but the series has cameos from actual accomplished intellectuals. Think: Ira Flatow, the prominent science radio host, and Bill Nye, every '90s kids favorite scientist.

Though the sitcom's guest stars have some major credits in real life, most of The Big Bang Theory cast don't have the same academic prowess as their characters. In fact, the series had to hire an actual physicist to make sure they got the gags right. According to NPR, UCLA professor David Saltzberg is tasked with fact-checking, and supplying a large swath of the technical material.

When it comes down to it, the cast did pretty well for themselves whether they're neuroscientists or middle school dropouts. They're some of the highest-paid actors on TVregularly topping Forbes lists. How much does it really matter if Jim Parsons only has a single master's degree rather than Sheldon's double doctorates if he's a multi-millionaire all the same? 

Here's how far the cast of The Big Bang Theory got in school — from ditching class to scoring a PhD.

Kaley Cuoco's prom was a little bit High School Musical

Kaley Cuoco is no dumb blonde in real life. Though the actress never went to college, she was a little busy being a sitcom star to venture into the world of higher education. Instead, she got high school out of the way early and graduated to Forbes' list of highest paid TV actresses.

In an interview with Parade, Cuoco admitted that her budding career, which started with a Barbie commercial, made her "a bit of an outcast" at school. Her fellow classmates thought she believed she was cooler than them, so she decided to withdraw and start homeschooling in fifth grade. The decision made her "much happier." By the time she was 16 years old, she had her high school diploma, according to CBS.

With high school out of the way, Cuoco had time to focus on her breakout role in ABC comedy 8 Simple Rules. Though she never attended a traditional high school, the actress did get a small piece of the typical high school experience when Ashley Tisdale invited her to prom — it just didn't go down how she had hoped. Let's be real: does prom ever actually live up to the hype?

"I wore something plain to be understated," she told Parade. "But these horribly mean girls said, 'Oh, you think you're going to the Academy Awards in your classy black dress?' Honestly, it just made me happy to know I wasn't in that school."

Johnny Galecki went to high school for four hours

Dr. Leonard Hofstadter got his PhD at the ripe age of 24. In real life, the actor who portrays the on-screen experimental physicist only made it a single day of high school — and it wasn't even a full day. In an interview with Time Out Chicago, Johnny Galecki revealed that he dropped out "in the middle of eighth grade" after years of avoiding class at all costs. He went to high school for just four and a half hours.

"In Chicago Public Schools, I could hide in the back of the class all day long in a class of 40-some kids. Once long division came up in third grade, I'd go to the bathroom for 45 minutes and nobody raised an eyebrow — every single day at the same time of day, just to escape that," he told Time Out.

Galecki might not have the math brain of the physicist he portrays on The Big Bang Theory, but he always had street smarts. At age 14, the star lived completely alone in a studio apartment in Burbank while working on the sitcom American Dreamer, his first big break. His family had spent nine months in Long Beach before moving back to Chicago, and he stayed behind to focus on his acting career. Today, you can find this middle school dropout on Forbes' 2018 list of highest-paid TV actors.

Jim Parsons is a true master of the stage

Dr. Sheldon Cooper was a full-on child prodigy. He started college when he was 11 years old and got his doctorate by the time most kids are having their first kiss. In fact, he has two doctoral degrees and two master's degrees  – bazinga! Though Jim Parsons might not have been pursuing a doctorate as a teenager, he does hold one master's degree that helped him perfect his craft.

In a segment on Entertainment Tonight, Parsons' mother revealed that her son knew he wanted to be an actor since he was three years old. To achieve his dreams, he was hyper-focused on his education and training, but it was his parents who pushed him to get serious about his craft and explore a master's degree. "[My parents] would pose questions to me like, what are you doing to make a real financial go of this? You know, what is your next step? What's the whatever," he told NPR, "Which kind of led me to grad school."

According to Parade, Parsons got his undergraduate degree from the University of Houston and completed a master's in classical theater at the University of San Diego. Parsons was 27 in his graduate school days — about 10 years shy of when Sheldon got his PhD.

Mayim Bialik might as well just play herself on the show

Mayim Bialik is the one Big Bang Theory actor who could totally hold her own against her neurobiologist on-screen character. Unlike following her fellow child stars down a path of DUIs and bankruptcy, Bialik earned a PhD in neuroscience.

Bialik's path to education was unconventional. In 2017, she told National Geographic that she was inspired by her junior high physics teacher, but left regular school in favor of on-set tutoring from ages 14 to 19 because she was starring on the hit sitcom Blossom. Even then, the actress knew she wanted to go to college.

According to CNN, Bialik hightailed it to UCLA right after Blossom ended in 1995. She earned her undergrad in neuroscience and Hebrew and Jewish studies. During her PhD research, she studied "obsessive compulsive disorder among people with Prader-Willi syndrome," and examined the way in which the hypothalamus secretes oxytocin and vasopressin. She later used this knowledge to write a book about the hormones involved in child-parent bonding.

Though Balik might be a scientist, she ended up quitting the life to jump back into showbiz. Why? Hollywood is simply easier for moms. "It was exciting to get my PhD in 2007," she told National Geographic. "But in terms of time to raise my two sons, the flexible life of an actor was better than the long hours of a research professor."

Simon Helberg was an NYU dropout

Simon Helberg didn't get quite as far in school as his Big Bang Theory character Howard Wolowitz. The actor didn't go the way of Mayim Bialik and become aerospace engineer before playing one on TV. In fact, he didn't even finish college, but he is a pianist in real life. Yes, Howard is really playing piano in all those scenes.

Before Helberg caught the acting bug, he was pursuing the rock-and-roll lifestyle. In an interview with Conan O'Brien, the LA-bred actor revealed he joined "a rock band" in eighth grade and would play on the Sunset Strip. During high school, the star studied jazz, where he brushed up on his piano skills before switching gears and going to college for acting. Helberg attended NYU's prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, but never finished. Regardless, he found the experience valuable.

"I didn't finish college, and that's why I'm a weird little person, but it was one of the great moments in my life," he said in a Golden Globes interview.

​Kunal Nayyar's degree was his back-up plan

Kunal Nayyar might not be a PhD astrophysicist like Raj Koothrappali, but he is rather well-studied. The actor has a multicultural educational background and attended high school in India. Once he graduated, he shipped off to the States with the support of his parents — a pretty bold move for a teenager.

"My parents really inspired me to leave home," he told British Airways (via India Today). "I think they found it was very good for me to grow as a human being. And I wasn't scared as much as I was excited, to be honest. I was 18 and I was going to a new country."

According to Temple University's alumni association, the star originally pursued a more traditional career path at the University of Portland. He majored in business, and took acting classes in his free time. If acting didn't work out, he'd always have a solid degree to fall back on. Fortunately, Nayyar never actually needed plan B. His acting hobby turned into a full-on career when the star won the Mark Twain Award for comic brilliance and a fellowship at the Sundance Theater Lab. After completing his undergrad, Nayyar pursued an MFA in acting at Temple. Today, he holds a spot on Forbes' list of highest-paid TV actors.

​Melissa Rauch is no waitress

Melissa Rauch has more in common with her Cheesecake Factory waitress-turned-PhD character Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz that you'd think — but it's not the degree. Rauch is a born-and-bred Jersey girl, which means she spent a decent chunk of her formative years at the mall. Though she hasn't explicitly stated an affinity for overpriced flatbreads and cheese-based desserts (Cheesecake Factory is a mall staple in the Garden State), she did measure her success in Wetzel's Pretzels rather than dollar bills.

"I remembered, when I first had just a little bit of success on TV, I would come home and the guy at Wetzel's Pretzels would give me one for free," she told "And then that show got cancelled, and when I came back — well, if I wanted a pretzel now, I had to pay for it. And it was devastating."

Thankfully, Rauch did have a college education to fall back on. According to the same outlet, the star had a typical suburban Jersey childhood — she went to the shore, took dance lessons, and attended Brookdale Community College's arts camp. When she graduated from Marlboro High, she went to Marymount Manhattan for acting, where she developed her writing chops. This led her to create her one-woman comedy show, The Miss Education of Jenna Bush. The show was a hit, she moved to LA, and the acting jobs — from episodes of True Blood to an I Love You, Man bit part — started trickling in.

Kevin Sussman rode out the dot com bubble

Staten Island has brought the world many treasures — the Wu-Tang Clan, the Staten Island Ferry bar, Pete Davidson, and at least a quarter of the Jersey Shore cast. It also brought us Kevin Sussman, who embodies The Big Bang Theory's loveable (and vaguely depressed) comic shop owner Stuart Bloom.

Like Bloom, who went to the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, Sussman also attended an arts college. According to Staten Island Live, the star graduated from New Dorp High School and did a year of classes in his home borough at the College of Staten Island. From there, he transferred to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, a prestigious acting school in Manhattan that boasts alumni like Grace Kelly and MTV's original Jackass, Johnny Knoxville.

After receiving a bachelor's degree, Sussman's acting success wasn't immediate. He had an apprenticeship with actress Uta Hagen, then joined the adult workforce as a computer consultant (something you'd expect from one of his Big Bang Theory pals). He worked in tech during the day and filmed TV commercials when he could.

"I fit the bill for the dot-com boom — I had the big crazy hair," he told Staten Island Live. As soon as his day job started interfering with his auditions, he made the full-time plunge into acting.

John Ross Bowie has an English degree

John Ross Bowie, who portrays physicist Barry Kripke, almost wasn't an actor. He originally pursued anything but — including holding down jobs as a high school teacher, a copywriter, and the bassist for '90s punk band Egghead. It took him years to admit his real passion and take the plunge.

"I grew up in the theater district of New York City which actually discouraged me from becoming an actor because I knew so many people who were struggling at it," he told The Spectrum. "I eventually realized I had to at least give it a shot or I'd never forgive myself. I was 28 before I started making a living at it."

In many sentiments, Bowie had everything it took to be a professional writer (of which he still is if you check out his IMDb credits). According to TCM, the actor got an English degree from Ithaca College, where he worked at the college's radio station. In 1998, he enrolled in acting classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York and started performing around the country with his sketch comedy troupe. Cue the TV commercials and a small role in 2000's Road Trip. After playing a waiter in the raunchy comedy, the star managed to lock down a steady career in the world of TV acting, including his starring role on Speechless, and his recurring role on The Big Bang Theory.

Laura Spencer got her bachelor's

Laura Spencer was perhaps the busiest cast member during the three years she spent as Emily Sweeney on The Big Bang Theory. She was doing double duty as Raj's love interest, while portraying Jessica Warren on Bones. The on-screen dermatologist might not have gone to medical school or studied forensic anthropology like the whip-smart characters she portrays, but she did get a bachelor's degree in acting.

Spencer attended the OU School of Drama at the University of Oklahoma and graduated with a BFA in 2008. It was there that she met a casting director who helped her realize her Hollywood dreams weren't too far out of reach. "I got the opportunity to take some on-camera classes while I was in school and met a casting director who informed me quite a bit before my move out to L.A.," she told Backstage. "It made LA feel possible coming from Oklahoma and not having a family that was in the industry."

Spencer has since had roles in TV series like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Switched At Birth beyond her Big Bang Theory big break.

Rati Gupta chose dancing over medical school

Rati Gupta only recently started seeing major Hollywood success after her Big Bang Theory debut in 2018. The star admitted in a 2014 Glamour interview that she didn't really land prime roles and was having a tough time breaking into TV.

"The first wave of auditions goes to your A-list stars," she said. "The second wave goes to established actresses who have top agents, or who have been guest-starring for a long time. I'm the third wave. I'm what I like to call special teams. The networks call us in when they realize they don't have any minorities in their cast, so they want an ethnic choice. Any minority. They don't care."

Thankfully, Gupta does have an education to fall back on, though it looks like the whole Hollywood thing is working out pretty well for her. According to a 2019 Chicago Tribune article, Gupta was an "academic nerd" who was planning to go to medical school. She was even her high school's salutatorian. Before moving to Hollywood, she was on a pre-med path at Northwestern University, and double majored in psychology and dance.

Ultimately, Gupta decided to pursue a dance career instead of going to medical school. She moved to Los Angeles where she became a coveted hip-hop dancer (you can see her in videos for Lupe Fiasco and Flo Rida), and the rest is history.