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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 who 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.
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.
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.
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.
Rati Gupta chose dancing over medical school
Rati Gupta only recently started seeing major Hollywood success after her Big Bang Theory debut in 2018. In a 2014 Glamour interview, the star admitted that she didn’t really land prime roles. And was having a tough time breaking into TV.