April Maguire 4 min read College Lists

10 Famous Harvard Alumni You Need to Know About

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Families view a Harvard degree as a fast pass to a successful future, and with good reason. According to a 2018 article by CBS News, the average Harvard graduate earned an annual salary of $129,000 — that’s over $80,000 more than the median pay of a graduate who didn’t attend an Ivy. Moreover, Harvard grads join an impressive network of former students who’ve achieved success in entertainment, sports, politics, and other fields. Keep reading to learn about some of the most famous Harvard alumni from different walks of life.

 

10 Harvard Notable Alumni You Need to Know About

 

Note: we’ll skip the more obvious famous Harvard alumni in this post, like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, as we want to share some alumni you might not know went to Harvard.

 

1. Conan O’Brien

Class Year: 1985

Known for: Late night talk show host

 

conan o'brien harvard
Photo by Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0

 

Without a doubt one of the most famous Harvard alumni, Conan show host Conan O’Brien graduated from the school magna cum laude with a degree in American History. While in college, the Boston native wasted no time practicing his craft, serving as president of the Harvard Lampoon, a humor magazine. He went on to write for Saturday Night Live and the Simpsons prior to hosting Late Night and The Tonight Show, after Jay Leno’s departure from the series.

 

2. Natalie Portman

Class Year: 2003

Known for: Oscar-winning actress

 

natalie portman harvard
Photo by Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0

 

The Oscar-winning star of Black Swan, Natalie Portman took a break from acting to earn a degree in psychology from Harvard. Although she faced criticism for the decision, the Jerusalem-born actress famously said she’d “rather be smart than a movie star” and even wrote a letter to the editors of the Crimson during her tenure at the university. After graduating in 2003, Portman went on to appear in a series of hit films, including Jackie, Thor: the Dark World, and Avengers: Endgame.

 

3. Jeremy Lin

Class Year: 2010

Known for: Professional basketball player

 

jeremy lin harvard
Photo by Stephen Curry CC BY-SA 2.0

 

It’s not just actors who found success after graduating from this prestigious institution. Another of Harvard’s notable alumni, Jeremy Lin served as a guard for the Crimson team before going on to find fame and fortune with the Knicks. The professional baller, who graduated from Harvard with an economics degree in 2010, skyrocketed to success in 2010, when he averaged 24.6 points and 9.2 assists per game during the period known as Linsanity. 

 

4. Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Class Year: 1980

Known for: Astrophysicist and television host

 

neil degrasse tyson harvard
Photo by NASA/Bill Ingalls CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 

It’s no surprise that some of the 21st century’s top scientific minds were educated at Harvard. World-renowned astrophysicist, host, author, and actor Neil DeGrasse Tyson graduated from the Ivy League in 1980 with a degree in physics. Previously, he attended the Bronx High School of Science in 1976, where he was reportedly a strong student. Over the years, Tyson has held a number of impressive positions, serving as a presidential advisor to George W. Bush and host of the documentary series NOVA ScienceNow.

 

5. Colin Jost

Class Year: 2004

Known for: Saturday Night Live head writer and cast member

 

colin jost harvard
Photo by Arturo Pardavila III, cropped and contrast adjusted by 0xF8E8 CC BY 2.0

 

Fans of all things funny likely know the name Colin Jost. However, they might not realize that this “Weekend Update” cohost once walked Harvard’s hallowed halls. While earning his degree in the History and Literature of Russia and Britain, Jost held the position of president of the Harvard Lampoon. The 36-year-old has been an SNL writer since 2005 and a head writer since 2017.

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6. Soledad O’Brien

Class Year: 1988

Known for: Award-winning journalist and television host

 

Soledad O'Brien harvard
Photo by The Rudz CC BY 2.0

 

Although Soledad O’Brien attended Harvard from 1984 until 1988, she didn’t actually graduate until 2000. Regardless, the former Ivy-leaguer has put her BA in English and American Literature to good use, creating entertaining and timely TV series like Black in America and Latino in America. Today, the New York native serves as the host of the syndicated program Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien.

 

7. Sheryl Sandberg

Class Year: 1987

Known for: Author and Facebook Chief Operating Officer 

 

sheryl sandberg harvard
Photo by World Economic Forum/Moritz Hager CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

 

The mind behind the bestselling book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg graduated from Harvard summa cum laude in 1991. The economics major, who received the John H. Williams Prize while earning her degree, went on to serve as vice president of global online sales and operations at Google before joining Facebook as the company’s COO. The billionaire businesswoman was named to the Time 100 list in 2012.  

 

8. Courtney B. Vance

Class Year: 1982

Known for: Emmy Award-winning actor

 

courtney vance harvard
Photo by David Shankbone CC BY-SA 3.0

 

In 2016, Courtney B. Vance earned raves playing defense lawyer Johnny Cochrane in the critically renowned FX series, The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story. One of the most famous Harvard alumni in the acting world, Vance earned his history degree from Harvard in 1982 before going on to study drama at Yale. The Michigan native, whose credits include Law and Order: Criminal Intent, is married to fellow thespian and Yale attendee Angela Bassett.

 

9. Jill Stein

Class Year: 1973

Known for: Physician and Green Party presidential nominee

 

jill stein harvard
Photo by Gage Skidmore CC BY-SA 2.0

 

Love her or hate her, Jill Stein has made many headlines during the course of her political career. The Harvard attendee graduated magna cum laude after studying psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Along with serving as the Green Party’s presidential candidate in 2012 and 2016, Stein is a published author with credits that include Environmental Threats to Healthy Aging and In Harm’s Way.

 

10. Ryan Fitzpatrick

Class Year: 2005

Known for: Professional football player

 

Ryan Fitzpatrick Harvard
Keith Allison CC BY-SA 2.0

 

Ryan Fitzpatrick started his athletic career as a member of the Crimson football team. After graduating in 2005 with a degree in economics, the bright quarterback went on to play for the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins, among other teams. He holds the distinction of having the most career touchdown passes by an Ivy League graduate.

 

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April Maguire
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.