30 Stars Who Went Back to School After They’d Already Become Famous

Fame has not stopped these celebrities from joining the world of higher education. From Emma Watson to Oprah, here are the best shining examples of stars who went

back to school after getting a taste of Hollywood.

Nick Cannon, Tyra Banks, America Ferrera and more prove that it is never too late to hit the books – even if you’re a star

Natalie Portman

In 1999, the 18-year-old actress enrolled at Harvard University, graduating with a degree in psychology. The actress famously said of her decision, “I don’t care if [college] ruins my career … I’d rather be smart than a movie star.”

In 1999, not long after the release of Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, 18-year-old Natalie enrolled at Harvard University, where she pursued a Bachelor of Arts in psychology. She continued to make films during this period, including Where the Heart Is, Zoolander, and Star Wars: Episode II. In 2015, Natalie returned to Harvard to deliver the commencement speech: “Today I feel much like I did when I came to Harvard Yard as a freshman in 1999. I felt like there had been some mistake, that I wasn’t smart enough to be in this company, and that every time I opened my mouth I would have to prove that I wasn’t just a dumb actress.”

Fun fact: Portman was a senior at the university when Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook.

Mary-Kate Olsen

One year after enrolling at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, Mary-Kate took a leave of absence. At the time, her rep told PEOPLE that the actress and fashion designer was taking time off “to focus on her increasing responsibilities as co-president of Dualstar Entertainment Group and to pursue personal interests,” referring to the production company behind several of the Olsen twins’ wildly popular TV movies in the 90s and early ‘00s. MK never returned to NYU.

Ashley Olsen

Ashley and her sister Mary-Kate famously purchased the top floor of a high-rise in the West Village for $7.3 million when they began their studies at NYU. As their lawyer and manager Robert Thorne told the LA Times in 2004, their decision about “not living in a dorm was less about Mary-Kate and Ashley’s business than about interfering with other people’s college experience. They visited the dorms last year and within a few minutes there was a crowd around them.” Like Mary-Kate, Ashley eventually took a leave of absence and never went back.

Shaquille O’Neal

The basketball legend got his career start at Louisiana State University, but left after three years to turn pro. He promised his parents that he would eventually graduate, and made good on that promise in 2000, when he finally earned his bachelor’s degree after seven summers of hard work.

Haley Joel Osment

Haley Joel Osment graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2011, choosing to perfect his craft in the classroom rather than on the big screen.  He told The New Yorker in 2014, “A film like The Sixth Sense burns an image of who you are into people’s minds. In the midst of that it can be difficult to know who you are, or who you are becoming. College seemed like a manageable next step, a place where I could figure that stuff out.”

Georgia May Jagger

Daughter of Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall, Georgia May was already making a name for herself as a model when she decided to enroll at the New York School of Visual Arts in 2010. She studied photography.

Karlie Kloss

Karlie, who was the seventh highest-paid model of 2017 according to Forbes (with $9 million in earnings), is currently enrolled at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. She also runs the education nonprofit Kode With Klossy and a YouTube channel. 24 of 30

Brooke Shields

Shields, who had been acting and modeling since she was just 12 years old, decided to take a break from Hollywood to get an education. She graduated from Princeton University in 1987 with a degree in French literature.

Jodie Foster

Talk about an overachiever! Foster made five films, turned in her term papers early and earned straight As at Yale. The actress earned a degree in Literature in 1985.

Miranda Cosgrove

Cosgrove is currently studying psychology at the University of California, where she enrolled in 2012. The Nickelodeon star was originally studying film, but explained in December 2017 on Live! with Kelly and Ryan that she changed her major with just one year left in her studies.

Swizz Beatz

n November 2017, Swizz took to Instagram to write about his graduation day from Harvard Business School’s Owner/President Management program: “Today I will become Harvard alumni and although I’m not getting an ‘MBA’ no one can EVER take this accomplishment away from me. I was suppose to be gone a long time ago according to some of my old teachers 🙂 This one is for you!” At the time, Swizz also teased a documentary about his time at Harvard, aptly titled, From The Bronx to Harvard.

Ashley Judd

It may have taken 17 years, but Judd finally graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in French. Judd had left school just one course shy of a degree for a career in acting. In 2016, Judd decided that it was time to go back to school, announcing on Facebook that she had been accepted into a Ph.D. program for public policy at UC Berkeley.

Elisabeth Shue

Shue, who began her career with a role in The Karate Kid, had to put her Harvard degree on hold in 1985 in order to star in films like Back to the Future and Leaving Los Vegas. She did eventually return in 2000 to finish her political science degree, but only after getting nominated for an Oscar.

Julia Stiles

Stiles studied English Literature at Columbia University while making films like The Bourne Identity and appearing on SNL. When asked how she managed to juggle it all, Stiles told Rolling Stone, “I think about that all the time, I really do. Somehow I just do it. But college will help me as an actress, because it makes me more interesting.”

Dakota Fanning

After making waves in Hollywood in movies including I Am Sam, Sweet Home Alabama, Charlotte’s Web and yes, an episode of Friends, Dakota began her studies at the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study in 2011, majoring in women’s studies with an emphasis on the “portrayal of women in film and culture.” She previously told The Daily Beast, “It’s something I’ve studied and thought about a lot. It’s rare to see women in a film who are not somehow validated by a male, or discussing a male, or heartbroken by a male, or end up being happy because of a male. It’s interesting to think about, and it’s very true.”

Yara Shahidi

What’s cooler: Being accepted to Harvard University or getting Michelle Obama to write you your letter of recommendation? Shahidi doesn’t have to choose. The Black-ish star originally deferred her acceptance to the Ivy League school for one year to work on some projects, but is currently a freshman at the university.

In June 2017, the Black-ish star announced that she had been accepted to Harvard. With the success of the show and its spinoff, Grown-ish, Yara decided to defer her start date by at least one year. “I’m trying to figure it out because I want to make sure that I get as much of the actual college experience of being on campus and not flying back and forth,” she told W magazine in January 2018. “So we’re working it out so that the best of both worlds can exist.”

Claire Danes

Danes didn’t end up finishing her degree in psychology and fine arts at Yale (she left after two years), but told Howard Stern in 2018 that her time at the Ivy League “felt sufficient,” adding, “Mostly I just, like, smoked pot and played Mario Tennis with my friends.”

Anna Paquin

Paquin already had an Oscar under her belt (she won in 1993 for her role in The Piano) when she enrolled at Columbia University in 2001. Anna, who became the second-youngest Oscar winner for her work in The Piano in 1993, enrolled at Columbia University in 2001 around the same time as fellow actress Julia Stiles. With the success of X-Men, Almost Famous, and plans for more films (non-X-Men included), Anna left Columbia focus on her acting full time

Nick Cannon

In 2016, the Wild ‘n Out host revealed he’d enrolled as a freshman at Howard University — at age 35. (But did he try out for the Drumline?)

Tyra Banks

In 2012, the America’s Next Top Model creator, model, and smize queen shared a photo of her graduation ceremony at Harvard Business School, writing that it was “SUCH an exciting moment.” Between Tara’s own interviews and the media’s assumption that she had gone to Harvard Business School to earn an M.B.A., the folks at Jezebel launched a mini investigation into her studies. TL; DR, not to take anything away from Tyra’s genius, but if you must know, she completed a non-degree-granting certificate course called the Owner/President Management Program (O.P.M.) 12 of 30

Not only did Banks go back to school, enrolling in Harvard’s Owner/President Management Program in 2012, she even taught a class at Stanford’s business school. The course focused on how to use social and traditional media to one’s advantage.

James Franco

The man loves learning! Franco grabbed his undergraduate degree from UCLA in 2008, and in 2011, he moved to New York City to attend Columbia University’s MFA writing program, New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts for filmmaking and Brooklyn College for fiction writing, all before enrolling in Yale’s Ph.D. program.

Cole Sprouse

n 2015, Cole graduated from New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study with a degree in geographical information systems and satellite imaging. As he explained on Live! with Kelly and Ryan in 2017, the degree, which was like “virtual cartography,” landed him a handful of excavations. “I had a job in Brooklyn, in some dingy lab in a basement in Williamsburg, bagging artifacts like a treasure goblin.” Then Riverdale, his first post-NYU, non-artifact gig, came around.

Dylan Sprouse

Like brother Cole, Dylan graduated from NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study in 2015. Instead of rocks, Dylan specialized in video games. He also spent part of his college life working as a host at a restaurant, a move he later explained on his now-deleted Tumblr page. Per E!, Dylan wrote at the time that he was not working for money. “I am financially secure… [I] took this job as a way to primarily feed my over bountiful video game addiction.” It’s a good thing he went that direction; these days, Dylan keeps busy at his Brooklyn meadery, All-Wise.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

When Gordon-Levitt enrolled in Columbia University in 2001, he was already super-famous for his roles in 10 Things I Hate About You and 3rd Rock from the Sun, which is why it wasn’t the worst thing ever when he dropped out in 2004 to get back to acting.

Emma Watson

Taking a brief hiatus from acting, the Harry Potter star enrolled at Brown University in 2009 and graduated with a degree in English Literature in 2014.

After a gap year and the final Harry Potter films, Emma enrolled at Brown University, where she spent the next five years, on-and-off. (She deferred her studies in 2011 and enrolled at Oxford’s Worcester College as a visiting student.) In May 2014, Emma graduated from Brown with a bachelor’s degree in English literature. According to the actress, she received “a lot of angry phone calls” during her studies. “But I needed the space to go and explore who I was, without being under the microscope,” she told Interview magazine in 2017. “And I did a play at Brown. I did Three Sisters. I loved it. I loved working with other people my age who were figuring it out.

Eva Longoria

The actress received her master’s degree from California State University Northridge in 2013 — while she was still filming Desperate Housewives. Her degree was in Chicano and Chicana Studies.

Mayim Bialik

Life imitates art … imitates life. Following the success of Blossom, Mayim went to UCLA and earned a bachelor of science in neuroscience. “If I had not gone to college, I might have kept acting and been happy like that. But I loved going to UCLA and doing something that was very challenging academically. I loved doing research with adolescents with special needs—that was seven years of my life,” she told National Geographic. In 2007, Mayim earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience, also from UCLA. Three years later, she joined a little show called The Big Bang Theory playing Amy, a neuroscientist.

Steven Spielberg

During the fall semester of 2001, long after he’d become an iconic director, Spielberg sat down and wrote the term paper for his Natural Science 492 class at Cal State Long Beach, allowing him to finally earn that one missing credit and thus his Bachelor of Arts – 37 years after he had first enrolled.

Oprah Winfrey

When Winfrey dropped out of Tennessee State University to pursue media, it certainly paid off. But in 1987, the talk show queen returned to finish her degree in Communications.

America Ferrera

America began her studies at the University of Southern California in 2002 but had to take an extended leave of absence when Ugly Betty came along. A handful of awards (Golden Globe, Primetime Emmy, Screen Actors Guild) and two Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants films later, America went back to pursue her degree and graduated with a BA in International Relations in 2012. “It’s finally happening! Took me 10 years, but it feels great,” she tweeted at the time.

Christy Turlington

With more than 500 magazine covers and a serious modeling career under her belt, Christy enrolled at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study in the mid-90s and earned a degree in philosophy and comparative religion. Nearly a decade later, Christy visited El Salvador with the non-profit humanitarian agency, CARE; her experiences led her to Columbia University, where she enrolled at the Mailman School of Public Health.

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