The list of celebrities who haven't let stardom get in the way of their education is longer than you might think. In fact, some have used it as an opportunity to hit the books, while others had their time in college interrupted by their success — and still went back. As students prepare for a new school year, albeit one that looks a bit different in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Wonderwall.com is taking a look at the numerous famous faces who swapped red carpets for classrooms, starting with Natalie Portman…
Natalie Portman starred in "Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace" just a few months before matriculating at Harvard University in 1999. "I don't care if [college] ruins my career…I'd rather be smart than a movie star," she said at the time. Natalie received a bachelor's degree in psychology while still filming movies like "Where the Heart Is" and "Star Wars: Episode 2 – Attack of the Clones." The star reflected on her time at Harvard in 2015 when she returned to deliver a commencement speech there, saying, "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."
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Shortly after finishing filming the "Harry Potter" franchise, Emma Watson officially left Hogwarts behind to enroll at Brown University. Emma told Interview Magazine in 2017 that she "needed the space to go and explore who I was, without being under the microscope … I loved working with other people my age who were figuring it out." She took a few semesters off to film movies like "My Week with Marilyn," "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" and "The Bling Ring" but managed to graduate in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in English literature.
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Cole Sprouse and Dylan Sprouse both started at New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study long after hitting it big on "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody," "Friends" and "Big Daddy." Although the twins have the same alma mater, they couldn't have taken more opposite paths while at NYU. Cole received a degree in geographical information systems and satellite imaging while Dylan obtained a degree in video game design. Cole described his less-than-glamorous life at the time during a 2017 appearance on "Live! with Kelly and Ryan," saying, "I had a job in Brooklyn, in some dingy lab in a basement in Williamsburg, bagging artifacts like a treasure goblin."
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America Ferrera was studying both theatre and international relations at the University of Southern California when her career started taking off with "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants." She took a break from her studies to focus on acting shortly before nabbing the title role on the hit series "Ugly Betty." However, the "Superstore" star eventually returned to USC and completed her bachelor's degree in 2013. "It's finally happening! Took me 10 years, but it feels great," she tweeted at the time.
Mary-Kate Olsen and Ashley Olsen famously put their childhood fame aside after graduating from high school in 2004 to both pursue degrees at New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study. The twins bought a $7 million penthouse apartment to avoid dorm life, with their manager telling the Los Angeles Times at the time, "not living in a dorm was less about Mary-Kate and Ashley's business than about interfering with other people's college experience." The pair never completed their studies, however, both taking a leave of absence after their first year at NYU to "pursue personal interests" and run their production company and (at the time) budding fashion empire.
With both an Academy Award and an "X-Men" film already under her belt, Anna Paquin decided to make the move to college in 2001. Anna enrolled at Columbia University, studying at the same time as fellow stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Julia Stiles. However, the actress's education was cut short when she left Columbia to pursue acting full time, nabbing more "X-Men" films and the hit series "True Blood."
Megan Thee Stallion is balancing her meteoric rise to stardom with her studies. The rapper has been taking online courses part time at Texas Southern University, where she's working toward a bachelor's degree in health administration. Megan told People Magazine in 2020 that she wants to see it through to honor her late mother, who died from brain cancer in 2019. "I want my big mama to be proud. She saw me going to school before she passed … I'm doing it for me, but I'm also doing it for the women in my family who made me who I am today."
After making waves for her work in "I Am Sam," "War of the Worlds" and the "Twilight" films, Dakota Fanning headed east to study at New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study in 2011. She majored in women's studies with a focus on the portrayal of women in film and culture. She told the "Today" show in 2018 that it's taken her longer to graduate since she's continued acting but that "it's something that's important to me and I know I'll be happy when I accomplish it."
Following a six-season run on "3rd Rock from the Sun" as well as a major turn in "10 Things I Hate About You," Joseph Gordon-Levitt enrolled at Columbia University's School of General Studies in 2000 and pursued an education specializing in history, literature and French poetry. He told The A.V. Club in 2017 that he made the move because "I just didn't really enjoy acting anymore. Then, once I moved away, I became a less selfish person, I think. And I wanted to connect with the world in a way that I never had before. That's when I came back to acting." He left Columbia in 2004 to continue pursuing acting, eventually landing parts in "(500) Days of Summer" and "Inception."
While working on the final seasons of her breakthrough hit "Desperate Housewives," Eva Longoria also worked on a master's degree at California State University, Northridge. The star received her degree in Chicano and Chicana studies and graduated in 2013. "You're never too old or too busy to continue your education!" she tweeted at the time, proving you really can have it all at any age.
Claire Danes had a red-hot career with "Romeo + Juliet," "Little Women" and "My So-Called Life" when she decided to study for a degree in psychology and fine arts at Yale University in 1998. But time in the dorms was short for Claire, as the star dropped out after her first two years. The actress told Howard Stern in 2018 that her time "felt sufficient. Mostly I just like, smoked pot and played 'Mario Tennis' with my friends."
Just as her breakthrough turn on Nickelodeon's "iCarly" came to an end in 2012, Miranda Cosgrove stepped away from acting to study at the University of Southern California. Miranda originally studied film but explained in a 2017 interview on "Live! with Kelly and Ryan" that she changed her major to psychology with just one year left in her studies.
Long after hitting the big time in hits like "Taxi Driver" and "Freaky Friday," Jodie Foster matriculated at Yale. The Oscar winner earned a degree in literature in 1985 and remained both an exemplary student and actress while studying. According to a 1991 piece in The New York Times, she made five movies, turned in term papers two weeks early, and got As while at the Ivy League school.
Speaking of overachievers, James Franco followed his turns in "Freaks and Geeks" and the "Spider-Man" films with a stay at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2006. James received an undergraduate English degree from UCLA and then moved to New York City to simultaneously attend Columbia University's MFA writing program, New York University's Tisch School of the Arts for filmmakingand Brooklyn College for fiction writing. Mind you, this is all while also starring in more "Spider-Man" films and hits like "Pineapple Express" and "Milk." He received his M.F.A. from Columbia in 2010 and then studied in the PhD program in English at Yale.
Not long after her star-making turns in "10 Things I Hate About You" and "Save the Last Dance," Julia Stiles enrolled at Columbia University in 2001. She graduated with an English literature degree in 2005 after also working on "The Bourne Identity," sequel "The Bourne Supremacy" and "Mona Lisa Smile" while studying. Julia discussed how she balanced it all with Rolling Stone in 2001, saying, "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."
After the mega-success of "Blossom," star Mayim Bialik took a break from acting to attend the University of California, Los Angeles. She earned a bachelor's degree in neuroscience in 2000 before pursuing a PhD in neuroscience at UCLA. Mayim, who finished the program in 2007, told National Geographic in 2017, "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." Not long after obtaining her degrees, Mayim returned to Hollywood and landed a major role on, coincidentally, "The Big Bang Theory."
Ashley Judd initially dropped out of college in the early 1990s to pursue acting full time, landing in hits like "Kiss the Girls" and "Double Jeopardy." However, with only one course left to complete in order to graduate, the star finally received a bachelor's degree in French at the University of Kentucky in 2007. Wanting to keep her education going, Ashley announced in 2016 that she had been accepted into a PhD program for public policy at the University of California, Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy. However, the actress took a medical leave of absence two months into the process due to severe migraines and has yet to return.
One of the busiest men in the industry, Nick Cannon, has balanced duties on "The Masked Singer" and "America's Got Talent" with his studies at Howard University. The star had been working toward a bachelor's degree in criminology/administration of justice and a minor in Africana studies and officially graduated in May 2020. Upon announcing his enrollment in 2016, Nick wrote that he's "always seeking new challenges and continual growth, and decided to obtain my first college degree from an institution that had a proven legacy of producing great minds."
After solidifying a career as one of most in-demand young models and actresses of the 1980s, Brooke Shields suspended her career to attend Princeton University. She graduated in 1987 with a degree in French literature and was a member of the Princeton Triangle Club and the Cap and Gown Club while there. Shortly after graduating, the star's four-year transcript was published in an issue of Life Magazine, showing that Brooke got all As and Bs as a student.
Steven Spielberg left California State University, Long Beach without completing all his bachelor's degree graduation requirements but went on to become one of the most successful directors in film history. In 2002, the Oscar winner returned to complete his Natural Science 492 class and receive his degree 37 years after he first enrolled. Steven's professor at the time told the Los Angeles Times, "he turned in his term paper just like everyone else. It was longer than most, well-written, and no grammatical errors."
After breaking through with the 1984 classic "The Karate Kid," Elisabeth Shue put her Harvard education on hold to pursue acting full time, going on to star in films like the "Back to the Future" sequels, "Adventures in Babysitting" and "Leaving Las Vegas." The Oscar-nominated star eventually returned to Harvard in 2000 to finish her political science degree.
Christy Turlington was already one of the world's most successful supermodels when she enrolled at New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study in the mid-1990s. The star graduated cum laude in 1999, earning a bachelor's degree in in Eastern philosophy and comparative religion. Not stopping there, Christy then continued her studies at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health at the age of 40. In 2016, she described her experience in college and grad school to the Wall Street Journal as so "awesome" and said that she wants to go back someday.
Years after making a name for himself in hit films like "The Sixth Sense," "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" and "Pay It Forward," Haley Joel Osment took a step back from acting to attend New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Haley graduated in 2011 before returning to Hollywood. In a 2014 New Yorker interview, he explained his decision to get his experience at college instead of on set, saying, "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."