Thomas Edison State University By Thomas Edison State University • September 6, 2013

5 Celebrities That Proved It Is Never Too Late to Go Back to School

We all have different reasons for returning to college. Perhaps it is to improve your career opportunities or increase your chances for a high-paying job. Maybe you are looking for the competitive edge that will enhance your marketability or help you triumph over any adversity in an economic downturn. Or, earning your degree is a personal goal, driven by your sense of pride and self-fulfillment.

Regardless of reason, you are not alone in choosing to pursue your education. And celebrities are no different. Household names like Steven Spielberg and Shaquille O’Neal were once in your shoes, choosing to go back to school after establishing noteworthy careers in their field. Filled with dreams and determination, these five celebrities prove that it’s never too late to go back to school, even when you sell millions of albums, smash box office records or slam dunk your way into sports history.

Steven Spielberg

After moving to California to pursue a film career, Steven Spielberg applied to his dream school, the University of Southern California (USC), but was turned down because of his grades. He then enrolled at California State University (CSU) and majored in English, but left to accept a directing contract with Universal Studios. In 1994, he was honored by USC with an honorary degree, but returned to CSU in 2001 to finish the bachelor's degree he started 35 years earlier. 

America Ferrara

Achieving fame as an undergraduate, Ugly Betty star America Ferrara left college to concentrate on her increasingly busy career in film and television. Ten years later, she returned to complete her bachelor’s degree in International Relations.


As a jet-setting superstar, Shakira has performed in numerous countries, feeding her interest in world history, often studying the history and languages of the countries she has visited. After one of her tours ended in the summer of 2007, Shakira took courses in History of Western Civilization, using her middle and last names so as to avoid being recognized by her professor and classmates as a celebrity. 

Shaquille O'Neal

Leaving Louisiana State University after three years for the opportunity to play in the NBA, Shaquille O’Neal promised his mother he would return to school and earn his bachelor’s degree. He fulfilled that promise in 2000 with a BA in General Studies, missing a home game to attend his graduation. In 2005, O’Neal returned to school to complete his MBA, and became Dr. O’Neal by earning an EdD in Human Resource Development in 2012. But the famous basketball MVP isn’t finished learning; at his last graduation ceremony, O’Neal spoke with a reporter for ABC News expressing interest in furthering his education at law school. 

Elizabeth Shue

After high school, Elizabeth Shue attended Wellesley College, where she began her acting career filming commercials as a way to pay for her tuition. Then in 1985, she transfered to Harvard University, but left to pursue her acting career full time - just one semester short of earning her bachelor's degree. Nearly 10 years later, she returned to Harvard and finished her bachelor's degree in political science in 2000.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter when you completed school; all that matters is that you finished. Whether you are looking to get a promotion, enhance your sense of self or made a promise to your family, always remember getting that degree is never too late.

If you do, you will be putting yourself in very good company of those who returned to finish what they started.

Thomas Edison State University

Written by Thomas Edison State University

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