21 Movies, TV Shows That Sent Characters Back to School as Adults

3:06 PM 9/28/2018

by Katherine Schaffstall

From 'High Time' and 'Night School' to 'The Wonder Years' and 'One Tree Hill,' a number of movies and TV shows have sent adult characters back to school.

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While there are a countless movies and television shows that center on high school and college students, there are also a number of memorable adult characters that have gone back to school later in life.

From Bing Crosby's role as widower and hamburger restaurateur Harvey Howard in High Time to Kevin Hart's recent turn as troublemaker Teddy Walker in Night School, the concept of adults going back to school has been prevalent in films for years.

TV shows have also had similar storylines. From Uncle Jesse (John Stamos) on Full House to Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) on Gilmore Girls and the cast of Community, pop culture has shown that it's never too late to go back to school.

Read on to see which other fictional characters have gone back to school later in life.

  • 'High Time' (1960)

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    The 1960 film stars Bing Crosby as Harvey Howard, a widower and hamburger restaurateur who decides to go back to college at 51. Harvey insists on having the full college experience and lives in the dorms with the much younger students. While he faces much resistance from his grown children and classmates, Harvey's determination to get his bachelor's degree ultimately helps him make friends and get impressive grades. High Time follows all four years of Harvey's undergrad experience and the film concludes as he graduates with the honor of being valedictorian.

  • 'Back to School' (1986)

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    Back to School follows successful corporate giant Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield). After he leaves his wife Vanessa (Adrienne Barbeau), Thornton decides to visit his distant son Jason (Keith Gordon) at college. When Thornton learns that his son is unhappy and plans to drop out, he enrolls at the college. Although he lacks the grades and qualifications to be accepted into the university, Thornton ensures his spot by bribing the dean (Ned Beatty) with a hefty donation to contribute to a new building on campus. Thornton's college experience consists of much more partying than studying and he even hires others to complete his assignments. He butts heads with a number of his professors, including Dr. Diane Turner (Sally Kellerman), who ultimately inspires him to try when it comes to the academic part of college. The film concludes with Thornton making a commencement speech at the end of the school year.

  • 'Hiding Out' (1987)

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    Jon Cryer stars as stockbroker Andrew Morenski. It is revealed early on in the movie that he and two coworkers passed bogus bonds to a mobster who is awaiting trial. Following the death of one of the stockbrokers, the other two are taken into protective custody by the FBI. After his FBI bodyguard is killed, Andrew flees the scene of the crime and asks his Aunt Lucy (Gretchen Cryer) and cousin Patrick (Keith Coogan) for help. While visiting his aunt at the high school where she works as a nurse, Andrew impulsively enrolls and takes on the identity of Maxwell Hauser to keep a low profile as he tries to remain hidden. Andrew quickly shakes up the normalcy of the high school and decides to run for class president. When it is announced that former president Kevin (Tim Quill) won the election, Kevin demands a recount and it is revealed that the election was rigged. As Andrew addresses his classmates, a hitman begins shooting at the stage and his true identity is revealed.

  • 'The Wonder Years' (1992)

    Norma (Alley Mills) met her husband Jack (Dan Lauria) while the two were in college. When he graduated, Norma moved across the country with him and was unable to finish her degree. She eventually graduates from Foremont Community College in the sixth season. The episode "Let Nothing You Dismay," which takes place in 1972, brings conflict within the family and their assigned gender roles as Norma has a new degree and Jack is newly unemployed. The above scene shows the family's lack of interest in what Norma made as part of a pottery class at the community college.

  • 'Full House' (1992)

    When D.J. (Candace Cameron Bure) and Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber) ask Jesse (John Stamos) and Joey (Dave Coulier) to collaborate on a project to encourage kids to stay in school, Jesse is hesitant to get involved in the sixth season episode "Educating Jesse." It is later revealed that he never graduated from high school. Jesse's wife Becky (Lori Loughlin) convinces him to enroll in night school and he is shocked to learn that his new teacher is the same person that discouraged him from graduating in the first place. When Jesse sees that his niece Michelle (Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen) has given up on learning how to tie her shoes, Jesse realizes that he shouldn't give up on getting his G.E.D. He eventually graduates from night school in the 20th episode of the season titled "Subterranean Graduation Blues," though he doesn't make it to the actual commencement ceremony because the family gets stuck underground on the subway.

  • 'Billy Madison' (1995)

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    Adam Sandler stars as the titular character in the 1995 comedy. As an immature 27-year-old heir to a Fortune 500 hotel company, Billy loses his spot as the successor to Eric Gordon (Bradley Whitford). After Billy complains about the situation, his father Brian (Darren McGavin) agrees that he can inherit the company only if he completes all 12 grades in two week intervals. Billy successfully makes it through each grade before Eric convinces Billy's father that he has been bribing the principal for passing grades. After terminating the original agreement, Brian gives his son a second chance by having him compete against Eric in an academic decathlon. Billy ultimately wins the competition but decides to give the business to another one of his father's colleagues so that he can attend college to become a teacher.

  • 'Boy Meets World' (1997)

    With her son Eric (Will Friedle) attending college at Pennbrook University in the fifth season of Boy Meets World, Amy (Betsy Randle) decides she wants to get her degree in the ninth episode titled "How to Succeed in Business." After being placed in the same writing class as Eric, her son becomes upset when she shares personal short stories with the class. One of the stories she reads is called "A Mother's Struggle," which recounts her personal experience of giving birth. Eric eventually lightens up and realizes that Amy is more than just his mother. A scene of Eric and Amy in class together begins at the 3:00 mark in the above clip.

  • 'Never Been Kissed' (1999)

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    The 1999 romantic comedy stars Drew Barrymore as Josie Geller, an insecure 25-year-old copy editor who goes undercover as a high school student for a newspaper article. Josie, who has never been in a real relationship, struggles to fit in at the high school and constantly relives the embarrassment she felt when she was an actual high school student. She develops a crush on her English teacher, Sam Coulson (Michael Vartan), and while he reciprocates the feelings, he is hesitant to start a relationship because he believes she's a student. Josie ultimately wins over her peers and is voted prom queen, though the popular kids use the moment to pour dog food over Josie's friend Aldys (LeeLee Sobieski). An upset Josie then reveals her true identity. While Sam is originally hurt by the lie, he eventually forgives her and the two later share a romantic kiss in front of her former classmates on a baseball field.

  • 'Gilmore Girls' (2001)

    While Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel) is known as the studious character on Gilmore Girls, her mother Lorelai (Lauren Graham) also takes on the role of a student during the series. Lorelai was unable to attend college because she had Rory when she was a teenager. After working at the Independence Inn for many years, Lorelai decides to enroll at Hartford Community College to earn an associates degree in business. She graduates at the end of the second season and runs the Independence Inn until it burns down. Lorelai and her business partner and chef Sookie (Melissa McCarthy) eventually open the Dragonfly Inn together. The graduation ceremony begins at the 1:05 mark in the clip above.

  • 'Old School' (2003)

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    The 2003 comedy stars Will Ferrell, Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn as three friends who try to recapture their glory days as fraternity brothers by opening up a frat house near their alma mater. In order to keep the fraternity parties going, a group of men participate in activities to prove their legitimacy as a campus organization. Some of the requirements, which are all implemented by their former classmate and current dean Gordon Pritchard (Jeremy Piven), include winning a debate session and passing a difficult exam.

  • 'Strangers with Candy' (2005)

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    The 2005 comedy film is a prequel to the Comedy Central series of the same name that ran from 1999 to 2000. Strangers with Candy follows 46-year-old high school dropout Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris), who returns to her hometown after a stint in prison. Jerri decides to go back to high school in order to graduate when she finds that her home life has drastically changed for the worse. She joins the science fair team and befriends Chuck Noblet (Stephen Colbert) after enrolling as a freshman at Flatpoint High. As Jerri struggles to make friends and navigate high school, she learns that not much has changed since her first turn as a high school student.

  • 'The Office' (2005)

    Ryan (B.J. Novak) is originally hired at the Scranton-based paper company Dunder Mifflin in a temporary position. While Ryan is outspoken about his dislike of the job, he stays with the company and is often referred to as "The Temp," even when he is promoted. He attends business school on top of working at Dunder Mifflin and has higher hopes for himself than working at the paper company. In the third season episode "Business School," Ryan invites his boss Michael Scott (Steve Carell) to speak to his class. In true Michael Scott fashion, the lecture doesn't go as well as Ryan hoped it would.

  • 'The House Bunny' (2008)

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    The House Bunny tells the story of aspiring Playboy Playmate Shelley Darlington (Anna Faris) after she receives a note from Hugh Hefner that asks her to move out of the Playboy Mansion on her 27th birthday. With nowhere to go, she stumbles upon a sorority in need of a house mother. The sorority is in jeopardy of being shut down unless they can recruit 30 pledges. As Shelley tries to increase the appeal of the sorority, she also tries to impress the studious Oliver (Colin Hanks) by toning down her appearance and attending classes. Shelley is eventually invited back to the Playboy Mansion after she and Hefner learn that one of her roommates forged the note to get rid of her. She accepts the invitation and moves back to the house before realizing her love for the sorority members and returns to the campus to save the sorority.

  • 'Community' (2009)

    The premise of the NBC comedy follows a group of adults who decide to attend Greendale Community College. While some of the characters are going back to school, like former lawyer Jeff Winger (Joel McHale), others are attending college for the first time. Jeff begins a study group to spend time with Britta Perry (Gillian Jacobs), though the group ends up consisting of Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi), Shirley Bennette (Yvette Nicole Brown), Annie Edison (Alison Brie), Troy Barnes (Donald Glover) and Pierce Hawthorne (Chevy Chase). While the group members are all drastically different, they become quick friends as they deal with their unstable teacher Ben Chang (Ken Jeong) and the dean Craig Pelton (Jim Rash).

  • 'One Tree Hill' (2010)

    When Nathan (James Lafferty) learns that continuing his career in the NBA could negatively impact his health, he chooses to retire so that he can spend more time with his family in the eighth season of the series. He joins Fortitude, the sports agency owned by his former agent Clay (Robert Buckley), though he must get his college degree to become a properly trained agent. He initially butts heads with his professor Dr. August Kellerman (Peter Riegert), though they begin to grow fond of each other until Nathan wants to sign Kellerman's son to a baseball contract. Nathan soon learns that Kellerman's son was responsible for a car accident that almost killed his son Jamie (Jackson Brundage) and friend Brooke (Sophia Bush).

  • 'Larry Crowne' (2011)

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    Tom Hanks stars as the titular character in Larry Crowne. The actor also directed, produced and co-wrote the project. The film follows Navy veteran Larry after he is fired from his job at a big-box store because he lacks a college degree. He enrolls at a local community college and befriends a number of his classmates, who are all trying to ensure better futures for themselves. Larry struggles in his speech class, which is taught by Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts). The two have romantic feelings for each other, but brush them off due to their student-teacher relationship. Larry eventually ends up passing the class after giving a moving speech as part of the final exam. It is revealed at the end of the film that Larry has chosen not to enroll in one of Mercedes' classes for the next semester, which makes it possible for the two of them to begin a romance.

  • 'The Middle' (2012)

    After Frankie Heck (Patricia Heaton) loses her job as a car saleswoman at Ehlert's Motors, she vows to not take the first job she is offered and instead plans to pursue a career she thinks she will enjoy. She ultimately decides to go to tech school to become a certified dental hygienist. Frankie does not get along with her teacher, but she manages to graduate and is hired by Dr. Ted Goodwin (Jack McBrayer).

  • '21 Jump Street' (2012)

    The 2012 comedy is based off of the 1987 television series of the same name. 21 Jump Street follows former high school classmates Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) as they form a friendship after attending the Police Academy and work bicycle patrol together. The odd pair are assigned to go undercover at Sagan High School and stop the spread of a drug called HFS. After being given fake identities by Captain Dickson (Ice Cube), the two go back to high school. Jenko has a hard time fitting in, while Schmidt gets to experience high school as a popular student for the first time in his life. While their differing social statuses cause friction, the two eventually strengthen their relationship and stop high school student Eric Molson (Dave Franco) from dealing and physical education teacher Mr. Walters (Rob Riggle) from supplying the drugs. The sequel 22 Jump Street, released in 2014, catches up with Schmidt and Jenko as they attend college.

  • 'Don Jon' (2013)

    The 2013 romantic comedy-drama was written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Don Jon follows the sex crazed titular character (Gordon-Levitt) as he tries to court Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson). She encourages the bartending Don to take night classes so that he can get an office job. Don meets Esther (Julianne Moore) at night school and the two form an emotional connection after she catches him watching porn. Barbara breaks up with Don after learning the extent of his porn viewing and he eventually begins dating Esther, who happens to be the first person he has ever felt emotionally connected to in a romantic way.

  • 'Life of the Party' (2018)

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    The 2018 comedy follows Deanna (Melissa McCarthy), who decides to enroll at Decatur University of Atlanta with her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) after her husband (Matt Walsh) asks for a divorce. While Maddie is initially shocked with her mom's decision, she introduces her to her friends and gives her a makeover to help her fit in. During her time as a college student, Deanna takes advantage of the crazy party lifestyle and experiments with drugs, as well as hooks up with a fraternity member (Luke Benward). Deanna uses her maternal instincts to tend to the emotional needs of her younger peers, though she also lets loose and has more fun than she has had in years.

  • 'Night School' (2018)

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    The 2018 comedy film stars Kevin Hart as Teddy Walker, a troublemaker high school dropout who goes to night school in hopes of getting his GED. Tiffany Haddish stars as Claire, Teddy's teacher, while Rob Riggle, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Anne Winters and Romany Malco play Teddy's classmates. Saturday Night Live alum Taran Killam also stars as Stewart, the school's principal. The film comes from Girls Night director Malcolm D. Lee and is produced by Hart and Will Packer.