Q: Why do young celebrities who are already famous bother going to prestigious universities (Natalie Portman, who went to Harvard; Julia Stiles at Columbia; the Olsen twins starting NYU this fall; etc.)? Are they actually learning something useful there? Because I don't see any of them studying biochem or the intricacies of global economics.

Amy Chen, Rockville

A: I'm going to side with the celebrities, because going to college is the only radical choice they ever make these days.

People love Jessica Simpson because she's dumb, or so we're told. However, the real tragedy isn't that she's a dim bulb -- it's her willful lack of intellectual curiosity. Forget books, ideas, other people: The MTV documentary cameras that chronicle her days and nights always catch her in the act of yawning when life isn't specifically about her. Sometimes she even lies down on the floor (of offices, elevators, greenrooms, restaurants) the minute she encounters an experience too challenging or new. At 23, she's a lousy student of life. College might've helped.

Except for those semesters when you have to leave to play the senator of Naboo in another boring "Star Wars" movie, as did Harvard graduate Portman, college has a way of curing you of yourself. And this is the key to a better life, even a better celebrity life. While campus communities assiduously protect young hotties from paparazzi, they also act as a transition point between everything one thinks one knows and everything one hasn't yet learned. Busy class schedules help smarter-seeming celebs play hard-to-get with Hollywood. As a bonus, the celebrity undergrad acquires the cachet of bettering herself without surgery.

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