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Phoenix Forward magazine

For actress Shiri Appleby, being a University of Phoenix graduate is one of her favorite roles

Actress Shiri Appleby

Shiri Appleby’s lack of a college diploma didn’t prevent her from landing acting roles alongside Julia Roberts, Tom Hanks and dozens of other performers.

In fact, college degrees are rarely talked about on TV and movie sets, says the actress, who last summer shadowed the director of HBO’s TV series “Girls” and landed a recurring role in the show’s second season.

But for Appleby, 34, who has also appeared on the TV shows “Roswell” and “ER,” being a self-described “college dropout” bothered her too much not to do something about it.

“It was more about my self-worth,” says Appleby, who left college in her 20s to pursue a full-time acting career. “I needed to go back to college to know I finished the task. That I did it.”

She enrolled at University of Phoenix in July 2010 to earn an associate degree in the online psychology program because she believed what she’d learn would enhance how she approached her career.

“Acting is the study of emotions,” explains the Los Angeles native, who started performing at age 4, and who directed “Dating Rules From My Future Self,” a web series from the producers of “Gossip Girl.” “Being an actor, director or a producer is about the psychology of relationships — getting to know how to connect and understand people.”

During production, the TV crew set up a makeshift desk so she could do class research. She’d tackle homework and meet her program’s daily check-in requirements while getting her hair done.

The 2011 graduate adds that learning the course materials and engaging in discussions with classmates was the easy part. The true challenge was figuring out how to work a college degree into her 15-hour workdays shooting the prime-time TV series “Life Unexpected” in Vancouver, British Columbia, in addition to regularly flying home to Los Angeles to oversee renovation of a new house.

She learned how to maximize her time to fit in her education, she says. During production, the TV crew set up a makeshift desk so she could do class research. She’d tackle homework and meet her program’s daily check-in requirements while getting her hair done. And there was no sleeping on her flights back home — she used that time to write class papers.

“That was the great thing about online: You could just bring it with you everywhere,” says Appleby, who mapped out weekly to-do lists on Sunday nights.

She also found hitting the books again “grounding” because she had control over that aspect of her life. As an actress, she is usually at the mercy of others, from auditioning to spending time on sets.

A bonus, she says, is that she found parallels between making movies and her classwork. For both, she explains, “you start with an idea and then develop that project to completion, for a bigger goal.”

Appleby adds that having a degree not only erased her worries about being a college dropout, but also gave her a better sense of herself in the competitive entertainment world.

 She notes, “It just gives me that different level of confidence.”