By Oliver Jones
December 15, 2008 12:00 PM

Like a lot of New York University sophomores, Haley Joel Osment lives in jeans, is rarely without two days’ worth of stubble on his chin and blasts Radiohead on his iPod. But that’s where the similarities end. His most recent after-school job was a lead role on Broadway, and while his pals may be glued to the Internet, “I’ve never had a MySpace or a Facebook page,” says the 20-year-old actor. “I avoid that entirely.”

He doesn’t exactly need to advertise. Osment became a household name—and an Oscar nominee—at age 11 as the little boy who saw dead people in the hit thriller The Sixth Sense. After nearly a decade as Hollywood’s most famous child actor, starring in movies such as A.I.: Artificial Intelligence and Pay It Forward, he decided to hit the books—and get some perspective on making the leap to adult roles—at NYU, where he plans to major in theater and history. “Everyone is hyper aware of the difficulty of that recognition early and then having people easily accept you growing up,” says Osment, who took this semester off to make his Broadway debut as a junkie in a revival of David Mamet’s American Buffalo, which just closed. “[It] can be a tough transition.”

No kidding. A stumble came when Osment lost control of his car in 2006 and was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and marijuana possession. “It was an example of someone just out of high school being extremely irresponsible,” says Osment, who pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 60 hours of rehab and three years’ probation. “There’s no excuse for that.” After the incident he decided to swear off drinking until his 21st birthday. “I learned my lesson. I made a bad decision, and it’s something you can’t run from.”

The hardest part about Osment’s arrest wasn’t having his mug shot plastered all over the Internet; it was having to explain it to his dad, Eugene, an actor, mom Theresa, a teacher, and younger sister Emily, 16, who stars with Miley Cyrus on Hannah Montana. “I can deal with the media,” he says. “The worst thing for me was letting my family down.”

Osment credits his tight-knit clan for guiding him through the ups and downs of child stardom. “My parents never got carried away with the extraneous elements of being in the business,” says Osment, whose father is now helping to manage Emily’s career just as he did Haley Joel’s a decade before. “She’s on a different path than me, with the juggernaut that she’s on,” Haley Joel says, shaking his head. “I used to drive those two [Emily and Miley] to eighth grade dances when they were 13 years old.” Emily, meanwhile, still looks at her brother with a healthy amount of awe. “My brother is the smartest and most impressive person I know,” she says. “He’s a ‘100 percent guy’ in his dedication toward work and his relationships, and he finds good in people even when it’s hard to see.”

So far Haley Joel has found a lot of good in his adopted city. “I’ve really become attached to how life works here,” says Osment. (He’s single: “I would be a terrible person to be in a relationship with because I’m either sleeping or at the theater,” he says.) And what about when someone on the subway yells, “Yo, it’s the kid who sees dead people”? “I’m comfortable with it,” he says, smiling. “This being the city this is, people aren’t really impressed no matter what you do.”