The Best & Worst Schools in Fiction

Posted by Thom Dunn

“How do you know the summer is really and truly over? My dad says it’s over precisely one second after midnight on September 21st. My friend Ellen says it’s over the minute you start thinking about whether to buy a binder, or a spiral notebook for school. But for me, the way I know the summer’s a goner is when my brother Pete and Artie, the Strongest Man in the World, go to the beach and try to beat up ocean.” – Pete Wrigley (the older one), from The Adventures of Pete and Pete.

September means school. Even for those of us who aren’t in school anymore, September still means school. It means shorter days, hooded sweatshirts, and getting abnormally excited about CVS having a huge sale on composition notebooks (whatever man don’t judge I do most of my first drafts in those things). Whether you’re moving, losing those precious Summer Fridays, or even just looking forward to finally getting rid of the kids so that they can go back to school, the cycle of the seasons still tends to revolve around that last hurrah of Labor Day, when something ends, or at least something changes, and we’re forced to face the coming fall, for better or for worse.

And yeah, okay, it could definitely be better. But at the same time, keep in mind that it could be a whole lot worse. So to cheer you up, here’s a list of 3 of the best fictional schools*, accompanied by a list of 3 of the worst fictional schools. Whichever helps to ease the pain of the coming autumnal onslaught. The kind of places you look to and wish you could attend — as well as the schools that should make you glad that hey, at least you’re not starting there this fall.

* Excluding our own Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children and Lovecraft Middle School, of course, which are clearly the greatest educational facilities in which you could ever possibly enroll, ahem. Anyway, where were we? Right. Moving on.


HOGWARTS SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT & WIZARDRY (Harry Potter series): A typical course load at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry might include such classes as Transfiguration, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Care of Magical Creatures, and of course, Flying. Even your basic Chemistry class involves learning how to make things like Wolfsbane, and Ten-Second Pimple Vanisher (a particularly useful skill during high school), and the ever-popular Flesh Eating Slug Repellant.

Granted, your chemistry professor might be a bit of a curmudgeon, but I swear, he means well. And on top of all that, Hogwarts promises plenty of interactive educational experiences. Where else can you learn history from the ghosts and/or pictures that actually experienced them first hand? Plus I hear there’s lots of hidden rooms and secret passageways that contain all kinds of neat tricks.

Did I mention you get to fly around on a broomstick? Even us kids who aren’t good at running can still play sports that way!

From Marvel’s Ender’s Game comics

BATTLE SCHOOL (Ender’s Game): Okay, sure, this place has a pretty rigorous military curriculum, which I completely understand might not interest all of you. But c’mon! You get to play video games! That’s on the syllabus — playing video games! All the time! That’s awesome, right? Right, of course it is.

Plus, if you cheat to win, sometimes the faculty rewards you even more, just like in real life! What? Well, yes, of course that’s a positive example to be setting for the children.

What was that? Xenocide? The extermination of entire species, I — that’s crazy talk, man! I’m just playing video games! For school credit! This place is great! And it’s in space! That’s even cooler!

Photo of Brighton High School via Infinite Boston

ENFIELD TENNIS ACADEMY (Infinite Jest): Take it from me: if you want to live in a city while going to school, Boston is the place to be, and the Enfield Tennis Academy presents the rare opportunity for out-of-town high school students to explore the wonders of Boston in its all educational glory.

It’s not only one of the leading tennis training facilities in the world, but it also boasts an incredibly comprehensive multimedia library and film editing facilities, and it’s the only place in the world where you can experience the nuclear-war-cum-tennis-ball-volley interactive gaming experience known only as Eschaton.

Plus there’s this bar down on Comm Ave that doesn’t card on Thursdays, and lots of secret little nooks around the indoor tennis facilities where you can totally go and smo — on second thought, let’s leave that off the tour for now.


WAYSIDE SCHOOL (Wayside School Series): When your school is built so tall and narrow (30 stories, to be precise, each with only one classroom on it) that it runs of the risk of actually falling over (due in part to an overabundance of cows), you should probably consider transferring.

Furthermore, the school’s curriculum is more than a little bit sideways itself. Math problems are taught by adding and subtracting words instead of numbers, teachers turn students into apples, and it’s actually possible to win a Spelling Bee when you’re not wearing socks. There’s even a nonexistent class consisting entirely of nonexistent students on the 19th floor, and hear you me: nonexistence is not very conducive to a proper educational environment.

And to top it all off, it’s against school policy to use the word “door.” Students and faculty use “goozack” instead, and I don’t even know what that means.

Image via the Buffy Wikia

SUNNYDALE HIGH SCHOOL (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) – High school tends to be a challenging time socially for most of us, and that’s without having a Hellmouth below the basement of your high school. This is another place with a mortality rate that’s through the roof, due in no small part to what I suspect is the highest per capita vampire population in the world (and that’s not even counting the hordes of demons that also inhabit this small California town).

While the rest of the teenagers in America are fondly looking forward to their senior proms, you can pretty much guarantee that yours is going to be interrupted by a massive hellhound attack (or at the very least, flying demon monkeys). And nothing ruins graduation quite like being devoured alive by your own mayor, who has otherwise ruled the town quite pleasantly for three generations despite the fact that he is a giant snake monster thing.

But the worst part about going to Sunnydale High School? It’s a giant crater (*spoilers*, sorry).

XAVIER INSTITUTE FOR HIGHER LEARNING (X-Men): Or the Xavier School For Gifted Youngsters / Jean Grey School For Higher Learning. Whatever. I suppose for all you mutants out there (all ~198 of you), what with your extraordinary mutant powers and whatnot, this is really the only place around that has been regularly inviting to you. In that case, if you’re looking to protect a world that fears and hates you instead of just, well, being feared and hated by them, then by all means, Xavier’s is the place to be. But not only is the mortality rate at this place astronomical (I’d say there’s been around 60 or so students who have been brutally murdered on school grounds*), but the school itself is destroyed on a semi-annual basis.

*Not counting resurrections. Mutants tend to have an abnormally high rate of re-mortality, but if I were you, I wouldn’t really rely on that statistic to work in your favor.

BONUS: HOGWARTS SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT & WIZARDRY (Harry Potter series) – Also did I mention there’s a basilisk on the school grounds and there tends to be at least one homicidal sociopath running loose in the halls of the school at any given time?

Oh yeah, and lots of people die.

Did I miss one of your favorite schools? Leave it in the comments!

Thom Dunn is a writer, musician and comic book fan. Follow him on Twitter (@thomdunn) and visit his blog at