Over the years, television has provided us with and endless array of fictional schools. Some of them are much cooler than real schools, in both architectural appeal and student body. Some of them lay on top of the entrance to Hell, so big vampire fights with really hot people take place in the hallways at night. Others, like Ryan Murphy’s new Netflix series The Politician, are extremely wealthy bastions of privilege and ambition.
But what most schools on TV do have in common are lively student activities and intriguing plotlines because, as it turns out, scenes where kids actually sit in class and learn tend to be super-boring. Here, we ranked our 35 favorite fictional TV schools from worst to best, and factored in the apparent educational value, the people who go to them, what they look like, and other downsides or perks, such as windows, teachers, and parking lots.
35. Tree Hill High, One Tree Hill
Ew! Tree Hill High had a great men’s basketball team, though there was no mention of the women’s team because all the girls were cheerleaders. The basketball competition in North Carolina is tough, so this is quite an accomplishment. Other than that, Tree Hill is just a sad, orangey brick building with monstrous giant white columns whose only other distinctive feature is that attendees are prone to kidnappings, evil dads, fake brothers, and dating Pete Wentz.
34. J.P. Wynne High School, Breaking Bad
This school, whose exterior looks a little more like a prison than a school (which is probably a joke the students at the school make all the time), exists mostly as a reminder that Walter White was a full-time chemistry teacher in addition to the cooking-meth thing.
33. Newport Union, The O.C.
Yikes. This school was a mess, and so was The O.C.’s attempt at depicting a public school: Its assumption, it seems, is that all public schools are filled with bad kids who are even worse than the rich bad kids at the Harbor School, mainly because of their socioeconomic standing. The bad kids at the Harbor School party and do drugs, but the bad kids at Newport Union do real-life crimes and stuff.
32. Springfield Elementary, The Simpsons
This school is ridden with bullies and is only ideal for Peter Pan types, as it keeps students in the same grade for decades on end. Also, once, teachers were eating the students? Probably the only good thing about this institution is its cool bus driver, but even he has come close to killing his charges.
31. Rosewood High, Pretty Little Liars
The only way Rosewood High would be safe to attend is if you were completely off the grid: no cell phone to get cryptic texts from A, who will command people in your fourth-period chemistry class to kidnap you at prom to prove a point that is unclear to you as well as the audience.
30. Riverdale High, Riverdale
With the lighting of a Christopher Nolan movie, the windows of a fancy house on The Sims, and very sexy teens who have already figured out their personal style, you’d think Riverdale High would be higher up on this list! Unfortunately, it is a place where you’ll probably mysteriously end up dead in a frozen lake before finishing The Great Gatsby for your AP English class.
29. Otter Bay, Big Little Lies
Otter Bay is a public school in Monterey that is, in name and appearance, as fancy as a private school on the East Coast. It’s clean, architecturally pleasing enough to host an Audrey Hepburn and Elvis trivia night (whatever that means), and the children are very aware of climate change and great music. It also has one of those covered walkways, which is great for dramatic run-ins, like in season one when Jane attacks Renata’s eye. Unfortunately in season two, it is revealed that the staff does cocaine during their workday, which is a problem that can’t be overlooked.
28. West Beverly Hills, Beverly Hills 90210
West Beverly Hills High is the same exterior as Sunnydale High from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is ranked much higher on this list (the real building is a real high school in Torrance, California). While a lot of 90210 took place at West Beverly, it is unclear if any of the students learned anything beyond how to kiss, have sex, cry, and be very dramatic while being very rich.
27. Seven Seas High School, The Suite Life on Deck
It’s high school! On a cruise ship! Who cares if you learn anything — it’s high school on a cruise! If you are prone to seasickness, there is Dramamine for that. Just kidding — cruises are terrible, and learning on a boat sounds horrific.
26. East High School, High School Musical
East High is obsessed with basketball, labels, and not musical theater even though the entire student body — most of whom hate musicals — sing and dance along to multiple numbers, including one about sticking it to the status quo in the enormous cafeteria. The quality of education at East is unclear, but Gabriella participates in a science thing because one of the things about her is that she is so smart. So maybe the science is good! East eventually warms up to musicals — so much so that the students perform a version of the musical from the first movie in the upcoming Disney+ series, but I’m still dubious about the school’s commitment to theater as a whole. Go Wildcats!
25. Baxter High, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
It’s unclear what Sabrina learns at Baxter High, the second school on this list that exists in a town called Greendale. The thing about Baxter High is that it looks like it used to be a Prohibition-era billionaire’s estate and everyone dresses like it’s the 1950s but it appears to be 2019? If I attended Baxter, I’d be too confused about what year it is to learn.
24. William McKinley High School, Glee
Oh, geez! The students and teachers at William McKinley High automatically sing with Auto-Tune, constantly exchange snappy dialogue, and make very specific pop-culture references. What more is there to say? But overall, the building is a little too red, and filled with quirky characters I’d never want to meet in real life. Imagine trying to walk to class, but the theater kids are blocking the hallway because they’re singing Kelly Clarkson with a choreographed dance.
23. Chilton Prep, Gilmore Girls
Chilton takes itself a little too seriously. The uniforms are ill-fitting (I am specifically talking about the absurd sleeves on the women’s button-downs) and the curriculum is too hard. Teens need to live a little. Chilton needs to relax. Not even the quick-witted students at Chilton make anyone want to go there.
22. Capeside High, Dawson’s Creek
Although Dawson, Pacey, Joey, Jen, and Jack spent most of their high-school years chilling on docks, creeks, or in Dawson’s gross bedroom, Capeside High was pretty chill: The girls could wear spaghetti straps without consequence, and the kids had enough time to do a lot of kissing with each other but got a good enough education that they all moved on to have promising careers in their respective fields.
21. Lawndale High, Daria
Lawndale has upsides and downsides: There was a self-esteem class, which every real high school should have. But on the downside, it was obsessed with athletes to the point where grades of athletes were altered. Under Angela Li, the school’s motto was “High Security for High Performance.” Her obsession with security sadly wouldn’t be as over-the-top today as it was when the show aired in the ’90s.
20. Liberty High School, My So-Called Life
Liberty High, in the Pittsburgh suburbs, is quite an impressive building on the outside, with a grand staircase leading up to the school’s entrance. But the inside is a little drab, even though the building has huge windows, none of the teachers ever seem to want to let the light in, because the blinds are always closed. Also, Jared Leto, who we could all do without, goes there.
19. Bayside High, Saved By the Bell
Placing Bayside High in the middle of this list is safe but necessary, as I’m unsure how to feel about a school in which a boy who sits on chairs backward is not only loved but respected.
18. Bel-Air Academy, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Bel-Air Academy is one of the more accurate private schools depicted on TV. It’s not absurdly strict, but it’s not too loosey-goosey — unlike on Gossip Girl, the students take a few liberties but actually wear their uniforms. The school gets better later on when it goes coed.
17. Constance Billard/St. Jude’s, Gossip Girl
Nearly every character at Constance/St. Jude’s got into an Ivy League even though the only thing any of them learned in high school was how to make their uniforms look high fashion. Being rich — it has its benefits!
16. McKinley High, Freaks & Geeks
McKinley is a fun school to watch, but physically going there would probably be miserable. Its students are obsessed with status, and judge each based on their interests, what they look like, and who they hang out with. Really, the only way attending McKinley would be enjoyable is as a geek. But even Sam, Bill, and Neal were bullied ruthlessly and relentlessly.
15. The Academy of Unseen Arts, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
The Dumbledore of the Academy of Unseen Arts is basically the devil, but the mock-neck lace uniforms are an inspiration. Why didn’t my Catholic school do this instead of plaid kilts? Not a rhetorical question.
14. John Adams Elementary, Middle, and High School & Pennbrook University, Boy Meets World
Mr. Feeny is so committed to his favorite students — and the craft — that he literally follows Cory, Eric, Shawn, and Topanga throughout every level of their education, from elementary school to college. Any other old man doing this would be creepy, but Mr. Feeny, whose first name is George, is not creepy. Mr. Feeny teaches the main characters math, science, history, and English — but he also he teaches them (and the audience) valuable life lessons they (and we) will never forget.
13. Hawkins Middle School, Stranger Things
Hawkins, Indiana, sits above a hotbed for a dusty world filled with monsters very hungry for humans, which really diminishes the value of its schools. But the students at Hawkins Middle have Mr. Clarke, a teacher so dedicated to science that he will take phone calls from 12-year-olds at 10 p.m. on a Saturday. He’s also kind of hot.
12. Neptune High, Veronica Mars
The deal with Neptune High — which is more parking lot than it is school — is that everyone knows each other, which has its upsides and downsides. The upside is that everyone knows Veronica Mars, so if you ever have a problem, Veronica Mars can and will help. The downside is that there is nowhere to hide.
11. Mystic Falls High, The Vampire Diaries
Sexy vampires living in the town make Mystic Falls High School dangerous but in, like, a good way. The sexy vampires (and werewolves) make the campus a popular site for supernatural battles, which is fine because visually, the school is pleasing. For some time, Mystic Falls High had a good-looking history teacher: Alaric Saltzman. And nobody ever thought this name was suspicious in any way. And no one outside of Elena Gilbert’s circle caught on to the fact that there were vampire fights in the hallways, gym, and classrooms, which means that people at Mystic Falls High mind their own business. Cute!
10. Moordale Secondary School, Sex Education
Moordale has a decrepit greenhouse, and its students are … educated … on … sex. And Gillian Anderson is a mom of a student, which makes PTA meetings something to look forward to, I think!
9. Krelboyne, Malcolm in the Middle
My friend who is a public-school teacher told me that the the Krelboyne program for gifted students on Malcolm in the Middle has a “goddamn FANTASTIC gifted program for a low-income area.” He would know, and I would not.
8. Edward Tilghman Middle, The Wire
The school at the center of season four of The Wire isn’t comparable to any other on this list, but excluding it would be wrong. Mr. Prez and his eighth-grade class are the focus of one of the — if not the — greatest seasons of television ever made. The season is realistic in its depiction of how powerless the public-school system is, especially in low-income neighborhoods. The season follows Mr. Prez as he struggles to teach math to his eighth-grade class and learns the disadvantages of the public-school system. It also follows a few of his disadvantaged students, whom Prez grows attached to. The season was largely based on co-creator Ed Burns’s experience as a teacher at a public school in inner-city Baltimore.
7. Wagstaff School, Bob’s Burgers
Wagstaff is an elementary and middle school with small class sizes and very involved teachers and counselors, who are quirky but caring. There are some students who bully other kids, but it’s not like the terrible early-’80s kind of bullying, and when students really need each other, they show up. In the end, it’s a loving environment. Plus, there’s the screaming librarian voiced by Billy Eichner.
6. Hanover High School, American Vandal
Hanover High School might not be the best school; it is ridden with corruption and bias. But it’s so striking due to its specificity. Although it’s unlikely that a student at an average American high school would spray-paint 27 dicks on cars in the teacher parking lot and that a student would make a documentary about it that goes so viral it gets a Netflix series, it’s still plenty relatable: The characters feel like real people from everyone’s high-school experience, no matter when it was.
5. Dillon High School, Friday Night Lights
Tami Taylor, guidance counselor. That’s all!
4. Lakewood Elementary, Arthur
Mr. Ratburn is married to a man who owns a chocolate shop, so there’s probably a lot of tasty treats available for the third-grade class at Lakewood Elementary. His presence alone makes Lakewood a great school. Mr. Ratburn is a no-nonsense teacher who keeps his class in order and gives his students a lot of homework. Arthur and Buster like Mr. Ratburn but don’t love the workload … but little do they know that they might be the only kids on TV learning anything.
3. Sunnydale High, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Sunnydale High is great because it looks like your average California high school — but it’s on top of a hellmouth. Monsters are always there and sometimes they possess the students and teachers, which, as you can probably imagine, makes the seemingly standard American high school a little more interesting. If you’re worried about the danger, do keep in mind that Giles is the best librarian ever, and Buffy eventually works there as a counselor: She’s like if Tami Taylor hunted vampires at night!
2. Walkertown Elementary School, The Magic School Bus
In terms of education, the students at Walkertown Elementary get the best in TV history. On top of that, the students get to wear leggings with a big sweater, be themselves unapologetically with the encouragement of Mrs. Frizzle, and they get to shrink and go inside each others body parts. Walkertown’s only flaws? The Magic School bus adventures are risky, and Mrs. Frizzle only teaches one class. Are the other classes just normal, with regular teachers and non-magic school buses? I’m sad for those kids.
1. The Harbor School, The O.C.
The Harbor School has everything that the beautiful, poorly behaved, very adult-looking, and very rich teens of Orange County don’t deserve: a sprawling Mediterranean-style building with well-landscaped lawns; a covered archway that’s perfect for kissing, serious conversations, breakups, and running into your exes; and an outdoor café that’s nicer than the fanciest patio normal people eat on. On top of all that, there is a comic-book club and the true (and gorgeous) hero of The O.C., Dr. Kim.