The Best High Schools in TV Shows

Where nerds all look like 20-something models.

By Brenden Gallagher

In one way or another, high school kind of sucked. Some of us had a bland experience spent staring longingly out the window, dreaming of the moment we could leave our boring little town behind for good. Some of us endured bullying just because we were a little different. Others of us had to pretend we were something we weren’t just to get through the day in one emotional piece. It’s funny, though: We hated going through all of those terrible things in high school, but we love watching characters endure them on television.

No matter how dramatic TV high schools got, you have to admit part of you wished you were there. Even if you would have been an ugly duckling among a cast of 25-year-old models posing as high schoolers, it still would have been better than your real life classroom. With the end of Degrassi: The Next Generation upon us after 14 seasons, let’s open our TV yearbook and remember the fake classmates we watched grow up on the other side of the television screen, at the TV high schools we wish we went to.

  1. John Adams High, Boy Meets World

    ABC

    Over the years, there have been enough high school sit-coms starring characters who learn valuable lessons on the path to adulthood. Though Boy Meets World had its fair share of corny moments, the show struck a more truthful and less condescending note than many similar series that tried to offer adolescent life lessons. You actually believed the schoolyard crush between Cory (Ben Savage) and Topanga (Danielle Fishel). You bought the wisdom of Mr. Feeney (William Daniels). And you left each episode convinced that these characters actually liked each other. Though that may seem like a simple achievement, so many TV shows fall short of this elusive goal.

  2. Degrassi High, Degrassi

    The N

    Okay, maybe you don’t exactly want to go to DeGrassi High, with its perpetual stream of intense drama, but at least the kids on DeGrassi had real problems. Whenever you freaked out because a boy wouldn’t go to prom with you or because your homework was just too hard, you could turn on any of the shows in the Degrassi franchise and remember that things could always be way, way, waaay worse.

    That being said, if you had to deal with drugs, rape, STDs, gun violence, suicide, and abortion in high school, then at least you could watch Next Generation and know that you weren’t alone. And, here’s hoping things got better for you after you graduated.

  3. Sunnydale High, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

    The WB

    High school can be so boring. If you went to Sunnydale, high school would have been a lot of things, but it definitely wouldn’t have been boring. Dealing with vampires and other supernatural creatures definitely wouldn’t have been easy, but at least it would have been interesting. Once you’ve staked a vampire, at least you can feel like you’ve accomplished something. Buffy’s day-to-day life starts to look pretty appealing after yet another all-nighter for the sake of one more book report.

  4. William McKinley High, Glee

    Fox

    Unless you went to some elite performing arts high school, you probably have a vivid memory of a terrible assembly or Christmas concert accompanied by your school’s awful musical program. Though life wasn’t always easy for the students of McKinley High, they could rest assured that their assemblies would be on fleek. Knowing that school musicals and choir concerts would definitely be enjoyable could make high school life a little more bearable. Even McKinley’s cheerleading squad was actually good (and super hot), which is a far cry from your typical group of cheerleaders whose skills are generally limited to putting on eyeliner and letting the football team’s starters round the bases in the backseat of their car.

  5. Palos Hills High School, Awkward

    MTV

    The students of Palos Hills definitely have their fair share of problems, and that goes double for Jenna Hamilton (Ashley Rickards), who seems doomed to an endless string of awkward encounters. But while Palos Hills has all of the familiar characters, from the dumb jock to the overbearing guidance counselor, these versions of familiar high school tropes are extremely fun to be around. Matty’s (Beau Mirchoff) unrepentant goofiness, Tamara’s (Jillian Rose Reed) mile-a-minute buoyant chatter, and even Sadie’s (Molly Tarlov) eye-rolling bitchiness are so hilarious that it would be hard to take life too seriously at Palos Hills, no matter how awkward things got.

  6. Constance Billard School for Girls, Gossip Girl

    The CW

    There is an intense amount of preppy bitchiness and one-percenter guilt that would come with enrolling in this elite private school, but high school years spent attending high society parties and banging square-jawed upper-crust hunks wouldn’t be so bad. It would be difficult to deal with all of the drama, but closets full of designer clothes, high-rise apartments, and access to pretty much anything and everything you could possibly want might make all of that gossip and backstabbing a little more bearable.

  7. Chilton, Gilmore Girls

    The WB/The CW

    Admittedly, Chilton was a little stiff and pretentious, but wouldn’t it have been great to share a classroom with students this witty? Being clever at most real-life high schools means little more than making fart noises and dropping Anchorman quotes into casual conversation. At Chilton, being clever meant being able to work in obscure literary references, name-drop great bands from the ’80s and ’90s, and call upon the best classic movie reference for a given situation. Also, these students spoke at about double the normal pace, so there was never a dull moment. If you went to a high school where the pop culture references were limited to reality shows and sports, you’ll agree that the culturally aware cool of Chilton would have been a dream come true.

  8. Liberty High School, My So-Called Life

    ABC

    Many great high school TV shows work so well because they offer escapism, whether through humor, glitz, or vampires. The beloved (and sadly brief) My So-Called Life endures because it is such an accurate reflection of the trials and tribulations of high school life. The stakes aren’t as melodramatic and intense as your standard soap opera, but they aren’t used cheaply either. My So-Called Life offered something far more valuable than escapism: honesty.

  9. McKinley High School, Freaks and Geeks

    NBC

    This short-lived series was all about the awkwardness of being an outcast, so for many viewers it mirrored their high school experience rather than offering an escape from it. But at least the trials and tribulations of these outcasts were hilarious. Watching Sam (John Francis Daley) and company try to reconcile their feelings for girls and their feelings for Star Wars action figures never failed to elicit laughs. Lindsay’s (Linda Cardellini) attempts to join in on the Freaks’ misguided rebellion usually resulted in amazing, ridiculous situations. Freaks and Geeks managed to capture the painful awkwardness of growing up, but also made sure to finds ways to laugh about it along the way.

  10. Dillon High School, Friday Night Lights

    NBC

    It has long been understood that parents just don’t understand. But on television, at least, teachers sometimes get it. Mr. and Mrs. Coach (Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton) were the teachers and mentors we all wish we had growing up. They were more concerned with molding young minds than staying on the right side of the school handbook or getting that promotion. Even though the lives of the kids in this small Texas town weren’t exactly a cakewalk, students at Dillon knew that they had a combination of sage advice and tough talk to look forward to when they needed it. How many of us would have had a better high school experience if we just had someone who would listen and drop the greatest motivational speeches on us from time to time?