Coming-of-age stories are no stranger to sci-fi/fantasy worlds. The most common and oft-used tropes involve young people with special gifts in need of training. Thus, there is a veritable cornucopia of fantastical educational institutions that all have one thing in common: they’re more interesting than where you went to school!
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Sure, they’re also more dangerous, but isn’t a little dark magic or the occasional run-in with an evil mutant mastermind worth the trouble for a whole new level of higher education? We certainly think so! With that in mind, here are 15 of the top fictional places to better yourself, ranked based on the quality of their education, job-placement opportunities, social scenes and student mortality rate. Start your applications, folks! It’s time to go to school.
15. Morning Glory Academy
If you’ve read “Morning Glories,” you know why this place is toward the bottom of the list. The Morning Glory Academy, while its ultimate purpose remains shrouded in mystery, is staffed with a murderous faculty, bent on the torture and destruction of the student body. Students from broken homes or otherwise unfortunate backgrounds are selected, making it far less messy when they never return.
Once you arrive at the school, you are forced to cut off all contact with the outside world, and if you actually had family to leave, well, they’ve either been killed by the administration or have had you erased from their memories. Even if someone you know manages to come looking for you, they’ll have a hard time, since the Morning Glory Academy probably isn’t in Upstate New York as it claims on its literature. Every student mysteriously falls asleep on the drive there, and considering they aren’t allowed to leave once they enroll, the school’s locale remains as mysterious as its ultimate purpose.
Granted, this place sounds awful, but it’s certainly not boring. If you can keep under the radar long enough to make some friends and start exploring, attending the Morning Glory Academy could one day mean learning its secrets. Consider applying if you really hate your family, really like mysteries and already have a problem with authority. Pro-tip: don’t trust Miss Hodge.
14. Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy (The Magicians)
In Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians,” Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy is the only such school in North America. It also operates in secret, surprise-recruiting its students much like Hogwarts. It’s also hidden from non-magic folk, but that’s where the similarities between the two end. There’s very little whimsy at Brakebills, and magic there is more of a science than anything else. Students must excel at a rigorous five-year curriculum to advance, and oftentimes find their studies full of tedious, but necessary, repetition. You also don’t have much choice when it comes to what to study–students are sorted into one of six specialties during their second year, which will remain their focus for the remainder of their tenure at the school.
However, if you’re the kind of student that takes to that kind of thing, Brakebills has a few perks that you’ll get to enjoy. Interested in a Junior Youth Assembly? There’s a satellite campus in Antarctica that will be your home for part of your penultimate year. Also, if you show early talent, the college has been known to allow students to compress their first year of study, so your five years of intense learning could be cut down to four if you’re deemed worthy. Finally, upon graduation, you’re awarded your very own demon for protection! Couple that with a highly specialized education, and it certainly looks like Brakebills is worth the hard work.
13. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
While Miss Peregrine’s house in Cairnholm, Wales is less a school and more a safehouse, you’d probably enjoy spending your formative years here. Home to an orphaned group of children with special abilities known as “peculiars,” Miss Peregrine’s Home boasts residents who can fly, control fire and (briefly) resurrect the dead. Miss Peregrine herself is an Ymbryne — a birdlike creature with the ability to manipulate time. To protect her charges from evil hollowgasts — invisible creatures who hunt peculiars in an attempt to imbibe power and evolve into more humanoid forms — Miss Peregrine shelters the school in a time loop. Everyone within the boundaries of her spell relives a single day — September 9th, 1943 — over and over again.
The “children” retain their memories, so it’s not as maddening as it sounds, and if you enter the time loop, its affects extend to you. So, not only would you get to hang with a bunch of awesome circus kids, you could spend all the time there you wanted and not age a day. That gives you plenty of chances to get adolescence right!
12. Avalon (The Mists of Avalon)
The mythical island of Avalon gets a much more realistic treatment in Marion Zimmer-Bradley’s “The Mists of Avalon,” a feminist retelling of the Arthurian Legends. Home to an order of pagan priestesses that serve the Mother Goddess, it’s here that Morgaine is trained by her Aunt Viviane, the Lady of the Lake. With their religion and way of life under threat from the encroaching patriarchy of Christianity, the priestesses hide Avalon with a series of magical enchantments, making it impossible to find unless guided there by one of their order.
If you’re a fan of smashing the patriarchy and relishing in sisterhood, Avalon is the place for you! Open only to women and reminiscent of pagan Celtic culture in early Medieval England, Avalon has priestesses who spend years cultivating a oneness with themselves and nature. This allows them to harness the great power they believe underlies all living things. It’s an empowering, supportive and relatively safe place, and the “graduates” that emerge are generally highly-revered members of society. While that’s changed greatly by the end of the novel, Avalon in its heyday was the only place most women could hope for any independence or agency. That said, if you’re invited to participate in a ritual that involves losing your virginity to someone in a mask, make sure he’s not a close relation before doing the deed.
11. Wizarding School on Roke (Earthsea Chronicles)
Less whimsical than Hogwarts and less… feminine than Avalon, the Wizarding School on Roke is an all-male wizard training school that appears in Ursula Le Guin’s “Earthsea Chronicles.” It’s an elite institution, even if almost everyone in the Archipelago of Earthsea possesses magical ability. Still, the school only accepts those in which the talent is particularly strong. Its philosophy is one of stewardship, teaching the use of magic to preserve harmonious balance among living things, and warning against its misuse. Wizards leave with a host of magical tricks up their sleeves, from transfiguration to matching wits with dragons.
If you’re not one for “rules,” this is where you belong. In “A Wizard of Earthsea,” the Archmage is killed by a student who accidentally releases an incredibly powerful demon while bullying a classmate. Said student spends a few months in recovery from his own injuries and resumes his studies with no discernible punishment. It’s safe to say you wouldn’t be on a short leash.
10. Time Lord Academy (Doctor Who)
Little is known about the academy that produces the Doctors of “Doctor Who,” but if the initiation is any indication, it’s not for the faint of heart. At the age of eight, prospective doctors are taken from their families and forced to look into the Untempered Schism, a gap in space time that causes some onlookers to go mad. It causes a few more to steal a TARDIS and run away. Those that stay typically do so for several centuries before their training is complete. That sounds about right to become a qualified monitor of infinite space-timey-wimey stuff.
While that may sound particularly grueling, the rewards far outweigh the costs. You graduate to become a nearly immortal time traveler in possession of seemingly endless knowledge. Granted, with great power comes great responsibility, so you will need to be available to fend off Daleks and the like. Luckily, you typically graduate more than equipped to do so.
9. The Jaeger Academy (Pacific Rim)
If you’ve ever wanted to fight in a medieval melee, but have never wanted to live in pre-personal hygiene medieval times, the Jaeger Academy is recruiting. The training center for the Pan Pacific Defense Corps, the first line of defense against the Kaiju invasion, offers an intense, 24-week course that sources and trains elite pairs of Jaeger pilots. Jaegers are essentially suits of armor controlled by both the body and mind of its pilot. Drifting — the skill required to mentally merge with the Jaeger’s controls — is usually where most recruits fall short. You might master Jaeger Bushido in early combat training, but if there isn’t a pilot in your class that the center deems a match, or you and a partner find yourselves unable to Drift with alacrity, you’ll be offered the choice to either join the ranks of the PPDC as an officer in another capacity, or to leave.
If you happen to have the very specific set of skills necessary to be a Jaeger Pilot, you’ll find the Academy difficult, but highly-rewarding. You’ll graduate with a confirmed position in the PPDC as essentially a human Transformer, so the job placement is top notch. Compared to the Time Lord Academy, the training period is remarkably short.
8. The Citadel (Game of Thrones)
In Westeros, scientists, healers and historians are all combined into one position: maester. The maesters are an order of scholars who undergo years of study to become experts in various fields. When a novice achieves the necessary skill level in a particular discipline, he receives a link made of a metal that corresponds to said discipline (yellow gold for economics, silver for healing, black iron for ravenry, etc.). The links are collected and eventually connected to form the chain collar that graduated maesters wear for life.
Now, given that the profession of a maester involves celibacy, lifelong service and the abandonment of wealth and family, the aftermath of attending the Citadel might not be terribly appealing. However, given the current state of conflict in Westeros and the encroaching Winter, burying yourself in the infinite Citadel library “studying” is a strategically sound decision. Located in Oldtown on the southwest coast of the continent, the Citadel is well-protected and about as far south as you can get. George R. R. Martin’s capacity for dashing hopes notwithstanding, it’ll be a minute before the Night King and his armies are able to venture that far from the Wall. Until then, there doesn’t appear to be a time limit to one’s tutelage, so you could technically stay as long as you wanted, waiting out the wars to come in a peaceful college town that’s a stone’s throw from the Arbor, home to some of Westeros’ finest vineyards.
7. X-Haven/Jean Grey School for Higher Learning
The only reason Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Children didn’t make this list is that Marvel has vastly improved upon it recently. While the first school DID offer a sanctuary for mutant children, it bore none of the fancy protection spells afforded to Hogwarts, Avalon or Brakebills. It also served as a base for a para-military team of mutant vigilantes and housed one of the most powerful computers on the planet. In short, it attracted both attention and attack.
Finally, in “Extraordinary X-Men,” with some help from Magik, the Scarlet Witch and Dr. Strange, Storm finally got on the stick and had the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning transported to another dimension and protected with magic. And not a moment too soon, either, considering mutants are currently under threat from the Terrigen Mist that can either render mutants infertile, make them sick or flat-out just kill them. If you’ve always wanted to hone your powers away from the fearful eyes of non-mutants (and among the hordes of limbo-based demons), but worried you might get kidnapped, blown up or face any number of the other perils former students faced, check out Haven! It’s far from home, but it’s probably safer.
6. The Unseen University (Discworld)
This “illustrious” institution is responsible for training wizards in Terry Pratchett’s “Discworld” Series. Illustrious is in quotes because, despite the nearly infinite amount of magical knowledge and lore contained within this think-tank-of-sorts, wizards remain fairly uninformed about and uninterested by why their magic works the way it does. A tome called the Octavo that contains the eight spells used to create Discworld resides under heavy lock and key in the library, too powerful to be explored. Wizards are painfully aware that power corrupts, so many aren’t fond of testing their limits.
That’s not to say that the Unseen University is full of shiftless professors barely showing up for a paycheck. Some of the younger students and faculty do engage in grand experimentation to explore magic, a bit of which resulted in the creation of Hex, Discworld’s only computer. Beyond that, you can take classes in some neat forbidden sciences like necromancy (“Department of Post Mortem Communications” officially) or hang out in the library with the orangutan librarian (again, don’t mess with the Octavo). Think of the Unseen University as an elite liberal arts school. This is the type of place that’d let you create your own major, or at the very least, they wouldn’t notice if you did.
5. Sky High
Wonder Woman is the principal. Ash Williams is the gym teacher. The bus is a Transformer(ish). This floating superhero training ground kind of has it all. Not unlike a certain private school in upstate New York, Sky High specializes in honing the powers of a young generation of superheroes. Luckily, if you possess the abilities or pedigree necessary to attend, you won’t have to contend with a fearful public or government conspiracies designed to eliminate your kind.
The Sky High universe is friendly to those with superpowers, so while the odd supervillain might disrupt your studies, as Royal Pain did in the film, that’s about the worst of it. That said, the school’s two-track educational system that sorts students into two groups — heroes and hero support — could potentially give you some self-esteem issues if you’re stuck in the latter. Then again, who doesn’t have those in high school? The stories you’ll have to tell your therapist will be far more interesting than anything they’ll have heard from a Normal, so you could always take solace in that.
4. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (Harry Potter)
Okay, the first thing we need to mention about Harry Potter’s paragon of education, Hogwarts, is this: it’s a castle! Your admissions letter arrives by magical owl. You GET TO BE A WIZARD AND LEARN HOW TO DO MAGIC. Yes, there are naysayers that question the safety of having an enchanted forest on the grounds filled to the brim with deadly magical creatures, but if you look at the numbers, Hogwarts has an impressive student mortality rate. Cedric Diggory was the first notable student death, but technically he didn’t actually die on school grounds. And while there were several student fatalities during the Battle of Hogwarts (Colin Creevey, RIP), one can hardly fault the school for the actions of Voldemort and the Death Eaters.
Aside from the obvious benefit of “getting to be a wizard,” there are other more practical reasons for attending Hogwarts; living in relative luxury, for instance. The dormitories are plush, every meal in the Great Hall appears to be an opulent feast, and while the students are asked to procure their own robes and supplies, tuition doesn’t seem to exist. So, not only is Hogwarts quite literally the most magical place on Earth to spend your teens, it’s also affordable.
3. The Jedi Praxeum (Star Wars)
After the defeat of the Empire, Luke Skywalker obeyed Yoda’s command to pass on what he had learned to another generation of Jedi Knights. Housed in the Great Temple on Yavin 4, the draw of the Praxeum is what you’d learn and who’d be teaching you. If you’re Luke’s padawan, you’re getting the benefit of wisdom learned directly from Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and, to an extent, Anakin Skywalker. Short of conjuring up the spirits of those men themselves, you’re not likely to get a better education in the ways of the Force. Also, said education is probably the most well-rounded of the institutions on this list. Aside from the mental discipline necessary to be a Jedi Knight, the Praxeum boasts a broad range of tactical training grounds, ensuring each student would be a proficient physical warrior, as well as a mental one.
Also, you’d get to do your Jedi training in the relative peacetime of the New Republic and not, say, while fighting in a civil war against your dad. If you’re the kind of student who doesn’t benefit from sink-or-swim training, the Praxeum (if you happen to be there during its short 15-year existence) would make for a perfect nesting ground for you. This is all notwithstanding that Yavin 4, with its historical significance and lush jungle geography, makes for a spiritually and physically idyllic learning environment. Jedi Spring Breaks were undoubtedly epic.
2. Avengers Academy
Founded by Giant-Man in “Avengers Academy,” the school was officially set up to teach a select group of young superheroes how to effectively use their powers. Unofficially, said group was thought to be particularly vulnerable to becoming villains, so the Academy was actually formed to guide students away from that life. Boasting an impressive faculty of permanent teachers and guest lecturers including Hawkeye, Spider-Man and X-23, the Avengers Academy is run by experts.
That said, as is so often true of super-institutions, the Avengers Academy attracts its fair share of unwelcome conflict. A flash point of the war between the Avengers and the X-Men, the students at the Academy were called to defend it on numerous occasions. Intentional or not, there is a strong learn-by-doing philosophy at work here. If you attend, however, given the school’s now-friendly relationship with the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, you’ll be admitted into a veritable hub of the Marvel Universe in an environment that fosters originality and cooperation simultaneously.
1. Starfleet Academy (Star Trek)
The motto of Starfleet’s Military Academy is, “From the stars, knowledge” — a fitting philosophy for the school that supplies the minds set to carry out Starfleet’s mission to explore space. Its reputation as an elite institution is renowned throughout the galaxy. It’s an incredibly selective school, only taking a fraction of its applicants. Both Wesley Crusher and Harry Kim were famously denied after their first attempt, despite the fact that both were academic prodigies. Of course, the school isn’t only appealing because of its prestige.
Commissions are only offered to graduates. So, unless you want to join the enlisted ranks, this is your only avenue of entrance into Starfleet. If you make it through the rigorous application process detailed in the TNG episode, “Coming of Age,” you’ll begin four years surrounded by some of the best minds in the Federation, both in the student body and the faculty. Fond of guest lecturers, the Academy often pulls from its own ranks, offering active service members considerable opportunity to teach; in fact, every single member of the original Enterprise’s bridge crew has taught classes at one point or another. Given how effective Starfleet is at protecting the Federation’s ideals of peace and inclusion, while simultaneously remaining the most shining example of said ideals, Starfleet Academy is the ideal place to become the best version of yourself.
Which schools in Sci-Fi and fantasy would you most want to attend (and why)? Let us know in the comments!
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