There's something about secondary education—the nature of teenagers, the nature of the adults that work with teenagers, parents' expectations that things will be just like when they were a kid—that lends itself to the accrual of strange national customs. Every major country has its own, but as far as 90% of the entries on this wiki are concerned, only three countries' systems actually count—the US, the UK and Japan. (Sorry, Germany.) The Canadian system (at least the Anglophone one) is basically similar to the US, the Irish system broadly similar to the British one (though it starts a year later than the British do), and the (South) Korean one similar to Japan (sorry, Canada, Ireland, and Korea.) This entry is primarily about the American one.
In the US, high school is usually the last four years of compulsory education (grades 9-12), although in some districts it's the last three (grades 10-12). In Japan it's three years (equivalent to grades 10-12), and not compulsory. In both cases students are likely to be coming from a Junior High (although not all US districts have those). In Russia, it's called "middle" school, "high" being the university, and lasts through grades five to eleven, being kind of conjoined with Junior High. For Britain, see The Good Old British Comp.
High schools in television tend to be cleaner, more modern, better lit, and more architecturally interesting than most of their real-world counterparts. Obviously, there do exist real-world high schools which are large, spacious, space-inefficient, and brand spanking new, but as public school buildings tend to have very long operational lifetimes, these are in the minority.
The archetypical high school set consists of a single hallway lined with wide lockers, and three doorways leading to a classroom, the principal's office, and a rest room. An interesting note is that in Real Life, many high schools in the southern and western parts of the US are "open-air"—meaning, classroom doors open to the outside, and there are no hallways at all. It's Egregious with the many high school-centric television shows set in California, a state which has almost exclusively open-air campuses. It should be noted that the big gothic-looking schools of film were designed for maximum heat in winter. In the Mediterranean climate where this is less of an issue, open air schools were built to keep classrooms cool, but once air conditioning became universal in schools in the 2000s, the trend went back towards one large building.
Television high school students spend an inordinate amount of time in a single classroom, which is not unreasonable given the likelihood that we will only ever see one or two teachers. Any student we care about will have his locker in the hallway immediately outside the only classroom.
If we see another classroom, 99% of the time it will be a thoroughly well-stocked science lab, often with trappings more appropriate to 30 years ago (or whenever the producers went to high school).
Rest rooms are always accessible to students, and it is not uncommon or difficult for one to spend time in the rest room of the opposite gender in order to hold a private conference.
Television writers seem unable to keep clear which conventions are specific to a high school, and which are more appropriate to a college (see also Elaborate University High). There are often times during the school day when a student may freely wander the building without having to be anywhere in particular, and can freely enter and leave the campus at any time. It is also common for a single class to be canceled, giving a student character some free time. All of these things may exist in some actual US high schools, but it is far and away more common for students to be required to remain in their classrooms unless given written permission to use the restroom or go somewhere else, and many schools even employ guards to stop students from wandering the halls or leaving the campus.
You will notice that the writers often base high school themed works off of where they went to high school, or off of popular stereotypes that are present in a lot of high schools. Part of the reason Alpha Bitch, Bookworm, and Jerk Jock tropes are so prevalent in these works is because everybody knew someone like that. (Detailed below) It's often heavily exaggerated, too, for Rule of Funny and Rule of Drama. As a result of how different all schools are from one another, there's going to be somebody in the audience saying "Have these guys ever actually been to high school?!"
Fictional American high schools are almost always named after historical presidents of the United States, with the more obscure 19th-century presidents (Fillmore, Polk, McKinley...) most favored though other famous historical figures may be used as well. Hillariously obscure or inappropriate figures (such as George Wallace or Dan Quayle) may be chosen for comedic effect. A high school named for the community where it is located (Sunnydale High) is often used to invoke a small-town or suburban setting and geographic names like Moperville North and Moperville South usually indicate that a cross-town rivalry is going to figure into the plot. These are the most common sources of names for US high schools in the real world as well.
Class-times may vary to suit the needs of the plot, with the result that students may arrive to or depart from the same class to a destination which differs from episode to episode.
Schools have mascots. As in real-life, they appear to have been chosen entirely at random. As in real-life, they are often patently ridiculous. Often, an "uncool" male protagonist will take a turn in the school mascot costume, for one episode, but almost never takes over the role for an entire season.
High schools seen in Anime tend to be far more detailed than their American counterparts when they play any part in a story, but this may be attributed to the fact that there are only two or three basic school designs permitted by the Japanese government. Almost every school is identical to every other school, and thus viewers have built-in expectations about what they'll find to which the animators must cater.
As the high school setting is crucial to the formula of the show, producers often find ways to draw out the high school experience. Almost all shows start in freshman year. On Beverly Hills, 90210, an extreme case, the producers actually had the students go to junior year twice. Finally, the cast is often made to attend a California University to keep the group together.
Stereotypically, private schools are usually populated by extremely snooty smartasses with more money than they know what to do with. They also have to wear uniforms, and are usually single-sex. Public schools, on the other hand, are depicted as extremely poor, the children "run wild" and have dress codes instead of a strict uniform policy. As you can see, this sort of stuff is always heavily exaggerated because it's funny or dramatic.
A word about school dress codes here—from the mid-90s to the early '00s, an entire trend towards stricter dress codes and uniforms in American public schools has developed, peaked, and largely died out with hardly any notice from the creators of fiction. There are a number of reasons for this—it started after the creators were out of school, the Real Life version of this trend was more common in elementary schools (and never even considered as an option by some 80% of them), varied clothing helps in characterization, the creators want their cast to look cool to teen viewers, the actors can't wear golf shirts and khakis without looking like computer salesmen—the upshot is, if there's a strict dress code in a fictional American public school, chances are it's a Compressed Vice and probably also a Chekhov's Gun. Exception: a "no-hat" rule is probably more common than in Real Life, as it's useful for justifying an absence of baseball caps which make lighting difficult in live action and are hard to render accurately through 360deg in animation.
In Real Life, school buildings often have additions that are designed with little or no attempt to match the existing building inside or out, making it possible for two or more completely different-looking regular-classroom architectures to exist in one school. This seldom happens in fiction because 1) they think it would confuse people, and 2) there's often only one "regular classroom" set and its decorations, orientation and such are changed as set dressing for scenes set in "different" classes.
High Schools of all kinds are the natural habitat of the Alpha Bitch and her Girl Posse, the Jerk Jock, the Sadist Teacher, the Popularity Food Chain, and numerous other hazards common to the teenage years.
Fiction tends to regard the High School and its students as central to the workings of the Universe. Adult characters will always look back on their high school years as either the best or the worst of their lives, and will remember every detail of their time in high school as if it had just taken place the previous day. This is generally not Truth in Television; most adults (or at least those who were not abused) barely remember high school, considering it as a relatively unimportant prelude to their real, adult lives. Other times they may hold an idealized vision of high school due to the Nostalgia Filter, blocking out all the stuff they hated about high school and only remember the stuff they liked. Despite this, high school is about the only experience that a majority of the adult audience is guaranteed to have in common, even if they failed to graduate.
See American Educational System for more information.
For schools in Britain, see The Good Old British Comp.
- The CLAMP school, which shows up in CLAMP School Detectives and X 1999, is in the shape of a pentagram and contains all of the facilities necessary for daily life. In fact, the whole of the CLAMP campus contains schools from kindergarten through highly advanced university, and houses in excess of ten thousand students, plus various other people. The claim that it is wholly self-sufficient is made at least once.
- Miyagami Academy, the school in (and main setting of) Best Student Council, is not only huge, it has a cannon that its Absurdly Powerful Student Council can use and an underground tube (with high-speed roller coaster-style chair) connecting the dorm and main school building.
- Azumanga Daioh falls into this category, though it's in a Japanese high school and those usually don't have lockers in the hallway.
- School Rumble
- Pani Poni Dash!. Welcome to Momotsuki Academy, where one of the classes is governed by 11-year-old supergenius Rebecca Miyamoto.
- Lucky Star, set in Ryou High School, is an odd example. Even though it's supposed to be high school, everyone looks and sounds like they're Becky's age (see above), talks about things that real high schoolers don't talk about (e.g. food, the dentist, Santa Claus, growing, animal motifs), and the music sounds a lot more appropriate for grade school, consisting of a rinky-dink piano and some other such instruments. However, Konata and Patricia do have a part-time job, and there is talk about breast sizes or current events every now and then. Oh, and in case you didn't know, this is the same company that gave us the following two examples:
- Kanon. Most girls are still Older Than They Look, but not so much as in the previous example. And...
- The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Still a lot of focus on Moe, but at least now, the girls look more their age. Except for in the Haruhi-chan spinoff. As for the school itself, most of the action takes place in the clubroom where the titular character hosts her SOS Brigade, though there is focus on other parts of the school.
- Usagi and her friends are said to have gone to high school in the Sailor Stars season of Sailor Moon.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! GX The show setting is of Duel Academia, a high school for learning how to play the card game Duel Monsters. Why parents would send their kids to a high school for the sole purpose of learning how to become more skilled at a fairly ridiculous children's game is anyone's guess.
- In Angel Beats!!, the high school is eventually revealed to literally be Purgatory, intended to purify the souls of dead high school students to let go of their regrets.
- The high school in Brick never got an official name, but it was filmed in San Clemente High School.
- Assassination of a High School President, shot at Bayonne High School in Bayonne, New Jersey.
- High School Musical has a grand total of... two teachers and one coach as of this troper's count. One of the teachers was shown for one scene, and the coach is Troy's dad.
- The Breakfast Club takes place entirely in and around the fictional Shermer High School in Shermer, Illinois.
- Mean Girls, demonstrating how peer pressure and academics conflict with one another during high school.
- Heathers, a Black Comedy about doing in the Alpha Bitches, a Spiritual Ancestor to Mean Girls.
- Harry Potter's Hogwarts is the magical equivalent of both Middle School and High School.
- Macdonald Hall is a series that takes place in a high school.
- In 1632 a West Virginia mining town circa 2000 is transported back in time and the local high school becomes the greatest repository of human knowledge in the world. The author then demonstrates just how much knowlegde is available in such a typical school.
- Head of the Class was set in Millard Fillmore High School, and the students seemed to spend the entire day in the same room. This was explained by their being in a special "gifted students" program, which sometimes does work that way in real life.
- Welcome Back, Kotter was set in Buchanan High, and followed the archetype of a single hall and classroom.
- My So-Called Life popularised the unisex restroom. (In reality, it was the girls' restroom, but Ricky spent so much time in there it might as well have been unisex.)
- Saved by the Bell also had the archetypical one-hall layout, though was fortunate enough to have multiple classrooms. It also had unisex bathroom scenes, but less often. To further compound the claustrophobic nature of the set, there exists a theory that the entire Saved By The Bell universe is contained inside the school. Furthermore, Bayside High is an example of Television Geography: in Good Morning Miss Bliss (The original title of the series), it was Midwestern, moving to northern California for Saved by the Bell. The selfsame school reappeared years later in That's So Raven, by which time it had migrated to San Francisco.
- Saved By The Bell only appeared to have more than one classroom. There was just the one, but it had multiple doors, so a simple rearrangement of the funrniture made it appear to have more.
- Sabrina the Teenage Witch went to a school with two hallways and a cafeteria, but very few classrooms. Their mascot was the Fighting Scallion.
- Joan of Arcadia uses a high school with a science lab and art room, but probably only one hallway.
- Rarely seen, but Married... with Children often referenced James K. Polk High, whose mascot was the Dot.
- Veronica Mars attends Neptune High, which has a very liberal attendence policy, and lets the more popular students "buy" additional liberties such as pizza delivery. She has also held unisex restroom conferences.
- It's the girl's room. Handwaved once or twice by having the boys have to hide themselves or kick people out.
- Their teams were the Pirates (though this wasn't made up out of thin air like most high school mascots, as Oceanside High School, which was used as a filming location, is known as the Pirates) with their mascot being Polly The Parrot (creative, eh?).
- Square Pegs and Buffy the Vampire Slayer both had unusually expansive high school sets, though in the latter, most of the action took place in the library anyway.
- Buffy's high school had the obvious drawback of being built directly on top of a gateway to Hell, which tended to give typical school problems a supernatural and lethal twist (oh, and assuming you got out of the place alive, the Hellmouth still made the entire town a magnet for vampires, demons, etc).
- Boy Meets World had it all, and did a lot of Lampshade Hanging about it. The school was named for John Adams (probably a reference to the fact that William Daniels, who played one of the only faculty members we ever saw, had played John Adams in both the Broadway play and the film adaptation of 1776); it had two classrooms (to accomodate a second teacher introduced for one season) but only one hallway (The "Senior Hallway" seen in later episodes is the same set shot from a different angle). In one season finale, a recurring character who had left the cast years ago reappeared, and explained his absence by pointing offstage and announcing that all his classes had been down the other hall. The regulars responded with shock and fear, as they had never set foot in that part of the building themselves.
- In Gilmore Girls, Chilton, being a private school, does not obey many of the standard public High School cliches. However, plot-driven class lengths are so powerful that the average class lasts about three and a half minutes.
- In Beverly Hills, 90210 the characters actually attended junior year twice, in a move to extend the life of the popular show.
- Welcome Freshmen
- Lizzie McGuire ushered in a newer tween version on the Disney Channel, leading to other, similar shows like Phil of the Future and Hannah Montana.
- In The OC, the characters attended Harbour High School. The show often featured the physical building, but very rarely any storylines specifically tied to it.
- As The Bell Rings is a curious Disney Channel show. Originally the Italian Quelli dell'intervallo, the 5-minute-episode show came to Britain and was remade with a British cast... but in a very American style school (Shakespeare High), with no uniforms, lockers and one set - a corridor with a Shakespeare Bust in it. You'd think Disney would at least ask the cast what British schools are like, but no. It's being remade again for Disney Channel US.
- The TV show Radio Active was mostly set within the high school radio station (begging the question of how many high schools actually have radio stations manned all day by all of five students, who one would think would have to attend class occasionally), though this troper recalls at least two hallways.
- Two hallways (outside the station's green room where the lockers are, and outside the vice-principal's office), two offices, one classroom, and, in one episode each, a library and cafeteria. The school was also Upper Redwood High, which of course allowed the rival school (the one always named as a sporting opponent) Lower Greenwood High.
- Subverted in the first two Degrassi series. which were shot in real schools, often on weekends, when no one was present. The setting of Degrassi High is now a community college (Centennial) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
- The school in Student Bodies had hallways, a cafeteria and the school paper office, though no classrooms that this troper can recall.
- Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad featured both a hallway and a cafeteria with a small stage. At one point a closeup of one of the cafeteria walls was used for a scene in the principal's office.
- Boston Public featured, well, a Boston Public High School. While it's size and economic status would change depending on the episode, most of the time it managed to keep the feel of a public high school (with multiple classrooms no less).
- Freaks and Geeks managed to get the look fairly well with a single T-shaped hallway set, plus classroom, cafeteria and gym sets. They did go through three different schools as exterior locations over the course of 18 episodes, however.
- In California Dreams there was one hallway, but which had a slightly unusual architecture, and it had two classrooms, one which never changed, and one which housed everything from auto-shop to cooking class and was eventually also used for the graduation ceremony.
- Strangers with Candy has Flatpoint High, complete with all the classic sets and a couple of less common ones. Certain teachers spend an unusual amount of time down in the basement, and then there's the teachers' lounge, complete with its own shower. The principal's office also bears the distinction of being accessed via secret passage.
- The Steve Harvey Show has Booker T. Washington High. It has two hallways, a music room (sometimes it actually had instruments), an office, another classroom, and a cafetorium. There was a staircase that led to a second floor of the school but that part of the school was never seen.
- Everybody Hates Chris has Corleone Junior High, Lamont Sanford Junior High and Tattaglia High.
- The main cast of Gossip Girl go to Constance and St. Judes high schools during the first two seasons.
- The Secret Life of the American Teenager - A standard episode mostly involves the teens infodumping in the one hallway of Ulysses S Grant High. It wasn't until the second season that they were even shown in a classroom. There were brief appearances of a coach, a secretary, and a teacher in that first of about three classroom scenes. Other than that, the school staff seems to only consist of the guidance counselor.
- Glee is set at Mckinley High, Which may or may not be a parody of this.
- Victorious is set at Hollywood Arts High School, and all bets are off about it fitting anything about this description.
- Summer Heights High was actually shot at an Aussie High School in documentary fashion.
- Unnatural History is set at Smithson High, which is attached to the National Museum Complex.
- The set of Zoey101 is the characters' high school, Pacific Coast Academy. Justified in that it is a private boarding school, and that the entire premise of the show was to add girls to a previously all-boys school. Technically it could fit into the California University trope: though it is not set at a university, the show was filmed in California at Pepperdine University.
- All of the main characters of Persona 3 (with the exception of the elementary student and the Team Pet) attend Gekkoukan High School during the day. A good many of the game's Social Links involve participating in club activities such as the sports and fine arts clubs or the Absurdly Powerful Student Council. It also transforms into an Evil Tower of Ominousness at night during the "hidden" Dark Hour, when Demonic Invaders called "Shadows" prowl the halls. No, really.
- This trend continued in Persona 4, even going so far as to have the main characters be juniors again (though a few sophomores are added to the team as well). Also, the school doesn't change into the Evil Tower of Ominousness, the Student Council is either non-existent or a non-entity, and more attention is paid to the fact that it's a school and not just a place to hang out with people (homework, projects, tests and such are much more heavily featured than P3).
- The obscure Nintendo 64 dating sim Getter Love!! (released only in Japan, to no one's surprise) has four boys and eight girls who go to high school. The school itself is located right in the middle of the map, but it's only purposes are to meet Makoto or Meifa, to get together with someone if you've planned to go to someone's house, the beach, or the Shinto shrine, or where Alfonso explains the rules of the game to everyone before things begin. All the girls' lesser endings take place somewhere within the school, seeing that the end of the game marks the end of everyone's summer vacation for the year.
- The Tokimeki Memorial series by Konami is a Japanese High School Dating Sim series, where the player incarnates a freshman spending his 3 years of High School improving his academic marks, looks, and physique, in order to graduate, and to become High School Sweethearts with one of the numerous girls (boys in the Girl's Side branch of the series) he'll meet during this time. All games take place in High School, save for the cellphone-only game Tokimeki Memorial 4 Chu!, which has a Junior High setting.
- Escape From St Marys: Set fully in a high school, with typical school tasks, like playing basketball, working with the website team, hunting for aliens, traveling through time...
- Katawa Shoujo has its action put in Yamaku, Japanese high school for disabled, ill and/or otherwise requiring assistance students. (however, it also accepts healthy people, but they are a minority)
- Annyseed . Despite being set in The Good Old British Comp school, it mismatches American high school motifs, such as, lockers and trophy cabernets in the hallway, students wearing their own clothes, and high school stereotypes like, the Alpha Bitch.
- El Goonish Shive features two different high schools - Moperville North and Moperville South. Half the cast attends North, while the other half attends South. Moperville North's mascot is "The Frenzied Turkeys". Even though it's a webcomic most of the action takes place in the corridors and cafeterias, just like a TV show.
- The Wotch and its spinoff Cheer are centered around Tandy Gardens High, home of the fighting Kangaroos. Their mascot costume is so embarrassing even their token Australian exchange student refuses to be seen in it.
- Since the involved characters are high school students, the pregames for Survival of the Fittest versions two, three, and four took place in the schools the characters attended (Bayview Secondary in v4, Southridge in v3, Bathurst, Hobbsborough, Franklyn Senior, and PJ Gilroy Academy in v2) and the cities they lived in (St. Paul for v4, Highland Beach for v3, Denton for v2).
- The default map for Mitadake High is a high school, funnily enough. Some logical thinking about where things are coupled with some hijinks like you get up to in your actual school will soon leave you knowing the place like the back of your hand.
- When not on world-saving missions, Kim Possible and friends attend Middleton High, apparently the only high school in a mid-sized city. The only faculty member seen in most episodes is the Drill Sergeant Nasty coach/teacher, Mr. Barkin. The mascot, portrayed at pep-squad events by hapless sidekick Ron Stoppable, is the Middleton Mad Dog.
- Family Guy has Buddy Cianci Junior High and James Woods High School.
- American Dad has Pearl Bailey High School.
- As Told by Ginger: All the melodrama and social hurdles of High School, without the High School. Funny thing is, when the characters finally got there, the show got canned.
- Funny thing about this. The story did end and there were six episodes prepared on their high school lives. These episodes were shown internationally but only the first one was aired on a random day without much notice. Nick USA canned it and just showed the last few episodes on VHS and had to change the dialogue due to parts that were from skipped episodes.
- Daria. There were multiple teachers and classrooms, but sets are cheaper when everything's animated anyway.
- Clone High, about a high school of people cloned from those famous from history.
- X Men Evolution The X-Men heroes and villains as teenagers in High School? A real high school, not just Xavier's mansion? Yes, it could be done
- It should be worth mentioning that England and Scotland have different systems, rendering 'British' confusing for actual Brits.