Where Pop Culture Goes to College

Some universities work their way into the pop cultural oversoul. Harvard and Yale are shorthands for “prestige,” of course; those are obvious. Chronic over-achiever Rory Gilmore assumed she would go to one but then at the last minute went to the other. Schools are aware of their reputations, too, which makes it fun to watch them bicker with and backhand each other, like so:

Popular culture suggests that Harvard is the place to be. U.S. News & World Report places Harvard at the top of its college rankings. Films like Legally Blonde purport that we can be smart, glamorous and happy all at the same time. Platitudes tell us we should be having the time of our lives. And yet …  Perhaps #1 can learn something from #2.

Early “Simpsons” writers came fresh from The Crimson, so they injected lots of pro-Harvard sentiment into the show. The cretinous capitalist Mr. Burns, for example, is a Yalie. Lisa Simpson, like Rory, naturally wants to go to Harvard. When she dreams that the doors of Harvard are closed to her, the University President promises to forward her application on to–snicker–Brown. Being an iconoclast and a feminist, though, she also has more character-appropriate aspirations: in a different episode, she wails, “There go my girlhood dreams of Vassar!”

Sarah Lawrence in Bronxville, NY, is the most expensive and, according to the experts at Gawker, Most Annoying College in the country (or did the crown end up going to Wesleyan?). It has become shorthand for “Small Elite Northeastern Liberal Arts College,” showing up so often in TV shows, books, and movies that the college even has a section of its Wikipedia page devoted to fictional alumni. Notables include Kat Stratford, in the movie 10 Things I Hate About YouAllison “Allie” Hamilton, in the movie The Notebook, and Remy “Thirteen” Hadley of the popular Fox medical drama House.

Recently, Oberlin has also gotten some time in the spotlight through the insecure narcissists on “Girls” and characters like Lutz on “30 Rock.” It is built into the character of Twofer that he’s a Harvard man and it feels similarly real that Liz Lemon went to the University of Maryland “on a partial competitive jazz dance scholarship.” (Perhaps she was friends with fellow alum Dana Scully from “The X Files”?) Jack Donaghy, like Sideshow Bob and other famous fictional Republicans, as well as, reportedly, God, is a Princeton Tiger.

It’s much more fun when authors and show-runners send their characters to real places rather than “Accidental College,” or “Hearst,” or “UC-Sunnydale.” It gives us in the audience more information about them, like that Buffy applied to and got into Northwestern (?!), and an opportunity to say, No way she would have gotten into / gone there. It also allows for exciting Fictional Alumni Face-Offs between the likes of Duke and Syracuse. After the jump, even more of our favorite fictional folks and their alma maters. Any of these not ring true to you? Is your school well-represented or not at all?

  • Amy Gardner, The West Wing — Brown and Yale Law
  • Serena van der Woodsen, Gossip Girl — Brown
  • Summer Roberts, The O.C. — Brown
  • Brian Griffin, Family Guy — Brown
  • Charles Foster Kane, Citizen Kane — Cornell
  • Sideshow Mel, The Simpsons — Cornell
  • Andy Bernard, The Office — Cornell
  • Meadow Soprano, The Sopranos — Columbia
  • Peter Parker, Spider-Man — Columbia
  • Will and Grace, Will and Grace — Columbia
  • Michael Corleone, The Godfather — Dartmouth
  • Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report — Dartmouth
  • Dr. Abbey Bartlet, The West Wing — Harvard
  • Frasier Crane, Frasier — Harvard
  • Ally McBeal, Ally McBeal — Harvard
  • Miranda Hobbes, Sex and the City — Harvard
  • Joshua Lyman, The West Wing — Yale
  • Richard Gilmore, The Gilmore Girls — Yale
  • Blair Waldorf, Gossip Girl — Yale
  • Nick Carraway and Tom Buchanan, The Great Gatsby — Yale
  • Bruce Wayne, Batman — Princeton
  • Amory Blaine, This Side of Paradise — Princeton
  • Paul Kinsey, Mad Men — Princeton
  • C.J. Cregg, The West Wing — UC Berkeley
  • D.J. Tanner, Full House  — UC Berkeley
  • Elaine Robinson, The Graduate — UC Berkeley
  • Nancy Botwin, Weeds — UC Berkeley
  • George-Michael Bluth, Arrested Development — UC Irvine
  • The women from The Group — Vassar
  • Heidi Holland, The Heidi Chronicles — Vassar
  • Betty Draper Francis, Mad Men — Bryn Mawr
  • Edna Krabappel, The Simpsons — Bryn Mawr
  • Ainsley Hayes, The West Wing — Smith
  • Charlotte York, Sex and the City — Smith
  • Piper Chapman, Orange is the New Black — Smith
  • Elaine Bennes, Seinfeld — Tufts University
  • Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza, Seinfeld — Queens College
  • Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Silence of the Lambs — Johns Hopkins University
  • Clarice Starling, Silence of the Lambs — University of Virginia (“It’s not a charm school.”)
  • Tony Stark, Iron Man — MIT
  • Lex Luthor, Spider-Man — MIT
  • Dr. Tobias Funke, Arrested Development — Boston College and MIT
  • Theo Huxtable, The Cosby Show NYU
  • Alvy Singer, Annie Hall — NYU
  • Alison Bechdel, Fun Home — Oberlin
  • James Brennan, Adventureland — Oberlin
  • Ted MosbyMarshall EriksenLily Aldrin, How I Met Your Mother — Wesleyan
  • Zooey Bartlet and Charlie Young, The West Wing — Georgetown
  • Carrie Mathison, Homeland — Georgetown
  • Tracy Flick, Election — Georgetown
  • Alicia Florrick and Will Gardner, The Good Wife — Georgetown
  • President Andrew Shepherd, The American President — Stanford
  • The President, First Lady, and a bunch of other cast members, 24 — Stanford
  • Andrea Sachs, The Devil Wears Prada — Northwestern University
  • Catherine Llewellyn, Proof — Northwestern University
  • Aaron Samuels, Mean Girls — Northwestern University
  • Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation — Indiana University
  • Richard Kimbel, The Fugitive — University of Chicago
  • Leo McGarry, The West Wing — University of Michigan
  • Dr. House, House — University of Michigan
  • Harry Crane, Mad Men — University of Wisconsin
  • Donna Moss, The West Wing — University of Wisconsin
  • President Bartlet, The West Wing — Notre Dame


Note: Aside from a couple of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia characters, no one goes to Penn. If it makes you feel any better, no one goes to my alma mater, Swarthmore, either.



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