It’s that time of year again. The days are getting shorter, the leaves are starting to change, and parents are rejoicing as their children finally return to the classroom. Yes, it’s back to school season, the time of the year when I want to do drown myself in No. 2 pencils and unsullied spiral notebooks (filled only with potential!), despite the fact I haven’t seen the inside of a classroom in an indeterminate number of years.
These days, I must appreciate that back-to-school buzz vicariously, by reenrolling in some of my favorite fictional educational institutions. If I could attend one of these 10 schools from SFF books, I’d promise never to complain about my homework.
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (Harry Potter)
Every parent’s first choice for a fantasy education grounded in the basics: spell craft, camaraderie, and good old British classism. At Hogwarts, you can learn everything you need to become a successful witch or wizard. Just don’t get too attached to your Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. England a little too far from home for you? Try Hogwarts’ sister schools in France (Beauxbatons), Eastern Euroupe (Durmstrang), and the U.S. (Ilvermorny).
Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy (The Magicians, by Lev Grossman)
Graduated from Hogwarts and looking to continue your magical education? Breakbills College is the place for you. It’s a hidden campus, by invitation only, and you’ll have to work hard to succeed. In Lev Grossman’s celebrated trilogy, magic is much more difficult (and lots more boring) than just waving your wand around. Study hard and you might just do amazing, terrible things. The Magicians offers an inspired look at magic in a higher learning, sex-and-drugs-fueled setting, with a Narnian allegory thrown in for good measure. That said, reading about the tedium of even the extracurriculars (is Welters the worst magical sport ever, or what?) might just make you glad you don’t have to worry about exams ever again.
Unseen University (Discworld, by Terry Pratchett)
Maybe Brakebills is a bit too intense for you. Ankh-Morpork’s Unseen University might be a better fit for someone of your intellectual, er, caliber. Some of the greatest minds on the entire disc are waiting to educate you in everything from the proper dosage of frog pills to how to eat ginormous banquets. If you’re lucky, you may even learn a spell here or there. Make sure to visit the Library, one of the most interesting and deadly spots on campus. (Bring a banana.) This cornerstone of learning in Terry Pratchett’s beloved, expansive series is featured in some way in almost every volume. You know you’re in for a good time when Archchanceller Ridcully or Ponder Stibbons shows up. (A word of advice: do not, under any circumstances, use the opulent bathroom built by Bloody Stupid Johnson. Trust me.)
Paperback $6.33 | $8.99
The University (The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss)
A school so old and important it doesn’t even need a name, the University, located just across the Omethi River near Imre, is truly the place to go if you want to master sympathetic magic. Hiding a multitude of secrets in its exclusive archives (whatever you do, don’t try to bring a lantern into the stacks), and with a staff of nine professors, each with their own quirks, its a great place to learn, provided you have the talents (and the marks) to swing the tuition. Kvothe’s trials and tribulations at the University comprise a hefty chunk of Patrick Rothfuss’ addictive (and still maddeningly incomplete) fantasy trilogy—perhaps it should have been called the University of Hard Knocks.
Paperback $10.99 | $11.99
Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality (The Finishing School series, by Gail Carriger)
Forget magic, how does training to be an assassin sound? Enroll yourself in this fantastical academy with a killer curriculum. Attend classes in a schoolroom that floats over Scotland in a dirigible and learn everything you need to make a lethal move into high society. Vampires, werewolves, and the proper use of fans are of considerable interest to every young lady of a certain means and murderous intent. Gail Carriger’s hilarious, witty steampunk comedy of manners is a prequel to her lovely Parasol Protectorate series. Each book is full to the brim with charm, humor, and turns of phrase sharp enough to cut—important skills for any assassin-in-training.
Miskatonic University (H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos)
Perhaps you crave darker knowledge. Prestigious Miskatonic University is just the place for you: study forbidden occult texts like the Necronomicon as you slink through dark hallways, and try not to go gibberingly mad as ancient eldritch abominations grant you new eyes to peer into their non-Euclidian voids. The Miskatonic Medical School is of special interest, and is sure to reanimate even the most jaded student’s love of learning. Go ‘Pods!
The Imperial Academy (The Star Wars universe; featured in Lost Stars, by Claudia Gray)
Miskatonic too tame for you? Seeking to learn real power? The Imperial Academy will meet your needs with brutal efficency. Perfect the skills that will help you conquer the galaxy. You’ll be captain of your own Star Destroyer in no time. If the Imperial Navy doesn’t do it for you, follow in Sinjir Rath Velus’ steps (Star Wars: Aftermath, by Chuck Wendig) and become an Imperial Loyalty Officer. There are many different ways to serve the Empire, and you’re find something that will appeal to your talents (just don’t choke during your final exam with Lord Vader).
Starfleet Academy (Star Trek)
Maybe you just want to see and study the stars, not crush them under the heel of your boot. Starfleet Academy will welcome you to its beautiful San Francisco (California, North America, Earth) campus with open arms. Use your talents to become an engineer, scientist, or doctor, and travel the universe. Just don’t try anything cute during your Kobayashi Maru test. Only one guy ever got away with cheating, and that was a very special case.
Frontera College (The Highest Frontier, by Joan Slonczewski)
Perhaps traveling into space isn’t your cup of tea. Why not attend a university happily lodged in orbit? It’s a safe haven, free from the calamities of the climate ravaged Earth below. Just don’t go all Tracy Flick with student government. Academics are important. The world is depending on you. Award-winner Joan Slonczewski’s book skewers the politics of higher education even as it beautifully builds a thought provoking near-future dystopia. It’s nice knowing that even students of the future have to worry about getting a weird roommate.
The Jean Grey School for Higher Learning (Wolverine & the X-Men, by Jason Aaron, Chris Bachalo, Duncan Rouleau, Matteo Scalera)
Born different? Formerly Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, this newly christened institution is perfect for students with particularly unique talents. With a curriculum that upholds the ideals of Charles Xavier himself, this school does double duty as a home to mutant teens who need help learning to control their gifts. Can you fly or breath fire? The Xavier Institute will teach you to harness your abilities for the greater good. Make sure you keep a go-bag in your dorm though—this place tends to get destroyed on the reg.
What SFF schools are your match, reach, and safety?