The Absolute Worst Schools in Fiction

For many, fall is their favorite time of year. The weather gets cooler, the leaves change color, and the holiday’s keep everyone busy. But there’s one thing we all dread: going back to school. There are the early mornings, the piles of homework, and everything in between. But all things considered, it could be much worse. You could be surrounded by assassins, spend detention in a coffin-sized closet, or face flying demons. To make you feel better about your first day of school, we found the absolute worst schools in fiction.

Prufrock Preparatory School – "The Austere Academy" by Lemony Snickett

Since the death of their parents, things have been awful for the Baudelaire siblings. And their admission to Prufrock Prep is no exception. It’s gloomy, the food is terrible, and the bullies are prolific. But the worst part? The education is not only boring, it’s downright worthless. All Prufrock Prep cares about is obedience and they’re proud of their dedication to breaking the will of independent and creative children. Overall, Prufrock Prep is a terrible place for anyone who values learning.

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Oxford University’s Royal Institute of Translation – "Babel" by R.F. Kuang

While they operate under the guise of pursuing knowledge, The Royal Institute of Translation, otherwise known as Babel, uses their students to pursue something else: power. Their ability to manipulate silver to manifest meaning from the arcane has helped the Empire colonize the world. Maybe the school itself isn’t dangerous, but given the focus of the Hermes Society to sabotage the school, it isn’t exactly safe, either. It isn’t just that war and revolution are threatening on all sides. The school itself is steeped in cruelty, callousness, and outright racism. Not to mention, they use translation as a direct method of conquest. Not exactly the academic utopia it professes itself to be.

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Yale – "Ninth House" by Leigh Bardugo

Perhaps it’s more the secret societies that make Yale so dangerous. But these societies have existed on this campus for decades, and their existence is a source of appeal to the powerful elites. They're far too entrenched with the institution itself to be separated. Plus, the actions of these societies can have direct negative consequences on the students, and no one ever considers punishing or stopping them. Signing up for these societies is one thing. But you shouldn’t have to face humiliation (at best) or death (at worst) when you’re just trying to get an education.

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The Red Church – "Nevernight" by Jay Kristoff

It should come as absolutely no surprise that a school for assassins isn’t going to be considered a good school. The classes are focused on murder and the final exam leaves much to be desired. You can’t trust the students. You definitely can’t trust the teachers. Unless you have a serious desire for revenge, we think The Red Church is a secret better left buried.

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Hailsham Boarding School – "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro

Hailsham seems like an ordinary school. The curriculum focuses on literature and art, and the students are well cared for. Almost too well cared for. And that’s just the start of strange things happening on campus. The professors are called guardians, every student must work in the vegetable garden, and doing anything deemed unhealthy is practically a crime. They’re also forbidden from knowing anything about the outside world. It all makes sense when you realize why. But the horror of the truth makes Hailsham a place you’d never want to visit, let alone attend.

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Okishima Island School – "Battle Royale" by Koushun Takami

Field trips always have a down-side. Someone pukes, someone gets everyone else in trouble, someone gets lost. But no matter how bad your field trips were as a kid, at least they didn’t make you fight your classmates to the death. Any school that takes their students to a deserted island where they have to battle to the death is going to make a list of worst schools. Middle School is rough for almost everyone. But killing your classmates, even if everyone did something to earn their place there, is probably not the best solution for teaching them a lesson.

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The Institute – "Red Rising" by Pierce Brown 

More than a school for the elite Gold’s of the Society, The Institute is a place where children are carved into hardened leaders. From the very first night, the halls drip with blood, and the violence doesn’t stop there. Even though every House is watched by a proctor, and the medbots are often quick and efficient at mending the most life-threatening injuries, death lurks around every turn at this school. If you manage to survive and impress the elite leaders, your diploma is a scar on your cheek. We’ll take a regular diploma any day.

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UNC at Chapel Hill – "Legendborn" by Tracy Deonn

College is supposed to be where you learn how to be an adult—not a mage. Or a monster hunter. You shouldn't see a flying demon feed on human energy. Or learn about a secret society that might know more about your mother’s death than you. Or have to choose a side in a magical war. Maybe it’s not the worst school to attend, but there’s a lot more to the curriculum than we’re comfortable with.

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Basgaith War College – "The Fourth Wing" by Rebecca Yarros

No one is under any illusion that a war college is safe. That’s probably why most of the students are conscripts. But even for the volunteers, some of their rules are a bit extreme. If you don’t pass the mandatory physical inspection, you’re automatically assigned to the infantry front lines where you will probably die. First-year students aren’t allowed to contact their friends or family. And there’s so much potential death, they have an entire bureaucratic process in place to deal with it. Maybe it’s good for learning the art of war, but we’d rather focus on reading and writing instead.

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Catherine House – "Catherine House" by Elisabeth Thomas

On the surface, Catherine House seems like a perfect school. Their curriculum is largely focused on the liberal arts, though perhaps on the more experimental side. And while it’s extremely difficult to get in, once you’re accepted, you get free room, board, and tuition. Except once you’re on campus, you can’t leave for three years. Sure, they encourage you to explore—to a limit. But contact with the outside world is absolutely forbidden the entire time you’re a student. Add in the mysterious plasm program with a potentially deadly agenda, and we recommend you give this school a hard pass.

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Crunchem Hall Primary School – "Matilda" by Roald Dahl

If only all the teachers were like Miss Honey. Unfortunately, she’s a rare source of joy for the students of Crunchem Hall. The principal, Miss Trunchbull, delights in shot-putting students into the air or throws them out of windows. She punishes them by forcing them to eat cake until they puke, putting them in coffin-sized closets—complete with nails and terrible odors—for detention, and walking around with a leather whip. Not a very supportive educator.

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Your school doesn't seem so bad anymore now, does it?

Jena Brown

Column by Jena Brown

Jena Brown grew up playing make-believe in the Nevada desert, where her love for skeletons and harsh landscapes solidified. A freelance writer, she currently contributes to Kwik Learning, Truity, The Portalist, Insider, and The Nerd Daily. In addition to writing, Jena blogs at and is active on bookstagram as @jenabrownwrites. When she isn’t imagining deadly worlds, she and her husband are being bossed around the Las Vegas desert by their two chihuahuas.

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