The characters are fictional, but their alma maters are all real
Ever heard of the University of New York in the TV show Felicity? How about Pennbrook University in Boy Meets World, or The University of Los Angeles in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? While all of these schools served as major settings in some of America’s most popular shows on television, and are modeled off of some of the nation’s most selective schools (New York University, University of Pennsylvania, and University of California – Los Angeles, respectively), none of these colleges actually exist.
Many TV shows choose to make up where their characters attend or have attended college, however, some develop a more realistic character background for their audiences. While the clubs to which characters belonged or the buildings they called home may not be real, many of their fictional college experiences are based on true events and set in real schools.
Here is a list of some of your favorite TV show characters and where they went to college!
Ted, Lily, and Marshall in How I Met Your Mother Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut
How I Met Your Mother’s many references to Wesleyan are fairly accurate and based on real experiences of the show’s creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, who both graduated in 1997. Characters Ted, Lily, and Marshall met in West College, or WestCo, dorm. There, Ted and Marshall were roommates, and where Lily and Marshall fell in love in the hallway freshman year. The show references other Wesleyan dorms when they introduce a law firm known as Nicholson, Hewitt, and West, the names of three dorms on campus. Campus radio station, 88.1 WESU-FM, gets a shout-out when it’s revealed that from 1998 to 2000, Ted served as program director and on-air “mystery” personality, Dr. X. It is also at Wesleyan that Ted and Marshall create their rap-duo “Straight Out of Connecticut,” which, unfortunately, was never a real musical group on-campus.
Bays and Thomas have made sure to pay homage to their alma mater, and their own college experiences, throughout the show’s eight seasons. Many episodes contain flashbacks to the characters in their school days, and Ted, Lily, and Marshall are based on the two creators and their good friend from Wesleyan. And while hacky sack and berets no longer have a large presence at Wesleyan (to our knowledge), How I Met Your Mother certainly has encompassed a certain generation in the school’s history.
Andy Bernard in The Office Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
Andy Bernard is one spirited Cornell University alumnus. Andy graduated from Cornell in 1995, and is notorious in the office for referencing his college years any chance he gets. "I graduated from anger management the same way I graduated from Cornell: on time,” is a classic line from Andy, who was not a very diligent student during his time in school. As a self-proclaimed hard partier, Andy was known as “Ace” for getting A’s, or “Buzz” for getting straight B’s, depending on when you ask him. In addition to his school pride, Andy also constantly boasts about “Here Comes Treble,” the all-male campus a cappella group in which he was the alleged rockstar.
While “Here Comes Treble” does not actually exist at Cornell (though two other all-male groups do), nor does his namesake building, Walter Bernard Hall, Andy’s school pride is very real. A popular run-on joke on the show, Andy’s endless name-dropping of his prestigious alma mater shows just how meaningful his experience at Cornell was, whether fictitious or not. Cornell itself has embraced this storyline, already preparing for the series finale and the end to Office-Cornell shout outs with an Andy doppelganger contest and grief counselors. As Andy would say at an arguably misplaced time, “The capital of Maine is Montpelier, Vermont, which is near Ithaca, New York, where I went to Cornell."
Now that’s school pride.
Liz Lemon in 30 Rock University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland
Liz Lemon transferred to the University of Maryland-College Park, from which she graduated in the class of 1992. On a partial competitive jazz dance scholarship, Liz continued studied theater tech and eventually studied abroad in Frankfurt, Germany because, in her opinion, German is, “one of the most beautiful languages in the world.”
While she still has an outstanding student loan, Liz’s time at Maryland certainly benefitted her future, as her education helped her become the head writer for TGS with Tracy Jordan. And while there is no theater tech major or partial competitive jazz dance scholarship offered by Maryland (sorry, jazz dance-enthusiasts), there is an excellent School of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies, through which various dance scholarships and theater tech courses are available.
Unlike Liz Lemon, don’t let your college social experience be dictated by something like a dorm room. According to her, “The registrar accidentally gave me a handicapped room. It was huge! And for two weeks, it was party central. I was popular. People gave me nicknames. A blonde girl high-fived me! Then like all good things, it ended before it even began.”
Take it from us, an extra-large dorm room is not the only path to friendship and high-fives in college. Try a club or intramural sports team instead!
Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation Indiana University – Bloomington, Bloomington, Indiana
Leslie Knope lives and breathes politics in her hometown of Pawnee, Indiana. However, Leslie left her beloved Pawnee to attend college at Indiana University in Bloomington.
On September 7, 2012, IU’s actual Alumni Magazine even gave Knope a feature in their alumni notes section. They congratulated her on her city council seat win in Pawnee, noting her as graduating summa cum laude with a B.S. in 1997. While it has not been mentioned in the show, it’s possible Leslie graduated with a B.S. in Recreation, an actual degree offered in Indiana’s Recreation, Park, and Tourism Studies department.
So, while Leslie is a fan of Pawnee first and foremost, she is also a Hoosier at heart, and if you strive for a future in your city’s parks department, Indiana’s program is certainly worth checking out.
Mostly in references or flashbacks, a TV character’s life in college can be a crucial, or at least entertaining, aspect of a show’s plotline. College can act as a formative experince in an individual’s life, whether real or fiction, and for many characters, they maintain connecions with friends, activities, and passions they formulated while in school.
Want some more? Here are other well-known TV characters and their alma maters:
Meredith Grey in Grey’s Anatomy: Meredith Grey attended Dartmouth College, though she apparently wasn’t the focused future doctor the audience knows and loves as an undergraduate. The decision to have Meredith be a Dartmouth alumnus was made by show creator Shonda Rhimes, who graduated from the school in 1991 with a degree in English.
The Drapers in Mad Men: Don Draper attended City College of New York while his wife, Betty Draper, attended Bryn Mawr College and was allegedly a sorority girl, despite there not being any sororities at the school.
The Girls in Girls: Hannah Horvath and her “girls” attended Oberlin College, a liberal arts school in Oberlin, Ohio from which the show’s star, writer, and director Lena Dunham graduated in 2008.
Rory Gilmore in Gilmore Girls: Rory Gilmore attended Yale University, and despite taking some time off junior year, Rory graduated on time in 2008 as the editor-in-chief for the campus newspaper, Yale Daily News.
George Costanza and Jerry Seinfeld in Seinfeld: These buddies attended Queens College. In real life, Jerry Seinfeld went to SUNY-Oswego before transferring his sophomore year and eventually graduating from Queens College in 1976.
Miranda and Charlotte in Sex and the City: While it’s frequently referenced that Miranda Hobbs is a Harvard Law School graduate, a lesser-known fact is that Charlotte York attended Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts where she majored in art history and minored in finance.
Will and Grace in Will & Grace: Will Truman and Grace Adler met at Columbia University when they lived across the hall from one another in 1985. While their romantic relationship didn’t work out, they do eventually meet again as upperclassmen and the rest is friendship history.