In most stories set at an expensive and prestigious school largely populated by rich kids, there will be one — and usually only one — student who's middle-class or even poor. Usually this student is there on a scholarship (as the trope name indicates), but sometimes there's another reason for their being there — maybe one of their parents teaches there so their tuition is discounted or free, or maybe their parents just scraped together the money to give their child the best education they could.
This character will nearly always be the protagonist, presumably because they're more similar to most of the audience (in terms of socioeconomic status if nothing else) and because there is a lot of Fish out of Water
comedy and/or drama to be milked from their situation. In comedic series, the character is also frequently the Only Sane Man
amongst all those eccentric rich kids. In British boarding school literature, this character may be part of a Five-Token Band
. For those who can barely afford food, see Starving Student
. Also see Penny Among Diamonds
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Anime and Manga
- Nanako and maybe Tomoko in Oniisama e...
- Haruhi in Ouran High School Host Club, who's in the school due to her getting a really good score on an important test.
- Tsukushi in Hana Yori Dango
- Obscure comedy manga Ten Yori Takaku is about Konoe Hiroyuki, a commoner who attends Hinomiya Private Academy ( nicknamed named "Heavenly Academy") on a scholarship.
- Mai Tokiha and her brother Takumi get into Fuuka Gakuen through a scholarship in Mai-HiME. Which happens to ber a part of Mashiro's Batman Gambit to bring her to the school and reunite her with the other HiMEs. Natsuki tries to scare her off at the beginning, but it doesn't work.
- Halfway through the manga version of Naru Taru, Shiina Tamai gets into a very prestigious and exclusive all-girls' middle school through a scholarship. Funnily enough, she was formerly Book Dumb.
- Subverted in the case of Satomi, who tried to get the same scholarship before her but didn't make it so she had to get in through normal ways.
- Tanpopo, the main character of Imadoki!, is one.
- Implied two in Hayate the Combat Butler. Hayate himself is in Hakuou because Nagi is paying his tuition, we're not sure how Hinagiku (or her sister Yukiji) came to be there, though Hinagiku has the possible excuse of her sister working there.
- All the more confusing since Yukiji's childhood friend is also a teacher there, and it's implied that they went to the same school as children, and her parents accumulated a substantial debt.
- There's a very silly ecchi manga by the name of Asa Made Jugyou Chu which has the protagonist as one of these.
- Luna from Mujin Wakusei Survive.
- Maya Kitajima from Glass Mask. She's offered a scholarship in Tsukikage's art school and runs away from home when her mom Haru forbids her from taking it up.
- Dimitri from Kurobara Alice.
- Chris O'Donnell's character in Scent of a Woman. In fact, he was in danger of losing his scholarship, and was assigned the work of watching over Al Pacino's character to keep it.
- The protagonist in Finding Forester
- Demi Lovato's character Mitchie from Camp Rock. Sort, of: it's a summer camp, not a school.
- In The Box, the protagonists' son attends a private school because the mom is a teacher there and they get a discount. Then aliens screw them out of it. It Makes Sense in Context.
- Dodger in Cry_Wolf.
- The entire team in The Mighty Ducks 3
- A subversion in The Slums Of Beverly Hills. While the schools in the 90210 area code seem to be public, the protagonist's father keeps moving around within the district so his kids can attend what he considers to be "better" schools than the ones in poorer areas.
- Tom Marvolo Riddle was one of these 'pitiful' creatures, which seems to have been a formative influence.
- The actual education at Hogwarts seems to be free, though. It was the books he got for free.
- Similarly, the Half-Blood Prince: Severus Snape.
- The Assassins' Guild of Ankh-Morpork has occasional "scholarship students". While most of the students from the Guild are nobility sent for the first-class education, who rarely actually become assassins The "scholarship students" got free education for outstanding work in the field of study - in this case, murder. Generally, they work for the Patrician. The first one we meet is Arthur from Pyramids (who received his scholarship thanks to a famous assassin father), but the concept was really established, named, and codified with Inigo Skimmer from The Fifth Elephant. The scholarship boys appear again in the Moist von Lipwig books with Cranberry from Making Money.
- Mr. Teatime from Hogfather was something similar. All guilds in Ankh-Morpork will occasionally take in orphans, who receive free training from the guild. Jeremy Clockson from Thief of Time is an example from a different guild, in this case the clockmakers.
- Reed Brennan from the Private series of books.
- Subverted in the Kiki Strike books, where there are a lot of scholarship girls. Ananka is the outsider because one of her relatives left the family money that can only be spent on education. Ananka is neither rich nor a good student (though her low grades are because she's bored. )
- The narrator in Donna Tartt's The Secret History, Richard Papen escapes small-town California through a scholarship to Hampden College. He constructs an elaborate fake past for himself, telling his friends that his parents, in reality a gas station attendant and a housewife, are failed movie stars who own an oil well.
- Scholarship students are the lifeblood of Montague School- literally - in John Connolly's short story The Ritual of the Bones. More specifically, they are sacrificed to temporarily resurrect the school mascot, a horrific cross between a spider and a scorpion, in a ritual that apparently strengthens the ties of blood and allegiance between the upper-class students; the is the unfortunate fate of the narrator's friend Smethwick, and nearly the narrator himself.
- Greyfriars has Mark Linley, a Lancashire lad who worked in a factory, and Tom Redwing, a (temporarily) orphaned fisherman's boy. Both have strong Gary Stu overtones and both were very popular with readers.
- Sam in The Four Dorothys (her mom is a teacher and she gets a discount on tuition — she is also very useful for PR whenever the school is accused of elitism).
- Referenced in Journey to an 800 Number be E.L. Konigsburg. The narrator's mother has a custodian job at a private school that provides them with a cottage and free tuition . She marries a rich man before he begins, though, partly so he won't be labeled as a janitor's kid.
- Peekay in The Power Of One wins a scholarship to the Prince of Wales School and nearly has to turn it down because he can't afford the uniform. He gets involved in several successful money making schemes after admitting to his best friend that he literally has no money of his own.
- In Is That You, Miss Blue?, Cardmaker is one, by virtue of being a smart Preacher's Kid.
- Jerusha "Judy" Abbott from Daddy-Long-Legs. She falls in love with her benefactor, Jarvis Pendleton, and marries him.
- Naturals in the Black Magician Series. Naturals have such strong magic that it spontaneously awakens, and an untrained magician is a danger to everyone around him or her, so they have to be trained regardless of their social standing. In the original trilogy, Sonea comes from the slums and is taken in by the Magician's Guild, while Tessia in The Magician's Apprentice is a rural healer's daughter and apprentices under her manorial lord. In the latter case, it's mentioned that naturals are seen as something of a pain in the ass, since existing magicians are required to train them, but they don't get the connections and favors they'd get for training a nobleman's son.
- Lee in Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep is quiet and mousy and from the Midwest, in contrast to her classmates.
- A Prayer For Owen Meany subverts the "only one" rule; the town and prep school having developed around each other, the town never built its own High School and instead the school board pays for the local kids' tuition at the Academy (or optionally a neighboring town's high school).
- Ann Bradshaw from A Great And Terrible Beauty.
- The title character in I Am Charlotte Simmons is a poor farm girl who winds up an an ersatz-Duke University among rich kids and gets Wangst about it.
Live Action Television
- Jo from The Facts of Life.
- Cold Case featured an episode where the victim attended a prestigious private school in Chestnut Hill on scholarship. She was mocked endlessly by the rich kids before her death.
- Part of the backstory for The West Wing's President Bartlet had him attending a prestigious private school, because his father was the dean.
- Although the Bartletts can trace their ancestry back to one of the men who signed the declaration of Independence for New Hampshire so there was a lot less Fish out of Water to this one.
- Coca Cola Presents: A WB Summer Premiere: Young Americans used this X2: the main character was a townie with a scholarship, and another major character was the son of the dean so he got in cheap/free.
- Cody in Vampire High. Humans ("gadje") are accepted in small quantities into the school because vampires ("jenti") can't touch water and the state mandates that all schools have a water polo team. In return, they are given straight As automatically.
- The main character in The Best Years.
- Wendell from Bones was an intern who was able to attend because of a scholarship. How the other interns are paying for their education is never addressed, but one episode focused on Wendell being in danger of losing his scholarship because there wasn't enough money anymore. At the end of the episode, an anonymous donation (heavily implied to be Brennan and/or Hodgins) saved the scholarship program and Wendell returgned to being a reoccurring character.
- Rory of Gilmore Girls had a friend at Yale named Marty who couldn't afford to eat with the rich kids.
- While not on scholarship due to West Beverly being a public school, but Brandon and Brenda Walsh during the first season or two of Beverly Hills 90210 qualify as the middle class students in a rich school. And Andrea takes the bus from another district.
- Vincent from Best Friends Foreverhas a music scholarship.
- Girl Genius with the Baron's "school" of noble apprentices/hostages stepped on this trope, shuffled a little, then overturned it and walked on. Twice in a row. (Agatha and Gil both appeared to be charity cases during their time there. The first turns out to be arguably the most powerful Spark in Europa and The Heterodyne; the second turns out to be the other main contender for most powerful Spark and secretly the Baron's heir.)
- Subverted and averted in the Whateley Universe. The majority of the students attending are on some form of scholarship - largely because, otherwise, there would literally be no way for them to afford it; Word Of God has the yearly tuition fees at around $100,000 - and that's not counting textbooks, school supplies, and uniforms. Largely averted in that it rarely comes up in the stories themselves - the students usually have enough to enjoy themselves (with the exception of Jade and various gadgeteers and devisors, whose money woes are always directly linked to the supplies needed for various projects sucking up every penny they have).
- This may have something to do with the fact that Whateley isn't so much a prep school as it is an institution for teaching social responsibility for potentially dangerous people.
- In the Crash Nebula episode of The Fairly Oddparents, Sprig becomes the first human to attend the Celestial Academy because he saved an alien princess named Galaxandra from robots. He expects people to find this impressive, but is instead mocked as just being the school's yearly "charity case."