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California University

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The fictional university used by many High School TV shows to extend their lives into the college years. The name "California University" was used by both Saved by the Bell and Beverly Hills, 90210, but the term can be applied to any university that allows an ensemble High School show to retain the majority of its cast.

The university is often located within a reasonable distance to the original high school, to allow or imply limited interaction with the parents and old shopkeepers; egregious cases will have the old faculty follow the students to the university — if they were sufficiently a part of the old cast — which makes no sense whatsoever. Despite the fact that the original high school show depicted the cast as a wide range of academic talent, ranging from slacker to valedictorian, all of the principal cast members of the show apply, are accepted, and elect to go to the same university — and often take the same courses. Also, as a general rule of thumb, everybody at this university lives in a dormitory building. In regards to this last point, in Real Life, even if a student does end up going to college close to home, they'll end up commuting, or find themselves renting an apartment if their school lacks dormitories. May be the result of Everyone Went to School Together or a small cast of recurring characters.

Often a case of California Doubling, in which the UCLA campus, or less often, those of USC or Loyola Marymount University, serves as a convenient shooting location for Los Angeles-based productions. A case of Truth in Television, given that the Golden State has the largest and best-known public higher education systems in the United States.

Compare College Is "High School, Part 2" and Elevator School. Contrast Ivy League for Everyone.

Not to be confused with California's two actual public university systems, the University of California and California State University, nor with the California University in the state of Pennsylvania, which was merged along with two other schools into Pennsylvania Western University, branded as PennWest, in 2022.note Also 


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    Comic Books 
  • Archie Comics has a California high school, as demonstrated with the Little Archie comics; almost all of the characters, including the entire faculty, moved from Riverdale Elementary to Riverdale High. Ms. Grundy also appears to be the only English teacher at both schools, because she's always seen as the cast's English teacher (with scenes referring to summer implying that they had her the previous year and will have her the next, as they eternally go through high school). Mrs. Beazly also appears to be the only member of the cafeteria staff.
    • It's plausible for all of the students to move on to the same high school. Not so much with the staff.
  • Everyone in the Marvel Universe seemingly goes to college in one of two places, the fictional Empire State University (ESU), or The Xavier Institute for Higher Learning (if you're a mutant). The latter offers junior high through post-graduate level courses.
  • Mostly averted in the DCU Superboy/Superman comics. Clark left Smallville after high school to attend Metropolis University. Pre-Crisis, Lana initially attends MU alongside Clark, but soon transfers to another school away from Metropolis; Pete Ross, meanwhile, never attended Metropolis University at all.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Surprisingly averted by, of all things, High School Musical, whose ending sees Ryan and Kelsi being sent to Juilliard, Taylor to Yale, Gabriella to Stanford, and Troy to UC Berkeley. Chad and Sharpay, however, go to the fictional University of Albuquerque (which once did exist, but closed in 1986).note  Not to say that the choice of colleges for the characters isn't problematic in a different way.
  • Elle Woods of Legally Blonde starts the movie as a student at CULA as both USC and UCLA refused to allow their names to be used out of fear of stereotyping. Harvard, where Elle goes after deciding to become a lawyer, had no such issues and allowed the use of their name.
  • Scream 2 sends both of the first film's surviving teenage characters, Sidney and Randy, to the fictional Windsor College in Ohio, over two thousand miles away from their home in California. While Sidney wanted to put as much distance between herself and her hometown as possible, no such explanation is given for why Randy chose to go to the same school that she did.

  • The Sweet Valley University series employs this trope, being a sequel to the Sweet Valley High series.
    • Apparently their entire Limited Social Circle chose SVU regardless of academic ability or financial means, and everyone further chose to live in dorms even though they live in Sweet Valley.
  • In Sarah Dessen's novels, the university (it's just called The U) is almost always mentioned, at least as a choice for the main characters to go. In real life in the U.S., "the U" may be short for the nearest large university: the University of Miami if you live in Florida (or are a college sports fan), the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities if you live in Minnesota.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Beverly Hills, 90210.
  • Boy Meets World:
    • Pennbrook College. (High-school principal Mr. Feeney followed along.)
    • Also sort-of-parodied with the hilariously named East North Southwestern, where Eric wants to go.
      • That's "North Southwestern San Diego State University." As Mr. Feeny called it, good old NSWSDS... U.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer has U.C. Sunnydale, which a disclaimer at the end of the credits points out isn't actually real. Subverted in that only Buffy, Willow and Oz actually head for college; the rest of the cast all move on with their lives in various ways, with Angel and Cordelia leaving for LA (and Angel's new spinoff), Xander unable to get into any decent school and ending up a "townie" and then becoming a construction worker, and Giles finding himself unemployed before eventually re-opening up a magic shop. On the other hand, Willow could have had her pick of the Ivy League, but opts for the local public university to stay close to Buffy and Oz. Oz already knows where everything is because all his friends have been attending for a year (he got held back). He soon drops out, however, and moves to Tibet.
  • Saved by the Bell: This is the Trope Namer; in Saved by the Bell: The College Years, Zack, Slater, and Screech wound up together at California University, as did Kelly starting in the second episode. This was despite the fact that they explicitly say near the end of the high school series that Slater was going to the University of Iowa, Screech was going to Caltech, and Zack was going to Yale. Screech and Slater would most assuredly had scholarships (academic and wrestling/football/basketball/track, respectively. If Zack didn't, his family certainly could have afforded it.
  • Apparently DJ Fuller has the same alma mater as Zack, Slater, and Screech. She returns to attempt to convince Jackson to attend there and falls into the same "steal the MacGuffin back from rival sorority" schtick that Danny and Joey had back in the original series.
  • Veronica Mars (Hearst College)
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (ULA)
  • Parodied in a Saturday Night Live sketch, as the final episode of a high school drama is being shot. The students will all attend the same college so they can star in the Spin-Off sequel, which upsets the actor playing the principal once he realizes that he won't have a part in the new series. The actor attempts to ad-lib lines that would justify his inclusion (up to and including the claim that he never went to college and intends to join his students as classmates), until the director rewrites the scene and kills off the principal off-screen.
  • Averted in (of all places) Dawson's Creek: Joey ends up at the fictional Worthington College while Jack and Jen go to the equally fictional Boston Bay. Dawson ends up in LA (albeit briefly, before dropping out of college) and Pacey doesn't go to college at all. The series had them all meet up a fair bit, but also used several Two Lines, No Waiting story arcs.
  • The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (Possibly the Ur-Example, with the kids and some of the teachers moving on to S. Peter Pryor Junior College.)
  • Averted in Happy Days. While most of the original cast end up going to a college together not far from home, it's at the real UW-Milwaukee. The producers even did their research and had accurate school colors for the period the show takes place in.
  • Degrassi: The Next Generation both averts this and plays it straight. First done with Ellie and Marco attending the University of Toronto (a real university), fictionalized as "Toronto University." Paige initially attends Banting (which seems to be based on Queens University in Kingston, Ontario), but drops out of school and moves in with her friends. Emma, Manny, and Liberty all attend Smithdale (which makes little sense in Liberty's case, as she had previously announced that she was going to attend Banting herself). Most characters, however, disappear after graduation, with the exception of a few cameo appearances.
  • In the "School's Out" finale to the original DeGrassi series, Caitlin mentions that she was also accepted "here", in keeping with the series' habit of soft-pedaling its own location.
  • Averted by One Tree Hill where the show skipped four years ahead in time after everyone graduated high school, and instead had them all returning home for various reasons post-college (or for other reasons as not all characters went to college).
  • Averted marvelously in Friday Night Lights, in which seasons three, four, and five are basically being written as one long epilogue to the first two seasons, giving each character a three or four episode long story arc that sends them off the show into post-high school life.
  • Most of the cast of Gossip Girl wind up attending NYU. There are some aversions, however, as Nate attends Columbia and Blair transfers there, Serena attends Brown before dropping out, and Chuck Bass is busy being Chuck Bass.
  • Smallville almost did this. Clark and Lana were supposed to be attending the fictional Central Kansas A&M, which was close to Smallville. But then Clark discovered that his professor was a super-powered alien robot from another galaxy bent on world domination, which derailed his studies. He dropped out, ostensibly temporarily, but then the whole college storyline was just quietly forgotten, and Clark somehow managed to become a newspaper reporter with a half-semester of education under his belt. ...So really, this is a near-miss trope.
  • Averted on Glee. The fact that the kids would be graduating and going to different colleges all over the country—many of which would never see each other again—is what made the season three finale a major tearjerker. Except in the case of Rachel and Kurt, whose spots at NYADA and continued spotlight plays this trope for the most part straight.
  • Jenny's boyfriend Tim is a swim coach at "California University" in season one of The L Word. Later, Bette becomes a dean there.
  • The imaginary Standford University in which Miley and Lilly enroll in the final season of Hannah Montana is one. A "Stanford University" does exist, though.
  • Grownish, a Spin-Off of Blackish featuring Zoey away at school, has a literal California University, which seems to be a stand-in for UCLA (even having a strong basketball team like the real school).
  • CSI: NY mentions Chelsea University quite a few times. Mac's stepson, Reed, is a student there beginning in Season 3.
  • the LawAndOrder series set in New York (that is, all of the American series except Law & Order: Los Angeles) often feature the fictional Hudson University as the city's generic school. It mostly blends elements of Columbia University and New York University, with a bunch of other NYC schools thrown in, as filming for the fictional campus has been done on multiple school campuses around the city. (It even has been shown to have a small laboratory-sized nuclear reactor on campus, which is Truth in Television – Manhattan College actually did have one in the basement of its engineering school from 1964 to 1997.) In addition to having pretty much any college-related plot take place at the school (which makes it a pretty dang dangerous school), multiple family members of the various lead characters have attended over the decades of the series. You would think the detectives would warn them that it's so dangerous.
    • Though the L&O franchise is the best known use of the name, other series set in New York have also used it as it's a plausibly generic name for a school in New York City (which sits on the Hudson River).

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In the comic strip Safe Havens, the cast initially plans to go to different colleges, but Samantha manages to manipulate them into going to Havens University one by one after all.
  • Both partially used and averted in Luann. Bernice, Quill, Tiffany, and later Gunther all attend the nearby and fictional Moony University, but Luann, the title character, does not, enrolling in the local junior college instead. Played with in the case of their former guidance counselor Miss Phelps, who suddenly showed up as a private-sector therapist fulfilling the same function for the gang as she did during their high-school years.

    Video Games 
  • Shale Hill Secrets: Shale Hill is a fairly prestigious fictional university that most members of the main cast attend classes at, with several of the characters also working there. For bonus points, the protagonist, Emily, Leah, Sam, and Valerie all attended the same high-school and were friends — or at least acquaintances — with one another.

    Western Animation 
  • In the first episode of the fifth season of Totally Spies!, the girls finally graduate high school and are set to go their separate ways note . But the girls, particularly Alex, are worried that they'll end up growing apart (even if they'll still see each other on spy missions)—in the end, after Alex suggests it, the girls decide to transfer to Malibu University for college so they can still be together (Mali-U ends up becoming the main setting for the fifth and sixth seasons of the show).
    • Mandy, the girls' Alpha Bitch rival from Beverly Hills High School, also ends up going to Mali-Unote  for college, where she ended up being roommates with her cousin, Mindy (who disappeared after Season 5), who's essentially just blonde clone of Mandy (with a Southern accent too).
  • Averted by Daria's series finale "Is It College Yet?" in which Daria, Jane and most of the rest of their classmatesnote  end up going to different colleges. However, Daria and Jane's respective schools are both in Boston, meaning that they can still see each other regularly. It's also noted that Brittany and her cheerleader friends all got into the same school, which notably has one of the top cheerleading squads in the country and was the only college that accepted any of them.
  • The Loud House's Season 5 premiere "Schooled!" has Lori move into Fairway University (which was first seen in the Season 4 episode "Don't You Fore-Get About Me") after her high school graduation. Although its state isn't explicitly mentioned, Fairway University is stated to be between Royal Woods (by three driving hours away) and Great Lakes City (by a few miles away), the show's versions of Royal Oak (a real-life city in Michigan) and Chicago (Illinois), respectively.
  • The Venture Brothers has "State University", where Rusty, Brock, Pete White, the Monarch, and even Baron Ünderbheit (as an exchange student) all attended at the same time in the '80s. Rusty dropped out when his father died (his "Doctor" title coming via an honorary doctorate from a Tijuana college), Brock was kicked out when he accidentally killed another player on the football team, Ünderbheit presumably left after the incident that blew off his jaw, and it's left ambigous as to whether Pete or Monarch graduated. Richard Impossible and Phantom Limb were revealed to be professors there, with Billy later attending to spy on Limb for the O.S.I. Dr. Mrs. the Monarch is also implied to have attended, meeting Phantom Limb and starting a relationship while he was still a professor. A deleted scene implies that Sally Impossible also attended, starting a relationship with Richard (her future husband) that got him fired. (A scene that did make it in shows his name being removed from Limb's office door.) During the series proper, Rusty tries to get Dean enrolled, and later hires a bunch of interns from the university to work on a major project. Given that the Venture Compound is implied several times in the series to be somewhere in the southwest, it is a strong possibility that the university is indeed in California, as well.