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Scholarship Student

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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. In some cases, the student doesn't have a "scholarship" so much as a "loan", or has some combination of loans, scholarships, and/or grants.

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. Compare Token Rich Student, most of whom are in public school despite having options. For those who can barely afford food, see Starving Student. Also see Penny Among Diamonds.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Downplayed in Blue Exorcist where two of the characters (Yukio and Ryuji) are scholarship students and in the same class (the Advanced A class) thus. The actual lead Rin is not a scholarship student and in fact only gets in thanks to his new guardian being the headmaster there, as much as his half-demon nature and desire to be an exorcist does. He's thus in 1-D (also known as the lowest rank for classes).
  • Tsukushi in Boys over Flowers, who got into the VERY exclusive Eitoku School due to her brilliant grades allowing her to get a scholarship.
  • Referenced in Death Note, as (due to his sloppy clothes in combination with the fact that he got to make the first-year speech along with Light) the students at Todai University think L is this. They are extremely astonished when Watari picks L up in a Mercedes-Benz limousine.
  • Teru Kurebayashi from Dengeki Daisy is an orphan whose older brother who had been taking care of her died of cancer, so she has to rely on scholarships to stay at her high school without any income of her own. Rena Ichinose, the rich president of the student council, started off teasing Teru over this before the two of them became Fire-Forged Friends.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Tanpopo, the main character of Imadoki!, is one.
  • Sharo in Is the Order a Rabbit? is one, and actually regrets it, as this caused confidence issues arising from her need to socialize with peers that are not in her socioeconomic group.
  • Kaguya-sama: Love Is War actually has two major scholarship students, the male lead Miyuki Shirogane and his little sister Kei. Miyuki got in via his intelligence (well, his bizarrely extreme study habits), though whether Kei got in on her own merits or because of her brother is unknown. Two others also appear in the series, though they either are only revealed to be such in their character profile (Kazamatsuri) or aren't introduced until the end of the series (Takano). There's also something of a stigma against attending school this way rather than coming up through the elevator system, though only Takano is seen suffering from it as the other three had already been attending for at least a year by the start of the series and thus had time to earn their place in the social hierarchy.
  • Dimitri from Kurobara Alice is a lower-class boy (more exactly, a kid from a Roma caravan) who's taken in by a rich man and given a scholarship in an art school due to his singing voiuce.
  • Luna from Mujin Wakusei Survive.
  • Rudeus at Ranoa Magic University in Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation. With his scholarship he is given many privileges, like exemption from most classes (he can still take courses that he wants to), a dorm room all to himself, among other things. Rudy speculated that he is scouted by the school so that they can use his fame as an adventurer to bolster the school's own reputation. He proceeds to meet other students at school who are also treated as special scholars, but their own circumstances vary, from being a research subject (Miko Zanoba), political exile (Cliff, grandson of the Pope of the Milis religion) and delinquent Beast Folk princesses Lynia and Pursena, all of whom gradually become part of his True Companions.
  • Mai Tokiha and her brother Takumi get into Fuuka Gakuen through a scholarship in My-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.
  • Haruhi in Ouran High School Host Club, who's in the school due to her getting a really good score on an important test.
  • There's a very silly ecchi manga by the name of See Me After Class which has the protagonist as one of these.
  • Halfway through the manga version of Shadow Star, 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.
  • Obscure comedy manga Ten Yori Takaku is about Konoe Hiroyuki, a commoner who attends Hinomiya Private Academy ( nicknamed named "Heavenly Academy") on a scholarship.
  • Trapped in a Dating Sim: The World of Otome Games is Tough for Mobs: Olivia is one in the Holfort academy, as she was admitted due to showing a prodigious talent for magic. In fact, she's often referred to as the "scholarship one" by most all of the students who bully her due to her status as a commoner.

    Comic Books 
  • Gotham Academy: Olive Silverlock is at the academy on a Wayne Foundation scholarship, which is pointed out by Pomeline when she wants to be mean.
  • Ben Grimm of the Fantastic Four grew up poor on the Lower East Side, and attended Empire State University on a football scholarship.

    Fan Fic 
  • To Hell and Back (Arrowverse): Laurel and Sara Lance were this at Balliol Prep, Starling City's top school, specifically catering to the wealthy elite. Balliol is so prestigious that not even high monetary status guarantees admittance; potential students' families must all have a number of significant connections. The Lances were only able to get their daughters in because Dinah Lance is a teacher at Balliol's college.
  • In the Discworld of A.A. Pessimal, a significant number of stories are set in what one reader called the Assassinverse: Pessimal's expansion of the canonical Assassins' Guild School, as revealed in the canonical Pyramids but fleshed out and evolved here. By the time of Pessimal's stories, the Guild School has been forced to move on from being almost exclusively an academy for the sons only of the rich and titled. Co-education has forced it to accept girl pupils; political reality, forced on the School by Vetinari, has also seen it accept expanded quotas of overseas pupils who will be educated extensively in Ankh-Morporkian ways of life and thinking before returning to their home nations.note  The annual draft of selected pupils from, for instance, Rimwards Howondaland are sponsored partly by their own government and partly by charitable donations from wealthy and socially concerned individuals. The Guild's tradition of giving bursaries to poor and socially unconnected pupils who have been demonstrated to have the right skills and aptitudes continues. And of course orphans whose parents were Guild members are still schooled for free. Children of School teachers get discounted fees. All of this makes for a lively and stimulating mix. Children of all social backgrounds get to know each other and thrash out any differences and preconceptions in an atmosphere of open, free, and frank, discourse.
  • Ochaco Uraraka in Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku! studied in a rather prestigious upper-class middle school, as revealed in a sidestory. She was often bullied by the other students because of her working-class background.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Chris O'Donnell's character in Scent of a Woman. In fact, he was in danger of losing his scholarship due to refusing to turn in his friends for a prank they pulled on the principal.
  • After being granted a football scholarship, the protagonist in School Ties enrolls in a prestigious private school, St. Matthew's, for his senior year of high school.
  • The protagonist in Finding Forester
  • Demi Lovato's character Mitchie from Camp Rock. Subverted in that 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.
  • In D3: The Mighty Ducks, The titular team is given full-ride scholarships to a prestigious private high school called Eden Hall Academy. The varsity hockey team is upset because the Ducks took the spots on the freshman hockey team which would have gone to their younger siblings. They're initially a bit nicer to Adam Banks, who comes from a rich family, might have attended Eden Hall anyway, and gets called up to the Varsity team himself. The Board of Trustees decides to pull the Ducks' scholarships when the team is found to be struggling, but the Ducks are saved by Gordon Bombay Lawyer Mode, who coerces the board into restoring them.
  • A subversion in 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.
  • Ivy in Poison Ivy.
  • In the direct-to-DVD sequel of Legally Blonde, Legally Blondes, Elle Woods's twin British cousins move to Elle's house in L.A. and go to a private school on a (partial) scholarship.

  • 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.
  • Reed Brennan from the Private series of books is a scholarship student at the elite Easton Academy. Many of the girls hate her for becoming a Billings Girl despite being at the school on scholarship.
  • 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.
  • 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 is a poor orphan who gets to go to college when one of the orphanage's trustees offers to pay her fees and an allowance after being impressed by an essay she wrote. She starts out very self-conscious about the difference between herself and the other students, who have money and families and shared life experiences and cultural touchstones that she's missed out on. It doesn't help that one of her dorm mates is from an Old Money family and doesn't see any problem with asking questions about her ancestry.
  • Naturals in the The Black Magician Trilogy. 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.
  • Adam Parrish from The Raven Cycle. Adam is very insecure about this. He works himself to the bone keeping his grades near perfect to maintain his scholarship and working three jobs to pay for school even with said scholarship, while his classmates can throw away thousands of dollars without a second thought. Because of this, his pride often gets between him and his non-scholarship friends.
  • To Shape a Dragon's Breath: Theod and Anequs are both attending Kuiper's Academy on full scholarship. This is part of a social "experiment" by Frau Kuiper to prove to society that indigenous people can be civilized dragoneers, meaning both are expected to represent their race at all times.
  • In The Traitor Game, coming from what's implied to be a fairly low-income household is one of many reasons why Michael has an inferiority complex. Michael's mum had to borrow money from his grandmother so that Michael can attend a posh Catholic school. Michael's only friend is Francis, a literal Scholarship Student.
  • In Only Time Will Tell (the first book of the Clifton Chronicles, by Jeffrey Archer), both Harry Clifton and Deakins are on scholarships. Harry is on a choir one due to his voice; Deakins is on an academic one. Both endure some torment by the prefect, and Sir Hugo Barrington, father of their classmate (and one of the main characters) Giles Barrington actively tries to get Harry removed from the school. Giles himself has is friendly to both, and when Harry becomes a prefect he puts a stop to the harassment of a younger scholarship boy.
  • Molly, the most studious of the main characters in The Poison Apples attends her $30000-a-year Boarding School on a full scholarship, in contrast to her best friends Alice and Reena who both come from wealthy backgrounds. Molly is unpopular but not because she is on a scholarship (it's not even mentioned often that she is), it's mainly because she is a Teacher's Pet and a huge nerd who likes telling people facts about random words she comes across.

    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 returned to being a reoccurring character.
  • Gilmore Girls:
    • Rory has a middle-class working single mom and her Chilton and Yale tuition are paid by her old-money grandparents. In some episodes, she's shown trying to get scholarship and she's considered different and special at Chilton that full of upper-class rich kids.
    • Rory's friend at Yale named Marty who can'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.
  • Sam Winchester from Supernatural received a full scholarship to Stanford, allowing him, if only for a few years, to leave behind the drifter life of hunting.
  • Jan Di from Boys Before Flowers, just like the "original" Tsukushi Makino. In a subversion it's not just for her booksmarts, but because she saved a Shinhwa High student from commiting suicide.
  • Eric in Power Rangers Time Force was all but stated to be this when he attended the same school as Wes. Even though Wes always tried to be friendly, the rest of their classmates looked down upon Eric, which eventually led him to drop out of the school and make something else of his life.
  • In Atypical, Casey gets an athletic scholarship to Clayton and the rich students there are not very welcoming. She worries throughout the series about losing her scholarship if she doesn't keep her grades up or if she gets in trouble.
  • Elite: Samuel, Nadia and Guzmán get scholarships in prestigious private school Las Encinas, paid by the construction company of the public school they previously attended, San Esteban, to avoid bad PR after the roof of San Esteban collapsed during an earthquake.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: In "Brotherhood", Red Herring Chloe is the daughter of an ex-convict truck driver, has a basketball scholarship (even hazing victim and Sympathetic Murderer Will is upper-class), and is the only prominent black student.


    Video Games 
  • This is Rowan's background in Black Closet and the source of her potentially-traitorous resentment.

    Visual Novels 
  • CLANNAD: While the school Tomoya visits isn't that remarkable, Sunohara, who is from a rural area of Japan, managed to get there due to his sports scholarship. It was wasted during his first year, as Sunohara ended up defending himself against his senpais from the soccer club, resulting in the club being suspended from tournaments for that one year, and since then he left the club. Considering soccer was his only reason to even attend that school and he's Book Dumb, he and Tomoya spend their remaining school years doing absolutely nothing productive.
  • Sweet Elite: Scholar is, well, a scholarship student who attends the prestigious Arlington Academy.
  • Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc has a variation: Hope's Peak Academy isn't expensive and has students from a variety of backgrounds (from Sonia, a literal princess, to Akane, who admits to growing up in poverty), but each student has to be the absolute best (the 'Super High School Level/Ultimate') at some field, and are directly scouted by the school. The only exception is that each year they hold a lottery to select one random high schooler to attend school as the Ultimate Lucky Student, who needs no such qualifications. The Ultimate Lucky Student of the focal class is the protagonist Makoto Naegi, who admits to being possibly the most average Ordinary High-School Student you will ever see.

  • Vincent from Best Friends Forever has 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.) Though the Baron does do this with any Sparks he finds that come into their talent young: This puts them in a place where they can be observed, influenced and the havoc they create contained while their talents develop.

    Web Original 
  • 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 Twig, Lillian is a student at an Academy of Evil, her tuition being waived by Professor Hayle of the psychiatry/neuroscience department so long as she acts as The Medic for his gang of child experiments with Super-Intelligence.

    Western Animation 
  • 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."
  • Hugh Test in Johnny Test is desperate for his son to get one of these so he won't have to pay for college, they eventually manage to get him one in curling.
  • A later episode of King of the Hill centers around Joseph receiving a football scholarship to an expensive private school. He struggles to fit in with the rich kids, and Dale tries to do things to help him better relate to his new schoolmates.
  • Ultimate Book of Spells: Verne was turned into one so his parents wouldn't need to be told about the magical world.
  • Secretariat, the Posthumous Legacy Character of Bojack Horseman, was revealed in season 2 to have been one in his youth. His legendary race loss with "Giant Hearted" Sham affected him as much as it did because it meant he was going to lose his scholarship.

    Real Life 
  • Isaac Newton attended Trinity College, Cambridge as a subsizar, meaning that his tuition was fully waived in return for being on call to do menial labour around the school—which usually took the form of serving the paying students their dinner (called sizings because they came in set portions and set prices).
  • George Orwell was on a scholarship for five years at St. Cyprians, and later wrote "Such, Such Were the Joys" about being miserable and bullied by the snobbish staff and other wealthier students there. His friend and classmate Cyril Connolly wrote later that he seemed quite happy, was popular, and was rather a teacher's pet.