The U.S. is home to nearly 4,000 colleges and universities, many of which boast historic, picturesque campuses perfect for setting the stage for some of Hollywood’s biggest productions. The architecture found on many campuses across the country, particularly older institutions, has proven to be very versatile backdrops in film and tv through the years, not only for storylines set in college but for many beyond.
Some colleges have found opening their doors to film crews to benefit the institution, providing opportunities for students and alumni to gain hands-on experience in Hollywood film productions and bring positive press and awareness to the college.
Many view the college years as an archetypal, essential chapter of the human experience. The constant flow of new productions set during this chapter only reflects that interest. Some productions find characters at fictional institutions, while others use real-life household names of educational institutions. Check out some campuses used for TV shows and film below to see if you recognize any!
1. John Hopkins University – The Social Network (2010)
This critically acclaimed production by director David Fincher chronicled the genesis of Facebook, from Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard College dorm room to Silicon Valley. Much of the movie takes place in the early days when Zuckerberg and his co-founders were at Harvard; however, due to Harvard’s campus filming restrictions, the Harvard depicted on screen is a patchwork of several college campuses, primarily John Hopkins University in Baltimore.
On-campus filming locations that can be seen throughout the movie include the Keyser and Wyman quads, freshman dorm AMR I, Remsen and Mergenthaler halls, and the walkway between Rogers House and University Baptist Church.
2. Pomona College – Gilmore Girls (2003-2007)
In this popular witty mother-daughter show from the early aughts, Rory chooses Yale University as her college over her childhood dream of Harvard, largely due to its proximity to her mother, best friend, and grandparents who live in the nearby Connecticut towns of Stars Hollow and Hartford. However, the majority of the Yale scenes depicted in seasons 3-7 were actually filmed at Pomona College, located in Claremont, CA. Producers chose Pomona due to it being located just 40 minutes from the Warner Brothers lot where most of the show was filmed.
Pomona first appeared as Yale in season three, when Rory has an impromptu admissions interview arranged by her grandfather. Seasons 4-7 follow Rory through her years at Yale, and thus Pomona continues to appear. The University of Southern California was also used as a filming location to depict Yale, as USC is located just 10 miles from the Warner Brothers lot.
3. Stanford University – Insecure (2021)
Insecure, the HBO dramedy by creator and star Issa Rae recently filmed scenes at Stanford University in Stanford, CA. The show, which premiered in 2016 and is currently in its fifth and final season, follows the protagonist Issa and her group of friends as they navigate and often stumble through life, love, and careers in Los Angeles.
In the season five premiere, the cast travels to Silicon Valley to their alma mater for a ten-year college reunion. Scenes depicting Stanford were filmed on the actual campus, primarily near the university’s Main Quad and Encina Hall. In addition to her character, Issa Rae is a Stanford alumna in real life.
4. Morehouse College – Hidden Figures (2016)
This 2016 American biographical drama stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae as Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, the real-life African American female mathematicians who worked at NASA during the Space Race in the early 1960s. The box office hit was based on the non-fiction book by the same name, written by Margot Lee Shetterly.
Most of the movie’s scenes take place in what appears to be NASA’s Langley Research Center in 1961, but filming actually took place on Morehouse College’s campus, including Frederick Douglass Hall, the prestigious historically Black men’s college located in Atlanta.
5. Emory Univeristy – Stranger Things (2016-present)
The popular Netflix series, which premiered in 2016 and is ongoing, blends science fiction, horror, and drama with coming-of-age sentimentality. Set in a small fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana, the show centers on five adolescents. When one of them mysteriously vanishes, the town becomes tangled in a web of secret government laboratories, portals to other worlds, and sinister monsters.
One of the prominent locations in Stranger Things is Hawkins Laboratory, or as fans come to know it, the site of the Upside Down. The fictional Hawkins Laboratory was actually filmed in Atlanta, GA at Emory University. Emory’s Briarcliff Campus has not been used for academics since the mid-1990s; instead, the buildings have been utilized for storage space and as filming locations.
6. Louisiana State University – Pitch Perfect (2012)
In the 2012 teenage musical comedy film Pitch Perfect, Anna Kendrick stars as Becca Mitchell, a freshman at the fictional Barden University. Becca is a standoffish aspiring DJ and producer, and, when asked to join the women’s acapella group, the Barden Bellas, she quickly declines. However, it doesn’t take long for Bella to acquiesce and join the group, and she quickly becomes the star of the show.
While the location of Barden University is never specified in the film, scenes depicting Barden were actually filmed at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
7. Agnes Scott College - Life of the Party (2018)
In the 2018 slapstick comedy Life of the Party, Melissa McCarthy stars as a woman who, when her daughter heads to college and her husband abruptly leaves her, decides to follow her daughter to college and experience the wild college years she never had. McCarthy’s character and her daughter attend the fictional Decatur University in Decatur, Georgia.
While the real college where the campus scenes were filmed is indeed located in Decatur, the school featured is Agnes Scott College, a private women’s liberal arts college with a historic picturesque campus. Several parts of campus appear in the movie, including numerous residential Greek life houses. The school’s campus has featured in several films, including Scream 2, Fried Green Tomatoes, and Driving Miss Daisy.
8. Carnegie Mellon University - The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The third installment of the Batman trilogy by writer and director Christopher Nolan stars Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman and finds Batman returning after an eight-year hiatus to save the fictional Gotham City from nuclear destruction.
Though the atmosphere of Gotham City has traditionally been likened to that of New York City or Chicago, filming for the third installation of the trilogy took place in Pittsburgh, with many scenes filmed on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University. The university’s Mellon Institute, home to the Dean’s Office for the Mellon College of Sciences, appears in several key scenes in the film as City Hall in the fictional city of Gotham. Other scenes were filmed near the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) and can be seen covered in fake snow in the film.
9. San Diego State University - Veronica Mars (2004-2019)
Starring Kristen Bell as the titular character, Veronica Mars tells the story of a young woman who by day is like any other high school (later in the series, college) student, but by night moonlights as a private investigator. The American teen noir drama aired for three seasons from 2004-2007, first on the network UPN and then The CW. It was later revived for a feature film in 2014 and a fourth season on Hulu in 2019.
The show is set in the fictional town of Neptune, CA, a coastal community between San Diego and Los Angeles. When Veronica attends the fictional Hearst College, the campus depicted is in reality San Diego State University. The university welcomed the production’s presence on campus; in fact, half of the show’s extras in season three were students from the university’s film department.
10. Occidental College - The Holiday (2006)
Since its release in 2006, The Holiday has become and remained a household favorite holiday movie for many. With an A-list cast featuring Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, and Jack Black, the movie finds two women each impulsively and desperately seeking a change of scenery and distance from recently failed romances. They swap houses - and much more - with each other over Christmas.
Those who have seen the film will recall the wholesome friendship forged between Kate Winslet’s character Iris Simpkins and her temporary LA neighbor Arthur Abbott (played by Eli Wallach). For the iconic scene in which Arthur is honored by the Writers Guild of America West, the setting is none other than Thorne Hall, an auditorium on the campus of Occidental College.
Occidental College is a private liberal arts college in Los Angeles. Due to Occidental’s beautiful architecture and proximity to Hollywood, the school has long been a popular location for many film and television productions.