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Between tuition and textbooks, rent payments and transit fares, there's only so much money that a poor university student living on bank loans and scholarships is able to put towards food. The Starving Student is a staple of higher education settings, where even those lucky enough to have financial support from their parents will still be thinking of money in values of mac and cheese boxes or instant noodles. The starving student will often have a rigid budget and spend their entire academic career just scraping by for necessities like clothing and food (but not, of course, for alcohol).

This trope is often Truth in Television, as college loans are very expensive (growing moreso in some places) and keep many students in debt for years. This results in years of struggling to get by just to pay off their education, which has a higher priority than buying food. In fiction it is generally played for comedy, especially when the character is also a Big Eater, but it can be milked for drama at the drop of a hat.

Cousin to the Starving Artist. Expect it to appear in a Broke Episode.

Examples of Starving Student include:

Anime and Manga

  • Ewon Jung of Totally Captivated, an orphaned Scholarship Student who falls in with a group of loan sharks, calculates a conman's loan in terms of boxes of ramen at one point and will go along with almost anything for a free meal.
  • Most of the cast of Honey and Clover, especially because they're art students.
  • In Love Hina, a recurring subplot is Keitaro looking for a job to pay for his studies. Made worse in that he routinely loses money to the Pretty Freeloaders' hijinks.
  • In Maison Ikkoku, Godai works to pay for his studies, but he never has money for anything. And when he has some money, he spends it on presents for Kyoko.
  • In Fruits Basket, Tohru Honda was this in the first episode, while she was living in a tent.


  • The Spider-Man movies reflect this. Particularly the second movie which has Peter Parker struggling through college without money, his superhero identity compounding his hardships.


  • Such a student is the defendant in a Judge Ooka case; he is sued by a restaurant owner because he mentioned to a friend that he used the delicious smells of the restaurant to give imaginary flavor to the one bowl of rice he could have a day. Judge Ooka, being wise, declared that the sound of money was the correct payment for the smell of food.
    • The same story is told in Central Asia and Middle East about Hojja Nasreddin when he was appointed as a judge.


  • Older Than Print: The Clerk of Oxford (essentially a philosophy student) from The Canterbury Tales is an example.
  • Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment was like this.
  • Kvothe's struggle to come up with his tuition money drives a large part of the plot of The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear.
  • Marius from Les Misérables becomes this after he's kicked out by his grandfather. Many of the other students help him out at various points, especially Courfeyrac who shares a flat with him for a while.
    • Although, considering the poverty many of the other characters face, Marius's plight doesn't seem too bad by comparison.

Live Action TV

  • While they aren't students anymore, one episode of Scrubs notes that JD, Turk and the other interns (apart from Elliot, whose parents pay for everything) have to steal hospital supplies to make ends meet.
  • Taken to ridiculous extremes (like everything else) in The Young Ones.
  • In Three's Company, this is why Jack moves in with the girls. He's a starving cooking school student.
    • Very easily a Truth in Television, as good cooking schools can be ridiculously expensive. Though students are usually able to eat their projects afterwards.

Video Games

  • In Broken Sword Nico mentions that she had to drop out of university because of this trope (she couldn't afford art supplies, although she was able to eat potatoes when she was doing printing with them).
  • You play one in The Trail of Anguish, forcing you to stay in a rundown dorm.

Web Comics

  • Basically the entire cast of PHD.

Web Original

  • Foul Bachelor Frog is a meme (of the advice dog variety) which shows a frog making comments on the stereotypical college student's life. Part of the memes are about this trope, while others are about Wacky Fratboy Hijinx and Experimented in College.
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