Sunday, March 3, 2024

Opinion: Idealized depictions of college are dangerous

OpinionOp-EdOpinion: Idealized depictions of college are dangerous
Bianka Heather/The Review
In addition to making the initial transition to college more difficult, these idealized visions of the college experience also pose a threat to students.


Turning on a new TV series or movie as a college student can sometimes be disappointing. It’s always exciting to feel like you’re going to be able to relate to new characters or see aspects of your life reflected on the screen. Oftentimes, the portrayals you see of the college experience in media are not as realistic as you want them to be. Sometimes, they are glamorous or idealized to an extent that makes it unrelatable and has most people rolling our eyes. This idealization and emphasis that’s put on the “college experience” in the media can also set unrealistic expectations and standards students may feel the need to meet. But, however you decide to spend your time in college is just as valid as whatever the next person is doing.

The first year of college is a milestone many students will remember forever. You’re able to make new friends, become independent and discover new things about yourself. But, as I recall, there’s also a lot of nerves that come with it. It can be scary to have your whole life change within the span of a few months and it can be a tough adjustment. Coming into this new phase of your life with unrealistic expectations you get from movies and TV series doesn’t make it easier.

In addition to making the initial transition to college more difficult, these idealized visions of the college experience also pose a threat to students. Students may feel pressure to act a certain way or else they feel like they’re wasting their “golden years.” Most portrayals of college life in the media are centered around drinking, partying and spending money. Understandably, no one wants to watch a three-hour movie of someone nervously studying for a midterm, but false portrayals of the college experience can encourage the development of unhealthy habits that students may not have picked up otherwise. 

There are parts of college that the media doesn’t show because it doesn’t make for good television. There are some days when you don’t have time to do anything besides homework, work or studying and other days when you don’t feel like doing anything at all. Everyone has their own responsibilities and priorities that don’t always align with what people want to see on their TV screens. This is why finding independence in college is important. You can find out what’s important to you and what you like, not what the media tells you to. 

Growing up watching these movies and TV shows can cause students to have certain expectations for what their life will be like and cause disappointment when it doesn’t work out that way. Unfortunately, most popular shows about teenagers are written by adults, which can cause disconnect when it comes to the accuracy in the portrayal of daily life.

These inaccurate portrayals are not only a problem for college students. Movies and television idealizing teenage life can portray high school as well. Has anyone watched “Euphoria” or “Riverdale” and said “my high school experience was just like this!” The fact that a lot of the media our generation consumes from a young age is about these idyllic and glamorous teenage experiences can affect the standards and expectations for college life. Since the average teenager can’t live out the fantasy during their high school years, they think college will be their time to do so. Little do they know, real life isn’t all about partying and putting glitter on your face — you will have class or work the next day. Of course, doing things that you find fun and embracing your independence is a big part of college; but when it starts negatively impacting you is when the problem can start.

A lot of the portrayals we see of partying among teenagers in the movies glorify drinking and drug use to fit whatever aesthetic it’s trying to achieve. Students who feel the need to mimic this to fulfill their college experience can endanger themselves. In movies, the characters can act recklessly without consequence. In real life, it doesn’t always work out like that. The glamorization of this behavior can be dangerous to students who try to reenact this behavior and can put pressure on students who aren’t interested in it.

Sometimes, you might just want to lay in bed on a Friday night. Sometimes, you might have to study. Sometimes, you might want to go out with friends (COVID-19 conditions permitting). All of these are valid options for a Friday night as a college student. No one should feel pressure to act a certain way or feel as if they are wasting their time if they aren’t constantly being social or having a Kodak moment. Especially now with the ongoing pandemic, people’s priorities and interests have changed. Everyone’s life is different, and no one should feel like they have to act a certain way because of what they see being portrayed in movies and TV.

Lily Williams is a columnist for The Review. Her opinions are her own and do not represent the majority opinion of The Review’s editorial staff. She may be reached at




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