Commentary: College fantasy vs. college reality

Taylor Moore, Social Media Editor
Taylor Moore, Social Media Editor

As you grow up, you often hear the phrase, “College will be the best time of your life.” 

In fact, almost every adult older than 40 that I know who went to college will reflect on their glory days playing sports or rave about what a great time going to parties every weekend with their friends was. 

What they fail to mention are the endless late-night study sessions and anxiety about exams or lack of sleep you get from the sudden realization that as a young adult in college, you’ll now have countless responsibilities to balance – grades, extracurriculars, a job, car payments, phone bills, all the while trying to hang onto to some kind of social life. 

Don’t even get me started on the movie industry’s portrayal of college life. All the movies and shows I’ve seen solely focus on how fun college parties will be, how everyone dolls themselves up in the most trendy outfits, how you’re expected to meet lifelong friends and the idea that college romance is almost always a guarantee. 

Not once do they focus on a student spending hours in their dorm while drinking a huge supply of coffee or energy drinks to finish a midterm paper or staying up to study for an upcoming exam. Or how you’ll be spending 30 minutes commuting for classes then commuting 40 minutes home for work. I quickly discovered that dressing comfortably is much more important than dolling myself up for a three-hour-long lecture. 

University of the People, an online university, made a list on their blog called the “20 Must See Movies About College Life,” and the one thing I noticed after looking over the list and reviewing the movies I’ve seen from it was that many college movies are focused on debauchery and portray college students as nothing other than party-goers. What about the stress of classes or balancing a job with homework and exams?

Take the movie “National Lampoon’s Animal House” (1978), ranked No. 2 on the list, focusing on trouble-making fraternities challenging the dean’s authority at a fictional university. In the film, the characters commit outrageous pranks without care for repercussions, throw a huge party and the only depiction of an exam in the movie involves the characters trying to cheat their way out of it. 

This is not the only movie portraying college life as nothing but parties and fun. 

“Neighbors” (2014) is another movie about college students doing nothing but partying and making it their mission to cause mayhem for their neighbors next door, a couple adjusting to life with an infant. The characters in the fraternity lack depth and have only two ambitions; to get drunk and to get laid. 

Drifting away from parties, “After” (2019), a Netflix hit, focuses on the typical good-girl falls for bad-boy trope. The characters meet in college and even have a class together, but the movie has very little focus on real college life and instead provides a ridiculous amount of plot convenience. One example is when Tessa, the protagonist, a creative writing major, has a paid internship fall into her lap by chance, where she’ll get paid to read and approve manuscripts. Up until this point, we have never seen Tessa practice her writing skills, and we have no proof that she is qualified to approve manuscripts. Another example is when Tessa’s mom refuses to pay for her dorm, so Tessa finds herself homeless for less than a day because Hardin, her love interest, finds them a luxurious apartment to stay in and asks her to move in with him after knowing her for a couple of months. 

According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 25% of full-time college students were also working full-time, with an additional 40% of undergraduates and 70% of graduates working at least 30 hours a week. Finding a job that will work with a college student’s complicated schedule is another issue entirely, one not captured enough in fiction. 

According to a survey of 86,000 students by the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University, 56% said they had experienced housing insecurity. They experienced the real fear and stress of not having a place to live. 

Many movies capture the essence of freedom that comes with college life, but they also present very false realities of that freedom. Life is not easy in college, things do not get handed to you by plot convenience and consequences are much more possible in the real world than in these college movies. 

That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed my three years of college so far. I’ve met some people who I can expect to be lifelong friends, and I have established stable relationships with almost all of my professors. So far, my grades are doing pretty well, and I’ve managed to balance a part-time job, school work and a social life. However, it’s taken a lot of effort. 

There is a glamorized dream-depiction of college that we grow up hearing and dreaming about, one that is very different from the reality of it. I still remember being 10 years old and fantasizing about what life would be like as a college student. Suddenly, 20-year-old me was facing the reality of college life and all the stress that comes with it. 

Taylor Moore can be reached at

Taylor Moore is a senior broadcast journalism major and Campus Times editor-in-chief for Spring 2024. In her sixth semester on Campus Times, she has served as the LV Life editor and social media editor twice, as well as a staff writer. She’s also worked on the University’s television news broadcast Foothill Community News as an anchor and reporter, and was a on-air personality for the University’s radio station 107.9 LeoFM.

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