Not like the movies...

Do films and the media provide unrealistic expectations of university life?

Jenica Davis
15th September 2023
Image: IMDB
When a film tells the story of a teenager heading off to university, the plot tends to follow a sequence that we’ve watched many times before, stringing together a reasonably chaotic yet cathartic experience of student life. An experience that will leave you punching the air like John Bender at the end of The Breakfast Club. Ultimately, the movie magic that is sprinkled over the university life of fictional teenagers leaves a lot of students feeling robbed of the university experience that was countlessly depicted on screen.

Coming-of-age films surrounding the lives of students have undeniably given us some cult classics that we will never get tired of rewatching

Films lead teenagers to believe that they’ll be granted a scholarship at their dream university, instantly find their (pitch) perfect group of friends for life, and miraculously land a job after graduation. They showcase the drama-induced highlights of student life because realistically most people don’t care to sit and watch the awkwardness of a silent morning seminar, or watch the protagonist cram three essays in 24 hours. It is true that you end up meeting a range of people at university, people that are far more complex than the stereotypical cliques on screen, however the majority of these new friendships barely survive a week. And whilst we do see characters spiral to rock bottom at some point during the film, everything conveniently falls into place at the end. If there’s one thing about fictional students that I’m jealous of, it is the luxury of free time they seem to have. With assignments, extracurricular, and part time jobs, most students don’t have the time to get up to half of what students in film do.

Image: IMDB

Students simply don’t have the budget that Hollywood does to romanticise their university experience to the degree that we see on screen. We drag ourselves to our lectures half-awake in our joggers, sit in the library for an hour to feel productive, and then go back to our damp and dark student house to eat pasta for the third day in a row. Depictions of student life doesn’t differ that much from films when it comes to the small screen either. With social media, there is a pressure to portray your university experience like the ones in films. Your classmates’ monthly Instagram dump is more likely to consist of pictures from their nights out in town rather than the all-nighters they’ve pulled in the Philip Robinson Library. People want you to see them living the best version of their life – it is a part of the main character mindset that our generation preaches. 

They showcase the drama-induced highlights of student life

Coming-of-age films surrounding the lives of students have undeniably given us some cult classics that we will never get tired of rewatching. However, whether you’re seeing these depictions of university through films or social media, it’s important to remember the intentional, romanticised filter that these moments are captured with.

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