5 TV Shows That Portray College Life Accurately, and 5 That Fail

Congratulations on entering college. These will be the best four years of your life with all you can eat in the dining halls and the ability to wear the same pajamas to every one of your classes for a week!!! I know it’s an exciting time for you and every other person you know who will ask you the same four questions about college until you graduate. Thank you Aunt Carol, but even if I wasn’t excited to start my classes, I wouldn’t tell you I was miserable. 

Since coming to college is scary and no one knows what to expect until you come, I decided to utilize my Film student expertise and my college student expertise to make your expectations a bit clearer. 


Win: Grown-ish

I’m not going to lie, I started watching Grown-ish just to look at Yara Shahidi’s clothing (which are stunning and my only legitimate complaint about this show. No one at college looks that good all the time). However, the overarching themes and issues the show brings up rings true about campus culture. 

A major part of the first season is the protagonist, Zoey, admitting that college is a lot harder than she first thought it would be. This is the first lesson every single student learns the moment they step into their 8 A.M. lecture. The work is different, the studying necessary to thrive is different, and the grading policies are different (I had a course this semester that my entire grade was determined by two essays and nothing else). You need to relearn how to learn in college, and that is the largest academic adjustment for most students. 

Shahidi’s character goes through that shift and finds herself struggling to keep up with her work. As a result, she begins taking Adderall to enhance her ability to get work down. Adderall and other study enhancers are extremely common on rigorous campuses where the pressure to succeed is large. The show confronts this issue and is one of the first to do so properly. 

Hookup culture is also mentioned with Zoey and her friends rushing to discuss a tactful response to “U up?” Most shows only focus on long-term relationships or practically being cloistered while Grown-ish looks more towards the casual dating scene that is more common on college campuses.

In addition, the idea of social justice on campus is tackled pretty early one. Both, at least in my opinion, have been the most prevalent in my college experience. Barnumbia is known to be one of the most politically active campuses in the country (yes, all four undergraduate colleges protest together). Every week there is a new protest, and political action posters litter the dorms, which makes becoming more aware of the issues facing our campus unavoidable. This type of involvement has created the campus experience I hold most near and dear. 


Fail: Gossip Girl

Gossip Girl is my favorite television show. I fully live my Blair Waldorf fantasy every day and have no shame about it. However, that show’s depiction of Columbia kind of sucks. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: everything in that show is a lie.

If you dress like Blair, you will get exhausted. If you have an affair with your professor like Serena...that is seen as a very big no-no. Also, I’m going to be straight up about this, but no professor is going to leave their post at Columbia to be with a freshman. 

Also, there is no Hamilton House and Columbia’s secret society is...not so secret. 

The cattiness and competitiveness for friendship and popularity shown in Gossip Girl just is not a thing. Popularity doesn’t really exist in college because there are too many people doing too many different things for anyone to care about that sort of thing. College in Gossip Girl is scary in a way that real college will never be. 

Also, Nate Archibald plays for a men’s lacrosse team that fully does not exist. I am a sports writer, so I know this. I can’t tell you what team this boy is supposedly playing with or whether he is just running around Morningside Park by himself with a lacrosse stick and invisible teammates. I tend to believe the latter. 


Win: Hello, My Twenties!

K-dramas are amazing, Hello, My Twenties! Is no exception. The show deals with five very different girls living together in college. They fight and figure out how to overcome their differences, which is the pure definition of college living situations. Each girl struggles with her own issues that make the characters more three dimensional and allows the show to confront the various issues college students go through. 

Whether it is a financial struggle, love, or becoming comfortable with your appearance, Hello, My Twenties! Is the show for it. 

What I love most about the show is how collegey it is. None of these women would have become friends if they didn’t live together. So many college friendships begin like that and you really learn that making friends in college is so much stranger than in high school. You begin to have bathroom friends in college, and that is just weird. 

Back to the point of this article, this show is so underrated, but it is a hidden Netflix treasure that is perfect for pre-college binging.

Fail: Glee

I don’t think I have ever read a television fail list that has not mentioned Glee at one point or another. It was a show with quite a visible rise and fall. That noticeable fall was the portrayal of college. 

Becoming super famous while you’re still in college just doesn’t make any sense. There is no expectation nor time to be doing that sort of search while you’re working on your finals. 

I am still so confused about how Rachel and Kurt got that gigantic apartment in New York and even more confused on how every character changed their plans 40,000 times and there were no consequences. College is a time to shift what you want to do and so many people change their trajectory, but there needs to be a change in the end goal and a readjustment time. In Glee, once someone dropped a goal, then he or she found immediate success. Success is hard, just like watching Glee. 

The one thing I can say that Glee got correct was that your classes will be filled with 30-year-olds because you know, GS.​


Win: Dear White People

Dear White People expertly examines life for minority students at elite, majority-white colleges. This show portrays life in the ivory tower looking at issues such as microaggressions and racism. Dear White People blends the lines between racial commentary and college sitcom in a way that makes watching a show about such real issues easier to consume. 

Especially at a school like Columbia that finds itself struggling with race issues often, this show feels extremely relevant.  Even though the jokes are a bit stale (so much hashtag usage), the message is not lost. There are so many expectations for who we are supposed to be in order to fit in with either our respective racial, ethnic, or religious group, and this show confronts this issue well with multi-faceted characters. 


Fail: Buffy the Vampire Slayer 

I’m not going to lie, I really like vampire shows. They’re campy, fun, and overall really watchable for someone with low-brow tastes such as my own. 

Buffy honestly just lied about how easy college is and gave unrealistic expectations. 

In what world does someone end up in the same college as ALL of their friends? That doesn’t happen to anyone. If you’re lucky, you end up with a kid or two from your high school who you avoid like the plague when you see them on campus because you have nothing to talk to. 

Going off that, how did they all remain friends? In most case scenarios, if you room with your best friend you probably will end up hating them and tainting all the good ol’ memories. Friendships need some breathing room. To my best friend/next year roommate, good luck    ̄\ _(ツ)_/¯


Win: Undeclared

Undeclared is Freaks and Geeks goes college. Overall, great content. This show gives a realistic look at what actually happens on campus, especially for freshmen: fights with parents, flirting, and struggling to fit in. 

This show also deals with the struggle of finding a major, which is almost never depicted. Not every single person comes in and knows exactly what they’re doing. And to all of you freshmen who claim you are 100% sure, think again. I was a Math turned Econ turned English-Film major. Not going to lie, Math and English-Film are pretty much as far away from one another as possible. On the bright side, I did keep the Poli Sci major I swore I would do. 

Undeclared gives students all the awkward moments, study sessions, and cheap beer that college provides. There are a lot of caricatures, but every character is relatable because they’re all going through growing pains. Plus, we got this photo out of it. 

Just a quick note: if your boyfriend gives you a pillow that looks anything remotely like this, break up with him immediately. Even if he is Jason Segal. 

Scratch that, especially if he’s Jason Segal.


Fail: Zoey 101

I know that Zoey 101 is supposed to be about high school (unless Dustin is the world’s youngest looking college student of all time), but this show is more college-y than most college shows. Also, I just want to acknowledge that it gave us Austin Butler before he became a snack, even though we all hated him. 


Ugh look at him. 

I had to add another, don’t hate me. 


But honestly, Zoey 101 made me think that I would be driving around in a little pink moped. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone ride a moped on campus and probably campus security would scream at them before they got past College Walk.  

Someone also needs to explain how they received free phones from the school. In reality, all I have gotten are free drink koozies, which I don’t even know what to do with because no brings drinks out of the dining hall, and I am not going to look like a weirdo carrying my Diet Coke can with a koozie. 

Longues look more like your local doctor’s office than the hip places in Zoey 101, and your roommates don’t get written out of your life with no explanation. Believe me, I have tried. 


Win: Bojack Horseman

This one is pretty weird, and honestly, I didn’t get through the first episode of Bojack because the animated horse made me uncomfortable. However, I was told this show was vital, so I took all of my friends’ comments and will regurgitate them. 

Bojack Horseman deals with a man (horse?) who must readjust his life and learn how to truly be an adult after losing his job. This parallel to college is clear: you all are leaving behind lives that were more simple in favor of something completely new. You had the same routine for 13 years and now you’re being thrust into some semblance of adult living. 

Most freshmen are thrown into the pit feeling aimless and unsure of how to properly do college and remedial “adulting”. College is the time to shake things up and start anew just like our good old friend Mr. Horse. 


Fail: The Vampire Diaries

Once again, I love me some vampire shows. The Vampire Diaries failed in this regard: you can’t remain in college if you do not go to class and do no work. Since we saw so little of these characters in college, I can’t even give more of a report. 

College is about gains and losses; The Vampire Diaries doesn’t reflect that in the slightest. Like I lost my favorite pair of jeans when someone rudely took my laundry out of the dryer, but I also gained 10 pounds, you know, gains and losses.

College is learning and not just lake parties (we also have no lake. You can go into the Hudson River, but I wouldn’t suggest it). Look at Olivia Jade, she didn’t want to do any academics and only wanted to party; now, Aunt Becky is going to jail. Not doing your work = your mom going to jail. Got it?


Win-ish: Gilmore Girls

I struggled with placing Gilmore Girls for a little bit. Rory seems to get everything she asks for and more. She balances her school work, extracurriculars, and boyfriend with ease. 

However, Rory’s life reflects a lot of the struggles that college students face. She chooses not to go to her dream school (even though Harvard and Yale are not really apples and oranges) and eventually drops out of school. Rory loses sight of her plan time and time again, but she always persists to find herself at the end of the tunnel. 

Rory and high school enemy Paris eventually become friends, which is also a major part of college. Some people you would never have been friends with in high school become your best college friends.


Fail-ish: Greek

Greek is the Greek life that a school like Columbia will never have. I’m going to let you in on a secret: no one thinks higher or lower about you depending on what sorority you are in or if you’re not in one at all (rush Her Campus instead). 

The social hierarchy based on sororities and fraternities is nonexistent. Everyone makes their own community and that’s that. 

Rusty, the main character, finds himself wanting to abandon his geeky ways in college and join the “cool guy” fraternity. However, he finds himself not liking his new self and goes back to being himself. So many people try to reinvent himself or herself for college, and this show confronts that idea, so I can’t give it a total boot.