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Did Our Favorite Rom-Coms Glamorize the College Application Process too much?

You’re on a date with your high school sweetheart right before they’re finally about to ask you to go to prom with them. Suddenly, there’s a notification on your phone with big letters that say “Harvard College Application Results.” Anxiously, you open the message as you hear the music crescendoing in the background. You open the email with a huge acceptance in bold green letters written all over it! But then you remember that your partner is going to Yale…can you choose your relationship over your dream school, or are you guys strong enough to make it through long-distance?! Welcome to the newest teen rom-com trope of gloriously romanticizing the college application process and the acceptance into “elite” colleges. 

*By Leah Marilla Thomas from Bustle

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with the rose-tinted glasses that rom-coms provide viewers with, the importance of getting accepted into an “elite” is greatly overemphasized. One of the most overlooked examples of this occurring can be seen through Gabriella from High School Musical. There’s no denying that Gabriella is incredibly talented and that her love story with Troy is one that will forever be a Disney Channel favorite. However, there should be some room for skepticism when she suddenly must weigh the legitimacy of her relationship after getting into the honors mathematics program at Stanford University.  

During one of Troy and Gabriella’s dates, she mentions that she might want to delay going to Stanford until she feels ready to take on this chapter in her life. This is immediately followed by Troy saying that there is no time for doubt and that going to this school is the “right thing to do.” While the value of an incredible education is not lost to most viewers, the protagonist’s hesitation is quickly corrected by her significant other and the “right path” is reestablished for Gabriella once again. This again seems to glamorize the undergraduate experience through making a prestigious college an obvious or unquestionable necessity in order to have a successful future. 

*By Carrie Wittmer from Volture

On the other hand, the representation of the types of hardworking individuals that get accepted into these “elite” universities is also completely unrealistic. In the Netflix romantic comedy The Kissing Booth, the protagonist, Elle, faces a great dilemma when she must choose between going to Harvard University with her boyfriend or UC Berkeley with her best friend. At the end, she decides that she wants to carve her own path and nonchalantly decides to go to USC instead. Although there is real value in the fact that Elle decided to choose her educational pursuits uninfluenced by others around her, there are no qualities in the character that might prove that she could get accepted into these universities. There are no scenes that feature Elle seriously working hard and it seems as if the universities featured in the movie are nothing more than brands that symbolize an ideal version of life after high school. 

*By Richard Brody from The New Yorker

Unlike The Kissing Booth or High School Musical, movies such as Booksmart or even Legally Blonde are a bit more realistic only because these movies pay more attention to the rigorous process college acceptances actually are. While none of us are watching romantic comedies to critically assess the likelihood of the protagonist getting into a specific college, it is worth noticing that “elite” colleges are continuously reinforced as the correct path to take. With staggeringly low acceptance rates in general, teen movies have the power to point out how success is not something that you gain through attending your dream school. A greater emphasis on the options that are available to those who value passion and work ethic would have made these fun rom coms a bit more reflective of real life! 

Hi there! My name is Emmi and I am currently an undergraduate student majoring in English at UCLA. Being at the intersection of several different identities, as a 1.5 generation, pansexual and Asian American woman, I love writing about the overall diverseness that surrounds my multiple communities!
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