Expectations — Where Media’s Depictions of College Fall Short of Reality


Storey McDonald

(Design by Storey McDonald | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Avery Greig, Arts Editor


The media has painted a distinct image of the American college student — fresh-faced yet sleep-deprived, eager, liberated and entirely broke. What aspects of this stereotypical archetype are genuine and what facets are mere figments of the media’s imagination?

‘Sko Students, all Shapes and Sizes

My personal contradiction between collegiate expectations and actual university life began with my childhood obsession with Amanda Bynes films. The plot of the 2007 romantic comedy film “Sydney White,” starring Bynes herself, is the sole culprit of my incorrect imaginings. In short, the film suggests that a college campus consists of a distinct set of personas — the sorority and fraternity members, the athletes, the band kids, the academics, the technology wizards and, of course, Bynes. This is anything but true.

While these painted individuals certainly exist, the media fails to account for the intersectionality of every real student’s identity. No one lives up to the “Sydney White” stereotypes that popular media serves us on a silver, collegiate platter. Rather, students are people, all people are different and people experience varying compositions of life — roll credits.

The blunt truth is that our favorite college media archetypes simply do not exist, often portrayed laced in exaggerations and often excluding the voices of people of color, queer folks and persons with abilities not supported by common campus structures. Students come in all shapes, sizes and colors, not exclusive to the fraction of faces we see on our screens.

Hit comedy series “Community may strike the closest resemblance to what a university looks like — a crowd of working mothers, adult professionals and neurodivergent students from varying backgrounds and of different ages. In essence, ignore the limiting screen and tap into each and every one of your interests full force, as now is the time to discover things you never knew about yourself. Campus is not a play with assigned roles, it is your oyster.

DIY Degree Paths

One of the most beautiful truths of being a university student that the media often leaves out is the ability for students to choose their own educational paths. Some students start college immediately after high school and take four years to graduate, while others may take 10 years or return to school later in life to obtain their undergraduate degrees.

In truth, there is absolutely no right or wrong way to obtain your degree, and while the media often frames the 18-22 year-old as the traditional college student, this is far from the truth. Choosing your educational path can be seen as a resource, as students have the ability to take summer courses and expedite their graduation, or even apply for leave and take semesters off. In short, the degree destination is determined by the journey, and your educational journey is whatever path that suits you the best.

Reality Checks and Student Debts

Although the media often fails to capture the true essence of university life, there are a few things it has spot on. For starters, between tuition costs, part-time jobs and trips to The Pie, the old change purse can often run dry. The penny-pinching pain of university life is a universal sore, but luckily the university is home to a plethora of resources for students. Use your Ucard to visit museums, watch live university performances, ride Utah public transportation for free, take free COVID-19 tests to ensure our campus’s safety and visit the various resource centers in the student union. These resources are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of services offered by the University of Utah, and they aid greatly when cash is running low.

Not everything the media gets correct, however, is as daunting as a low budget. Much like in the childhood favorite film “Pitch Perfect,” trying something new can expose you to brand new horizons. Whether or not that is joining an a cappella group, you should delve into interests you have never had before even if they seemingly contradict. Join clubs via the U Campus Connect page, get involved in one of the many intramural sports — even ones you have never tried — and grab your MUSS passes.

College life in movies and television is at its best when they show universities opening doors and exposing students to new and diverse viewpoints. Not only are you pursuing your education, but you are opening up your mind to think in different ways. If there is one thing the media hits spot on, it’s the incredible spirit we create on campus.


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