Created By: MartyD82 on May 13, 2012 Last Edited By: MartyD82 on June 6, 2012
Troped

College Is "High School Part 2"

Writers use popular high school tropes in college-themed works, even if they don't work in college.

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The transition from high school to college is typically one of the biggest transitions you'll make in your entire life. Abruptly gone are things like principal's offices, standardized school scheduling and forced/required teacher compassion. Similarly, "popular crowds" are mostly relegated to certain dormatories. And bullying now takes on a more subtle and "adult" form (for example, the "Young Republicans" vs. the "Young Democrats"). In college, no matter how athletic or smart you are, you're basically a nobody in the midst of a large and culturally-diverse student body. And, unlike in high school, your instructors and parents will not determine your general course of action. Your life plan is now completely up to you.

Many television and movie writers, however, seem unusually clueless about how different college life really is from high school life. Thus, they'll apply many popular high school tropes to university settings. Some, such as the Sadist Teacher, are perfectly applicable in a college setting. Others, however, are not. Either because they're unrealistically below the maturity level of your typical college student, or they're simply not feasible within the general structure of university life. For example, a team of thuggish football players perpetually bullying a shy/awkward freshman is highly unlikely in a university setting. As is a close-knit group of students having the exact same class schedule each semester.

One could argue that the reason why this trope exists is because most college-themed works are aimed at a high school audience. And, since most people would be uncomfortable watching "naive" high school students (for example) engaging in raunchy/anti-social behavior, writers instead use a college setting, while implementing enough high school tropes that their works will still be relatable to the average high schooler. In other instances, it's simply a matter of not doing the research.

Needless to say, this trope occurs in almost EVERY college-themed comedy. Also, expect to see this in television shows starring a group of high schoolers that go off to college mid-series.
Community Feedback Replies: 51
  • May 13, 2012
    Routerie
    So, "Many Popular High School Tropes DO Work In A College Setting!"?
  • May 13, 2012
    GracieLizzie
    Which uni did you got to? Most of my lecturers were chummy and matey and seemed to approach their students on a far more friendly and even keele attitude than at secondary school where teachers were authorities not friends. The key difference being at University, we're all adults unlike at school.
  • May 13, 2012
    CharacterInWhite
    I know where the OP is coming from. Bigger universities can have massive classes such that even the compassionate professors just don't have enough time to deal with all their students. In fact, the only people who get substantial personal time with their teachers are the ones who are succeeding (i.e. the professor might be looking at his/her best students for work in his/her field).

    Bullying, while still present, takes a considerably more subtle form than the stereotypical "jock pushing nerd around." Religious groups vs. atheist groups, left wing vs. right wing politics, etc. Sexism also tends to flare at this point for both sexes due to a few buttheads on either side of the fence.

    Point is, a big campus is nothing like high school.
  • May 13, 2012
    animeg3282
    I think this trope should be High School tropes applied to college without all the blah blah about how it's not like that irl.
  • May 13, 2012
    MartyD82
    I should probably broaden this entry to include high school tropes that DO work in a college setting. When writing this trope, I was thinking mostly of those that don't. But you're all correct about how there are plenty that do.

    Revenge Of The Nerds is IMO a pretty good example of a movie that uses high school tropes which don't really work in a college setting. Despite having all the standard college stuff (fraternities, dorms, etc.), it feels more like a high school movie with its depiction of students and how they behave.

    For a television example, Family Matters continued using the same stale "big jocks vs. scrawny nerd" trope when Urkel, Eddie and Laura went to college, even though it didn't make a whole lot of sense by that time. One of many reasons why that show (great though it was in the early-90's) should've been cancelled sooner.

    @Gracie Lizzie, Character In White hit the nail on the head. I went to a large (20,000 student) research university. And many of my Undergrad professors, in particular, were real sticks in the mud. When you get into grad school (or late-Undergrad) at a large research university, the professors become a lot nicer and more understanding.
  • May 13, 2012
    Dacilriel
    I would change the bit in the description about most college professors being "almost sociopathically cruel and unreasonable." I liked a lot of my college professors better than a lot of my high school teachers. It is true, however that college professors are hired for their expertise in their field, not for their teaching skills. Also, most professors take a more hands-off approach; they won't give you a lot of reminders and they won't come after you if you miss work. They'll just fail you instead.

    Liv-action TV: In Boy Meets World college was treated a lot like an extension of high school.
  • May 13, 2012
    MorganWick
  • May 13, 2012
    MartyD82
    ^ That sounds a lot better. I just updated the main description, removing the "college professors are jerks" part and modifying the body, so that it's more to-the-point. I'll change the title of this to what you suggested as well.
  • May 13, 2012
    SKJAM
    For the movies, I suspect the film makers are trying to draw in the high school crowd, while still having all the raunchy stuff in the film that might cause problems if it were supposed high schoolers doing it. Thus the characters having high schoolish behavior and problems.
  • May 13, 2012
    Surenity
    It gets especially bad when they still have school bells to interrupt the class (I know I've seen that used for a college but I can't remember where).

    Also, Boy Meets World even had their High School teacher Mr. Feeny follow them to college. Sure it's remotely plausable, but not likely. Most of the time you're lucky if even one or two friends follow you from High School to college.
  • May 14, 2012
    MartyD82
    Animal House had a school bell. I'm sure several other college movies did too.

    IIRC Saved By The Bell: The College Years had Mr. Belding follow the kids to college. I think they also remained as close-knit and class-tight as ever. But then, it's been almost two decades since I've seen that show. So I don't really remember it too well.

    I never saw Beverly Hills 90210 after Shannen Doherty left, so I can't really say how it handled the "gang" going to college. But I'm pretty sure it also inappropriately reused certain high school tropes in the college setting.

    Judd Apatow's Undeclared actually did a pretty nice job averting most of those tropes, even though the show's main characters were alarmingly carefree and unambitious for college students. But then, we all knew at least a couple people who felt they could coast through college (only to find out the hard way that they couldn't). So, to some extent, that may be Truth In Television.
  • May 14, 2012
    MartyD82
    On a sidenote, with Family Matters, it's really a shame that the writers decided to "play it safe" when the gang all went to college, since Urkel in college actually could've given us some pretty new and interesting story arcs. But, as another poster pointed out, perhaps being an under-16 targeted show it's unfair to expect that kind of depth or character development.
  • May 14, 2012
    randomsurfer
    ^^Mr. Belding did not go off to college, he stayed in high school with "The New Class." (Also, at first only the three boys went to college together; Kelly transferred in after the pilot. Nobody else from SBTB showed up.)
  • May 14, 2012
    peccantis
    Laconic needs help. First, it's in camel case. Second, it contradicts the title. If I've grasped what this is all about, how about "Works use high school tropes in college settings, ignoring the major differences between the two systems."?
  • May 14, 2012
    Dacilriel
    Live-Action TV: Averted in Sabrina The Teenage Witch. When Sabrina moved on to college, the show introduced an entirely new supporting cast and wrote the new characters more like college students than high schoolers. Also, Sabrina had been something of a Teachers Pet in high school and had some difficulty adjusting to the higher standards and indifferent professors.
  • May 14, 2012
    MartyD82
    Live-Action TV: On Friends, when Ross delivers Girl Scout Cookies to the NYU dorms, they refer to him as "Cookie Dude!" (actually, I don't think even a high schooler would call him something like that - sounds more middle school-ish to me).
  • May 15, 2012
    HaggisMcCrablice
    In Stephen King 's "Hearts In Atlantis", the first-person narrator of one story comments that he and his friend were wishing college were more like high school without even realizing it.

    Does anyone know who coined the phrase "high school with ashtrays" for describing college life? That might make a good title, actually....
  • May 15, 2012
    MartyD82
    That's a good one. Especially since my original title is probably a little too long. I'll change it now.

    I'm pretty sure the movie "College" (I've never seen it - thankfully, from what I've heard!) uses this trope. As do the recent direct-to-video American Pie movies.

    Thats My Bush: The episode "A Poorly Executed Plan" has George's old college buddies come over for a visit. Let alone 50+ year olds, these guys act immature even by HIGH SCHOOL standards!

    Averted on the Freaks And Geeks episode "Noshing And Moshing." Neal's brother briefly comes home and discusses at the dinner table how different college is from high school (in a good way).
  • May 15, 2012
    Rognik
    I'd put a line in the description explaining why the title is what it is. Otherwise, it's going to be confused as some era-trope, like it being from the 50's or something...
  • May 15, 2012
    Stratadrake
    We are going to need a better title for sure. Naming a trope after a specific example of itself is a good way to lose out on the clarity part of Clear Concise Witty.
  • May 15, 2012
    TonyG
  • May 15, 2012
    nman
    How about Really High School, eh?
  • May 15, 2012
    MartyD82
    I retitled it "College Is High School With Keg Parties." I fear that may be a little too long, though.
  • May 16, 2012
    peccantis
  • May 16, 2012
    MartyD82
    Movies: Not sure if this really counts, but Toy Story 3 may be an aversion of this trope, seeing as to how Andy is presented as being realistically mature and compassionate when he's gearing up to leave for college.

    By the way, I was tempted to create a sister trope titled "All College Students Live In Dorms." Except that I'm not really sure television shows or movies ever imply this. I think they just depict all their college students as living in dorms for plot convenience. And, if you go to a non-commuter university like Michigan State, it may be Truth In Television.
  • May 17, 2012
    MorganWick
  • May 17, 2012
    robinjohnson
    College Is High School works and is simple.
  • May 17, 2012
    peccantis
    Does the image add anything?
  • May 17, 2012
    MartyD82
    It'll probably look better if the page is launched. For some reason, image captions aren't properly formatted on YKTTW.
  • May 17, 2012
    nlpnt
    Nobody's mentioned Community yet?

    Also, there was a line from MS T3k: - The High School After High School.
  • May 18, 2012
    MartyD82
    Advertising: The ads for "National American University" that aired during the mid-2000's. The jingle went like this: "Get your degree. Set yourself free." Sounds more like the attitude of somebody striving for a GED than a full-blown college education, doesn't it?
  • May 18, 2012
    peccantis
    ^^^ My concern is not how the image looks like but that it doesn't illustrate the trope.
  • May 18, 2012
    robinjohnson
    Um, that's a pretty fucking uncool choice of image.
  • May 18, 2012
    Lollipopfop
    I certainly didn't think that going from highschool to university was a big change at all. You still have jocks, they still think that nerdy people are beneath them. thats what a lot of frat houses are about. You still have the pretty girls who get attention, and thee ugly ones that don't. you still have the dean of students. I understand your experience was a big change, but mine wasn't. the BIG change is when you get a job and are out on your own. Then the rules chage. Sorry, but this makes absolutely no snse.
  • May 18, 2012
    Lollipopfop
    Sorry for the awful grammar. My shift isn't operating at all.
  • May 18, 2012
    Dacilriel
    The degree of change will be different for everybody. For some college is far more different from high school than others. Some changes may be quite different or even the reverse from one person to another. For example, I went from a large regional high school with well over a thousand students to a small private college where everybody knew everybody. But for many people college is much bigger and more anonymous than high school.

    While the transtion may be different and more or less extreme from person to person, I still think this is a valid trope. The big differences are an increased maturity level among the students, and (for those who do not commute from home) the increased freedom and responsibility of living away from home for the first time. These are where the real shifts happen, and most of the examples that have been listed here cite college students behaving like young teenagers and still being heavily dependent on their parents for everyday problems.
  • May 18, 2012
    MartyD82
    Exactly. I realize there are a few instances where this trope may be Truth In Television (as there are for many similar tropes on this site), but in general, college and high school are much more disparate than a lot of television and movie writers make them seem. Actually, from my experience, there's a pretty large shift in maturity when you transition from Sophomore to Junior year of high school (probably because that's when students really start thinking about doing well on their SAT's/ACT's and getting into a good college, at which they realize how petty a lot of "teen angst issues" really are). Also, while I DID encounter one or two jocks in college that looked down on you if you were a little nerdy/awkward, they didn't have the power/grip that they would've had in a "traditional" high school setting. They were basically nobodies that you rarely (if ever) saw again after one semester. And, in my case, one of them was a girl who clearly had a lot of emotional problems (another high school/college difference: in college, you start to empathize more with the jerks/bullies you used to deal with and see what made them the way they were).

    As for fraternities, at my university, fraternities were actually very specialized and esoteric. There was no "hottest fraternity that everybody wanted to join" or anything like that (from what I've seen, most other universities don't have that either, despite what movies like Animal House would have you think). It was more like: If you were into engineering, you could join the Engineering Fraternity. If you were into community service, you joined Alpha Phi Omega (the community service fraternity). And so on. Also, a lot of the people who are actually IN fraternities and sororities will tell you they're much more stressful and commitment-heavy than you'd think. In other words, there's a lot more to them than just nightly keg parties and TP'ing the rival fraternity's house.
  • May 21, 2012
    animeg3282
    BTW Theater/Wicked has a case of this. Glinda and Elphaba are in college, despite Glinda singing about the Pop U LAAAR and Fiyero being the big man on campus.
  • May 21, 2012
    MetaFour
    Also, there was a line from MS T3k: - The High School After High School.

    That was from the episode where they watched the Home Economics short film. The full line was "Iowa State College: the high school after high school!" It comes across more as a riff on Iowa State's academic rigor than anything to do with this trope.
  • May 22, 2012
    LOAD
    I feel this is valid.
  • May 29, 2012
    nlpnt
    bump
  • May 29, 2012
    MartyD82
    Can't really think of anymore examples one way or another of this. If nobody has anymore ideas, shall I finally launch it?
  • May 29, 2012
    IsaacSapphire
    A conservative Christian college can be a lot closer to this than a secular school: roughly the same amount of rules as your parents, enforced just as much. Small colleges can also be more high school-like than large ones (under 500 on-campus students).

    The English translations of some yaoi manga invoke this by deliberately mistranslating the high school the characters attend to be a "Jr. College" as a way of upping the characters' implied age to make the sex less likely to get the publisher in legal trouble.
  • May 30, 2012
    MartyD82
    ^ Yeah, that's what I've heard. My friend went to a small Catholic college, and he was saying that (largely because of the smaller student body) it was a little more high school-like than a large university normally would be. For example, if you lived in a dorm, then there was somewhat of a "social structure" (if you commuted, this didn't apply to you).
  • May 30, 2012
    Dacilriel
    I'd say that with everything in the comments it seems like there is a pretty complete trope here, but the description as presented could use a little expansion before it is launched. SKJAM had a good comment on why this trope occurs, and CharacterInWhite made a good point about how social tension shifts to more adult issues. Those and a couple other comments could probably be added to clarify the trope a bit and expand on exactly how college and high school can be distinguished from each other.

    Other than that, I'd say there are a lot of good exampls and it's about ready to launch.
  • June 3, 2012
    nlpnt
    I agree, it's ready.
  • June 5, 2012
    MartyD82
    Hey everybody. Thanks for all your help. I made some modifications to the description at the top of the page (which I may tinker a little later tonight). If you have any more suggestions for how I could improve upon it (things to add, awkward sentences that should be fixed, etc.) please let me know. Otherwise, I'll launch this later tonight.
  • June 5, 2012
    captainpat
    Where's the rest of the title?
  • June 5, 2012
    MartyD82
    Sorry. Sometimes, YKTTW screws up my trope title.
  • June 5, 2012
    Dacilriel
    Looks good!
  • June 6, 2012
    furiouslyfurry
    Real Life Example (for when this thing gets launched): Community colleges are basically just like high school, only with a much wider age demographic.
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