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College Is "High School, Part 2"

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Title Card: This is an Iowa State College production.
Tom Servo: Iowa State College, the high school after high school.

The transition from high school to college is typically one of the biggest transitions you'll make in your entire life.

Exact details of college life obviously differ by institution, but on the whole, college grants far more independence and anonymity. You are typically not required to attend classes (although some professors do grade based on attendance, and since you pay by credit, there is no reason to not do so regularly), personal freedom is greatly expanded (after all, you are legally an adult now), the administrative faculty tend to be mostly invisible unless one seeks them out (non-academic rule breaking would be taken up with campus security or law enforcement, not the dean), professors are far more distant and busy (although they do not have to be if you work hard and get to know them), and most people keep to themselves with their busy schedules and social circles. While there are many universities where sports and jocks are idolized (ESPECIALLY in the American South and Midwest), the student body is typically far too big for any immature squabbles to be worth anyone's time.


Not here.

Here, the dean is exactly like your last principal with the nasally voice and stickler for the rules, but with fancy glasses. The resident Jerk Jocks, who've now picked up a scholarship, are still trying to stuff you in a locker (which these colleges have for some reason, while in real life the only place you'll see them is in the gym). The preppy girls still talk about the latest fashions and "like" and "oh my god" in their small circle while side-eying your poor fashion choices. That frat you've joined isn't too different from the crowd you were in, spending their time drinking forbidden liquor and pranking everyone in sight. The professors will make you stay for detention for having your phone out in college.

It's just like high school... without your mom and dad.

This trope occurs in college-themed comedies a lot. Also, expect to see this trope in television shows starring a group of high schoolers that go off to college mid-series. A Sub-Trope of Artistic License – Education, where education in general is portrayed inaccurately.



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  • In an old Dell ad, the "Dell Guy" was in a college lecture hall, plugging the latest product and eventually angering the professor. The bell soon rings and the professor has the Dell Guy stay after class to write sentences on the chalkboard (a punishment fitting middle school more than even high school).

  • Animal House. College professors don't typically grumble about students not handing in papers. An extension can sometimes be granted, depending on the circumstances and the professor, but in college, no one hounds you for not doing your homework. You just fail.
  • Revenge of the Nerds. 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. Realistically, in a college setting, the nerds should actually be looked up to for their intellect rather than ridiculed for it.
    • Though, this is inverted in the third film with the nerds in control at the beginning of the film until an alumnus of the Alpha Beta fraternity sees what's happened to the college and wants to bring it back to the way it used to be.
  • The 2008 sex-comedy College, which depicts college students as doing nothing more than non-stop drinking and partying (ie. having little concern for their studies, etc.). An attitude that might just barely get you by in high school but will definitely get you nowhere in college, and while hard partying does exist, it usually comes after five weekdays of grueling schoolwork and jobs.
  • Accepted: Actually Justified and enforced, as it is a fake college for people who couldn't get into any real college due to a variety of reasons, mostly personality disorders, and are acting like immature people because that's what they believe college to be like.
  • The Waterboy, in how it depicts both the Cougars and Mud Dogs as constantly picking on Bobby for no actual reason and depicts college campuses as being unusually close-knit.
  • Nearly literally in Orange County, shown by carbon-copy characters doing exactly the same things he hated about high school.
  • It's basically Part 3 for Elle Woods in Legally Blonde since she's in graduate school. Elle's Limited Social Circle is confined to maybe six people (two aren't even students) even though there are about 560 students in each incoming Harvard Law class, and Elle's particular section would have had ~80 of those. In that social circle, we see every typical high school personality type (jock, bitch, princess, nerd, go-getter...) When Callahan makes a pass at Elle it's almost like a Very Special Episode of a teen show.
  • In I'll Be Home for Christmas, the lead goes to a California university, yet everyone still uses hallway lockers to hold their belongings and jocks still stuff the nerds in said lockers.
  • In Election, Tracy Flick discovers the hard way that this is true of the college she chose, when she hoped that she would find actual peers in terms of intellect and she would be able to stop being such a stand-out Academic Alpha Bitch. She eventually accepts that it's Lonely at the Top and she will continue to climb alone.

  • Both averted and lampshaded 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. Also, the narrator's sentiment that it is much more difficult to catch up in college once you've fallen behind is a lesson many a freshman has learned the hard way.
  • I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe. The students at the fictional Dupont University are part of a rigid pecking order with jocks at the top and brains at the bottom. Even the graduate students obsess over their place in these high school style cliques.
  • Elmer Gantry hints at an unbuilt version: Elmer's alma mater, Terwillinger College, is a heavily religious football school which adheres to the in loco parentis model, so it doesn't quite resemble either a high school or a modern college — but the narration mentions that it has "a standard of scholarship equal to the best high-schools."

    Live-Action TV 
  • Boy Meets World, which even went so far as to have school teacher Mr. Feeny follow Cory and his friends to college.
  • Family Matters continued using the same stale "big jocks and snobby girls perpetually pick on scrawny nerd" trope when Laura, Urkel, and Eddie went off to college, even though it made almost no sense by that time.
  • Saved By The Bell: The College Years: the main characters usually shared the exact same classes and still found the time to remain as close-knit as ever.
    • Also, things like romantic relationships seem to be a much bigger focus for them than their studies.
  • Beverly Hills, 90210, for the exact same reasons as SBTB.
  • Undeclared did a pretty decent job averting many of these conventions. However, the show's main characters seem unusually carefree and unambitious for college students.
    • On the other hand, we've all known at least one or two students like that in college. So, in a sense, that may be Truth in Television.
    • One oddity about Undeclared: There are no teaching assistants on the show. Given that UNEC is clearly a large scale university with both Bachelor's and Master's degree programs, it's strange that we never see any TA's teaching some of the classes on the show.
  • On Friends, when Ross delivers Girl Scout Cookies to the NYU dorms, they refer to him as "Cookie Dude!"
    • Also, most of the students at NYU (where Ross eventually works as a college professor) seem unusually immature for college students, let alone students at a school as prestigious and selective as NYU.
  • That's 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!
  • Played completely straight on Community, though this is likely just a byproduct of all the other weirdness on the campus (and in fact, the fact that Greendale has high school style lockers is frequently mentioned as evidence that it's a strange school).
  • On Glee, the fictional NYADA (New York Academy of Dramatic Arts) is this trope to the letter. We see Alpha Bitches picking on Rachel, and Kurt feeling just as alienated as before. He even flat-out calls college "High School Part 2." Coupled with the extremely unrealistic admission processes, it makes you wonder if anyone on the creative staff has ever been to college.

  • The aptly-titled "High School Never Ends" by Bowling for Soup extends this viewpoint to post-college life.

    Newspaper Comics 

  • The play Wicked. Glinda and Elphaba are in college, despite Glinda singing about the Pop U LAAAR and Fiyero being the big man on campus.
    • However, going by the book, they were actually all about 17 years old when they got to Shiz - so it makes sense that a college filled with high school-aged students would be high school-ish.

    Video Games 
  • The University of Grimsborough, in the Facebook hidden-object game Criminal Case, contained several features one would normally associate with high schools, such as a parent-teacher association and a prom, among others.
  • In Monster Prom it's left very vague whether the school is a high school or college: the prom event, the look of the classrooms and cafeteria, and general social situation are reminiscent of high school, but most of the love interests are in their early 20s, there's barely any mention of parents, and everyone freely goes around drinking, doing drugs and screwing each other in a way that seems much more like college.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Can be literally true for community colleges in the U.S., as many of them offer GED or other kinds of high school equivalency testing for dropouts who want to go back to school. They also offer high school-level courses in subjects like mathematics and English for people who otherwise lack college-level academic skills. Community colleges are sometimes derisively called "13th grade", not to be confused with the actual "grade 13" that was formerly a part of Ontario high schools. Also, the structure is similar. Aside from having fewer rules usually about attendance (students aren't required to actually attend classes as they're usually legal adults but instructors may deduct points from participation or drop a student for repeated unexcused absences), no dress code and no set schedule, community college classes feel a lot like high school classes.
  • With the British Education System, college is literally this trope, but In Name Only, because what many in the world call "college" is what British kids refer to as university. Think of college as another few years of high school in a different building.
  • In terms of being expected for high school graduates colleges didn't become a common part of life until after WWII, where the GI bill gave returning soldiers free tuition and numbers skyrocketed. For about 20 years colleges were seen as the caretakers of these kids arriving fresh from their parents' home, with great attention being paid to their well-being in all forms with honor codes and other rules set in place such as curfew, travel, class attendance, etc., as the legal age of majority at the time was 21. The counterculture protests of the '60s were concentrated around colleges and a "fight the system" mentality, which had the result of many colleges relinquishing the control they had over the personal lives of the students (private universities, particularly with a religious charter like Notre Dame and BYU, have remnants of this). This meant that much of the "parenting" universities did for their students was gone, and they were left to their own devices beyond the specific standards of education.


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