College admissions in entertainment


The Catalyst / Clair Sapilewski

The portrayal of the college admissions process can be damaging to young viewers.

Modern television is rarely known for being realistic, but when it comes to the college admissions process, the entertainment industry has taken fiction too far. The overrepresentation of “elite” schools in TV shows and movies gives viewers the false impression that the only good colleges are those with low acceptance rates.

The current generation of high school students grew up on Disney Channel shows such as Hannah Montana, Good Luck Charlie, Austin & Ally, and movies like High School Musical. While the target audience was children, many characters in these stories were high school students who had to apply to college. This means that these shows helped shape the first impression that many young viewers had of the college admissions process. In the three shows listed, main characters go to Stanford, Yale, and Harvard. In High School Musical, Troy gets UC Berkeley, Gabriella goes to Stanford, and Kelsi and Ryan get scholarships for Juilliard.

Sadly, shows aimed at high school students are no better at portraying the college admissions process. While Gossip Girl’s college admissions scenes were more believable due to the show’s focus on ultra-rich students at an elite prep school in Manhattan, some of the acceptances are still a stretch. For example, no amount of money, fame, or family connections would justify Serena van der Woodsen, who is supposed to have flunked out of boarding school sophomore year and is known for being New York’s party girl, getting into Brown, Yale, and Columbia. Blair Waldorf, who ends up at NYU as a freshman, calls the school a “glorified state school” because it is not an Ivy League school and consequently transfers out sophomore year. This mentality is harmful for students watching the show because it diminishes the importance of choosing a school that is the right fit instead of choosing based on name or acceptance rate.

The characters’ lives are also not what one would expect from a student accepted into the top colleges in the country. Most of the students spend their time hanging out with friends and are never seen doing homework. Especially when it is harder and harder to land a spot in top colleges, this idea of what an Ivy League student would spend their time doing is incredibly flawed.

For example, Elle from The Kissing Booth spends her summers dancing, hanging out on the beach, and swimming with her best friend. Elle gets into both Berkley and Harvard. Similarly, the characters Peter and Lara from To All the Boys I’ve Loved before get into Stanford and NYU.

These movies and TV shows are targeted at high school students and younger. Many in the audience may get their first exposure to the college application process from these movies and shows and will then grow up with a distorted view of the whole system.