These Shows & Movies Get College Totally Right

Most of us head to college with a trembling legs and an undeniable sense of excitement. But Zoey Johnson (Yara Shahidi), the eldest child of Black-ish's Johnson family, begins college with her own TV show: grown-ish. The show, which tracks Zoey's first year at the Southern California University, will explore the universal conundrums of college freshmen. Which person in my lecture class should I choose to have a crush on? Who are my real friends, and who are my friends of convenience? How the heck am I going to get all this work done?
Given the glowing reviews, grown-ish is set to join the ranks of pop culture works that get college right. These movies and TV shows acknowledge that college is more than a series of wild parties, pranking hijinks, and a total complete blast (though it can be those things too). Instead, college is a setting for the kind of challenges that eventually lead to personal growth.
Here are the movies and shows that, like grown-ish, capture the magic and drama of campus life in a way that's actually realistic.
Catch grown-ish on Freeform beginning January 3, 2018.
1 of 15
Hello, My Twenties! (2016)

We've already waxed poetic about our love for one-season Korean dramas, which abound on Netflix. Hello, My Twenties! is one of the best dramas available. The show follows a familiar but satisfying format: Five college students in their early twenties share a flat and share their major life moments, too.
2 of 15
A Different World (1987-1993)

Before Zoey Johnson of Black-ish got grown-ish, Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) of The Cosby Show got A Different World. Denise attends the (fictional) Hillman College a historically black college in Virginia. Hillman has since lodged itself into our cultural imagination — Kanye West referenced the fictional college in the song "Can't Tell Me Nothing" when he rapped "I ain't one of the Cosbys, I ain't go to Hillman."

After one season, Denise left the show, and A Different World became less a Cosby Show spinoff and more a show about college students exploring issues of race, identity, and growing up in its own right.
3 of 15
Felicity (1998-2002)

Right after high school graduation, Felicity (Keri Russell) makes the first major decision of her life: To abandon her plans for Stanford, and follow her high school crush to college in New York. While at the University of New York (a thinly veiled allusion to NYU), Felicity is free to explore herself. Surprisingly enough, this show about a dreamy California girl is the first major show that J.J. Abrams, who has since gone on to produce sci-fi touchstones like Lost and Westworld, produced.
4 of 15
Boy Meets World (1993-2000)

In many ways, Cory's (Ben Savage) experience at the fictional Pennbrook University is really unrealistic. Everyone Cory loves from home, including his brother, best friend, girlfriend, and beloved teacher, follow him to college. But the characters in Boy Meets World interact with the intimacy that's really only possible when friends live in such close proximity — as in, that's really only possible in a college dorm.
5 of 15
Undeclared (2001-2003)

After creating the beloved and prematurely canceled high school drama Freaks and Geeks, Judd Apatow went on to make that show's college equivalent: Undeclared. In the first episode, Lloyd (Jay Baruchel) walks the hallways of his new dorm in a daze, passing an R.A. casually flirting with a new resident, a fight erupting between a mother and a daughter, and many dorm rooms in disarray — the usual sights. His new roommates – played by Seth Rogen and Charlie Hunnam — are drinking beer out of Solo cups, and planning their party tonight. And so, the fun begins.

Undeclared is so good that you'll be hungry for more, and sad it ended so soon. Kind of like college.
6 of 15
Mona Lisa Smile (2003)

Even if you were all born long after the action in Mona Lisa Smile takes place, you can relate to the movie's overall message. Often, in college, we're pushed to be more than we thought we could be. We're encouraged to dream beyond what others had conceived for our life paths. That's certainly what professor Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts) conveys to the women in her art history class at Wellesley College in 1953. Through her class, Katherine challenges her students' notion that finding a Harvard man is the most important component of their time at Wellesley.
7 of 15
Greek (2007-2011)

No show has built up the Greek life to the same degree as Greek, an ABC Family show in which all of the main characters were involved in fraternities and sororities. In the first episode, freshman Rusty Cartwright (Rusty Zachar) decides he wants to abandon his geeky ways and become a cool guy — a frat brother. Thanks to the brothers of Kappa Tau Gamma, he can. Greek definitely focuses far more on the social aspect of college life than on the academic, but hey — it's fun to watch kids run around learning about themselves and making memories.
8 of 15
Community (2009-2015)

So many movies and shows about college follow the same format: A bunch of freshmen walk into a dorm room, and chaos ensues. Community breaks the mold by focusing, instead, on a community college attended by students of all ages. The show begins when Jeff Winter (Joel McHale) is disbarred after his law office finds out his degree isn't from Columbia University, but from Colombia, the country. He goes to Greendale Community College, where he meets his colorful classmates: a single mother, a pop culture savant, an anarchist activist, and a millionaire who enrolled at Greendale out of sheer boredom. Community is realistic, to a degree — the sitcom is based on creator Dan Harmon's own experiences at community college.
9 of 15
Fresh Meat (2011-2016)

Comedian Jack Whitehall got his start on this show about six British university students, living together in an off-campus house. Whitehall plays the posh and privileged Jonathan "J.P." Pembersley, whose arrogance initially sets him apart from his new flatmates. There's Oregon (Charlotte Ritchie), the literature major who is as intent on hiding her privileged background as J.P. is on showing it off. There's Howard (Greg McHugh), the eccentric Scottish geology student who goes days without speaking to people. And there's the unforgettable Vod (Zawe Ashton), who starts college with the incendiary philosophical positions so many of us do.

As the Guardian column written to commemorate the show's conclusion wryly reads, "If you don’t recognise at least a part of yourself in the Fresh Meat characters, then I’m afraid you’re in denial." The characters are fully subsumed in the drama of "uni," without worrying much about the job prospects and responsibilities to come. And because of it, the show's an escapist delight.
10 of 15
Pitch Perfect (2012)

For many college students, extracurriculars are far more of a priority than classes. That's certainly true for the Bellas, a group of a capella singers, in Pitch Perfect. While Pitch Perfect might not be strictly realistic, it conjures up the spirit of competition that so many college students experience, whether in Model U.N., sports, or a capella.
11 of 15
Whiplash (2014)

If you're a student at an elite music conservatory, you don't have time to prank the brothers of your rival fraternity. Rather, you spend your days practicing the drums, and hoping your instructor doesn't turn his venomous eyes at you. Or at least that's an accurate description of Andrew Neiman's (Miles Teller) experiences at a music conservatory, studying under the brutal Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). For individuals with a single-minded commitment to achieving greatness, college isn't a lark — it's a stepping stone.
12 of 15
Everybody Wants Some!!! (2016)

Richard Linklater, the director of Boyhood and the Before trilogy, has a knack for capturing dialogue, so that his movies all seem strangely close to real life. In this blast of a movie, Linklater turns his ear to a group of goofy college baseballs players in Texas in 1980. Jake (Blake Jenner) is a freshman moving into the baseball team's house, and is inculcated into their world of cruising for girls and baseball practice. Though the movie is a romp, it's imbued with a pervasive sense of an ending. When you're in college, the countdown to the end of fun is always ticking.
13 of 15
Dear White People (2017)

The movie Dear White People came out to acclaim in 2014, but the Netflix original series more fully explores the tensions that may be present between student groups at an elite university, like the fictional college in which the show is set. In addition to being an undeniably enjoyable watch, Dear White People is an intelligent and bold analysis of race in the ivory tower.

Everything in Dear White People deals with the build-up and the aftermath of a racist, blackface party thrown at a fraternity. Since each episode follows a different student, we're able to empathize with each of their different struggles, and often conflicting desires. Some notable characters include Sam White (Logan Browning), the incendiary host of the radio show Dear White People who's also secretly dating a white man. Her rival, Coco (Antoinette Robertson), is part of a popular white sorority, and is dating Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell), the aspiring campus president with secrets of his own. As happens on college campuses, these lives collide until everyone knows everyone's secrets.
14 of 15
grown-ish (2018)

More than any other movie or show, grown-ish captures the spirit of contemporary college campuses. This spinoff of Black-ish sees the eldest Johnson child, Zoey (Yara Shahidi) off to college. While at Southern California University, she goes through the the gamut of highly relatable freshman experiences: Dancing at raucous parties, receiving texts that say "U up?" at 2 a.m., and realizing she doesn't quite know as much as she thought she did.
15 of 15
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of celebrity news, fun takes on pop culture, and trending stories on the Refinery29 Entertainment Facebook page. Like us on Facebook — we'll see you there!

More from Pop Culture

R29 Original Series