College in the media is not a new thing. We’ve seen all sorts of shows and movies in college settings since the beginning of film. However, most of these works include common college stereotypes such as partying, alcohol, and Greek Life. While that is indeed part of what society considers college, it is nowhere near as prevalent as shown in the media.
So, in an effort to throw out some of those stereotypes, I’d like to present to you six college-themed TV shows that focus on other things, such as classes, relationships, and monster killing.
The half-hour comedy was Judd Apatow’s follow-up to an earlier television series he worked on, Freaks and Geeks, which also lasted for one season. Undeclared centers on a group of college freshmen at the fictional University of Northeastern California. Although a comedy, this show generally strays away from common college stereotypes, and instead replacing clichés of campus life (nonstop partying) with more realistic concerns (such as the freshman 15).
2. Veronica Mars
The series is set in the fictional town of Neptune, California, and stars Kristen Bell as the title character, a student who progresses from high school to college while moonlighting as a private investigator under the tutelage of her detective father. In each episode, Veronica solves a different stand-alone case while working to solve a more complex mystery.
The show is an instant cult classic, and was Kristen Bell’s ticket to fame, as well as the first crush of many boys growing up. The show is almost like “Clueless” meets “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and is quite fun to watch. A new Kickstarter project was started to fund a feature length film that the original actors have agreed to, so now is the perfect time to watch through the show.
The series follows a group of students at a community college in the fictional locale of Greendale, Colorado. Jeff Winger, a lawyer who gets sent back to college to get a degree in order to continue working at his firm, meets a group of other students who ended up at community college for a number of different reasons. It’s clear that I didn’t rank these shows in any particular order, because Community is definitely my favorite of all of these shows.
What makes this show so great is that it starts the first season like a normal sitcom: a group of friends who get into funny situations while learning a valuable lesson in the end. However, starting season 2, the show starts to get over-the-top with “gimmick” episodes that introduce all sorts of surreal concepts and plot lines while still generally grounded in reality. From deathly paintball battles, to battling zombies with Abba music playing in the background, to alternate dimensions, this show does not have a dull moment.
But what really makes this show so great is the chemistry between all of the characters. They just seem to get along so well, and really show the struggles of students in a community college.
Hellcats focuses on the lives of college cheerleaders, mainly Marti Perkins, a pre-law college student who has to join the cheerleading team, the Hellcats, in order to get the athletic scholarship she needs.
Coming right out of out of the heels of Phil of the Future on Disney Channel, Aly Michalka adds a little sass to her repertoire on this show, joined by fellow Disney Channel Star Ashley Tisdale and a lineup of college beauties hashing it out in the world of cheerleading.
Marti Perkins lost her scholarship and has no other choice but to join the college’s cheer squad, the Hellcats, in order to obtain a new one. There she meets her new roommate and team captain Savannah Monroe, the injured flyer Alice Verdura, her new partner Lewis Flynn and the Hellcats coach Vanessa Lodge who hopes to win nationals, otherwise the cheer leading program will be cut. Michalka and Tisdale have great chemistry together, and it’s pretty amusing to watch how their rivalry eventually morphs into a friendship of convenience.
5. China, IL
The series takes place at the “Worst College in America”, located at the edge of town. The school’s poor reputation is celebrated by the school’s uncaring faculty and staff, constantly shown drinking while teaching and/or trying to avoid teaching altogether. Steve and Frank Smith are twin professors at the college, teaching different subjects with limited success, while Professor Cakes is the father of undergraduate Mark “Baby” Cakes, who spends his time at college with the school staff. Pony is the teacher’s aide at the school, and the most rational of the staff, but still willing to go along with the staff’s insane plots to avoid working.
The show is really weird, with a really strange art style and odd voices. But it really grows on you. I’d say it’s one of the better showings you’ll find on Adult Swim, so check it out if you have the chance.
6. Sabrina the Teenage Witch
Now, this show only takes place in a college setting in the later seasons, and there are mixed feelings regarding the college-based episodes (like many shows that decide to take their cast to college). However, I found the show pretty enjoyable, and while not having the same charm as the first few seasons, it grew into its own style that I enjoyed.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch is a show about Sabrina Spellman, a girl who discovers on her sixteenth birthday that she is a witch. As a novice witch, her spells often go awry. Her aunts Hilda and Zelda Spellman counsel her on the proper use of her magic and give her moral advice, at least in the first few seasons.
In the college episodes, her aunts tend to get their own plotlines, only seldom merging with Sabrina’s plot lines. What I like about the show at this point in time is that Sabrina, in between her witchery and other otherworldly problems, still has to struggle through college problems, such as academics, financial aid, finding a job, and living with roommates. It actually does a pretty good job of being realistic. Well, as realistic as a girl going on adventures with a talking cat can be.
A while back I came across a very interesting article stating 11 rules about life as quoted by Bill Gates. It was very insightful, as they were things that students were not taught in schools. Though Mr. Gates is a pretty smart guy, a quick search on Snopes.com tells us that these rules were incorrectly attributed to him. There are actually 14 rules, and they were written by Charles J. Sykes, author of the 1996 book Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can’t Read, Write, Or Add.
I think it’s a very good read, and something that every college student should read before heading off into the real world. Behold, Mr. Sykes’ 14 life lessons you will not learn in school:
Rule No. 1: Life is not fair. Get used to it. The average teenager uses the phrase “It’s not fair” 8.6 times a day. You got it from your parents, who said it so often you decided they must be the most idealistic generation ever. When they started hearing it from their own kids, they realized Rule No. 1.
Rule No. 2: The real world won’t care as much about your self-esteem as much as your school does. It’ll expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself. This may come as a shock. Usually, when inflated self-esteem meets reality, kids complain that it’s not fair. (See Rule No. 1)
Rule No. 3: Sorry, you won’t make $40,000 a year right out of high school. And you won’t be a vice president or have a car phone either. You may even have to wear a uniform that doesn’t have a Gap label.
Rule No. 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait ’til you get a boss. He doesn’t have tenure, so he tends to be a bit edgier. When you screw up, he’s not going to ask you how you feel about it.
Rule No. 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping. They called it opportunity. They weren’t embarrassed making minimum wage either. They would have been embarrassed to sit around talking about Kurt Cobain all weekend.
Rule No. 6: It’s not your parents’ fault. If you screw up, you are responsible. This is the flip side of “It’s my life,” and “You’re not the boss of me,” and other eloquent proclamations of your generation. When you turn 18, it’s on your dime. Don’t whine about it, or you’ll sound like a baby boomer.
Rule No. 7: Before you were born your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way paying your bills, cleaning up your room and listening to you tell them how idealistic you are. And by the way, before you save the rain forest from the blood-sucking parasites of your parents’ generation, try delousing the closet in your bedroom.
Rule No. 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers. Life hasn’t. In some schools, they’ll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. Failing grades have been abolished and class valedictorians scrapped, lest anyone’s feelings be hurt. Effort is as important as results. This, of course, bears not the slightest resemblance to anything in real life. (See Rule No. 1, Rule No. 2 and Rule No. 4.)
Rule No. 9: Life is not divided into semesters, and you don’t get summers off. Not even Easter break. They expect you to show up every day. For eight hours. And you don’t get a new life every 10 weeks. It just goes on and on. While we’re at it, very few jobs are interested in fostering your self-expression or helping you find yourself. Fewer still lead to self-realization. (See Rule No. 1 and Rule No. 2.)
Rule No. 10: Television is not real life. Your life is not a sitcom. Your problems will not all be solved in 30 minutes, minus time for commercials. In real life, people actually have to leave the coffee shop to go to jobs. Your friends will not be as perky or pliable as Jennifer Aniston.
Rule No. 11: Be nice to nerds. You may end up working for them. We all could.
Rule No. 12: Smoking does not make you look cool. It makes you look moronic. Next time you’re out cruising, watch an 11-year-old with a butt in his mouth. That’s what you look like to anyone over 20. Ditto for “expressing yourself” with purple hair and/or pierced body parts.
Rule No. 13: You are not immortal. (See Rule No. 12.) If you are under the impression that living fast, dying young and leaving a beautiful corpse is romantic, you obviously haven’t seen one of your peers at room temperature lately.
Rule No. 14: Enjoy this while you can. Sure parents are a pain, school’s a bother, and life is depressing. But someday you’ll realize how wonderful it was to be a kid. Maybe you should start now. You’re welcome.
Read more about it here.
College is a great environment to be in, full of supporting faculty and staff and offering great opportunities to become a responsible adult. What you don’t know, however, is what goes on behind-the-scenes in colleges. Things they don’t want you, as a student, to know about. It’s not that they’re illegal, or necessarily immoral, but that by knowing them, they’d ruin the positive image universities try to maintain.
1. College entrance requirements aren’t as strict as they appear
I once talked to an admissions counselor when I was searching for colleges. She was very friendly, but the pamphlet she gave me was pretty intimidating. “I have to have THAT high of an SAT score?” I thought to myself as I kissed my dreams of being a whatever-it-was-at-the-time goodbye. Reading further, I saw that I had to be involved in a certain number of organizations, had to have this high of a GPA, and had to have so many volunteer hours, among letters of recommendations, full transcripts, and job experience.
The admission counselor smiled, surely relishing in my worried facial expressions caused by my ignorant innocence, and told me not to worry about too much about the requirements. “There’s always exceptions,” she said confidently. She then went on to tell me that as long as I could write an essay explaining why I wasn’t involved in organizations, or getting an adequate score on the SAT or ACT, the university would consider my application.
I’ve learned that this is true of many colleges, save for the Ivy Leagues and the sort. Colleges like to put down rigorous entrance requirements so they can tout that they have the smartest and the brightest, but if you read the fine print, there are many ways to get around the published requirements. See, if universities truly stuck with what they advertised as their requirements, enrollment would be horrible! The funding systems for universities are based on enrollments, so universities strive to get as many students as they can. For this reason, they implement certain “loopholes” to their own policies to be able to admit students who do not meet their requirements.
Go to any university website that you are interested in and take a look at its admission criteria. You’ll see that it is worded in such a way that allows for flexibility in admissions standards. For example, take Oklahoma State University’s admissions page.
First of all, they preface the requirements by mentioning that all students are encouraged to apply, as they take many factors into consideration and individually review each application. Likewise, if you meet one of their listed criteria, you are assured admission. That’s where the wording is tricky. Colleges often make is sound like all their students meet those requirements as a minimum, and they are partially correct. Sure, those are minimums, but only for guaranteed admission. You can still be considered even if you don’t meet their listed requirements. And even then, of the several “minimums” they state, they usually publish the strictest one to make them seem more selective (as was the case at my undergraduate university).
Florida State University’s admissions page is another great example. In this one, they don’t even give you a minimum requirements list. The list they show you is the academic profile of the middle 50% of freshmen they accepted in 2013. So really, all it does is give you an idea of their overall average of the students they admit, which doesn’t really tell you how well your chances are, since the bottom 50% could fall anywhere below that average. Plus, they make sure to include careful wording to say that “applicants who bring other important attributes to the University community may also receive additional consideration.” These may include, but are not limited to skilled artists, musicians, and athletes.
Why do colleges do this? For publicity reasons, mostly. This way, they can state in their advertisements, pamphlets, and national publications that they accept students with these amazing criteria in an effort to attract other students with these criteria. And if you have 5 colleges in one area that accept students with a 24 ACT as a minimum, you don’t want to be the college that publishes your minimum as 18 ACT. It’s just not good for business.
So what does this all mean to you as a prospective student? This means that you should not be discouraged to apply to a college if the requirements seem to strict. If you weren’t involved in extra-curricular activities in high school because you worked full time in the evenings to support your family, that’s fine! Be sure to include an essay with your application that states that. Admission departments in colleges don’t just go down a checklist and pull your application if you don’t meet them all. They look at your application to see how you are as a whole person. The more information you provide with your application, the easier it will be for them to paint a better picture of you as a student.
If they see that you worked to provide for your family in high school, they may see that as responsibility and maturity and would take that in place of your extracurriculars. If you didn’t have very good grades, as long as you can provide a good reason for it and assure them that you will do much better in college, they may give you consideration they may not have otherwise. Now, I’m not saying that you can BS your way through an application and get into college. It doesn’t work that way.
What I’m saying is that you have nothing to lose by applying to the college that you want, even though you may not fit the “ideal” criteria.
Let me tell you that when I started college, all I had going for me was my GPA. Being a first generation student, I had no idea how important extra-curricular activities, volunteer hours, and letters of recommendations from teachers who knew you well were. Plus, I am a horrible test taker and didn’t do very well on my SAT. Still, I made a strong enough case on my application, got accepted, and not only did I graduate from my university, but I was senior class president and gave the commencement speech in front of ten thousand people. All because they decided to take a chance on me.
2. You DON’T have to go to college
I can already hear my fellow colleagues and college administrators yelling at me for this one, but the truth is, you really don’t have to go to college like society makes you believe. I’m sure you’ve heard in high school, in the college you already attend, in TV shows, commercials, and speakers that jobs won’t hire you without a college degree. That it’s not like it used to be where anyone could get a job with a good work ethic and a smile. And yes, it’s true that it’s becoming more difficult for companies to even consider you if you don’t have that degree on hand. Even jobs that didn’t previously required formal education experience are requiring Associate or Bachelor degrees. And that is why you are told very often that you need to go to college to get those lucrative jobs.
But do you see the problem with this? Students everywhere are being told that they need a college degree to get a job that requires college degrees. As a result, more and more students are going to college each year. Over the last 15 years, enrollment in U.S. institutions of higher education at all levels rose from 14.5 million students in fall 1994 to 20.7 million in fall 2009, with most of the growth occurring in the last 10 years (source: NSF ). And what’s worse, over the past decade, the U.S. private-sector has lost 203,000 jobs (source here ).
What this means is that more and more graduates are finishing colleges with degrees, but the jobs aren’t growing with them. As a result, we have tons of people out there with useless degrees working jobs that don’t require anything more than a high school diploma. But colleges won’t tell you all of this, because their goal is to get more students.
As a Student Affairs Professional, I will say that college does a lot more for you than just get you a degree, as I listed on my blog post detailing how college can get you a job without a degree. But still, I stand by the fact that there are some people who do not need to go to college. Are you one of these people?
Let me explain. I’ve seen many students, both as a university staff member and as a student myself, that go to college despite the fact that they are not ready for it. They either do not know what they want to do with their life, or are just not emotionally mature enough to handle the responsibility of college life. Yet, these students will start college, get into lots of debt, then drop out their first year having no way to pay back that said debt.
Other people are just not good classroom learners. Regardless of college, it is reasonable to assume a lot of classroom work will be in your future, and some students just don’t do well with that. A friend of mine just could not grasp anything from a classroom, and left college within two months. Yet, he was a masterful electrician and could rewire an entire house with no problem.
Students like these would be better off going to trade schools, where there is more practical learning and they could put their talents to good use. I’ve known many mechanics, plumbers, and carpenters that make a lot of money, and never had to go to college to do it.
What about those students who are not ready for college? Students who don’t know what to do with their lives but don’t want to spend thousands of dollars for an education they may not even get use out of? As someone who went to a university with a strong military focus, I would say that the military may be a viable option. Don’t know what to do with your life? If you meet the health requirements and don’t mind some discipline in your life, the military may be a better option for you. I’ve known a few high school students that would gain a lot from joining the army for a few years before going to college. It can be an eye-opening experience, and what’s more, they may have the option of paying for your college once you complete your years of service.
For other students, maybe college is best if you just wait. Work a full time job for a little bit, get a sense of what the real world is like, paying bills, paying your own rent, just generally living on your own. Start college when you feel ready. My sister followed this path, and now she’s in college and loving it.
I don’t believe that college is always the right answer. But not enough people are willing to say that. And why would they? It makes sense that a college recruiter would feel guilty telling you that college isn’t for you. And that’s because they cannot make that decision, nor can I. Only you can. You need to take a good look at yourself and wonder if it’s worth getting into all that debt for the next few years before you dive right in.
For a great illustration of how college may not always be right for you, check out my post on how the movie Monsters University accurately depicts college life.
3. A lot of faculty aren’t trained to teach
At some point during my college career, I decided that I wanted to be a professor. Part of the decision came from the amazing professors that inspired me to follow in their footsteps. Another part came from the horrible professors who made me want to become one to correct their mistakes. Upon looking for grad schools and trying to decide what I wanted to teach, I came to one horrible realization: professors are not trained to teach!
Teachers, specifically for elementary school and secondary school, have to go through an intense program, that includes not only a Bachelor degree, but teacher certification, and in some cases, even a Master degree. They have to learn about classroom management, implementing curriculums, special education, and then student teach for hours and hours while maintaining a teacher’s portfolio assuring future employers that this person knows what he or she is doing.
I was pretty shocked to find out that this is not true with college professors. There is no “professors 101” class or a degree specifically to teach college courses. The way a person becomes a professor is to get a Master degree in a field, and then get a doctorate in that field as well (or a related field). At that point, the person is considered an “expert” in the field and is then qualified to teach a course in that field. However, none of those courses prepare those students to teach what they have learned. This is especially evident in STEM fields, where students constantly complain about engineering professors who don’t know how to teach a concept in a way students can understand, or a science professor who just reads from a slideshow. Sure, they know everything they need to know about their field, but that does not mean they know how to teach it.
When colleges look for new faculty, they look for several factors, with the primary ones being teaching experience and research/publications. A professor is worth more if he or she is a published researcher, holding some clout in the field, and has the ability to receive grants from several institutions. It shocked me to find out that in many universities, teaching ability isn’t at the top of the list. Now this isn’t true of all colleges. Community colleges and liberal arts colleges put more priority to teaching skills, whereas research and land grant universities will put more weight on research and publications. I actually had a professor tell me that if I didn’t have some decent published research by the time I finished my PhD, I will have a hard time getting any college to consider me.
But what about all those great professors that have a passion for teaching, those that just seem to get it? Typically, it’s a result of experience. Experience is a wonderful teacher, and professors who learn from their mistakes and research effective teaching methods on their own time will likely be better at it than others. Mentoring is also very helpful. Many doctorate students find advisors and mentors that are willing to work with them and teach them the practice of the trade, even sometimes offering teaching assistantships where they get practice before they graduate. This is, however, very dependent on the teaching quality of the mentors.
Recently, however, I’ve noticed that universities are now offering certificates for college teaching. Usually these programs consist of a few courses specifically suited for teaching in a college environment. As far as I know, I don’t know of any doctorate program that requires these to be a college professor, but the resource is there and more and more universities are encouraging professors and would-be professors to get it.
4. Beware of the “weeding out” classes
As I’m sure I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, I went to a university that was very engineering-focused. Even though I wasn’t an engineering major, I had to take an occasional basic engineering class or two each year. As a non-engineer, I noticed that I was having a very hard time with these classes. At first, I thought I just sucked at engineering. But upon discussing it with other classmates, we came to the realization that it wasn’t that we didn’t understand the work, but that the work was made hard on purpose.
First of all, those engineering 101 classes were huge. Lots of students and only one professor to teach us all. Our professor covered a lot of material in a very short amount of time. Tons. Concepts that, individually, would result in hours of work. Even if I did figure out how to solve the homework assignments, there was no way I could finish it all and do all the work in my other non-engineering classes. At some point, I had to call it quits and settle for the lower grade for that assignment. It made me wonder how those students with four engineering classes in a row got anything done.
What I learned later on was that these classes had an ulterior motive. In addition to providing a “general view” of engineering, they were designed to overwhelm students with varying different concepts to “weed out” the students who were not the best of the best at the craft. Even though I had a hard time excelling at the class, my wife, who was and engineering major at the time, got through those assignments with no problem. Sure enough, she got an A in the class and moved on to the higher level classes.
What surprised me about this the most was that I was generally good at math. I was studying meteorology and we dealt with all sorts of equations and concepts. But for some reason engineering work frustrated the hell out of me, and there was just so much of it. I, like many others, was the victim of a student not worthy to go to the higher level engineering classes, where professors worked at a better pace and were more willing to help you learn the material (as opposed to my class, where I would go to my professor to help me with assignments and he refused to help me in favor of the upper-level students).
Now that I’ve graduated college and have worked in colleges, I notice this for many fields. STEM fields are notorious for this, but I’ve seen this in other fields as well.
Weeding out classes are generally seen as classes where they are designed for students to fail. Large classes where professors throw a lot of information at you in a “101” style class, hoping to scare away all but the most dedicated to the craft, those who will stick through until the end. They offer minimal support to test you to see how well you can take the heat.
It makes sense in the long run, since professors don’t want students who don’t have a chance at being successful in the field. But this is still important information for students who have a passion in a field, but don’t necessarily have the skills to get through those “weeding out classes”. If that’s you, you either need to find another major or prepare for an uphill battle getting that degree.
5. Politics… politics everywhere!
I had a discussion with a friend of mine the other day, who talked about a program at a university that required EMT classes and certification in the curriculum, even though in wasn’t related to the field they were studying. The department head had been struggling for several years trying to remove that requirement from the curriculum. It seems that the requirement was put in there erroneously many years ago, since the beginning of the program, but no one had bothered to take it out. After many attempts, the department head was unable to get the requirement removed. Why? We still don’t know. I don’t think even he really knows.
The truth is, universities are filled with politics, just like any other business. I’ve heard from many people mistakenly believe that academia is a peaceful environment where learning takes place through curious minds exchanging ideas while sipping tea. I’ll tell you that this isn’t the case at all. Faculty and staff at universities can be just as catty and political as any other industry. Grudges among administrators can delay proposals and university changes for months, or even years, as they argue semantics and try to get things their way.
Just like our own US government, implementing changes at the university level can take a really long time as committees meet about this and that, amending the changes and involving others both inside and outside the university. They try their best to keep things objective and professional, but I’ve seen situations where things can get personal, and the personal beliefs of those in power can interfere from any real change happening on the campus. Professors who don’t like other professors will fight for favored courses, or timeslots for courses, or even office hours. Staff members may want to work independently or have more freedom in how they allocate their budgets. A lot of the time it involves administrators implementing new policies which adds responsibilities to departments that do not have the capacity to accept those added responsibilities, resulting in angry and resentful staff.
“So what?” you may ask. “This happens everywhere.” Well, yes, but the difference here is that oftentimes, college students will see the effects of these situations in a much greater magnitude. Political battles in university administration can result in tuition increases, removal of pivotal classes for degrees, removal of faculty, removal of amenities, more regulation to make simple tasks more complicated, and generally a lower quality of life at the campus.
The moral of the story here is that everyone is human, and no one is above making mistakes. Students get screwed over all the time regarding classes they need to take for graduation, grades on courses, residence hall charges, and other issues that may be the result of university politics. Sometimes, there may be no way to avoid them. The best you can do is understand that no one is perfect and mistakes can happen. Choose your battles wisely and fight for the things that matter the most to you.
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Every now and then on my blog, I’ll review a book that I think may be of interest to college students. It’s also a crafty way of getting me to read for pleasure again. Ever since starting grad school, all my reading became purely scholarly, and I suddenly realized I lost my passion for fiction. As a result, For The Win Book Reviews were born!
Today’s book review is World War Z by Max Brooks.
This is an amazing book! It takes the absurd setting of a zombie apocalypse an reshapes it in a more realistic setting of a reporter inquiring about the “zombie war”. The interview style he uses gives the entire book a sense of authenticity, like all of this really happened.
He goes into a tremendous amount of detail within the stories of the “interviewees”, telling me he either did a lot of research for this book, or has had many interesting life experiences.
In a sense, the book itself is a number of short stories with the common theme being that “zombie war”. The stories themselves can be hit or miss. A few at the beginning had me just flipping through the pages seeing where they were going, then disappointing that nothing came from them. Later on, though, the stories started getting much better. I just couldn’t put them down!
For those who have seen the movie by the same name, this is nothing like the movie. And I’m not saying that in a “the book was better than the movie” way that book enthusiasts tend to say. No, I mean they are really nothing like each other besides the main character’s name and maybe a setting or two. For one thing, the book takes place in the future, after the war ends (I’d mark that as a spoiler, but that’s what it literally says in the back of the book). In the movie, it’s in the present, and the main character is in the middle of it all. But anyways, I’ll leave it at that, as this isn’t a book vs. movie review.
All in all, I really enjoyed this fresh take on the zombie genre. The characters introduced seemed very real and relatable, even if they were only introduced one time and never heard from again. It also makes you wonder if this really is how society would respond during such an outbreak. This book has gotten me extremely interested in the zombie genre.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.
Pixar’s latest entry in the animated film industry received a lot of mixed reactions upon its announcement. Following in the footsteps of two other PIxar sequels, Toy Story 3 and Cars 2, many figured that Pixar was running out of ideas and had to recycle their existing series into sequels and prequels.
Although Toy Story 3 was met with strong critical acclaim, with a 99% “fresh” rating on RottenTomatoes.com, Cars 2 was met with a 39% “rotten” rating for feeling too much like a cheap cash-in and lacking that Pixar magic that their movies have been known for.
But where does that leave Monsters University? Just like in the original movie, Monsters Inc., the movie takes place in a world inhabited by the monsters that children fear are hiding in their closets. They have their own society, with their own economy, factories, and of course, education systems. As a prequel to the original Monsters University, this movie follows Mike Wazowski who attends Monsters University in an effort to achieve his dream of becoming a scarer.
Let me just say that I went into this movie pretty skeptical. The last two movies I had watched, Cars 2 and Brave, didn’t really impress me much. Monsters Inc, while a good movie, just didn’t appear to me to be the kind of movie that needed a prequel. However, I was pleasantly surprised that not only was this a good movie, but it offered a really nice view of college life through Mike’s eyes, and even ended it with an interesting message that you wouldn’t typically expect from a movie for kids.
Let me explain. At first glance, this movie is just pure fun, providing typical satire of college life, such as the super peppy RAs that you find on campus, to the new roommate, the craziness of sororities and fraternities, and the rigors of academic pressure.
But where this movie really shines is the parts that aren’t so typical for a college movie. At first glance, the relationship between Mike and Sulley when they meet seems to follow the typical movie cliché: nerdy guy meets the cool guy. Cool guy is popular and everything comes easy, whereas the nerdy guy has to fight his way to make it through the top. Cue a rivalry through the whole movie until the nerd comes out on top. Surprisingly, this movie was not as shallow.
Right from the beginning, despite Sulley’s cocky attitude at the beginning due to being son of a famous scarer, he quickly realized that his reputation wouldn’t get him far in class. His lack of care and preparation had him fall behind in class and get a pretty bad tongue lashing from the dean. Meanwhile, Mike’s studying and preparation actually made him a force to be reckoned with in the classroom, quickly becoming the professor’s favorite and impressing the rest of the class. This is quite different than what I expected, which was Mike having to catch up to Sulley through the whole movie.
Their bickering eventually gets them in trouble with the dean, causing them to fail the qualifying exam and kicked out of the college of scaring. This forces the two of them to work together to prove that they can be decent scarers.
The rest of the movie has your typical “ragtag team of losers overcome the odds to win the championship” type of plot, but once again wowed me as it reached the end. The entire point of the movie was Mike’s dream to be a scarer. It is all he wanted since he was a child, and promised himself he’d do whatever it takes to make it. This manifested himself in the scaring competition, where he truly believed in himself, and against all odds, scared the tacos out of the child simulator and won the team the competition. I rolled my eyes after watching this scene, as the whole “you can do it if you believe” schtick is in just about every animated movie you can imagine.
But in an effort to continue to feed me crow, Pixar once again throws another curveball by revealing that Sulley actually tampered with the machine which allowed Mike to win. As it turned out, Mike wasn’t scary at all!
After a series of events, Mike and Sulley end up trapped in the human world, hunted down by a bunch of cops (or were they park rangers?). In the midst of hiding, Mike gives what I believe to be one of the most heart-wrenching, powerful speeches I’ve ever heard come out of an animated character’s mouth.
Earlier in the movie, the dean had these words to say to Mike: “Mr Wazowski, what you lack simply cannot be taught. You’re just not scary.”
After everything he went through, after all his failures, he came to the realization that she was right. He is not scary, and he will never be scary. Mike realized that his dream was wrong, and that he simply could not be something that he was not. Instead, rather than trying to chase after an unrealistic dream, he altered his goals to match his strengths, and together with Sulley, managed to come up with a plan to scare away the cops that were chasing them and find a way back to the monster world.
Despite their victory, they were still kicked out of the university for cheating and consequently trespassing into places they weren’t allowed. The final foot-in-mouth moment I experienced with this movie was towards the end, when Mike and Sulley finally accepted who they were at the bus stop before Mike left. As they were saying goodbye, the dean approaches them to congratulate them for their previous victory in working together to scare full grown adults.
As I’m sure most people watching were expecting, this would be the part where the dean enthusiastically invites them back in, they finish their degree, then claim their place at Monsters University. But that didn’t happen. She did not let them back in. They did not go back to college, any college, and decided to start at the bottom at the Monsters Inc post office. The credits scenes subsequently showed them working their way up to the scaring positions we are familiar with them having.
This movie shares with its viewers a couple of messages that go against the norm of society today.
First, that just because you really, really want it, doesn’t mean you’ll get it. If you do not have the talent to do something, then you just can’t do it, period. Sure, you can work years and years to become adequate at it, but why waste your time becoming adequate on something you’re bad at, when you can be great at something you’re good at?
For example, try as I may, I will never be a great Olympic swimmer like Michael Phelps. I’m not 6 feet, 4 inches, for starters, and my wingspan is nowhere near as long as his. Plus, I just suck at swimming. But society today tells me that if I put my mind to it, I can do it. That’s just not true, and as a result, we end up with a bunch of very disappointed kids who were raised with unrealistic expectations. Many people I’ve talked to complained about the downer ending in which Mike never became scary, but instead became a scaring coach. Well, so what? If this were a real life situation, isn’t that what would happen? I applaud Pixar for giving this realistic ending.
The second message that this movie gives us is that college isn’t for everyone. I may get a couple of dirty looks for saying this (especially from other college professionals), but it’s true: college isn’t for everyone. Some people are just not suited to learning in a college atmosphere. But that’s not a bad thing. Society seems to stigmatize people without a college education. Monsters University is unique in that it doesn’t seem to favor one way or the other. Mike and Sulley quit college, but instead gain all their skills by starting from the bottom of the totem pole and working their way up. They become just as competent in their job as the rest of their colleagues.
But let’s take Randall, Mike’s roommate. He stayed and (we assume) graduated from Monsters University, and yet he was also a pretty good scarer. In Monsters Inc, he was shown to go toe-to-toe with Sulley. Is either approach better than the other? Not necessarily. There’s a reason vocational and tech schools have grown rapidly: some students just don’t want or need college for their career goals. On-the-job training is sometimes the best route for them.
Too often is college seen as the only option, and the message is that if you don’t go to college, you are a loser and will never succeed. This is demotivating for students that either can’t afford to go to college, or just can’t succeed in the college classroom setting. Now, granted, I do believe that most people can benefit from a college education, and it’s true, most jobs nowadays won’t even look at you without a college degree, but I still stand by my statement that college isn’t for everyone.
So all in all, this was a really good movie. Pixar has once again managed to raise the bar with quality animation and throw in some wonderful messages without being too preachy. Good show, Pixar, good show.