My College Experience Vs College in Books: A Comparison

Posted February 6, 2014 by Stormy in Books / 22 Comments

As many of you know, I graduated college in May 2013. My college experience, though not without the normal downs, was a great time. I loved moving away from my small town and going to a place where not everyone knew everything about me. I am a traditional student, to be honest, and the way my classes were set up was incredibly conducive to my learning style. I never had a bad roommate experience–I only had two roommates throughout college. One roommate freshman year, and then another roommate sophomore through senior year, and both were wonderful girls who I still keep in contact with.

Lately, I’ve been reading as many books set in college as I can get my hands on that break out of the typical New Adult fare. Many of these books are still being classified as YA instead of NA, but that’s a conversation for a different time. I thought it would be fun to compare my college experience to some of these books, and see which one looked the most like my personal experience(of freshman year, since that’s when these book take place).

The books on today’s agenda? Just One Day by Gayle Foreman, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, and Pysch Major Syndrome by Alicia Thompson.

My Experience

My experience with. . . Roommates

Like I said, I only had two roommates throughout all of college, but since this is about freshman year, we’ll concentrate on that. My roommate was a girl I had never met before from Arkansas. We got our roommate assignments in mid-June, and exchanged emails all summer. Things I remember:

  • I got Arkansas and Arizona confused(she told me she was from AK. . . so I proceeded to ask about Arizona. Don’t ask me why. Arizona doesn’t even have a K in it), and made myself look like an idiot(I remedied this later).
  • We split things pretty evenly
  • We got to know each other in a short amount of time
  • The first three days together in the dorm was kind of awkward. Then one night, we somehow started talking deeply about friendships. We were on great terms after that.
  • We had quite a few inside jokes, some of which I will never repeat for the share embarrassment.
  • We did not get along with our next-door neighbors at all. They were so loud and RUDE!

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Obligatory first meeting photo. This was a little awkward, but it definitely got us started off on the right foot! 

And the Books?

In Psych Major Syndrome, Leigh, the main character, is a psychology major who is paired with an art major for a roommate. The two girls are really different, but somehow it works. They become close friends–best friends, actually–and share things about their love life, classes, etc. They don’t like everything about the other person–Ami is really messy, and disapproves of Leigh’s boyfriend. But it works really well. So on the whole, I’d give this one a CHECK  in the “how does it compare to my experience?” list.

In Fangirl, at first Reagan and Cath don’t get along at all. They’re not at war with each other or anything, but Reagan thinks Cath is a bit naive and pathetic, and Cath finds Reagan abrasive. Eventually, though, they do warm up to each other, and Reagan gets Cath to do things like go to the dining hall to eat instead of hide out in her room. I’d say that Fangirl doesn’t exactly mirror my experience, but my roommate still brought me out of my shell. I’d give it HALF A CHECK.

Just One Day, Allyson barely talks to her roommates, but her dorm set up is a little nicer than mine. Both Leigh and Cath’s dorm are pretty traditional, where as Allyson’s seems to be spacious enough where she has the luxury to half-ignore her roommates. Just One Day doesn’t get a check from me in this category, but that doesn’t mean it’s not realistic. I definitely know people who had similar roommate experiences.

WINNER: Psych Major Syndrome! 

My Experience with. . . classes

My school was very big on having a large number of core classes. It was a private school, so my general education requirements weren’t dictated by the state, but I had to take a LOT of them. I entered college with 29 credit hours already from my dual credit class–one hour shy of sophomore status–and it STILL took me four years to graduate. My Bachelors of Arts degree had 64 hours of gen ed requirements, so I only took one class freshman year for my major–American literature in the Spring(which was required for everyone, but I took an advance section for English majors).

I ended up changing my major the summer between my freshman and sophomore year because I remembered that while I love literature, what I really wanted to do was write. I graduated with BA in professional writing.

As far as my freshman year classes went, they were okay. Most of them weren’t terribly difficult, except for Latin, which, well. . . it’s Latin. Since my school was religious, I had to take a class on biblical interpretation and a class on church history(they had fancy names, but that’s basically what they were). I enjoyed the history one so much I minored in religion and took only religious history classes for the minor: Intro to church history, new religious movements(aka cults), and history of Eastern Orthodoxy(which is fascinating, by the way). That was probably the real academic takeaway coming out of freshman year–picking a minor and realizing I wanted to change my major. I also really enjoyed my Logic class, which surprised me.

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Um, like most people, I don’t really have pictures of my classes or anything, so I thought I would share this picture of final madness. I drew hearts with the name of all my classes and then drew arrows through them when I was done with that final. And since Latin was my least favorite, I decided it clearly needed THREE hearts to draw arrows through. Best picture I have relating to academics(. . . I blame sleep deprivation).

And the Books?

In Pysch Major Syndrome, Leigh’s school is a small liberal arts school that doesn’t really give grades, but instead evaluations. This is still a difficult concept for me, but I do know some small colleges do this. Leigh has to take an array of core classes but we really only ever focus on her psych introduction, since that’s part of the title of the book and all. This seemed pretty realistic to me. It’s a pet peeve of mine to read a book set during the freshman year of college and students are taking all classes in their major already. I had a pretty similar schedule to Leigh, I think, freshman year: about four general requirements per semester and maybe a class that was in my major or minor. So CHECK.

In Fangirl, I only really remember Cath’s creative writing class. I also took a creative writing class(and it does seem like the assignments and discussions were similar), but not until my senior year. I don’t really remember Cath ever discussing her other classes–if she did, they didn’t make an impression on me. I do remember Levi talking about his classes some and his passion for what he was studying–and the young adult literature class Cath helped him with. I think Rowell did a pretty good job of realistic classes, but I wish we had gotten just a bit more of them(unless we did and I just forgot). HALF A CHECK.

I was actually not much of a fan of Just One Day, but I do remember loving Allyson’s Shakespeare class. I thought it was realistic that she struggled with her major–between what her parents wanted and what she wanted–which neither Leigh nor Cath does(at least, not that I can remember). It’s SO COMMON for people to change their major freshman year, and it’s totally normal and not as scary as it seems, so I’d love to see more of that unease in fiction. Of the people I know from college off the top of my head, only two never changed their major.And I really loved Allyson’s Shakespeare class. This book is the one that would get a CHECK for academics from me.

WINNER: Just One Day! 

My Experience with. . . Friendships

Guys, making friends is HARD. At least for me. Actually, it’s not that making them is hard–once that friendship potential is there, it’s not too difficult for me to make friends. Just one experience is often what it takes to make a friend, and I’m a pretty friendly person. But FINDING people to be friends with, that you can just “click” with, that’s difficult. There were many people I was friendly with freshman year, but I never really felt that. Other than my roommate, I didn’t really have friends freshman year, even though I was surrounded by people all the time. I would say it probably really took me until halfway through my sophomore year to make friends.

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Freshman year! This was part of a campus tradition. One of those hands is mine. It was fun and I did this with dorm acquaintances, but I don’t keep up with any one in this picture except for one girl. And that was true for friends a lot freshman year–I would do things, have fun, but they were never really relationships.

And the Books?

In Psych Major Syndrome, Leigh didn’t really have any friends besides her roommate, it seemed like, and her boyfriend. She had acquaintances and was friendly, but it was mostly just her roommate that she confided in. As you can see above, Leigh’s experience is pretty similar to mine–though Leigh is quite a bit more outgoing than I am. I never got the feeling Leigh didn’t have friends because she was too afraid to talk to new people, or anything. None of them were just friend potential for her. This one gets a CHECK.

In Fangirl, Cath has a lot of trouble just getting out of her dorm room, so she definitely struggles on the friend front, though by the end things have come around a bit. I’d say this is fairly similar to my own experience, too, actually, since Cath’s roommate becomes her friend. I think the circumstances are a little different, of course, as Reagan is quite a force. HALF A CHECK.

In Just One Day, Allyson doesn’t really make too many friends either, except second semester when she befriends a guy in her Shakespeare class. This sound sort of similar, but Allyson also wasn’t really worried about making friends–she seemed quite depressed for her first semester and seemed to be avoiding people. I’d still give this one HALF A CHECK, though, just for the low friend factor, which is pretty interesting–each of these books had a protagonist with a fairly low friend factor for a college freshman(from what I’ve been led to believe the norm is).

WINNER: Psych Major Syndrome! 

In Conclusion:

So out of these three books, my experience vs the experience in books stacks up pretty well. Not perfectly, of course(and I decided to avoid the whole love life area because . . . meh), but in general, I feel most of the three books mentioned show a lot of different aspects of college life. I’m still hungry for more of these stories, though–these stories that do so well at portraying that brand new and terrifying feeling. Here’s to hoping there’s more excellent books with this setting in the future!

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22 responses to “My College Experience Vs College in Books: A Comparison

  1. This was fun to read! I’ve started writing a few stories that are set at college, but haven’t finished any, and I also haven’t really read any either. I hope to see more college stories (that aren’t the typical NA fare, as you pointed out) in the future. My experience was somewhat unique in that I went to the college in the town where I lived so I lived at home all four years, but I feel my experiences with classes and socializing (though I was never into wild parties) was somewhat typical. It’s fun to compare people’s colleges (I’ve researched several for aforementioned stories) and people’s college experiences.

    • stormydawnc

      I’ve started writing a story set in college too. Ah, to be added to my growing pile of write-this-one-day-while-you-work-on-your-actual-project(it plagues me). It is really fun to talk about! I was kind of surprised how well I thought these books did in the end!

  2. This is a super cute post! I love how you related your experiences. It makes me want to do the same with high school books (except like NONE of them are even close hahaha). Very fun!!

    • stormydawnc

      Haha, I honestly can’t think of a high school book that would come close to my experiences either. At least for college, I’ve found some books that hit on the right notes! It was really fun to put together & look back on, and I was kind of surprised by how well I thought a lot of these books did portraying that experience.

  3. Awesome post! Having just graduated from college & started grad school, I think I feel similar to you. I also occasionally compare my college experiences to things I read. HAHA. I was similar to you though in the whole friendship thing. I had many friends that I was friendly with, but no one that I was really close to. I think most of my friendships didn’t really solidify until junior/senior year. Perhaps it’s because I was finally taking core classes and class sizes got smaller. My undergrad school was HUGE.

    • stormydawnc

      It’s hard not to compare–it’s just fun sometimes! Yup, I think I made friends sophomore year, and then really solidified them junior year. Sophomore year was kind of rough for me, so it was a good time to have friends. My undergrad was sort of a medium sized school, I suppose. About 14,000 students. Many of my friends from high school went to small colleges with about a thousand or so students, so it felt big compared to them. But I majored in a *really* small program. Like, less than a hundred students total with that major, so junior and senior year, like you, my class sizes got smaller. Most of the upper-level classes in my major had about six or seven students, and of course I saw the same people over and over again because we took all the same classes.

  4. My roommate situation was very different, since she was one of my best friends from childhood! We requested to room together, and the school accommodated us. I think it’s one of the reasons I didn’t branch out and meet new people until my second semester though (when she transferred schools and I was left roommateless), because I always had her to talk to. So while I was sad to see her go, it also forced me to be more social with the people in my dorm. I ended up getting pretty close to a guy who lived down the hall, who ironically enough, only lived about half an hour from my hometown!

    As for classes, my experiences in my first year seem to match. I took so many varied topics, and only one or two were for my major (which I switched…twice! Haha).

    • stormydawnc

      That sounds like a pretty good first roommate situation, though! One of my best friends from high school also applied & was accepted at the university I went to(she ended up going somewhere else), but we decided early on that we couldn’t live together. We knew each other better than that. We decided if she went to my school we’d try to live in the same dorm, but not the same room.

      I think varied classes is pretty much the standard freshman year. It’s sort of nice at times because you get exposed to some subjects you didn’t think you would like(I took a logic class and I loved it! I would have never chosen that on my own), but I did like being able to concentrate on a major.

  5. It’s been many years since I went to college and lived in the dorms (13 years in fact). I’ve had one terrible roommate experience. I had a girl who came from the big city. She was very preppy and just well kind of opposite from me. I talked to her and was very nice to her. One day I went home for the weekend and came back and she had completely just moved out. I discovered she moved down the hall with another girl. I wish she would’ve told me. Actually now that I think about it… I had a few bad roommate experiences. But I also had two roommates who were great friends so it balanced out.

    I had a very hard time making friends too. My sister joined a sorority and made friends for life. That just wasn’t my thing so …. I had to make them in classes and on campus. I really only made friends with my roommates and that was about it.

    Great post.. brought back a lot of memories.

    • stormydawnc

      Oh yikes, that just seems like common courtesy to tell your roommate you’re moving out! I made friends with my roommates through being roommates, but I’m very glad I never roomed with a friend. I don’t think it would have worked out very well.

      I joined a (non-panhellenic) sorority sophomore year. We didn’t do bids or anything like that. It was very open. There were certain requirements, but they weren’t strict. That’s where many of my friends came from sophomore year and up, but freshman year, not many friends around. I was friendly when some people in the dorm and we would have lunch together, but we were never really let’s-hangout-tell-each-out-story friends.

  6. What a great idea for a post, Stormy! And reading through your experiences reminded me of PARALLEL by Lauren Miller — I’d totally forgotten that a lot of that book was set in college instead of high school!

    My college roommate experience, I guess, would be similar to the one described from Fangirl. My roommate and I were pretty different, but for the most part we got a long well. We didn’t really hang out much, though, or keep in touch after we parted.

    Wow, I would love to attend a college that evaluates your work instead of grading it! It seems unreal, but sounds like it would actually be WAY more beneficial.

    I didn’t really have many friends in college, either. I had one gay guy who latched onto me in art classes, and we spent a lot of time together. Then there was a girl from my drawing class who also ended up being in my anthropology class, so we would walk to classes together, but never really hung out outside of that. …and that was it. 🙁 Oh, and a couple people I knew from high school. Shrug.

    • stormydawnc

      Ah, yes, I loved Parallel too, and how parts of that took place at a college!
      I’ve heard of colleges that actually evaluate your work, but I can’t imagine it. I was one of those students that stressed about my GPA way too much.
      I made friends in college sophomore year through senior year, when I joined a campus group. But freshman year? Nope, not really. And I was always jealous of people who made friends in classes–that always seemed so difficult to me!

  7. I love this post! I hope to get to go to college in the US next year so I just love reading up about college experiences and especially when college life is portrayed in YA. I think it’s actually quite relieving to find that authors are able to write up quite authentic experiences, I heard Roomies was quite a good book set in college, not sure if you’ve read that yet? I do hope more YA books set in college come out but focus more on just self-discovery and adjusting to college life because it’s a huge transition and there is a lot that could be uncovered in terms of character development.

    • stormydawnc

      I won a copy of Roomies, but I haven’t received it yet. Hoping to read it soon! Everyone’s experience is different, but from what I’ve read and seen, those authors are pretty great at portraying authentic experiences. The self-discovery & adjustment are *so* important, especially freshman year. It’s such a transitional year for most people and it’s just ripe for fictional exploration!

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