4 Back-to-School Movies to Ease the College Transition

By Brigid McCuen on September 1, 2014

As exciting as it is to finally be back on campus with friends, it can be equally as demanding to get back in the mindset of going to class, getting ready to pursue a job or internship, and choosing between future career paths.

Whether you’re a freshman exploring your strengths and weaknesses, a senior just trying to get through your last year of undergrad, or somewhere in between, here are some good back-to-school movies that can kick you into gear and motivate you to make the most of your school year.

1. Dead Poets Society (1989)

image via huffingtonpost.com

Dead Poets Society is a classic film that revolves around The Welton Academy for Boys, a private New England boarding school in the 1950s. During an era when conformity and prestige are prioritized above everything else, John Keating (played by the late, great Robin Williams) teaches his English class the importance of individuality, self-reliance, and freedom of expression.  In the end, his liberality has a profound impact on his students.

Even though it focuses on high-school-age characters, DPS is an eloquently crafted tribute to the idea of pursuing your passions, which can be helpful advice to any college student who feels obligated to choose a predetermined career path.  The message sounds cheesy, but the film delivers it in a beautiful way, so it’s worth the watch this time of year.  If anything, “Carpe Diem,” or “Seize the Day,” is a motivational reminder to explore opportunities you may not otherwise realize are out there.

Dead Poets Society Trailer

2. Good Will Hunting (1997)

image via allmovie.com

This coming-of-age drama features Matt Damon as Will Hunting, a troubled, blue-collar boy genius who works as a janitor at MIT. When a math professor discovers that Will secretly answered a highly complicated algorithm intended for his class to solve by the end of the semester, he gives Will the option to study mathematics under his supervision and attend psychotherapy rather than go to jail for a recent scuffle he got into with the police.  This catapults a resistant Will onto a track of self-realization and provides him the means to overcome his emotional and personal problems with the help of his counselor, Sean Maguire (Robin Williams).

Aside from being a quality film with a well-written narrative, Good Will Hunting serves as an example of a young man trying to find his place and purpose.  Though the stakes aren’t as dramatically high for the majority of us as they are for Will, it’s a relatable portrayal of the tricky journey through young adulthood and finding a balance between your strengths and desires. In the words of Maguire, “You can do anything you want. You are bound by nothing. What do you want? What are you passionate about?”

Good Will Hunting Trailer

3. The Social Network (2010)

image via fanpop.com

The Social Network is a drama focused more on the network of legal trouble in which Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) finds himself than the actual website. Throughout the film, which begins during Zuckerberg’s sophomore year at Harvard and ends in the midst of all the legal action, Zuckerberg is feuding with the Winklevoss twins, who claim the original idea of Facebook, and Eduardo, Zuckerberg’s former best friend, who claims he was duped into losing his majority stake in the company.

The power struggle between all these characters draws on the conflict that can arise between friendship, jealousy, and power.  In the film, fictional Zuckerberg chooses power over everyone close to him, and in the final scene, though he has total control of Facebook, he is left friendless and unhappy.  For a college student, this speaks to the importance of balancing friends and family with academic and career goals.  Again, for most of us, the conflict between the two isn’t as dramatic as it is for the founder of a $33-billion-net-worth social media site, but The Social Network uses a talented cast and intriguing storytelling technique to highlight the importance of keeping that balance in check, even at the college level.

The Social Network Trailer

4. Mean Girls (2004)

image via cnn.com

I’m sure most of you have seen this quick-witted comedy multiple times, and quoted it in conversation even more.  For those who haven’t, I’ll run through the premise: Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) has just moved from Africa to the U.S. and is attending a public high school for the first time.  The film follows her adolescent experiences and how they change her from a judicious but clueless student to a shallow and deceptive “plastic,” the nickname for the girls at the top of the popularity ladder.  Through her friends and family, Cady eventually realigns her good-natured values.

Mean Girls encapsulates a struggle that’s present in college, too – balancing the need to belong with staying true to oneself while maneuvering the social hierarchy, whether it’s in high school, college, or beyond.  The film delivers a solid message in a smart, funny way, so if you don’t want to watch this one for the thematic value, it’s always a good choice if you’re in the mood to laugh.

Mean Girls Trailer

From comedies to coming-of-age stories to dramas, there’s a relatable film for every student to enjoy.  Especially during the transition away from lazy summer days back to the stressful school grind, these flicks can serve as a source of inspiration to maximize the college experience.

By Brigid McCuen

Uloop Writer

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