How Do I Write: “Realistic College AUs”
Too many-a-time have we admins read College AUs with high hopes and have been let down by the strange and inaccurate existence of lockers, eight classes per day schedules, and other such items that just make us cringe. It’s not anyone’s fault; the movie industry ruined the college scene for many of us. SO, we’re here to set some stuff straight so that you can sit down and write a “Realistic and Accurate College AU™!”
Disclaimer: This is explicitly for the American College Experience - if you’re international and in college, please feel free to add your own bullet points!
The majority of colleges run on an A/B schedule, where you’ll have certain classes on Monday/Wednesday/Friday, then your other classes on Tuesday/Thursday. Very rarely will somebody ever have a class on the weekend. For example, on Monday/Wednesday/Friday you might have three classes, then on Tuesday/Thursday you might only have two. (Note: Sometimes students try to put all their classes on one day and it’s a living hell. Would not advise. [a.k.a. Admin M is a dumbass.])
Each class is about two hours long if it meets twice a week or one hour long if it meets three times a week (unless it’s an 8-week class during the summer or winter, then it might be a little less than 3 hours). A full semester class normally runs for 16 weeks and usually counts for 3 or 4 credits (classes with labs might be more, PE or exercise type classes count for less). If a student has a job, it’s advised that they do not take more than 14 hours (or about 4 classes [a.k.a. Admin M is still a dumbass with a job and 7 classes]); for students without a job, the typical limit for classes is 16 hours a semester.
IN ADDITION, the classes themselves almost never occur just after one another and usually have a time gap of at least 15 minutes in between each - there may even be a five hour gap!
Really Cool Classes
One major thing that fanfiction gets wrong is college Freshman and Sophomores getting to take amazing classes. Unfortunately, for the first two years of school, you’re usually stuck taking General Education Requirement classes. Sometimes you get cool classes like Civil War History (History class credit) or Physical Anthropology (Cultural credit), but for the most part it’s classes like English Composition, Government, Foreign Language, and Sciences.
Even still, there are cool classes that you can get to count for your GE classes. Introduction to Psychology is always an adventure, along with Physical Geology (fun with rocks), Native Plants (fun with herbs), and Art History (fun with paintings). There’s also the Physical Education class credit that needs to be fulfilled, so there’s Jiu Jitsu, rock climbing, yoga, and swimming classes that apply for that.
Into your Junior and Senior year, you’ll begin to take classes that are
more relevant to your major. If you’re a part of the school’s Honor’s
program, then you might get classes like “Science Fiction Literature” or
“Gender Studies in 18th Century Europe”.
No teacher is going to make you write a college essay about why religion is dead (@“God’s Not Dead” film), but they can be bizarre. Teachers will tell you about their mental illness(es), how their kids are doing, and past students. The best storytellers are Psychology professors, Biology professors (especially the ex-ER workers), and Anthropology professors (so many stories about doing drugs in foreign countries).
Your professors aren’t there to kill you!…but some are. There’s a chance
that you’ll come across a teacher who just always seems like they’re
having a bad day, but many have chosen to work at a university because
they legitimately love to teach. Don’t make every single one of your
characters’ professors like the Economics Teacher in Ferris Bueller’s
Foreign Language Classes
Why does this get a separate section? Because foreign language classes are OTP first interaction gold. The main languages are Spanish, French, and German; however, colleges also offer languages like Japanese, American Sign Language, Russian, Urdu, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, and even Hebrew. It depends on where you live, but it’s not uncommon for students to practice their foreign language by going out and having a “No-English Date” (meaning that no English is spoken at all), or just talking sh*t about people in public.
There aren’t lockers. Don’t think there are lockers. Who started the rumor that there are lockers. You have a backpack, your dorm room, and your pockets. There are no lockers. Also, for the record, lockers would be incredibly inconvenient since all your classes will most likely be in different buildings. No lockers. Cut that out.
Cars and Transportation
If you’re living on campus as a freshman or sophomore, you won’t be able to have a car!!! This is a common misconception, but many (if not all) colleges won’t let you park your car on property until you’re an upperclassman. It also costs money to keep your car on campus, which is why many students have bikes and skateboards to get around campus.
Many colleges have a bus system that goes around campus, around downtown, and even to larger bus stations where students can get a bus to take them close to their family’s homes. Sometimes if a college is large enough (and they value public transportation), there will be a train that stops near the school.
Ah yes, good old Dormitories…and when I say “old,” I mean that literally.
Depending on the college you’re writing about, there is a possibility that the dorms are the worst thing you have ever tried to sleep in - they can be too hot, too cold, smell weird, have cracked ceilings, and just have to the general feeling of being OLD. However, depending on how your college is set up (dormitory-wise), you could be on a co-ed floor (two girls per room, two guys per room, two girls per room, etc.), a same-sex floor (all girls / all boys), in a suite (up to 6 people), etc. Honestly, there’s an amazing number of options, but keep in mind that people normally don’t get higher end rooms until their junior or senior year, so don’t place your characters in an apartment on campus in their freshman year!
The dorms themselves can be a bit crazy at times, but they’re honestly pretty calm during the weekdays. Come Friday afternoon, though….everyone is off the walls. The weekend has officially come, and that makes everything ten times better. There’s gonna be yelling, scheming, unicycling down the halls, and other things happening right outside your door. If you think you’re going to get a nap at any time after 1:00 p.m….then you thought WRONG.
In addition, if you have any food at all, then expect that to be gone very quickly if people come in and out of your room often. Just. Totally gone.
PARTY!!!! (but not really, and here’s why…)
Not everyone goes to a party every night, but those who don’t party don’t just study. Did you study all the time when you weren’t working in high school? Nah, didn’t think so. It’s the same thing at college
For example: there may be a Miyazaki Movie Night Marathon happening in the triple down the hall, a Super Smash Bros. Brawl Tournament in the lounge, an excursion to the gym for a group workout session (which honestly just melts into a trip to get smoothies and sit on a patch of grass), a swing dance social event at the local church, a dorm competition to create the most festive themed door, and there’s never a lack of Student Life events giving our free stuff (mostly free food and shirts, but occasionally candy and gift cards) trying to encourage students to be social.
There’s also the shenanigans where somebody accidentally kicks a hole in the vending machine because it gave them a Diet Coke when they wanted Snapple, going out to the closest 24-hour Walmart at midnight, and the attempted group all-nighters that result in everybody nodding off simultaneously.
College is a great time and one of the best settings to practice your OTP’s interactions when you’re first getting to know them as characters, but you need to understand the setting you’re placing them in before you get started. So, do your research, understand college as a whole, and have fun but don’t get too caught up in the technicalities of University™. This is all about your characters; focus on them, let them lead the story, and your piece will be a complete and total success.