I would try to explain it to them, and sometimes fail. My cousin at Dartmouth and I would compare notes as well as breathe a sigh of relief to come home in the summer with normal people, to hang with our great, normal circles of friends and to fool around with normal girls. We had a hard time translating our experience to our family. If I was watching a movie and something caught my eye, I would point it out to my family as reality. Even now, I find film is the best way to do so but with a proper blending.
My "college experience" is gone. Whatever the college experience was has changed. What the Internet was doing to college life was already changing the college experience while I attended college. Social media has changed college even more, but change is constant, so this is no surprise. If I could capture the elite university experience discussed in "The Morning After" and my own memories in film, I would set up this formula. (Note: this isn't today. It is '80s/'90s elite unis.)
1/4 Animal House + 1/4 PCU + 1/4 With Honors + 1/4 Real Genius
Animal House might have been set in the early '60s, but it captures many of the timeless things about private schools with elite pretensions. Just the guys going to an all girls school to get laid is an echo of Harvard guys trying to score BC-BU girls. The anti-fraternity movement is an old one and reflects Dean Wormer's shenanigans. It has obvious economic advantages for the school, as suddenly they can buy at a bargain price nice off campus housing near or on campus. Ask Williams University in Williamstown, MA why they got rid of frats. They won't admit it, but they have a lot of nice upperclassmen housing they
PCU was a great 90 minute joke with some weak spots about politically correct and slacker culture on campus that was entrenched already by the late '80s. Jeremy Piven's shitlord crew was a good stand-in for the folks at elite schools who still liked to have fun and rage it. Smart proles. PCU did catch onto the joke of "college is a scam" decades before everyone else exemplified well by the character writing a thesis on Michael Caine and Jack Nicholson being in a film on television at all times. I had a friend who wrote eighteen pages on the symbolism in the song American Pie; I wish I kept it. PCU was already onto the game that if you mouth the right things, the administration and professors will take care of you. I had friends who pretended to be gay so suspected lesbian Rachel Weil would give them As. This was a T-shirt and jeans crowd or beer 'n' weed crowd. These were friends you could count on to laugh at the protestors and go party on a Friday. They were not frat people since frats were too structured. House parties, bars, where you bought your weed, concerts, humanities and social sciences classes, studying in the sun in open space and random judo/free pizza in the lounge nights were where you met PCU girls.
With Honors covers the strivers and the well off kids at the elite schools who attend to network and learn to "run the world". This crowd and the frat types had significant overlap and shared traits but were eager to slap at the other crowd. The classroom scenes or mentions in this film are complete hogwash. The movie might as well be the proto-SWPL college drama. This flick does reflect the crew of kids who think, "I gotta obsess over one midterm because it will affect a grade that will affect my chances for the right law school that will affect who I clerk or intern for that will affect if I can be elected/made partner by age 30, goddamit leave me alone while I study for the 10th straight hour!" I felt bad for these kids, but they brought it onto themselves. These students also dressed really well. The preppy Ivy crowd and later Abercrombie and Fitch demographic is represented here. After hours select house parties, bars, more exclusive unadvertised frat gatherings, in a bathroom doing lines, student organization meetings, History/English Lit/Psychology classes, and secret society get-togethers off campus were where you met With Honors girls.
Real Genius is an '80s, cult classic comedy showcasing the great comedic talents of Val Kilmer in a movie full of pranks. It is based on Cal Tech. This film is 100 minutes of good fun that does capture nerd school tics and traits. Would've made a great TV series, that, if successful, could've last beyond four years as the leads went to grad school there. If you were a STEM major or had many STEM major friends, it spoke to you. The archetypes are all there: the prodigy, the never-studies-for-his-classes genius, the weird happenings in steam tunnels, the cute autistic girl unaware she is cute, the suck up grad student, and the scheming professor. The great thing about this crew is that it applied to anyone at a nerd school who really loved their major, not just the STEM kids. Tremendous conversations could be had with anthropology majors if you just got them out of their rooms. You didn't meet Real Genius girls; you randomly bumped into them when they left their room.
That's the formula for how those elite unis were then. Funny bit is how PCU and With Honors are both 1994 flicks, reflecting the climate Roiphe wrote about in her book. Higher Learning does not make the cut because John Singleton is retarded, it's an awful movie and blacks barely exist at elite schools. If no fraternities at the college, no worries. Young men will find the roles they want to fit onto their crew through the Animal House cast. In the absence of structure, groups of men create structure, even MTV Real World-Road Rules Challenge teams do this. I am out of touch with today's elite campuses, so I will have to do "research". Find out what the mix is now.
If you are wondering where I fit into this:
1. My social circle was heavy PCU, some With Honors and a dash of Animal House. We would drink, smoke up or party, and then on walks back to our apartment, shake the cages of progs who slept in them to protest animal testing. We made fun of every political group or event. We broke our way onto the roof of our Low Rise dorm and launched yogurt and oatmeal filled condoms from a slingshot at obsessive nerds returning from the libraries at night (of course we knew the math/physics to hit people on the walkways). We caused plenty of property damage. Might explain why I had friends kicked out of school. I still knew too many status striving types, and tolerated their whining for far too long. I never complained about coursework and studying; it was why I was there.
2. My relationships were with the With Honors girls (often Downstate NY, status obsessed & wealthier) and a few Animal House sorority types (often buxom). They all wore tight black pants and pastel tops. It was like a uniform. A few times I hooked up with PCU pot smokers, and I still recall those short lived flings fondly. Should've replaced some of my With Honors flings with PCU girls.
3. I gave up on most of my Real Genius friends by junior year. One was fun, kept in touch and was/is straight out of the film. He now works for a defense contractor. For the first two years of college, I reenacted the scene where Val Kilmer cajoles the nerds into partying on a weekly basis. I had to talk nerds into drinking and socializing. Lost causes. It got old.
I learned. I laughed. I loved. I got the fuck out of there.