8 College-Set Shows, Ranked From Least To Most Realistic

Scream Queens, The Sex Lives of College Girls, grown-ish
Patti Perret/©Fox/courtesy Everett Collection; Jessica Brooks/HBO Max; Freeform/Tiffany Roohani

High school shows come by the dozen, but college-set series aren’t quite as popular. Throughout the years, however, there have been some stellar ones in the latter category. Though, just like with ones at high schools, the glamour and drama don’t always match with what’s seen in real life.

Some try to capture the actual experience better than others, but they do all tend to have one thing in common: a protagonist with a set of friends, all of whom are trying to find themselves. Most are set as much in reality as possible (like Community and The Sex Lives of College Girls), while others on this list are quite different (like Scream Queens).

So, whether you are about to enter college or want to relive those days, scroll down and be ready to be transported to that state of mind.

Abigail Breslin, Emma Roberts, Billie Lourd, Jeanna Han in Scream Queens
Patti Perret/©Fox/courtesy Everett Collection

Scream Queens (2015-2016)

Is it as absurd as it is camp? Yes, but this satire set in the fictional Wallace University is the perfect horror-comedy watch to prepare yourself for college as no experience will ever be as bad as the one portrayed on Scream Queens. Not only is the Kappa Kappa Tau sorority led by Chanel Oberlin (Emma Roberts) the most toxic environment to ever exist, filled with the most mean girl-like characters, there’s also a devious person in its midst. The worst thing about this chapter of Kappa Kappa Tau, however, is that the group is being targeted by a reemerged serial killer. In reality, you’d hope that there would be taken more action to prevent the murders at the university.

One piece of advice, if this ever happens close to you: Try to get as far away as possible. Your social status isn’t that important. Also, maybe don’t associate yourself with the worst people at school.

Available on Hulu

The Cast of How to Get Away With Murder
Craig Sjodin / ©ABC / courtesy Everett Collection

How to Get Away With Murder (2014-2020)

Although technically set in a college, How To Get Away With Murder is not really about the culture surrounding it. Rather, the law school they attend sets the stage for the events (and murders) that get wilder and wilder throughout the series: Nothing would have played out as it did if not for Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) picking this set of five first-year students. Are those murders (or many of the other events) realistic? No (or at least we hope not, to that extent!). You might, however, pick up some legal jargon and become interested in becoming a criminal defense attorney. Plus, what is a bit more realistic is the cutthroat environment of the classes and messy relationships.

Available on Netflix

ABC Family

Greek (2007-2011)

Greek is a staple in the genre but also features a lot of predictable storylines and common tropes: bitchy mean girls, douchey frat bros, and goofy nerds, as well as the way the different social groups interact with each other. While the series premiered in 2007, so things have changed, that doesn’t necessarily mean some version isn’t still part of college life now (albeit less extreme). Greek is definitely dated but is still an enjoyable watch.

Available on Hulu

Lisa Bonet, Dawnn Lewis, and Marisa Tomei in A Different World
Everett Collection

A Different World (1987-1993)

A spinoff from The Cosby Show, A Different World’s first season follows Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) at Hillman College, a fictional historically Black college in Virginia. (Jasmine Guy‘s Whitley Gilbert takes over as the lead character in Season 2.) It’s fun and whimsical, and at the same time, it also broaches some pretty important topics, like race- and class relations.

Available on HBO Max

Yara Shahidi as Zoey Johnson in grown-ish receiving her diploma
Freeform/Tiffany Roohani

grown-ish (2018-Present)

With the Freeform series, we follow Zoey Johnson (Yara Shahidi) from black-ish to her days at Cal U. Zoey, who grew up privileged, is the ever-optimistic yet slightly sarcastic person she has always been, but her naiveté is something that becomes a central point. Grown-ish is fun and often talks about issues real college kids experience, though not every bad decision or action can be turned into something positive as happens on the show. Still, although it seems to look at life through rose-colored glasses, it is still a pretty accurate representation. Be on the lookout for Junior’s (Marcus Scribner) new crew, who will soon take over the show.

Available on Hulu (Season 5 Premiere, July 20, Freeform)

The Cast of Community - Season 1 - Ken Jeong, Donald Glover, Joel McHale, Danny Pudi, Gillian Jacobs, Alison Brie, Yvette Nicole Brown, Chevy Chase
Mitchell Haaseth / ©NBC / Courtesy Everett Collection

Community (2009-2015)

The study group at the fictional Greendale Community College is eclectic, mismatched, and quite possibly the most entertaining group of people on TV. Not everyone’s college experience is the same. Not everyone is able to go to school at a young age, and therefore, Community is a perfect example of a broader demographic. So, yes, it is better than most other shows in that aspect. It doesn’t just portray the affluent young kids that first arrive at college but rather a more diverse group of people. The only thing that makes no sense at all is whether these people actually would have stuck by each other’s side over the years. (Probably not, although, it is fun that they did.) The plotlines are often ridiculously funny and maybe a little surreal, but the core of the show, is as close to reality as it gets.

Available on Netflix, Hulu & Prime Video

Reneé Rapp, Alyah Chanelle Scott, Pauline Chalamet, Amrit Kaur in The Sex Lives of College Girls
Jessica Brooks/HBO Max

The Sex Lives of College Girls (2021-Present)

The newest show on this list is from the wonderful minds of Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble. The Sex Lives of College Girls follows the lives of four 18-year-old freshmen who share a dorm at the fictional Essex College in Vermont, rumored to have been modeled after Ivy League schools, especially Harvard. The four girls come from different worlds and have very different personalities. Bela (Amrit Kaur) is the glue of the newly formed friend group. She is an aspiring comedy writer and sex-positive. Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott), Bela’s roommate, is a star soccer player but also the daughter of a senator. Leighton (Reneé Rapp) is an affluent legacy student from New York City with a secret. And Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet) is a naïve but nice work study student from a small town. Just as you’d expect from college students, they are figuring out who they are. That entails coming to terms with one’s sexuality, dealing with unfair biases, and just growing up.

Available on HBO Max (Season 2, TBA)

Channel 4

Fresh Meat (2011-2016)

The only British show on this list is also the most realistic one. Fresh Meat begins with the main characters meeting as they move into a house off-campus instead of Manchester Medlock University’s hall of residence because of their late application. The perfectly mismatched energies the six roommates bring to the table is as true to the college experience as can be. Melissa Shawcross (Charlotte Richie), who calls herself “Oregon” to hide her privileged upbringing, tries to distance herself from the other rich kid J.P. Pembersley (Jack Whitehall), who unlike her, is very open about his wealth. The others include Kingsley Owen (Joe Thomas), an insecure geology student who grew up in a council estate; Violet “Vod” Nordstrom (Zawe Ashton), who describes herself as a military brat; Josie Jones (Kimberly Nixon), an innocent-looking girl from Wales who seems to have an alcohol problem; and Howard McGregor (Greg McHugh), who is slightly older and antisocial. Although you might not meet these exact figures at your own campus, becoming friends with people you would’ve least expected is as real as it gets.

Available on Prime Video