There are so many teen TV shows that totally nail high school. And in the years that take place in those hallways, they’re absolutely perfect, hitting all the dramatic highs and lows of a fictionalized high school. But then they graduate and everything falls apart. The transition to college from high school can be a bumpy one in real life. But on TV, it can be a disaster. Many a great TV show has seen its demise because it couldn’t quite handle the jump from high school life to college living.
There’s a reason teen TV shows are so great: they’re about teens! But when you make them “young adults” and ship them off to college, away from any kind of structure the TV show has previously provided, you’re asking for trouble. Some shows make it so unrealistic, too. I mean, c’mon, in what world do you and all of your friends go to the same college?! Or forgo your dream Ivy League school for your high school crush?We’re just saying, some of these TV shows should have just stopped pre-college.
16. Degrassi: The Next Generation
There was so much wrong with this leap to college. For starters, Degrassi is quite literally named after Degrassi High — it’s supposed to be set in the high school! But the other issue was that it was still set in the high school… and in college simultaneously. Switching between the new class and the old one and from the high school to random college dorms made the show feel totally uneven. Viewers were seeing two completely different lives and they didn’t always match up tonally enough to warrant showing them in the same episode. Luckily, the show eventually dumped the older college kids and reframed the focus on high school.
15. Gilmore Girls
Real talk, Rory’s (Alexis Bledel) years in high school fighting the class system and outshining her classmates were the best years of the TV series. The show was grounded in the idea of Rory having to overcome so much – while Lorelai (Lauren Graham) had to sacrifice so much – for her to go to her cushy private school. But when it went to college, all of those conversations surrounding nature vs. nurture seemed to wain. And Rory got a little off-the-rails herself, making poor decisions and even dropping out of Yale! The high school years were important years of growth and significant discussions about the different worlds Rory inhabited. After that, it all felt inconsequential!
14. Saved by the Bell: The College Years
Technically this was a different show than Saved by the Bell but considering it’s the same characters, it totally counts. This show should never have existed. The entire point of Saved by the Bell was the ins-and-outs of high school life. When they went to college, suddenly the show felt less fun and quirky and like it was trying too hard to be serious. Kelly (Tiffany Amber Theissen) even dated a teacher for a bit, which felt ridiculous! It lost the silly, over-the-top magic of the show when these characters were allowed to grow up!
If your entire show is centered on the high school Glee Club, going to college might mess that up a bit. When half the McKinley High Glee Club members graduated, we were suddenly thrust into a whole new world. This is another classic case of a show wanting to have it both ways. There was a foot in McKinley High, centering on the Glee Club students still there, and a foot into the college world where the show’s OG cast had scattered. It was uneven and a reason why the last few seasons were poorly received.
12. Sabrina the Teenage Witch
It’s “Sabrina the teenage witch” — not “Sabrina the college-aged witch,” which is a big reason why the college years just didn’t work. When Sabrina (Melissa Joan Hart) moved from home to her college digs, she left her sassy cat, wise aunts, and crew of high school friends and enemies that made her who she was. Plus, the lightness of her witchy powers felt a little too heavy in the real world!
11. Sister, Sister
There was one big thing the show lost when it sent Tia (Tia Mowry) and Tamara (Tamara Mowry) to college: Roger (Marques Houston). Their annoying-but-sweet next-door neighbor was one of the high points of the series and his exclusion after they graduated was the worst. But the biggest difference between the high school years and the college ones was that it felt like two different shows. Of course, the girls had to grow up, but we sorta love watching the Mowry twins play high schoolers. They are teen queens of the Disney Channel, too. So, can you blame us?
10. That ’70s Show
When That ’70s Show transitioned from high school to college, a lot was lost along the way. For one, the main character Eric Foreman (Topher Grace) suddenly went MIA to go teach in Africa. It changed the entire dynamic of the group as they navigated life outside of high school and some attended the local Wisconsin college. They went from immature high schoolers to adults overnight, maturing the characters a bit and changing the tone of the show a lot. It was jarring, and not in a good way. Plus, Donna (Laura Prepon) dyed her hair blonde and it’s probably the worst thing the show ever did!
9. Beverly Hills, 90210
When Beverly Hills, 90210 began, it was centered on two midwestern teens who find themselves in one of the wealthiest school districts in the world. Watching them navigate high school (in the soapiest, most dramatic way possible obvi) was the fun of the show. When the show moved on to college (and let Donna Martin graduate), the entire dynamic of the show changed. Many of the classic characters left (it was never as dramatic without Shannon Doherty‘s Brenda) and some of the new additions were less than interesting. The show was never as memorable as when it was in high school.
The reboot of the original Beverly Hills, 90210 fell into the same trap as its predecessor. When firmly rooted in high school as a teen drama, the show was actually pretty great! Reboots can be a bit tricky but this one nailed the dramatic, soapy tone of the original. However, as soon as the kids graduated and went off to college or other endeavors, it started to lose its spark. The fun of the high school years was upended by separating everyone and trying to make their lives seem so serious. Here’s a great tip teen shows: keep it light because once you make everyone’s lives so ~important~, the fun is gone!
7. Veronica Mars
One of the biggest draws of neo-noir show Veronica Mars was the class politics of Neptune, California. Veronica (Kristen Bell) was decidedly not rich and posh, but many of her classmates were. And this divide was rife through the town that didn’t have a middle class. The high school backdrop also gave Veronica a ton of crimes and mysteries to solve concerning her classmates. But once she and the gang went to college (in Neptune, mind you, despite her and her friends all desiring to leave the town), the things that made the first two seasons so great were gone. The class struggles were thrown to the side and the mysteries were lesser. The show was always dark… but now it was dark and a little boring!
6. Boy Meets World
The boy, Cory (Ben Savage) meeting the world, i.e. middle and high school, made for an amazing TV show. Adults and kids alike love Boy Meets World (I know I still do!). But when the gang went to college, things changed a bit. For one, they all went to the same college. Are you telling me dim-witted Eric (Will Friedle) and Valedictorian Topanga (Danielle Fishel) went to the same local college? Would never happen. So it kind of felt like Topanga, this strong and intelligent woman, was settling for a college and a town just to stay with Cory. Which, looking back, is totally lame!
5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
It’s hard for a show to leave high school, even if the main character is a fearless slayer. Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) kind of had a good reason to stay in Sunnydale, though: there was a Hellmouth underneath the high school library. It provided for plenty of demons to slay and villains to vanquish. Plus, the growing pains of teen years and slayer-dom were amazing parallels. But as soon as the show went to college, much of the magic was lost. Angel (David Borneaz) left the show and Buffy got a vanilla new boyfriend. The actual college stuff was supremely uninteresting. And the “big bads” following the high school years were laughable. We wish they would’ve stayed on the Hellmouth, tbh!
4. The Vampire Diaries
Maybe TV shows about vampires should just stay away from college in general? The Vampire Diaries began the story rooted in high school living. Mystic Falls was ripe with mystical activity, vampires, and werewolves. It was the hub for everything. But when the gang left for college they left Mystic Falls, they left the most interesting part of the show behind. Life at Whitmore College was full of way-too-big dorm rooms, new characters that we honestly can’t remember the names of, and boring plotlines. Plus all the long distance OTP’s were breaking our hearts!
3. Dawson’s Creek
Capeside life for the gang on Dawson’s Creek was pretty nice. The group of friends and lovers lived in an idyllic New England town and grew up together through their high school years. But once college came around, everyone was separated and began growing apart. It just didn’t feel like the same show anymore. Joey (Katie Holmes) and Pacey (Joshua Jackson) weren’t together, Dawson was across the country (before decided to drop out of college like a dummy), and many of the new characters were uninteresting. It didn’t have the same charm as before and the final seasons were incredibly uneven because of it.
2. The O.C.
The O.C. nailed high school teen drama better than almost any other show on TV. The beautiful California setting and group of rebellious and good-looking teens made for perfect high school fare. But then the gang graduated and went to college. The gang was separated, leading to dreaded long-distance relationships and the new relationships that formed were questionable at best. We’ll never forgive the show for Taylor (Autumn Reeser) and Ryan (Ben McKenzie)! It had one thing going for it though: a young, hippie Chris Pratt befriending Summer (Rachel Bilson) in college!
1. Gossip Girl
The biggest throughline in Gossip Girl is, of course, Gossip Girl herself (er, himself, but we digress). Throughout high school, she gets the dirt on everyone and puts it on blast for the world to see. It’s vicious, but in high school, it’s just dramatic and ridiculous enough to make sense. High schoolers are petty and ridiculous 99% of the time! But the fact that the gang went on to college and Gossip Girl still followed them made the college years absurd. What adult would spend so much time ruining lives? It felt pretty gross at that point, which was right around the time the drama started getting to be way too much. There are some things that even soapy The CW shows need to pump the brakes on! These Upper East Siders should’ve stayed on the Met steps with headbands a little bit longer!