Way Harsh

From ‘Mean Girls’ to ‘Clueless’: Pop Culture’s Best Back-to-School-Lessons

Lessons on surviving the school year from ‘Clueless,’ ‘Mean Girls,’ and more.

Summer’s over. School’s back in session. Kids are depressed.

But there’s no need to be so down. With high school and college classes in full swing, we look back on the movies and TV shows that taught us how to ace school in style.

Mean Girls

These days, it’s easy to forget that Mean Girls was an actual movie, not just a compilation of hilarious Internet memes. But Mean Girls is as wise as it is funny. Before Mean Girls, high-school-age girls probably spent hours preparing elaborate Halloween costumes. AMG (After Mean Girls), all they need to do is take off their clothes and pop on a pair of bunny ears. This new Halloween strategy frees up tons of time to ogle your cousin (looking at you, Seth Mosakowski) or scheme against your least favorite frenemy. Even more importantly, Mean Girls taught us to always check how many calories are in something BEFORE you put it in your mouth (after all, Starbucks pumpkin-spice lattes are probably the caloric equivalent of Kalteen bars).


Some people might think that Clueless is totally outdated. After all, the ‘90s film features archaic slang, Alicia Silverstone, and an unhealthy amount of plaid. Plus, it’s based on an actual book (so retro). But high schoolers everywhere could learn a lot from this classic tale of a popular girl and her expansive collection of knee-highs. Lesson No. 1 is that societal norms regarding interfamilial relationships are way harsh! If you’re really, really, pretty, you should totally be allowed to date your ex-stepbrother. More importantly, Cher Horowitz taught us the importance of reinvention. The whole movie is basically one long America’s Next Top Model makeover montage (minus the unnecessary weaves). Cher believes that anyone can be popular and beautiful: all it takes is a dye job, an expanded vocabulary, and a copy of Buns of Steel.

The O.C.

The O.C is basically a high school manual. The pop-culture phenomenon offers tips for everyone, whether you’re a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks, an overachieving comic-book aficionado, a beauty with brains, or an aspiring alcoholic. The character of Ryan Atwood proves once and for all that man bracelets are hot, as are wife beaters (and actually beating people). Summer Roberts taught teenage girls everywhere the valuable lesson that you can wear Juicy Couture sweat suits and still do really well on your SAT. Meanwhile, her BFF Marissa Cooper showed the world how to execute a proper high school meltdown (take too many drugs, date boys who are too short for you, steal from the mall, etc.). But nobody did high school better than Seth Cohen. With his slight frame and tasteful Jew-fro, Seth was the anti-heartthrob who launched a nationwide trend of “geek chic.” He dated the hottest girl in school and still managed to rack up an impressive résumé of extracurriculars. The ideal boyfriend, Seth was romantic, spiritual (he invented Chrismukkah!), and, most important, attainable. Boys, take notes.

Spring Breakers

Ah, college: four years of coffee dates, blissful naps on well-manicured lawns, and Red Bull–fueled all-nighters in the campus library. Alternatively, there’s Spring Breakers vision of college, which features guns, rampant drug use, matching bikinis, and James Franco with cornrows. For all the college kids looking to make Harmony Korine’s surrealist vision their reality, we have a few tips for attaining the Spring Breakers lifestyle. First of all, you should start muttering “spring break” under your breath as often as possible. Eventually, your friends should catch on. Next, steal some money. If Spring Breakers taught us anything, it’s that if you’re white, cute, and have absolutely no idea what you’re doing, you’ll never get caught. Finally, take an extended vacation. Because according to this movie, the most important part of going to college is avoiding actually going to college.

One Tree Hill

One Tree Hill actually has tons of lessons to teach us about high school, despite that the entire cast is about two decades too old for homeroom. First off, this seminal drama proved that if there are two hot guys in your grade who are both good at basketball, they’re definitely related. One Tree Hill also gifted its teenage audience with the revelation that parents actually do have their own lives, and they’re all doing it. With each other. All the time. Definitely gives new meaning to “fun for the whole family.”

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The Secret Life of the American Teenager

The Secret Life of the American Teenager has one monumental lesson to teach high schoolers and college kids. In fact, everyone should probably pay attention to this one: use birth control. Please. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Secret Life, it’s that getting pregnant in high school is about as common as catching a cold. If you have a one-night stand, you’ll probably get pregnant. If you have a significant other, you’ll definitely get pregnant. Even if you use a condom, you’ll most likely get pregnant anyway. In fact, any teenager who wants to make it to 20 without starring on Teen Mom should probably just opt for homeschooling.