What's the thematic relevance of college? I'm not talking about dollars and cents here, or about the fact that a college graduate supposedly makes more money in a lifetime than somebody who doesn't complete college, or someone who never bothers to go at all. I'm thinking about what it means to the students to take that step - to be "away" from home, to be "on their own" in some respects for the very first time. For many, I think it means a form of freedom (and not in the "freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose" sort of way). The freedom to start establishing their own identity; to forge new experiences; to plunge headlong into a brave new world (and yes, to occasionally go to class).
I also think that for some, it represents infinite possibility, which can be both daunting and exhilarating; the possibility of a new beginning, a fresh start. If we're honest, we realize that high school can frequently be a challenging time for many kids, and not just because of the looming prospects of drugs, alcohol, or teenage pregnancy. The sense of personal definition associated with high school can be a burden in itself; I remember watching Napoleon Dynamite recently and being struck by the broad strokes which defined the various characters, many of whom struck a chord with me simply because I could either identify with some of their circumstances or their general sense of alienation from the world around them.
Which brings us back to college as the mechanism for change: the opportunity for a butterfly to emerge from the cocoon in which it has lain dormant for too long. Whether realistic or not, there is a compelling image of college as the proverbial "fresh start" in which former "losers" and late bloomers have a chance to shine (lest we forget, those who long for their high school days are usually the rare few for whom high school was the pinnacle of their existence).
In Undeclared, a nerdy 18-year-old named Steven Karp is looking to find his new beginning at the University of North Eastern California. It seems that Steve grew a whopping seven inches over the summer, which makes him a bit on the gangly side but also further fuels his belief that college is going to be a whole new ballgame. Taller, and yes, perhaps a bit higher on the good-looking meter, Steve is really hoping to parlay college into something more. While he has yet to declare a major (hence the title), we sense that Steve has already declared his real purpose: to reinvent himself, to change his self-image, and to modify the perceptions others may have of him.