What Is The 'College Reunion Effect' — And Why This Phenomenom Has Probably Happened To You

Twenty years later and things are exactly the same? Probably the college reunion effect.

classmates after college lydiabilby, photobyphotoboy, SDI Productions, cottonbro studio, Glowonconcept | Canva

Let me tell you about a strange occurrence that happened when people from my college started to reach out to me. As many people know, I did not have a great time in college. I was an outcast who was bullied relentlessly until I snapped.

After I became a little famous for being a writer, the leeches started to trickle in … and not too much later, they started to behave the same way they did in college.


Next thing you know, I found them "reminiscing" about me. With my former classmates, that means that they treated me like a walking object to flirt with.

It did not matter that I was married. It did not matter that we were 30. Nope. They had to pull the same hurtful stunts they did as insecure teens.


It didn’t take me too long to put up a hard rule that I no longer speak to former classmates regardless of their intentions. They could offer me $1 million and I’d probably still refuse to speak to them.

RELATED: People Who Were Loners In High School Share 5 Specific Personality Traits As Adults

What is The College Reunion Effect?

The College Reunion Effect is a phenomenon I noticed that involves running into people from college or similar social groups from way back in the day. The basic effect is simple: people tend to revert to the social dynamics they had in the groups from when they were younger.

For the record, you don’t have to be a college grad to have the College Reunion Effect happen. I’ve seen the social dynamics of a group revert back to where they were in high school and even middle school. I just call it "College" because that’s a time when people’s personalities seem to be more set in stone. 


This is a phenomenon that is strange to witness because it seemingly undoes a lot of personal growth that these people have done. Others may call it "feeling like nothing ever changed," but in reality, it’s just backsliding to a state of mind you had when you were younger.

There are several ways you might see the College Reunion Effect occur in real time:

  • A person who was considered a nerd in high school may find themselves still being made fun of if they end up in a group with people from their school.
  • A person who was a Queen Bee, on the other hand, may have girls from her old group "fall in line," even if it’s 15 years later.
  • The sorority girls at the local college reunion may all start to stick together years later when reunited

RELATED: 5 Harsh Reasons People Won't Change, According To Experts

There have been occasions where both my husband and I had our ability to connect with others as adults hampered by the reputations we had in college and high school. No matter what we did, people still saw us as the outcasts we were back in the day.


I’m not alone in this. Apparently, Taylor Swift was the subject of hatred when she was in high school. Oddly enough, she was the bigger person and invited her entire senior class to the Country Music Awards. There doesn’t seem to be much say about whether her former high school classmates came around.

Why does The College Reunion effect happen?

A social dynamic, once it’s been hard-set, rarely ever changes. If it does, it’s often because of the painstaking reflection on one party’s (or both parties’) end — and even then, it’s not a change that’s guaranteed to stick.

Think about it. People’s opinions are hard to change, especially if they are negative. Whether we want to admit it or not, there is a lot of truth to the "Never Accepted In His Hometown" trope found on TV.

When you start seeing a person a certain way over the years, you tend to keep that opinion set in stone, even if that person changes significantly. For example, if a kid was always known as a bully in school, chances are that you will not want to go near them afterward because you still remember the awful things they did before.


I also suspect that there is a slight amount of trauma or just "patterning" that goes on with this phenomenon. The bullied kid or the outcast may still be giving off "please like me" vibes because they desperately want that closure of finally being accepted by the Mean Kids.

Meanwhile, the popular kids might stick to their pattern of excluding others or making fun of outcasts because "that’s just the way it always was." They may not even realize that it’s not okay or that their actions hurt others. They’re just that used to the status quo.

RELATED: Why It Doesn't Matter That I Didn't Have Friends In High School

A large part of me believes that most people don’t really change after college.


I’ve noticed that high school doesn’t always clue you into how a person will be in 20 years, but college often does. College tends to be the group of years where a person’s behavior starts to be truly set in stone for most people.

Notice that I said most.

You know, not for nothing, but I really worked hard on becoming a better person in the past 10 years. I also worked hard on trying to make something of myself in the writing world. I’m not who I used to be, even five years ago. I’ve since quit drugs. I’ve also made a point of getting more serious about my career as an independent writer.

My husband is the same. He changed, too. He got clean and he’s a lot more pragmatic than he used to be, and we both became more cleanliness-obsessed than in the past. This is a big deal.


For every success story I see like me or my spouse, there are at least eight stories where nothing ever changed. The bullies still bullied and thought they were better than everyone because their parents owned a dealership. The football star was still stuck in his glory days.

I’ve run into former classmates who still think they’re "going to make it" by marrying some wealthy man in finance. I’ve still run into classmates who think they’re too good to date my friends despite them having no accomplishments to their name. 

It’s oh-so-easy to get stuck in the same old patterns that you fostered when you were a young adult, but why would you want to do that?


Are you sure you want to go to your college reunion?

I’m kind of glad I dropped out of college because that means I don’t have to deal with invitations to alumni events. After seeing the College Reunion Effect happen one too many times, I decided to close the door to my former colleagues.

I’m not interested in trying to convince them that I’m a different person these days. The people who I attract now are of a different caliber. I roll with my crew, and that’s that.

As for my former classmates? They’ve already shown me who they were back in the day. I might as well believe them.

RELATED: Yes, A Person Can Change — But Only Under This One Condition


Ossiana Tepfenhart is a writer whose work has been featured in Yahoo, BRIDES, Your Daily Dish, Newtheory Magazine, and others.