TikTok-famous University of Iowa students: How they did it

Balancing socials and school work can be difficult, especially when virality on TikTok sets expectations for posting content. TikTok-famous students from the University of Iowa share their experiences with posting on the app while carrying heavy course loads.


Alex VerSteegh

Photo illustration by Alex VerSteegh

Stella Shipman, Arts Reporter

When University of Iowa sophomore English and creative writing major Elana Walters posted a fantasy “POV” on her TikTok account in 2020, she only hoped to express her passion for storytelling. Little did she know, the video would gain over a million views, foreshadowing her current TikTok fame and launching her into popularity.

Since its launch in 2016, TikTok has been a platform for a variety of content. Content creators on the app have used it to spread awareness, entertain, and sympathize with others.

For more popular content creators, maintaining a presence on TikTok can be difficult, especially if that creator is also balancing content creation with schoolwork. This is often the case for college students like those at the UI who are popular on the platform.

Walters began posting in late 2019 when TikTok first started trending online among high school students.

“At my library, me and my friends just, like, sat around me while we’d watch them on one of my friends’ phones,” Walters recalled. “And I was kind of like, ‘You know what? I’m just gonna download this app because it seems really funny. So, I might as well just hop on the trend.’”

After posting a video that went viral, Walters was surprised to see that her account saw a spike in viewership. Since then, Walters accumulated more than 100,000 followers on the app.

Her account’s content consisted of funny and entertaining videos that she filmed for her own amusement and then shared with others. Her favorite type of videos to make were POVs — point of view TikToks — videos where creators take the position of someone in a specific situation.

POVs are easily relatable, but users can also be creative by acting out fantastical situations. When it comes to this kind of content, the only limit is one’s own imagination.

“I think the reason I gravitated toward POVs is because I just genuinely like storytelling — so, being able to have a new take on a trend and then watch it go viral,” Walters said.

RELATED: Student Spotlight: UI senior finds fame on TikTok

Walters found that posting regularly grew especially difficult in college because of her coursework and her class schedules. What had once been her creative outlet started to feel burdensome, which caused her stress and anxiety.

“It would really hurt my self-esteem and make me feel like, ‘Wow, I spent forever on this video, and it didn’t get any views,” Walter said.

Other college students active on the platform, like junior elementary education major Taryn Van Hemert, discovered that the UI’s environment has encouraged them to post more content. Van Hemert’s account has 15,000 followers and is mainly dedicated to videos about her fitness practices.

Since downloading the app in high school and graduating in 2017, Van Hemert said she has occasionally taken breaks from college to focus on working full-time, which made posting more difficult. Attending the UI offered Van Hemert a daily routine that she could work her posting schedule around as well as free access to recreational facilities on campus.

“There wasn’t really any time to make videos or anything. So, yeah, definitely going back to school has given me more time to post more and just make more content,” Van Hemert said.

Like Walters, Van Hemert started to see a rise in followers after one of her videos went viral. Van Hemert said there wasn’t anything special about the video at the time she posted it and had not expected it to reach so many people.

The type of content that has made UI creators popular ranges from POVs to fitness routines to scooping out eyeballs — as sophomore biochemistry major Paige Wiebke can attest to.

Wiebke’s content focuses on her course studies and her area of medical interest. She uses the platform to raise awareness for organ donor recovery, particularly the recovery of eyes, and to connect with doctors and educators.

“I guess, recently, it’s been more about my job and kind of spreading awareness on donation,” Wiebke said. “But prior to that, I think it was more just school and, I don’t know, I guess just showing that you can have a balance between a social life and also going to school and getting good grades and things like that.”

Though Wiebke said posting content has grown more difficult in college because of her coursework load, college life has also afforded her more freedom.

“In college, I feel like I can post more of what I want now that I’m not in high school and I don’t really have a lot of people judging me, but I definitely don’t have the time that I used to,” Wiebke said.

Balancing a posting schedule for a popular TikTok account with school and work affects content creators differently. Every creator must do what is best for them, whether that’s stepping away from posting or posting more regularly. UI students have proven that it is possible, and their content is appreciated by audiences.

“I like the positive comments I get,” Wiebke said. “If I feel like I’m having a hard time balancing everything, there will be comments that’ll be uplifting, or people in my life will talk to me, like doctors will come on or people that do autopsies, which is like my dream job. They’ll come on and they’ll tell me to stick with it, or they’ll talk to me about what they do. And so that’s kind of inspiring.”