"These are the best years of your life. You get four years, enjoy them. 'Cause after that, you're fucked."
— Uncle Ben.
Bartleby Gaines (Justin Long) has a problem. His parents want him to go to college, and he has applied to every college he knows of — but all of them have given him a polite "thanks, but no" letter in response. Bartleby is smart and innovative, two talents he has turned to such ventures as making fake IDs and pulling pranks, but which do not, sadly, extend to his grades. His friends Rory, Glen, and Hands are in the same boat with him, but all for their own reasons. Hands, though accepted to numerous colleges, lost his football scholarship when he broke his leg and can no longer afford to attend the schools where he applied. Glen was not accepted anywhere due to his score of "0" on the SAT's. Rory was the most academically competent of the group, and could have gotten into numerous prestigious universities, except she had onlyapplied to Yale, which did not accept her. What can they do?Well, if every college has rejected them, they make up their own, of course. With the help of Sherman, who has been accepted into the prestigious Harmon College, they make a fully-functional website for their fake school, and turn an abandoned mental hospital into a college building. They put forth Sherman's irascible uncle (Lewis Black) as the dean. Their parents are happy. Our heroes are happy.Now they have a new problem: The "fake" website automatically sends an acceptance letter to any and all applicants — and now they have hundreds of fellow rejects to deal with. But Bartleby has a plan. Bartleby always has a plan. Now he has to figure out what that plan is...
Alone in a Crowd: Bartleby's reaction to Harmon College during his visit to find out how colleges work.
Artistic License University Admissions: The whole student body of the fake school was rejected for one reason or another from legitimate universities but one of the characters mentions throughout the film just how illegal and crazy their actions are. In the end, it saves them, since he applied for accreditation just in case something happened.
Abernathy: Hi there! What's your name? My name's Abernathy Darwin Dunlap but you can call me A.D.D. on the account of the fact that I have A.D.D., which is attention deficit disorder. You know — everyone used to think it was just an addiction to sugar when I was 6 and my mom used to cry because she thought I would never be like a fully functioning member of society like my neighbor who has Legionnaires' disease. [snickers]
Becoming the Mask: Uncle Ben and his role as the fake Dean. It takes him a bit, though:
"Look, we throw a lot of fancy words in front of these kids in order to attract them to going to school in the belief that they're gonna have a better life, and we know that all were doing is breeding a whole new generation of buyers and sellers, BUYERS AND SELLERS! Pimps and whores, PIMPS AND WHORES! And indoctrinating them into a life long hell of debt and indecision!"
The entire college is this. By the end, it's on a probationary accreditation, and from what we see it looks like it's going to meet just the right balance of being a "real" college and bringing its new approach to the table.
Big Store: This method is used by the protagonists to create a fictional stand-in college to fool their parents. Unfortunately, it works a little too well...
Blond Guys Are Evil: When Monica discovers her (blond) boyfriend is a jerk, she dumps him in favor of (brunette) Bartleby.
Brick Joke: A student wishing to major in "Mental Detonation" is last seen concentrating very hard on various objects, without obvious result. His efforts come to fruition at the very end of the movie (See Psychic Powers, below)
Indy Ploy: The premise for the entire film. Bartleby fakes an acceptance letter and a website. Uh oh, now dad wants to see the building! Oh, Crap, now he wants to meet the dean! Oh, Crap, you made the website functional?!
Rory: What's he doing?
Hands: He's winging it.
In fact, for the hearing at the end, their defense is entirely based on Bartleby's ability to extemporize. And he didn't know that going in.
Ivy League For Everyone: Averted. Rory emphatically did not get into Yale to which she apparently had been trying to get into since the first grade. She expected to be a shoe in and hadn't applied anywhere else.
Kavorka Man: Glen, who's often seen with multiple women at once.
Most Writers Are Writers: I.E., most film makers are artists. Played very straight. Whenever someone is shown being interested in a real subject (real as in not "exploding things with your mind" or the like), the subject will always be a fine or culinary art (photography, sculpting, cooking, music, etc.) It is even implied that someone (the leader of the accreditation board) who chose a non art-related career path only did so because his university took away his creativity (which turns out to be right, he wanted to play trombone.)
The only mention of anything else is Sherman's quick line of "I'm teaching Skepticism 401." at the end, which at least implies some cursory interest in science, philosophy and rationality.
This makes sense, though, as most of those students that had an interest in more rational, scientific schools of thought would probably have been accepted to the established universities to begin with. So it's reasonable that the first year (perhaps not subsequent years) at SHIT would consist mostly of those with no interest in those other subjects.
Never Recycle a Building: The hospital has been sitting around for who knows how long before the kids decide to appropriate it.
Bartleby: Remember that time we had to steal my mom's birth control?
Sherman: And then Lizzy was born?
Bartleby : Schrader, come on. Don't be scared.
Sherman: Scared? I'm not scared. You're scared.
Hands: Schrader, you were scared to try the new flavor of Dr. Pepper.
Sherman: I told you that in confidence Hands!
Bartleby: Schrader, you were afraid when you're tooth fell out because you were terrified of the Tooth Fairy.
Sherman: That's actually a legitimate fear. She was rifling through my shit.
Offstage Villainy: Harmon College. The worst thing they do on-stage is haze Sherman, but we are supposed to see them as evil, close-minded, bigoted, racist, spoiled rich kids with a superiority complex.
Trying to ruin a party out of jealousy is kind of a dickish thing to do too.
Don't forget that one guy cheating on Monica, and even though they don't do that much that's really "evil" they still come across as assholes just from how they talk in general.
That was the same guy who instigated everything else. Harmon College is shown to have at least one bad student along with a few frat brothers who follow along, whereas S.H.I.T. isn't shown to have any students being anything other than lovable losers, without a hint of malice, so Harmon does look bad by comparison.
...and they wanted to destroy a school under false pretenses so they can build an entryway.
Not to mention they beat up Sherman to get information out of him. Then used said information to call all of their parents to the college just as they reveal to everyone that the school is a fake to add humiliation.
Only Sane Man: Sherman constantly tries to tell Bartleby and the others how stupid and illegal their actions are.
In the end, his worry-warting saves them, as he applied for accreditation in case something happened.
Girl: Can you sign a copy of your book for me. I got it on Ebay.
Ben: They sell my shit on Ebay?
Hands: You wrote a book?
Ben: Yeah, that was back when I was drinking. (he takes a shot)
Psychic Powers: One of the students at South Harmon wants to major in Mental Detonation. To everyone's surprise, he apparently makes a car explode during a credits gag (Incidentally, said car also belonged to the dean of the rival school who tried to have Bartleby's school invalidated).
Telepathic Sprinklers: Apparently pulling a fire alarm in the school turns on the sprinklers instead of sounding off a loud alarm and automatically alerting the fire department.
Truth in Television: The Dean of Harmon College says that the key to the success of a college is to get as many applicants as possible and then reject as many as possible to portray exclusivity. This might sound like evil ranting, but, unfortunately, this is actually how colleges try to make money, and it crosses into real life Paranoia Fuel .