This trope can work in a variety of ways, including:
- A character pulls a wacky stunt to get into the university of their dreams.
- A character gets into a prestigious school with terrible grades and only one reference.
- A character with a decent enough application can't get into ANY school, even community colleges and state or online universities that admit everyone.
- A school has specific, bizarre or arbitrary admissions criteria.
- A character who hinges all of their college hopes on one competitive scholarship and/or one highly-selective school, without ever considering alternative options for financial aid or a "Plan B" college.
Generally, it is to either kickstart the plot of the work or to keep all the characters in the same setting after they graduate high school. Ivy League For Everyone
is a related trope.
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Anime and Manga
- In the manga Alice the 101st, a prestigious music school that only admits one hundred students a year bends its own rules to admit a "violinist" who cannot read music, has never had a violin lesson and doesn't even know how to hold his instrument properly. They do this at the insistence of one faculty member, who is then incapacitated before he can tell anyone why "Alice" is an exception.
- In Legally Blonde, Elle Woods submits a video application, rather than the requested essay, allowing the Harvard Law admissions committee to see how pretty she is. It works.
- Accepted plays with this, since 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 in case something happened.
Live Action TV
- In season five, April of Parks and Recreation has decided to go to vet school without any references from actual vets, any practical experience that we know of, or possibly even the mandatory prereq classes (biology, chemistry, math, and so on).
- One episode of Home Improvement has the eldest son put together an application video for college. Thankfully, a heavily-edited version made by his brother gets sent instead.
- On Gossip Girl Yale rejects Blair (straight-A student with excellent references and a number of extracurriculars) in favor of Serena (so-so grades, no references or extracurriculars mentioned) because they want more "it girls". Apparently being on page six is more important to Yale than being a good student.
- Glee...dear gods where to start?
- Kurt and Rachel focusing exclusively on the highly selective NYADA (the fictional New York Academy of Dramatic Arts) with no plan B for either of them.
- Finn basing his goals on a football scholarship to The Ohio State University. When that fails, his next goal is Pace University, home of Inside The Actors Studio, despite being way out of his league, which predictably fails too.
- In both of the above cases, all three of them apply absurdly late and receive their admission letters days before graduation.
- Carmen Thibideaux, the new dean of NYADA's music department, travelling across the country to hand-pick her inaugural class.
- Lauren applying for a wrestling scholarship at Harvard, despite the fact that Ivy League schools rarely provide athletic scholarships.
- MIT inviting Brittany to attend in the middle of the second semester due to her supposed untapped math genius. At least they admit to making a special exception to their admission practices for her. In reality, this was to write out the newly-pregnant Heather Morris, so some Artistic License is justified.
- Elle Woods does this in a different way in Legally Blonde: The Musical. She shows up at the Harvard Law admissions office while they're looking at her application to present a huge dance number and an equally huge guilt trip until they agree to accept her.
- In Video Game High School, the protagonist Brian D gets accepted to the school after he surprisingly defeats their star student "The Law" in an online match.