Artistic License – University Admissions

In real life, university admissions are a long, tedious process, and involve a lot of waiting, a lot of hard work, and even more hoping and praying. In fiction, it involves a lot of high jinks and chicanery.

This trope can work in a variety of ways, including:
  • A character pulls a wacky stunt to get into the university of their dreams. In real life, this is a great way to get summarily rejected.
  • A high-ranking admissions officer or professor makes all admissions decisions personally, conducting one-on-one interviews with applicants. A great set-up for drama, but unless a school has a relatively small applicant pool, they simply wouldn't have time for such a set-up to be practical. Real-life universities might get tens of thousands of applications per year.
  • A character rushes into the admissions office to confront a high-ranking admissions officer with a "World of Cardboard" Speech, and the admissions officer is so impressed by the character's courage that they grant the character admission. This is another great way to get yourself rejected in real life, and probably removed from the premises by campus police if you aren't getting the hint.
  • A character gets into a prestigious school with terrible grades and only one reference. Most schools have a minimum Grade Point Average (GPA) that they want applicants to hit before they'll even consider said applicants, which might be able to be fudged with extracurricular activities and/or charity work. Also, most universities would want multiple references, so you can't just use your friends or that teacher who likes you.
  • A character with a decent enough application can't get into any school, even the community colleges and state universities that admit everyone. Note that in real life, community colleges are required by law to accept everyone who applies there as long as they have a high school diploma or GED.
  • A school has specific, bizarre, or arbitrary admissions criteria. While every college's application requirements are different, there are governing bodies at work that make sure a university's entry standards are at least theoretically reachable through normal schoolwork. Ivy League universities and other such prestigious schools can have very high standards, but even they will keep it realistic. Having requirements that no one can meet means no students, bad word-of-mouth, and no money to fund anything.
  • A character hinges all of their hopes on one competitive scholarship and/or one highly-selective school. Another great set-up for drama, but prospective students in real life are always advised to have at least a Plan B, preferably a Plan C as well.

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. Then again, her near-perfect LSAT scores and 4.0 GPA would have gotten her in anyway.
    • Actual college admissions officers have commented that given her otherwise near perfect academics, the video would have made her seem *different* than the piles of personality challenged resumes they wade through, thus assuring her admittance.
  • 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.
  • Big Hero 6 is a multiple offender:
    • Hiro goes through way too much trouble to get into SF Institute of Technology. Being an academics and robotics prodigy, they would be begging him to join.
    • Individual professors don't typically hand out admission letters to people from the street. It's possible that the letter was just a token of Professor's promise to lobby for a person before the school. However, it would be rather juvenile of a serious college to make such token look like an admission letter.
  • Naturally a film titled How I Got Into College makes use of several of these.
  • At the end of Undefeatable the main character Kristy reveals she enrolled a bunch of friendly neighborhood gang kids to college, completely without their knowledge, which is played for laughs. Then she says classes start tomorrow. Presuming they all had good enough previous school records, there's at least a couple of problems with this scenario:
    • Applying in place of another person would at the very least not be legally binding, if not outright fraud.
    • Universities have set application periods, usually months before the start of the semester where you would begin studies if accepted. Unless Kristy had put this plan into motion months before the film takes place and it just happens to be the beginning of the semester at the end (not to mention signing up for courses), going to classes the next day is complete bull.

  • Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed both refer to villain Jack Hyde as having won a scholarship to Princeton University because he was bright. Princeton does not give scholarships. It says so right in their FAQ:
    *Do you give scholarships for academic merit, special talents or athletic ability?*
    No. All financial aid awards are based solely on need. Learn more about how aid is assigned in the Undergraduate Financial Aid Information and Application Instructions.
  • The University in The Kingkiller Chronicle has every single student go through admissions every term (which is around two months long), wherein all seven professors interview the student in their own field of study and set a tuition for his or her next term. Understandably, the process takes weeks. Kvothe gets into the University in a classic case of no-plan-B (then again, it is pretty much the only university ever mentioned in the books, so there may not be a plan B to speak of), his hopes hinging on a single recommendation (he no longer has), spying on earlier students' admissions to prepare for the exam, and on a passionate speech he hopes to impress the professors enough with to essentially pay him for the privilege of studying under them. Still, seeing how this is Kvothe, his plan, of course, works perfectly.

    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. When Kurt initially fails to get in, he resigns himself to attending community college in Lima, as if he's not aware that Ohio has over a dozen public universities—all of which have theater programs and Kent State has a renown fashion school—that he could have attended instead.
    • 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.
    • Carmen Thibideaux, the new dean of NYADA's music department, travelling across the country to hand-pick her inaugural class. And when Rachel is initially rejected after choking during her audition, the lengths she goes to get Thibideaux to change her mind would have resulted in a restraining order in the real world.
    • It doesn't help that Rachel, Kurt, and Finn all apply absurdly late and receive their admission letters days before graduation.
    • Lauren applying for a wrestling scholarship at Harvard, despite the fact that Ivy League schools have been prohibited from awarding athletic scholarships since at least 1945.
    • 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.
  • Rory from Gilmore Girls gets into Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. While she's portrayed as very smart, the likelihood of that happening is virtually nonexistent while her equally smart friend does not get in despite having more outside activities, volunteer work, etc.
    • Paris was rejected from Harvard because of her behavior in the interview. Also, she doesn't make valedictorian or salutatorian, so her final GPA is lower than Rory's and a boy who transferred schools twice in one year and took time off to perform Into the Woods on Broadway (it's probably still exceptionally high, since she would have been complaining otherwise, but it still casts some doubts on her academic performance). Rory was valedictorian, gained some extracurriculars/volunteer work, and is charming enough to wow her interviewers.
  • In The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode "Alma Matter," Will meets with a Princeton recruiter after Uncle Phil insists. He flat-out states that he doesn't care about Princeton and is only there under duress. The recruiter isn't surprised: "Your scores are mediocre, your grades would make an impressive batting average, and your extracurricular activities are non-existent. Unless one counts detention, in which case you lead the league." On his way out, just for giggles, Will grabs a Rubik's cube off the desk and solves it in seconds. The recruiter ends up begging him to attend Princeton. Desperate to get in himself, Carlton tries acting like Will at his own interview, which...doesn't impress the recruiter: "Mr. Banks, you're nothing like what I expected. Your scores are topnotch and your grades couldn't be better...Unfortunately, at this time Princeton doesn't accept the clinically insane...Close the door on your way out." So Will, who's a total screwup, gets in because of a Rubik's cube, and Carlton, who's spent his entire academic career getting top grades and participating in carefully selected extracurricular activities, is blown off by acting exactly like Will.
  • In the Saved by the Bell episode "SATs," Jessi scores a 1205 on the SAT and gets the cold shoulder from the "Stansbury" recruiter. Zack scored a 1502 and the recruiter wants to eat him up. Meanwhile, Jessi's had one B in her life and has an impressive list of extracurricular activities. Zack? He's lucky he never had to repeat a grade, and the only time he ever took up an extracurricular was for the occasional plot point, after which it was never mentioned again.
    • Going along with this, during the series finale we find out that Zack got into Yale—his mom made him apply after he did so well on the SAT. No school, particularly an Ivy League, is that short-sighted. They want students who will keep their grades up and make the school look good. Brilliant, but Lazy does absolutely jack for their numbers. And if Zack were that brilliant, he could have easily gotten A's and B's just by skating.
  • In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., we briefly see SHIELD's super-secret academy for their research division, where Fitz and Simmons had their training. Apparently you have to have a PhD to even be considered. Despite this, every single student we see is in their late teens or early 20's. It's implied that they purposefully scout out gifted young people from all over the world, but it's still a very unwieldy setup that is only discussed in vague terms. This is especially bizarre because SHIELD is a security agency, not a science institute. And neither Tony Stark (the genius son of one of SHIELD's founders) nor Bruce Banner (the genius nuclear physicist) were ever apparently scouted by the university. At least in Tony's case it makes sense that they'd want to avoid a spoiled playboy.
  • In Smallville, Lana Lang gets into a Parisian art school out of the blue near the end of season three, despite never having been shown doing anything art-related. In reality, almost all art schools accept students based on interviews and portfolios, so it's unlikely Lana would have been able to get into a presumably prestigious academy just by application and nothing else.
  • Variously handled in the different incarnations of Degrassi:
    • In School’s Out, the tying-up-loose-ends movie conclusion to the original series, Caitlin contemplates a last-minute change in universities, justifying it with “I was accepted here too”. In reality, university acceptance is not open-ended: students have a limited time to declare their intention to attend.
    • In The Next Generation, Anya is rejected everywhere she applies. She manages to get a second-chance interview with one admissions official—but, this being DeGrassi, she is high and blows the interview. (Interviewer: “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were on drugs.”) Instead she tries to join the Army—and promptly fails the drug test.
    • Holly J. worries that she won’t be able to afford Yale after her family has financial setbacks. Apparently nobody told the writers that Yale was famously one of the first Ivy League schools to make its financial aid 100% need-based.
  • In Beverly Hills 90210, Steve gets into California University (which, in-universe, is the actual name), despite his terrible grades, his book dumb personality, and he seemed to have only one reference from his principal. Additionally, he broke into his school's computer system to change his grades (admittedly with the help with a nerdy freshman) and was actually expelled from West Beverly High for the incident (albeit temporarily). And by the frequent remarks by other characters, it seems as if California University was a very hard school to get into.
    • Ditto for non-studious students like Kelly, Donna, and Brenda. Fridge Brilliance could be applied, if you consider the fact that many of them are wealthy (hence connections, including Steve's father being an alumni of California University), though in reality, it may take more than just connections to get into the school they want.
    • Also, Brenda entered the same school after leaving the University of Minnesota earlier in season 4. She may been accepted to CU earlier, though since classes had started at that school, it doesn't really make sense since Brenda should've at least applied for late admission, though no such mechanics are ever mentioned.

  • 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.

    Web Original 
  • 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.
  • RWBY: Ruby gets accepted into Beacon Academy two years early after having an interview with the school's headmaster, Ozpin, that was instigated by another professor as a punishment. Ozpin has a habit of making exceptions when he sees something that might be useful and his refusal to explain himself to others eventually gets him into trouble with the Vale Council.