College Can’t Be For Everyone…or Can It?: Looking at the 2006 film “Accepted”

Human beings, by nature, all have a desire for community. Everyone in life wants to be accepted by others whether that is as a new employee, into one’s college of choice, or just as a person in general. This desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves drives our everyday thoughts and behaviors. However, in this post, I am going to steer directly towards how this drive presents itself through the college admissions process, shown specifically in the 2006 film, Accepted. As we have previously seen in class, there is an extremely wide variety of opinions when it comes to defining college. Nevertheless, Bartleby Gaines, the main character of Accepted, gives us a simple, yet profound definition of the term, stating that college is merely “a group of people gathered together for the purpose of higher education.” Well if that’s the definition of college, then why do so many people disagree with it? One of the main sources to blame is the college admissions process. Students work for years to apply to what they see as their “dream school”, just to possibly be turned away and disregarded as another average applicant lost in the complex system of ACT/SAT scores, resumes, essays, and more. 

The feeling of rejection is one that is feared by many. Being told no causes one to feel as if they aren’t good enough, like their years of hard work never paid off. This feeling is highlighted in the movie Accepted when Bartleby receives what he perceives to be his acceptance to Ohio State University. He tears open the letter only to find that he, along with many other applicants, is just not good enough. Instead of comforting their son, Mr. and Mrs. Gaines are furious with Bartleby’s failure to be accepted into college, arguing that he must attend because “college is life.” Is this an exaggeration used to poke fun at the unrealistic importance of college to today’s older generation? I think yes! Instead of being angry at the admissions process for not fully considering their son as a student, Mr. and Mrs. Gaines automatically accuse their son of being “stupid” and are disappointed with his shortcomings. When Bartleby originally proposes that he may not be going to college, Mr. Gaines responds with the following statement, “Society has rules. And the first rule is you go to college. You want to have a happy and successful life? You go to college. If you want to be somebody, you go to college. If you want to fit in, you go to college.” The Gaines’ dramatic reaction to Bartleby’s idea is a satirical impression of the average American parents’ opinion regarding higher education, as if going to college is a life or death situation.

As the movie continues, Bartleby and his friends literally create their own fake college in order to fool their parents and prove that they too have been accepted. What is even crazier is that their scheme works. First of all, this is totally not realistic but it does shed a light on how far students are willing to go to not only feel accepted but also to conform to the status quo of going to college. Their made-up South Harmon Institute of Technology (SHIT for short lol) goes by the motto, “We say yes to you!” and attracts many other students who were previously rejected by other universities. There is a scene in which all of the newly admitted SHIT students approach campus for the first time with “Eleanor Rigby” playing in the background (you know the “all the lonely people” part). The SHIT motto proves that students do take a personal approach to the college admissions process. Applying to a school forces students to put themselves out there, making them vulnerable as the course of the rest of their lives is in someone else’s hands, so it seems. If rejected, students feel as if their school of choice does not want THEM personally. Not that that school had already filled their quota or they were not a great fit for that place in particular but more that they, as students, are not good enough to attend that certain school. Therefore, SHIT preaches that they value students and want them for who they are, therefore satisfying the innate desires of all students to be accepted as part of a whole. 

Accepted tries to prove that the college admissions process has overlooked many valuable students who have the strong desire to learn and plenty of potential to grow. Each of the students at South Harmon Institute of Technology value education, though maybe not in a formal manner. SHIT allows its students to design their own unique curriculum and only attend the classes that they choose. Nothing is required, not even attendance. This challenge to the traditional system of higher education proves successful in the film, as the South Harmon Institute of Technology eventually ends up being classified as an accredited university by the Ohio State Board of Education. Although highly unrealistic, Accepted does show students learning from experience, growing from their failures, and eventually succeeding by meeting their goals. These three factors are important targets of all institutes of higher education and the fact that SHIT could accomplish these goals after being created by so-called college rejects is a slap in the face to the college admissions process. This tough process has been known for turning away students with incredible potential for unknown reasons, causing students and families to be frustrated and hurt. However, Accepted shows that important communities can be found even in times of defeat. With that being said, students can never take the college admissions process too personally. The decisions being made regarding new freshmen classes are decisions that most ordinary people will never fully understand. Therefore, take the acceptance and rejection letters with a grain of salt and understand that higher education can be found in all sorts of forms, not just one’s dream school. There are plenty of communities who are always accepting of students with a passion to learn.  

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