7 Crucial Lessons Movies Taught Us About Getting Into College


College. Few other experiences are as desperately sought, commonly achieved, and generally beloved. This makes it an excellent goal for movie characters, a commonplace MacGuffin. We can all think of high school movies from She's All That to The Breakfast Club where characters are obsessed with the idea of college, but have they taught us anything about how to achieve this goal? Plenty. And not a single one of these lessons is less insightful than 400 level courses.

1. Be great at something … (He Got Game)

In an adjustment of Ben Parker’s famous last words, "With great talent comes great opportunity." He Got Game is a movie that explores the seedy underbelly of college recruiting, which mostly consists of several universities trying to give more than a free education to get someone into their college. What if you're not Jesus Shuttlesworth? Well, you're in luck. There's probably a college that will obsess over what you are great at. Drumline showcases that fact. Areas in which schools seek out talent include sport, debate, culinary arts, and pretending to be someone else for the amusement of others (this is called "acting" or "sales," or in some cases, "prostitution." As the next movie lesson on our list will show us, there can be a lot of overlap). If you're not great at anything, it's time to get creative.

2. …but remember, it’s better to be different than good (Risky Business)

As far as I could tell, Joel Goodson was a smart kid that probably didn’t merit the acceptance into Princeton that his father wanted for him. So what’s he do? He unleashes a salacious sales campaign on Princeton interviewer Bill Rutherford, complete with "The Three L’s of Sales": ladies, lies, and libations (or as Don Draper calls it, Tuesday). It’s the rare would-be collegian that approaches the "art of human fulfillment," and Rutherford recognizes the value in young Goodson’s unique approach saying, "Princeton could use a guy like Joel." I’m aware that Legally Blonde is a way better option for selling the "being different is good" message, but Risky Business was a way better movie, and its entrepreneurial spirit segues better into our next lesson.

3. Have a dream, or at least be trying to have a dream, then fight like hell for it (The Girl Next Door)

Matthew Kidman laid it out best: "I think moral fiber's about finding that one thing you really care about. That one special thing that means more to you than anything else in the world. And when you find her, you fight for her. You risk it all, you put her in front of everything, your life, all of it. And maybe the stuff you do to help her isn't so clean. You know what? It doesn't matter. Because in your heart you know, that the juice is worth the squeeze. That's what moral fiber's all about." Kidman got his scholarship to Georgetown. Sure he got his hands dirty and pissed a lot of people off, but he stayed locked on his dream and it made him a winner. The tricky thing is how you convince a school that you're truly committed to this dream. There’s one time-honored method…

4. Your college essay should tell a story (Spanglish)

So you’re the dean of admissions at Princeton University, what do you want to read? A laundry list of ho-hum "accomplishments" like perfect SAT scores from National Merit Scholars, or the sultry tale of interracial, extramarital lust that burns with a passion so hot that it can overcome a language barrier? Suck it, perfect SAT kid! Your scholarship is going to the gritty little Hispanic girl with the stones to say, "If you don’t accept me into your school, screw you. My mom had the courage to leave her nanny gig and not sleep with a married man, and that defines me." 

5. You are not Johnny Moxon, and you shouldn't wish that you were (Varsity Blues)

There’s a guy named Johnny Moxon, The Mox, the star quarterback of the West Canaan Coyotes, the James Van Der Beek lookalike, the guy who can tell off Bud Kilmer like he’s some hobo from a non-football-loving city like Fargo. That guy got into Brown. You’re not him. You probably only know, like, six slang terms for the male erection. The Mox is the ultimate high schooler. Most of you (not me, LMFAO), are more like Seth, Evan, or Fogell from Superbad. You are not cool. Don’t spend your time like Seth, wishing that you were cool and trying to hook up with cheerleaders. Be like Seth or Fogell: Accept your fate and hit the books. Evan and Fogell got into Dartmouth. It’ll be worth it in the long run when you meet all those cool people again on their long journey to the middle.

6. Aim high … (Orange County)

See where movie characters try to go? Brown. Dartmouth. Princeton. Stanford. No one ever makes a movie about a dude trying to afford Neosho County Community College by forging a covert sex trade in the surrounding Kansas farmlands.

7. … but manage your expectations and just go somewhere (Dazed and Confused)

Hollywood is littered with scripts about people who didn’t go to college. Waiting, Clerks, probably Mallrats, definitely Braveheart. At the end of the day, you don’t want lives like the people in those movies. I know that Wooderson seemed so cool and uncreepy in Dazed & Confused, but that’s what makes him one of the greatest characters of all time. In a few more years, he’ll wish he was a mid-level account rep for a pharmaceutical company ironically caught in some kind of Love and Other Drugs relationship. Bachelor’s degree in communications or related field required.