We watched 5 movies about college admissions. Here’s the takeaway.

#1. Admission

A hardworking admissions officer questions how students get admitted to college when she is introduced to a smart, quirky kid who doesn’t fit the mold of the traditional student. As she gets to know the student, she begins to realize how traditional admissions systems can overlook some of the smartest and most-promising minds of our time, and she fights for his admission.

What rang true

There are a lot of ways traditional, test-score-focused admissions can fail students who deserve the college education and experience. G.P.A. and test scores are a small, small piece of the picture when it comes to predicting a student’s success, and looking at students beyond their grades is not only important, but crucial when it comes to bringing bright and innovative people into higher ed.

Not gonna happen

The admissions officer in the movie breaks a LOT of rules in order to help get this atypical student into college. It’s unlikely any admissions professional is going to go that far beyond the system. (But we have great news: the CSU system doesn’t work like the one in this movie!)

The takeaway

More and more colleges are seeing the value in what we call holistic review. CSU Admissions is dedicated to reviewing students on a holistic, (or whole-person) basis, which means we’ll look at your grades, but we’ll also look at your personal statement, your academic explanation, and far beyond to arrive at your admission decision. We know you are so much more than a number, and we want your passions, your experiences, and your unique perspective to help us understand you better.

#2. Spanglish

Spanglish is a Mexican-American girl’s story told through the perspective of her college admissions essay. She talks about the year her mother worked in the home of a wealthy white family, and highlights the privilege that can help determine someone’s admission to college, along with her personal journey to accept and celebrate her struggles.

What rang true

The entire narration of this movie is in the format of an admissions essay, and they could not have nailed it better. This kind of personal journey and deep, life-defining story gives us an authentic look into how the character got to where she is, and how her life experiences shaped her path.

Not gonna happen

While the narration is formatted in the context of an admissions essay, the rest of the film is simply a moment in time in the character’s life. There isn’t much to debunk here in terms of college admissions, and we love how Spanglish presents the voice of the essay. We don’t want you to get formal. We want you to speak from your soul.

The takeaway

Your heritage, family, and struggles are as much a part of your admission (if not more) as your grades and extracurriculars. Tell us who you are and why you’re applying from that perspective. Tell us about those defining moments in your life and how they will help you in your journey to becoming not only a great student but a great person long after college. Your admissions essay (or personal statement) is the best way for us to get to know you beyond the person we see on paper. Take advantage of it!

#3. Orange County

Orange County takes a comedic look at what happens when your college application gets rejected and the lengths a student will go to to get into his dream school, complete with some over-the-top, hilarious Jack Black antics along the way.

What rang true

You do need to put in to some work to ensure your application is correct before it gets sent off. Double check your transcripts, your essay, your recommendation letters, and anything else required before hitting send. In the end, this is on you (though we know your high school counselor is much more helpful than the one in the movie.)

Not gonna happen

So much of this movie is not gonna happen. It’s hilariously done, but let’s just say that if your inebriated brother burns down the admissions building in order to get you admitted, you’re probably not coming back from that.

The takeaway

Not getting into your first choice isn’t the end of the world. Don’t apply to only one school, and don’t hang all your hopes on one college. Explore colleges you might have made assumptions about, and really examine why your dream school is actually your dream school. A lot of CSU students say they knew it was a fit for them when they explored the welcoming community and talked to other CSU students who’d decided to come here.

#4. Rudy

This one is a true story! Rudy spends his life dreaming of going to a competitive college and playing football there, despite his small stature and poor grades. At first, no one believes in him, but he persists, moves to the town of his dream college, and goes to a nearby community college to improve his GPA. He gets his grades up, trains for the day he can try out for the team, eventually gets in as a transfer student, and later goes on to play in a game. His story is legendary at Notre Dame University.

What rang true

This is something we tell college hopefuls often: If CSU isn’t attainable for you (whether it’s grades or funding), going for a year or two to a community college and transferring in is a great way to become a Ram. You’ll get a great educational foundation, and there are different, less-rigorous requirements to enter CSU as a transfer student. Persistence paid off for Rudy, and it can for you, too.

Not gonna happen

Walking onto a high-level football team like Notre Dame as a 5’4″ player and starting in a game is unlikely, but we’re not totally discounting it because Rudy is proof that if you can do it, you can dream it. If you want to be a CSU football player (or get into a competitive STEM major, even), we’ll help you navigate that journey and point you in the right direction.

The takeaway

College doesn’t have to be out of reach. If your circumstances don’t allow you to go to a big, out-of-state college right out of high school, consider going to a community college and transferring into your dream school later. Your determination can go a long, long way, and we love Rams with that kind of spirit.

#5. Good Will Hunting

Good Will Hunting is one of those classics that has been loved by several generations. In truth, it’s not as much about the college admissions process as it is about one’s preconceived notions about whether they are a fit for college. The main character has a tragic backstory, and, despite being a literal genius, never thought he could go to college. The bulk of the movie centers on his relationship with a professor of psychology, and he learns that he’s worthy of college and a life that can reach far beyond he ever thought.

What rang true

Professors, advisors, and staff at colleges and especially at CSU aren’t in this for the money. We truly want to help you find your best self, help you explore your academic potential, and create a life that you’ll love, as well as a life that can help make the world a better place. We believe college is a great way to get there.

Not gonna happen

It’s rare to be at the genius level that Will Hunting is without an educational background. It’s also rare to be “discovered” as a janitor in a college who can beat every professor at the highest-level math and science problems. (But it does make a great story, doesn’t it?)

The takeaway

Don’t let your background or assumptions about your own academic limits be a line in sand when it comes to how you choose your path. There are options to help you get into college and thrive, and we’re here to help you through it all. We know you can do more than you ever thought you could, and when those times of doubt pop up, we’re here to tell you why they’re wrong.

Prairie Smallwood

Prairie Smallwood is a writer and content creator for the Office of Admissions at Colorado State University. She is passionate about education and exploration, and knows that going to college can be both an adventure and an overwhelming experience. She aims to create content that helps students through that journey — the wonderful, the scary, and everything in between.