Bartleby Gaines (Justin Long) is a persuasive senior from William McKinley High School in Wickliffe, Ohio, who, among other pranks, creates fake IDs. His gifts do not extend to grades, however, and he receives rejection letters from all of the colleges to which he applies, including those with high acceptance rates. In an attempt to gain approval from his strict father (Mark Derwin), Bartleby creates a fake college, the South Harmon Institute of Technology (S.H.I.T.). His best friend, Sherman Schrader III (Jonah Hill), who has been accepted into his father's (Jim O'Heir) prestigious alma mater, Harmon College, aids Bartleby and fellow reject Rory Thayer (Maria Thayer), who only applied to Yale University and was rejected due to legacy preferences; "Hands" Holloway (Columbus Short), who lost his athletic scholarship after an injury; and Glen (Adam Herschman), who failed his SAT exam due to vacuity. To make the "college" seem legitimate, Bartleby convinces Sherman to create a functional website for the school.
When his father insists on meeting the dean, Bartleby hires Sherman's peculiar uncle, Ben Lewis (Lewis Black), a former Harmon College professor, to play that role, and he leases an abandoned psychiatric hospital adjacent to Harmon College and renovates it to look like a college campus. Their plan backfires when the website, which automatically accepts any applicant, enrolls hundreds of other rejected students. Bartleby realizes that these people have nowhere else to go, so he lets them believe that the school is real, a place where they will finally feel accepted, despite objections from his friends. After a visit to Harmon disenchants him with traditional college life, he has the students create their own curricula. Students write down what they want to learn on a giant whiteboard, ranging from the culinary arts, sculpting, meditations, to unusual courses such as psychokinesis, a subject one eccentric kid (Jeremy Howard) wishes to study.
Bartleby creates a school newspaper (the S.H.I.T. Rag), invents a mascot (the S.H.I.T. Sandwiches), and throws themed parties, turning South Harmon into a party school. Meanwhile, the narcissistic dean of Harmon College, Richard Van Horne (Anthony Heald), makes plans to construct the Van Horne Gateway, a park-like "verdant buffer zone" adjacent to the college that the dean hopes will "keep knowledge in and ignorance out". He dispatches Hoyt Ambrose (Travis Van Winkle) to free up the nearby properties, but when Bartleby refuses to relinquish the lease for the South Harmon property, Hoyt sets to work trying to reveal the college as a fake. The dispute turns personal, since Bartleby has been vying for the affections of Hoyt's ex-girlfriend, Monica Moreland (Blake Lively). Hoyt exposes South Harmon as a fake institution through Sherman, who is attempting to join Hoyt's fraternity as a legacy, but is constantly humiliated and abused by them. After debasing Sherman once more, the fraternity violently forces him to hand over all the files he has created for South Harmon.
Hoyt contacts all the students' parents, and with Van Horne, he reveals that the school is a sham. Soon after, the school is forced to close, but Sherman, who has had enough with Harmon College's corruption, files for accreditation on behalf of South Harmon, giving Bartleby a chance to make his college legitimate. At the subsequent State of Ohio educational accreditation hearing, Bartleby makes an impassioned speech about the failures of conventional education and the importance of following one's own passions, convincing the board to grant his school a one-year probationary accreditation to test his new system, thus foiling Van Horne's plans. The college reopens, with more students enrolling, including Sherman and Monica. In addition, Bartleby finally earns the approval of his father, who is proud that his son now owns a college. As the film closes, Van Horne walks to his car in the parking lot, only to watch it suddenly explode. Bartleby watches in astonishment as the eccentric student from earlier makes his interest in psychokinetic explosion a reality.
Accepted received mixed reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 37%, based on 111 reviews, and a critical consensus reading, "Like its characters who aren’t able to meet their potential, Accepted's inconsistent and ridiculous plot gets annoying, despite a few laughs". Metacritic gives the film a score of 47 out of 100, based on 27 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". It received 3 out of 5 stars from Allmovie.
The film made $10,023,835 in its opening weekend and opened at No. 5 at the U.S. box office, behind Snakes on a Plane, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby's third weekend, World Trade Center's second, and Step Up's second.
By the end of its run, on October 19, 2006, Accepted had grossed $36,323,505 domestically and $2,181,504 internationally, with a worldwide total of $38,505,009.
The film was released on DVD on November 14, 2006, in both widescreen and fullscreen formats. The DVD came supplied with deleted scenes and a gag reel. Accepted was also one of the films released on HD DVD format before the format was discontinued.
Other songs not included on the soundtrack:"Close to Me" by The Cure plays in Bartleby's room whenever the disco ball comes down
"Holiday" by Green Day. There has been some confusion over the fact that Weezer and Green Day each have a song by the title "Holiday" in the film, but only the Weezer song is on the official soundtrack.
"Blitzkrieg Bop" by The Ramones. Played at a party held at South Harmon, and Bartleby sings the majority of it on stage. The DVD also features a music video of the song featuring the cast and crew.
"Blitzkrieg Bop" by Justin Long with The Ringers
"Don't Stop" by Fleetwood Mac is played during the high school graduation party.
"I'm Better" by Scott Thomas
"Sweet Confusion" by Divine Right
"Spotlight" by The Ringers
"Walkin' the Walk" by The Daniel May Quartet
"String Quartet in G, Opus 18" by FLUX Quartet
"Bridges and Balloons" by Joanna Newsom