High School Student With 5.1 GPA Wrote A SpongeBob Essay And Was Rejected By Every Ivy League University Despite Being #1 In His Class

He tried to stand out and it worked — just not in the way he intended.

Screenshots of TikToker describing how he was rejected by every Ivy League for his SpongeBob essay TikTok

Getting into college seems to be getting harder and harder with each passing academic year, and when you're a kid trying to get into the Ivy League, it can feel nigh on impossible. 

One student on TikTok with a sterling academic resume, Gideon Trenary, wanted to be sure he stood out from all the rest of the applicants, so he went out on a limb with a hilariously eye-catching and unique application resume.


It definitely worked—but not at all in the way he expected.

A high school valedictorian wrote an essay about Spongebob to stand out on his Ivy League college applications.

Sure, he's #1 in his class and has a GPA that would make even many over-achievers hang their heads in shame. But in today's cut-throat college application landscape, that's often not enough. So what better way to stand out than an essay titled "My Life As a SpongeBob Episode," right?

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The student's college essay was about how his parents' divorce shaped his life, told via characters from 'SpongeBob Squarepants.'

In his video, Trenary said that he used the SpongeBob essay, in which SpongeBob was a stand-in for himself, to apply to every Ivy League university as well as several other elite schools, like MIT and Duke.




"Late at night in the small town of Bikini Bottom," the essay begins, "SpongeBob lay awake in his room, covering his pet Gary's ears from the rageful screaming coming from downstairs, a common occurrence in his home." The essay goes on to tell of the acrimonious divorce between "Mama Cookie" and "Papa Cookie" and how his parents' fighting ended up "hindering his relationship with the both of them."

Trenary goes on to detail in the essay how "Mama Cookie" eventually rejected him, forcing him to live with "Papa Cookie" and "his alcholic girlfriend" and "pulling him away from his twin sister." Referring to himself as SpongeBob, Trenary then revealed how his devastating family situation inspired him to succeed in school and his future life.

"As the house quieted down, his head ran miles, plotting a future, a successful one, far from his home," Trenary wrote. "As he drifted to sleep, he told himself I will never be nothing."


The details revealed in the essay are truly heartbreaking, and it is inspiring that Trenary was spurred on by them rather than deterred by them, as so often happens to children who grow up in adversity. But suffice to say the Ivy League did not see it that way.

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The student was rejected by every Ivy League school, despite having a 5.1 GPA and being at the top of his class.

Months after sharing his SpongeBob essay, Trenary took to TikTok again to share his college application results. And boy was it a bloodbath.



Logging into the website Common Application, which aggregates college applications into one site, he checked through all his different applications, and one-by-one, he was rejected by every Ivy League school. Harvard, Columbia, Brown—they all passed.


"Just give me something, guys," Trenary pleaded at his computer screen in his video. Not even the non-Ivies, schools like Duke, MIT and Rice, accepted him. "Dude, I must have done something seriously wrong," Trenary lamented.

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Some data show that it genuinely is harder than ever to get into college.

Despite some evidence showing the contrary in recent years, an analysis by Education Next, an education research firm, showed that it's not just people's perception—it really is harder than ever to get into universities nowadays, especially the Ivy Leagues.

Partly, it's due to the vastly higher percentage of high school students applying to college today compared to previous eras—not only has college attendance been on a steadily rising upswing since 1980, but as Education Next points out, "the U.S. population has increased almost 50 percent over this time...but places like Yale aren’t admitting 50 percent more students than they were in 1980."


With this flood of applications have come even more selective colleges. Education Next found that "with just a few exceptions, [average] median SAT scores for the most selective institutions... increased by 93 points" over the last thirty years.

And with some highly selective schools like Stanford reporting historically low admissions rates... well, it's no wonder students like Trenary feel like they have to swing for the fences to get their application in front of the right decision-makers.

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TikTokers were pretty sure they knew why Trenary was rejected by every Ivy League, and they definitely dragged him for it. 

"This is why," one commenter sniped in the comments of Trenary's TikTok video in which he read his SpongeBob essay. "It did not work," another quipped, while one person deadpanned, "bro what prompt was this supposed to answer?"

But experts say that Trenary might not have been totally off-base with his wacky essay. As the tutor and college admissions expert in the video below reveals, "quirky," "random," or "cool" features of an application can help get students noticed. 

Sadly, it didn't work for Trenary, but some on TikTok couldn't help but look on the bright side. "So sorry you didn't get in. But FR you have a bright future." And one person urged Trenary to put a positive spin on his rejections. "Make them all regret their decisions," they wrote. 


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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.