Matthew McConaughey: College at UT Austin

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Greenlights" by Matthew McConaughey. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Where did Matthew McConaughey go to college? How did he make the most of his college experience?

For Matthew McConaughey, going to college had always meant one thing—getting a law degree and going on to be a defense attorney. But by his sophomore year, McConaughey knew he wanted to work in film.

Read more about Matthew McConaughey and his college experience below.

Away to University

Since eighth grade, Matthew had planned on attending law school and becoming a defense attorney. He applied to multiple universities and was accepted to three of them. He wanted to attend Southern Methodist University, but instead chose the University of Texas at Austin when his brother Pat told him that the McConaughey family finances were suffering because the oil business was in a slump, and a degree from UT Austin was significantly cheaper than one from SMU. Matthew McConaughey never told his father that he had switched his college choice to help the family.

By the end of his sophomore year at UT Austin, Matthew found himself writing a lot of short stories. A friend who was studying film at NYU read some of these and suggested that Matthew ought to consider going to film school. To Matthew, the idea sounded foreign and irresponsible. Film school was just too “artsy.”

He changed his mind after he went to the house of some fraternity buddies to study for his psychology final exam, but he felt distracted and instead spent his time reading a book that he found there titled The Greatest Salesman in the World. This book gripped him with its message that the world’s greatest salesman is actually you, the reader, and with its presentation of positive affirmations to recite multiple times per day in order to form good habits and let them rule you. (Shortform note: Read our guide to The Greatest Salesman in the World.)

Reading this book, Matthew suddenly realized that he didn’t want to be a lawyer. He wanted to be a storyteller. In fact, he wanted to go to film school. But first, he had to tell his father, whose intensely practical streak might make him balk at such an idea.

Matthew strategically timed his phone call for 7:30 p.m., when Jim would be relaxing after dinner with a drink. When he broke the news, Jim asked if he really, deeply wanted to go to film school. Matthew said yes. In response, Jim simply told him not to “half-ass it.” This was the best validation Matthew could have received. Jim’s approval of Matthew’s decision to attend film school was a significant greenlight.

Film School at UT Austin

Matthew’s GPA of 3.82 got him into the honors program in UT Austin’s film school. He was the only fraternity guy in the program; the other students were all goths and artsy types. He liked blockbuster movies like Die Hard, his classmates called these shit and recommended art films. He eventually realized that they never actually watched the movies they trashed. Their condemnations arose from ignorant prejudice. This led him to flatly reject their habit of condemning something just because it’s popular. It was a miniature defining moment for him when he claimed ownership of his film preferences.

Meanwhile, to get some real-world experience he signed with a local talent agency and interned at an ad agency. He got a pager and began leaving or skipping classes frequently to audition in Dallas and San Antonio for television commercials and beer ads. He received work as a hand model. He appeared in one of Trisha Yearwood’s music videos. He worked both behind and in front of the camera in short film productions.

When a dean threatened to fail him because of his frequent absences, Matthew told the man that real-world experiences were more valuable than college classes, and he asked if he could receive all C’s if he promised to show up for every exam. So that’s what happened. This was another greenlight.

Matthew McConaughey: College at UT Austin

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Matthew McConaughey's "Greenlights" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Greenlights summary:

  • How "greenlights" help you confirm if you're on the right path
  • How McConaughey switched college choices because of family finances
  • Why family is at the center of everything for McConaughey, no matter what's happening in his career

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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