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During freshman registration at Grainbelt University, where the school motto is "Learn, Learn, Learn--Work, Work, Work," new student Dobie Gillis cheerfully informs his advisor that he is more interested in enjoying himself than in studying. Dobie's easygoing philosophy impresses fellow freshman Charlie Trask, who proposes that they room together at the dormitory. That evening, at a dance, Dobie is attracted to pretty Pansy Hammer, while the flashy Lorna Ellingboe, whom Charlie likes, immediately falls for Dobie. The following day, Dobie sees Pansy registering for classes, and promptly asks her advisor to enroll him in the same courses. Lorna, still hot on Dobie's trail, instructs the advisor to sign her up for whatever he is studying, and Charlie asks to be enrolled in Lorna's classes. The term begins, and Dobie observes that Pansy's chemistry experiments tend to result in explosions. When Pansy decides to join the staff of the school magazine, her entourage of suitors accompanies her, and all are put to work selling subscriptions. As the semester goes on, Charlie complains about the unwelcome work that Dobie's infatuation with Pansy has meant for him and Lorna, and Dobie agrees to stop pretending he has scholarly interests. Before he can confess his true nature to Pansy, however, she tells him she wants to start having fun, and Mrs. Hammer gives Pansy permission to start dating Dobie, over the objections of Pansy's over-protective father. One night, while Pansy is helping Dobie fix his stalled car, a ribbon on her dress gets caught in the engine's gears, and her clothes are shredded off her body. When Pansy returns home wearing only her slip, Mr. Hammer refuses to let her see Dobie anymore, so Dobie and Pansy decide to start cutting classes and go out in the daytime. Upon returning to class several weeks later, the young couple discovers that several big assignments are due. In desperation, Dobie copies his English essay for Professor Amos Pomfritt's class out of a library book. That night, Dobie and Pansy sneak into the lab to complete a chemistry project due the following morning, and when the exhausted Dobie falls asleep, Pansy begins experimenting on her own and blows up the lab. Mr. Hammer withdraws Pansy from school and sends her to live with her aunt in New York. The dean wants to expel Dobie, but Pomfritt, impressed by the essay he handed in, insists that the young man be allowed to stay. Dobie remains faithful to Pansy in her absence, and Lorna finally begins to appreciate Charlie's devotion. Pansy calls Dobie and urges him to visit her in New York, but he does not have the money, so he and his friends concoct a scheme to cash in on the used textbook market. After using Dobie's car to secure a loan from Smiling Latvian's car lot, the friends buy up all of the books for Pomfritt's class, planning to mark them up and resell them the following semester. However, Pomfritt, inspired by Dobie's literary genius, produces a new edition of his book, rendering the old version worthless. Meanwhile, Harry Dorcas, editor of the school magazine, informs Dobie, Charlie and Lorna that the publication is about to go under. Dobie suggests raising money by holding a dance, and volunteers to go to New York to recruit a well-known band for the event. Harry hands over the magazine's entire $1,000 bank balance, admonishing Dobie to be frugal. In New York, however, Dobie entertains Pansy lavishly, and is soon down to $600. Dobie goes to a booking agent, but his meager funds are only enough for him to hire Happy Stella Kowalski and Her Schottiche Five, a band of stout older women who specialize in playing Lithuanian weddings. Dobie returns to school and tries in vain to sell tickets to the dance. The night of the event, Mr. Hammer bursts in with the news that Pansy has disappeared. When Pansy shows up as a member of Happy Stella's group, her father calls the police, but Pansy declares that she and Dobie are in love and will not be separated. Mrs. Hammer sides with Pansy, and Mr. Hammer reluctantly agrees to let his daughter grow up. Just then, the police surround the building, bringing in the students in droves, and the dance is a success. With their problems behind them, the two young couples happily apply themselves to work and play.