The Admissions Scam: Thoughts of an Independent College Counselor
Last week a massive story broke involving 33 wealthy and well-connected parents, who allegedly schemed to get their children into prestigious colleges. There were multiple ways in which the parents schemed with the independent college advisor Rick Singer. There was the faking of a disability to get extended time on standardized tests. There was paying off an adult to sit in for a student to take their ACT. And there were multiple accounts of faking the athletic prowess of students who had never participated in the sport they were recruited for.
The various articles that were released have been fascinating reads. The affidavit itself is mind-boggling; reading the phone conversations between parents and Singer. The Washington Post provided the portions of the Affidavit that includes Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, two Hollywood actresses that have been named in the scandal.
After taking time to read multiple articles, and reading emails from a professional association that I am a member, I took some time to reflect on what happened. I wanted to share that reflection with you.
A few immediate thoughts that come to mind. YES, there is a major problem with the way our education system works, both secondary and higher education. I will get to secondary education in a moment. For some context, I used to work as an admissions counselor for a couple of years and spent time reading applications and participating in committee; sitting around a large conference table for a week making final decisions about applicants. I was not employed by a competitive and prestigious university such as USC, UCLA, or Georgetown as named in this class-action suit, yet, there were times when the VP of admissions would veto a decision and the full-pay student was in, while the other student with similar test scores and academics was not admitted.
I remember a specific committee review when we were deciding between two students; an average student who was unable to pay full tuition and the son of a prominent businessman in the state who was able to pay full tuition with below average grades. I recall not understanding why the latter was even being considered for admissions when his test scores and grades were clearly not close to the average of students we had currently been admitting. What really sticks out in my memory is the conversation that I had with a colleague. In summary he said, “Kathryn, listen, I appreciate your big heart, but we can’t just admit everyone who needs help paying for college. We need to admit some students who we know will be full-pays even if their academics aren’t up to par”. I had a REALLY hard time with this because I was not employed by the college to operate as a “business woman”, I was employed to help find students who would be great fits, and this did not follow that equation. Stepping back from the situation now and having quite a few more years under my belt, I see the point my colleague was trying to make, although I may not agree with it.
I also want to point out that there are major problems with the way high schools operate too. As a former high school counselor at a private school, there were a few times when I dreaded my position. Every quarter, some coaches would come around to see what the grades were of their players, and at the end of every school year, if players were failing a class, coaches would talk to teachers and somehow, magically, the athletes were granted the grades they needed to pass. I want to clarify that not every teacher stooped to this level, but at some point it wasn’t worth the fight or intimidation. I also want to clarify that not all coaches of all sports teams do this either. I am just stating what happened at the school I worked at.
There is an issue on both sides. Colleges enabling those who are rich enough to pay full tuition over students who really would shine but need help financially, and high schools enabling a dirty habit of fudging players grades so they can play at a Division 1 school, even though, statistically, the odds of the players succeeding academically at some of these prestigious schools are slim, if they don’t do the work.
My thoughts about what happened with Rick Singer and the 33 parents involved with scheming is just outright alarming. Parents, who have access to the most expensive tutors in the world, the most prestigious private schools, choose instead to cheat their way into the top tier schools. BUT WHY?? If a student is not well equipped to succeed academically, how will they succeed at some of the most rigorous universities based on a lie? The answer…. They won’t. If parents so desperately want their student to go to a “good” school based on the Princeton Review or USA College Reports, or for the school name slapped on their bumper, the price the student pays after the fact isn’t worth it! Think for a moment why is it so darn important to send your child to Harvard or Yale? Because of the name, the status. But if your child can’t succeed there, they won’t get what they need out of their experience, or worse, they won’t graduate.
My advice to you is this: if your student wants to go to a small school, with a name value that is lesser known, but a great program for whatever it is they are seeking, a solid career services department with incredible stats on students employed after graduation, then support your student’s decision. Forgo the dream of whatever prestigious university you had in mind. Your child will shine and succeed at the school that fits them academically and socially. And please, for whatever it’s worth, don’t be the snowplow parent. Don’t pay someone to lie and cheat for your student, it ends up hurting them in the long run.