Students at St. Paul Academy and Summit School are all too familiar with the many facets of a college application: test scores, academic records, references and essays. None of these, however, guarantee a student’s admission to top universities. A recent criminal indictment makes it abundantly clear that there is a foolproof way of getting kids into big-name schools like Yale, Stanford and USC: bribery.
The college admissions scandal reveals not only privilege’s heavy hand in the college admission process but the corruptibility of our nation’s most respected schools. Through various means, wealthy business leaders and celebrities allegedly bought their children’s way into college. For instance, one set of parents paid $1.2 million to have their daughter designated a soccer recruit at Yale, even though she had never played soccer. In another charge, actors William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman paid $15,000 to a “college counseling” agency for an SAT proctor to correct her daughter’s answers after the exam.
Rick Singer, the man at the center of the scheme—who, over three decades, made $25 million—could receive up to 65 years of jail time. His college prep agency, aptly named “The Key,” asserts that “the KEY helps students stand out amongst their peers.” The case points out that many children involved in the scandal had no idea they were breaking the law. For instance, his standardized test-doctoring service is set up in such a way that the student never finds out the test was illegitimate; it stays a secret between the agency and the parents.
Seniors recently finished applying to college, and this new development weakens their faith in the admissions process. “The college admissions process was already really stressful for me and I disliked it. I think everyone disliked it. And to know that there are people out there making it harder for people who are really trying and really deserve to go to good schools is just not great,” senior Gabi Seifert Said.
Evidently, students are not surprised that money plays a large role in the admissions process:
“Who goes to Harvard—half legacy or something? Money already buys you admission; this is just money buying you admission illegally,” Seifert said.
“My only comments are: how are people surprised about this at all?” said junior Samuel Steinhacker.
“I think it’s pretty silly that people are making a big deal out of it when it doesn’t come as a surprise. This has been going on for a really long time,” said senior Lucie Hoeschen. “Of course there are going to be people who get in this way. But I think also you’ll end up where you’re supposed to be or you’ll end up at a place that will be best for you,” she added.
Karna Ivory, an Upper School college counselor, is disappointed, but not shocked:
“I feel frustrated, and then, unfortunately, I’m not terribly surprised. I think people—especially parents—are really anxious about the college admissions process, and they feel like they have to do whatever it takes to get their children into certain places.”
Ivory brings up a disparity between donations to colleges and the illicit bribery of coaches and officials, saying “it’s interesting that parents can’t bribe a coach but it’s OK if they give a huge donation for a building that can increase their student’s chances,” alluding to the privilege already at play in the admissions process.
“I’m glad it’s something that’s in the news,” she adds. “I think it’s good when things are more transparent so that people know what’s happening. And I think it exposes a lot of the issues with college admissions in general.”
Creative Commons image in photo illustration from 401(K) 2012 under CC BY-SA 2.0 license. College crests were added to the image, and no other changes were made.