Words by Radhamely De Leon
Illustrations by Katie Herchenroeder
In what is now known as the nation’s biggest college admissions scandal, dozens of celebrities and high-powered executives have been charged for paying bribes of up to $6 million to guarantee their kids’ acceptances into colleges such as Stanford, Georgetown, and the University of Southern California.
Among those charged are actresses Lori Loughlin, known as Aunt Becky from Full House, and Felicity Huffman of Desperate Housewives. They were just two of the 33 parents charged so far in the case, along with nine college coaches and a series of school administrators and associates.
This scandal puts the entire college admissions process into perspective for high school juniors and seniors who are forced to face their options in higher education. “Operation Varsity Blues,” as coined by the FBI, shows that the wealthy do not just have the resources to secure the best SAT tutors and college admissions counselors, but also have the money to fix the results of these resources when their kids still manage to come up short. Many of the colleges involved in the scandal, namely Ivy League universities such as Harvard, Columbia, and Yale, are already highly selective. Harvard’s college acceptance rate according to the College Board is 5%.
One Georgetown University student who requested to remain anonymous stated, “I think this brings a lot of awareness to campus. Everyone knows there’s a disparity of wealth and privilege on campus – it’s glaringly obvious. However, I think this brings to light how far people are willing to go to get into college unethically.” They requested to remain anonymous as they believe they personally know one of the students whose parents are involved in the scheme, which puts the reality of these students’ futures into perspective.
In terms of college admission corruption, bribing test proctors and fabricating extracurricular profiles is just the tip of the iceberg. The Price of Admission, a book published in 2006 by Journalist Daniel Golden, was intended to serve as an investigative piece into how wealthy families buy their admission into top colleges by donating to these schools. In a recent ProPublica piece written in light of “Operation Varsity Blues,” Golden actually stated that wealthy parents took the book as an instructional how-to guide to help them guarantee their kids’ acceptance into top-tier colleges. He described being “inundated” with questions on what the magic number is for donations that would prompt colleges like Harvard or Stanford to accept kids into their ranks. “Some even offered me significant sums, which I declined, to serve as an admissions consultant,” he said. What attracted them to him was the tale of Jared Kushner’s admission into Harvard, achieved with a profile of SAT scores and a GPA that officials from his high school say “did not warrant it,” but was nonetheless heavily padded by a $2.5 million pledge made by his real estate developer father.
As US Attorney Andrew Lelling stated in the press conference following the announcement, “For every student admitted through fraud, an honest, genuinely talented student was rejected.” It begs the question: these are real young adults who certainly deserve an education, but do these students deserve to remain enrolled in these colleges? What are the next steps in this process?
The University of Southern California, where Lori Loughlin’s daughters Olivia Jade and Bella Giannulli both attended until recently withdrawing, released a statement with details of their plan moving forward. They intend to identify donations that were made in connection to these bribes and using the funds towards a “non-USC organization that will benefit underserved students.” The university will also be reviewing the status of students involved in the scandal, stating, “We will take the proper action related to their status, up to revoking admission or expulsion.”
Sarah Maya, a student at the City College of New York, said, “The parents involved should no doubt receive punishment. And I think the student should either be unenrolled in those colleges or have to reapply.”
As the hot topic of the moment, the nation seems to be waiting with baited breath for what is to come with those who were charged. One cannot help but wonder what the trial will look like for these wealthy families. If they have the resources to guarantee a student’s admission into some of the most untouchable universities of the world, they most certainly have access to strong legal assistance.
Maya, a 20-year-old economics major, echoed a sentiment that seems to be common in those keeping up with the scandal as it unfolds. “I think that the college process is obviously flawed and needs to be corrected, however I think the rich will always have an upper hand on the less fortunate.