Jill Haley: Breaking down the ‘Varsity Blues’ scandal
Most of you have heard about the scandal involving college admissions. In case you didn’t, here is a recap:
Parents paid up to half a million dollars to increase their children’s chances of getting into an elite college such as Yale, Stanford and University of Southern California. Over 50 families are being charged with bribing coaches to give spots on coveted athletic teams, as well as paying to have proctors take the Scholastic Aptitude Test for their children. A college consultant, William “Rick” Singer, is allegedly behind these schemes and has testified to making side door deals for wealthy families to get their children into college.
While those of us in the college circles have heard rumors of advantages given to wealthy students for a while now, the extent and the number of colleges involved is shocking.
The lack of transparency in who gets admitted at selective colleges is frustrating and upsetting for students and their families. The fact that many spots were taken by students who would not have gotten in under regular admissions protocols is blatantly unfair to students who have spent four years studying hard and playing by the rules.
This scandal has generated much conversation among people in my profession on how to build more equity into the process. The truth be told, admissions has never been a level playing field.
Wealthy parents have always gotten preferential treatment for their children by donating funds to a college and spots are routinely saved for legacy students. College officials defend their use of legacy admissions by saying it keeps their alumni active and supportive of their alma maters.
The ability to pay is also taken into consideration by having need-sensitive policies at some colleges. These policies take the student’s financial situation into account when deciding who to admit and favors students who do not need financial aid to attend. The use of Early Decision applications, where students apply and commit early to attend a college, also favors the wealthy. These policies are now being scrutinized and may be revised because of the scandal.
Pressure to get accepted at the most selective colleges can be overwhelming and heartbreaking for students. Many falsely believe failure to attend an elite college means an uncertain future. No doubt this belief led to some parents crossing ethical and legal boundaries to get their children into college.
What the statistics tell us is there is no real advantage of attending these highly selective colleges as an undergraduate student. No correlation has been found between the college you attend and a successful career and happiness. What you make of your college experience is a lot more important than where you attend. Colleges that emphasize student’s success and offer experiences such as internships can be the most beneficial to students in the long run.
As a college counselor, I am hoping for change and more transparency into the college admissions process. We have a long way to go to make the system more equitable and just for hardworking, deserving students.
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