The admissions fixing case has been in the news lately because it involves Hollywood celebrities and a set of allegations so outrageous it sounds made for television. However, it also sheds light on a potential problem that may be more common than we think.
This incident shows the extent to which people will go to circumvent and manipulate the college admission process, especially regarding admission to highly-selective institutions. The college admission process is my business. What these people allegedly did does not represent our industry.
Let’s break it down.
There are two “doors” generally regarded as part of college admissions. Most schools categorized as “elite” have a holistic admission process. It can involve the selection criteria that go beyond grades.
The front door is legal and involves meeting admission requirements. The front door includes GPA, test scores, community service, scholastic organizations, interviews, essays, letters of recommendation, athletic ability and special talents.
The back door is also legal and involves things that may be a little more difficult to measure. This is the door through which people travel when they are close to the admission requirements but need some assistance. The back door standards may include legacy policies, charitable donations, relationships, professional favors among peers and employee education benefits.
There is another door, though. This is the one around which the feds have alleged wrongdoing: the side door. The side door is used when none of the qualifications and standards above can be met. It includes admission bribes, cheating on standardized tests and fraudulent applications (such as saying you are an athlete when you are not).
What is alleged to have happened speaks to the boldness, shameless audacity and sense of entitlement these people had. They could have invested their money in quality prep programs to help their kids obtain the requisite test scores or nail the interview. At my company, we provide college planning services to prepare students for the rigors of the testing and admission process. We also provide guidance to help them understand their options if they do not get admitted to their desired school. The students with whom we work are seeking admission into colleges and universities the right way: they want to earn it.
While the headlines are all about the celebrities in this case, let’s not forget about the students who tried to do things the right way. In all likelihood, there were students rejected because that one and last slot was purchased.
A person on one of my social media timelines wrote, “America has had a long-standing love affair with (and the rewarding of white) affluent mediocrity and finding ways to be in its proximity. Why else would brands like Amazon Prime and Sephora develop a strategic partnership with a 19-year-old that has done nothing more than be born into money and glorify that her parents made her attend school because they didn’t attend? Why else would this same girl have NO problem saying she cares nothing for her spot at a very exclusive and prestigious university, save gamedays and parties while her less privileged peers slog and accrue massive debt just for a shot?”
This is probably a different column for a different day, but if you want transparency for the college admission process, then it must be admitted that the socio-economic classes are supposed to be self-sustained, and how affirmative action is really racial profiling. Controversy surrounding the availability of college opportunities for the elite will probably continue long past this case.
Hopefully, there is at least one immediate lesson learned from this scandal. As someone who is in the business of helping students legally gain admissions to the best-fit college of their choice, people need to understand that the best school in terms of ranking may not be the best school for you child. Think of your kids. Be smart with their time and your money.
Don’t be like Aunt Becky.
Jay Johnson is CEO of College Prep U which prepares students and parents for the college admission process.