Beware of Varsity Blues

By Isabella Lahoue, Editor-in-Chief. Photo found here.

The time has now passed when our seniors anxiously await admissions updates from universities they have applied to. Each year, millions of high school seniors pour blood, sweat, and tears into their college applications, and underclassmen work to build their impressive resumes, hoping to win an admissions ticket to their dream school. Many cling tightly to the idea of being accepted to an Ivy League school, UC, or esteemed private university, and all of these have one thing in common: extremely low acceptance rates. In order words, these schools are very picky. They expect students to be ambitious, qualified academically, well-rounded and engaged in extracurricular activities with high levels of commitment and passion. One can imagine the outrage that followed a recent discovery regarding numerous acclaimed universities: students and parents have been caught lying and paying their way in as the largest college admissions cheating scandal in history unfolds.

The college admissions scandal, known as Operation Varsity Blues, began in early March 2018 when William Singer, the CEO of a college prep program known as The Key, was investigated for having been paid over 25 million dollars from wealthy parents to by any means secure a slot for their children in America’s top colleges. Proctors from his company cheated on entrance exams such as the SAT and ACT and created fake athletic profiles to get the students recruited. Stars like Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin have been caught in the drama, Hoffman for paying Singer $15,000 to cheat on the SAT and Loughlin $500k to get her daughter Olivia Jade recruited for excelling at rowing — which she did not actually do. Olivia was admitted to the University of Southern California that boasts a mere 11% acceptance rate for the 2019 admissions decision.

Singer’s methods of using photoshop, bribery, and pure deceit were eventually caught, and the scandal unraveled with 50 parents, students, and coaches having angry fingers pointed at them. Those especially angered were students who were denied admission to the colleges involved in the scandal — USC, Yale, UCLA, UC San Diego, Stanford, and Georgetown University — who claim that, because some students were admitted through bribery, students with proper credentials were turned down. One woman filed a $500 billion dollar lawsuit against 45 of the 50 people caught in the scandal, claiming that her son held a 4.2 GPA and was turned down by a prestigious university not because of his credentials but because the slot was filled by a student admitted by cheating.

Many of the students claimed to be unaware that their parents were involved in the bribery. But to the absolute dismay of many, Olivia Jade had posted a video on her YouTube channel, several weeks before the scandal erupted in which she blatantly said, “[on attending USC] I just want the experience of partying and game days…I don’t really care about school.”

In response, several of the schools have fired their athletic directors or expelled the students who were admitted unjustly. California lawmakers proposed bills that, according to the Los Angeles Times, “aimed at closing loopholes that officials said gave the children of wealthy parents a side door into elite universities.” Yet in the wake of the scandal, colleges are releasing their 2019 acceptance rates as some of the lowest ever, meaning that more students sat through months of the anxious application process only to be denied admission. New statistics only foster the tension surrounding the scandal and how families across the country react to it. A recent Vox article suggested that the solution to the corruption would be for universities like Harvard and Yale to admit more students from lower-income households, because statistically those graduates achieve high financial success. But the solution is unclear because the motives of the system are corrupt; why do these universities exist? Is it to generate revenue, to produce the most successful students, to help change students’ lives, or to provide astounding education to students who excel from an early age?

As a college preparatory school located just outside Boston, the home to some of America’s most prestigious universities, where do we stand in the midst of this scandal? What should our response be?

For one, as we apply to college, we must consider the facts about college admissions: there is plenty of corruption involved, and universities purposefully accept fewer students to make themselves seem prestigious and exclusive, thus attracting more applicants. So beefing up your application with tons of activities you’d assume admissions directors want to see isn’t exactly a sure-fire plan. The ongoing Harvard lawsuit has confirmed that there really is no guarantee when it comes to admissions because plenty of factors that are out of the applicant’s control play into the decision. In this scandal, we see that wealth is one, and, in the Harvard case, it is likely ethnicity that is heavily considered in students’ applications. Is this fair? Absolutely not. But it shouldn’t be something to fear when applying to your dream school as a student. All you can do is choose high school activities with passion, be heavily involved in causes you believe in, study hard, and maybe have half a million dollars on hand, just in case you get really desperate.