If you’ve turned on the news recently, you’ve likely heard the ongoing coverage of what is shaping up to be one of 2019’s biggest stories: the college admissions scandal. Involving a number of college administrators, admissions officers, proctors, coaches and other athletic staff, this massive conspiracy employed a combination of bribery and falsification of application materials in a bid to secure admission to highly selective colleges for the children of more than 30 wealthy parents — many of them high-profile public figures. In some cases, parents arranged to have their children fraudulently labeled as athletic recruits in order to increase their likelihood of acceptance. Others boosted their children’s scores on the college entrance exams by providing false certification of a learning disability to obtain accommodations such as extra testing time, or by paying “stand-ins” to take the exams for them.
Although news of the conspiracy broke in March of 2019, officials estimate that it had been gaining steam since 2011. In the wake of the scandal, it’s important to reflect on the lessons we should take from it as students, parents, and educational consultants alike.
The Origins of the Scandal
This widespread and long-running scheme speaks to the increasing importance placed on attending highly competitive elite institutions, and the social status they confer. We’ve long transitioned from a culture where attending any college was an impressive feat to one where attending the best college is paramount. Although certain schools such as the Ivy Leagues have always been more competitive than others, the gap has widened considerably over the years with admission rates for schools like Harvard and Stanford down to 5% or below.
The more limited the spots for incoming students, the more highly coveted they are, meaning that students who do achieve acceptance to these elite schools are assumed to possess valuable characteristics that make them stand out from the rest — and thus may receive more favor when seeking job opportunities down the road. It’s also a boost to these students’ family members, who by extension receive some of the acclaim for fostering their intellectual promise.
While in theory this culture should promote a strong work ethic, with students striving to build their merit in order to become more competitive applicants, it leaves the college admissions process vulnerable to the darker side of competition — one where prospective applicants and their families seek admission at all costs, and where cutting corners seems like a viable means to that end.
Lesson #1: Shift Your Perspective
We cannot change the overarching culture of college admissions. But we CAN change the way we respond to it. Of course, you should push yourself to get into the best college you can by working hard and seeking legitimate assistance when necessary (we’ll get into this shortly). But it’s also important to be realistic. While you may want to attend a “big name” school, consider your motivations for doing so — is it just for the prestige, or is there something about that school that you believe will play a meaningful role in the pursuit of your ambitions? As we mentioned in a previous post, consider your academic and career goals, reflect on your deal breakers when it comes to a college environment, and research schools and programs accordingly: you may find that the best option for you is also one of the less competitive options.
It’s also important to keep an open mind: there are many wonderful schools with numerous opportunities for personal and professional enrichment, so try to view your college education for the journey that it is — even if you aren’t part of the small percentage of students accepted into an elite institution, you will find your niche in another school as long as you have the drive to succeed and the will to explore. It takes a leap of faith, but by cultivating this attitude you will significantly reduce the pressure you feel during the application process (and the temptation to cheat your way to an acceptance).
Lesson #2: Know when to draw the line
It’s obvious that paying someone to take the SAT or another academic test on your behalf, or to write your college essays, is considered cheating. But what about paying for SAT tutoring at an academy, asking a trusted mentor to look over your essays and provide feedback, or networking with a family friend to obtain an internship at a research facility? A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself: is this resource helping me to produce my best work, or is it enabling me to look my best with minimal effort? By supplementing and molding a student’s own efforts, tutoring, feedback, and obtaining an internship through a personal connection each fall into the first category. As such we do not consider them to violate any ethical standards.
Lesson #3: Cultivate your Independence
While we encourage you to utilize resources to promote your success, remember that those who are most successful in life are the ones who take their own initiative. View those resources as tools to help you reach a level at which you can perform independently. A great way to build your independence is to push yourself to complete as much work as you can on your own before turning to an outside resource. If you run into writer’s block on an essay, for instance, give yourself 24-48 hours to come up with ideas and perform any necessary research. If you haven’t managed to overcome your writer’s block at the end of that time period, then seek help from a teacher or someone else you trust. With time — and consistent application of the guidance you receive from others — you’ll develop a sense of self-reliance that will carry you forward into college and the professional world.
How will the scandal affect the landscape of college admissions?
Moving forward, it is likely that colleges will set stricter checks in place at every stage of the application review process. This may include contacting staff at your high school or the organizations at which you volunteer in order to verify information you provide in your application, or simply reviewing that information with a more careful eye for possible exaggerations and inconsistencies.
It is crucial, therefore, to BE HONEST on every part of your application. Even if you don’t have any leadership positions to report on your application, your chances of acceptance will still be far greater than they would be if an admissions committee discovers a fabricated club presidency.
” ‘Admission Masters’ Perspective “
At the Admission Masters, we pride ourselves on maintaining the highest ethical standards. We provide our students with the guidance and support they need to take ownership of their own success. Whether you’re navigating the academic challenges of AP testing season, seeking out fulfilling extracurricular activities, or crafting an authentic, memorable college application, Admission Masters is here to empower you every step of the way!
College Admission Consulting Group, ‘Admission Masters’
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