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Columns

Who Actually Earns a Spot?

By Riya Sood
Riya Sood ’20 is a Statistics concentrator in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.

Money is involved in college admissions.

This is the shocking twist that is gripping Americans in 2019. The Mueller Report? The burning of the Amazon rainforest? Boris Johnson’s rise? All irrelevant compared to this brand new information that no one saw coming. Being wealthy can actually be an advantage for getting into prestigious colleges.

From 2011 to 2018, parents paid over $25 million to William Rick Singer, founder of a college preparatory organization, who orchestrated a bribery ring. These weren’t just any random parents desperate to get their unknown child into college either — these parents included actresses, CEOs, well-known hedge fund managers, and more impressive figures. Singer then used their money to bribe various admissions officers and athletic recruiters to accept these students despite their lack of genuine credentials.

There’s even a catchy name for it — Operation Varsity Blues. Maybe Lori Loughlin is a bit offended that it wasn’t called Operation Fullest House instead, but she seems to have bigger concerns right now.

Although, as we’ve seen with the sentencing of Felicity Huffman — another of the parents — maybe Loughlin’s concerns need not be so overblown. The consequence for cheating in an already heavily rigged system is a whopping 14 days in prison. Clearly this will be a massive deterrent to anyone else who considers this approach.

While this is by no means a new introduction of money into the college admissions system, it’s definitely a new usage of privilege. It turns out that wealth doesn’t just come in handy for donating money for a new building, using systematically privileged sports such as crew, polo, and sailing as an advantage, hiring experienced tutors to train one’s kids for the SAT, or paying tuition for expensive preparatory schools.

It turns out that there’s actually an easier way — certain parents chose to bribe and defraud their children’s way into prestigious universities instead.

Of course this is not a conventional way to get into college. Most students instead go through a more normal application process where they actually play these sports and earn the scores they report. But they are wasting their time. For desperate housewives and full houses, these methods evidently require too much effort. They understand the best way to earn admission is to cheat.

Some parents were willing to allegedly pay up to $6.5 million to have their children admitted to these universities — which at this point begs the question, why not just donate directly to a college to gain admission for their child?

But gone are the days of the Kushners’ $2.5 million donation to Harvard in 1998 to admit a young Jared. It seems as though we are in a new reality. Nowadays, maybe donating directly limits options too much. Or it requires even more funds. Or it possibly just leaves too much risk of a possible rejection. Regardless of the reason, the price has clearly gotten too high. And yet trying to actually earn a spot is also simply not an option.

At this point it doesn’t even matter what the next big indictment in American society will be, because the same groups of people will be associated with spending too many years using money for various fraudulent reasons. With the Trump administration’s associates, there were lawyers, asset managers, and people affiliated with the entertainment industry all getting involved somehow. With this college cheating scandal, there are lawyers, asset managers, and people affiliated with the entertainment industry again all getting involved.

And yet again, these people will likely face very minimal consequences for their actions.

Notably, though, this narrative doesn’t even take the students themselves into account. Obviously the most morale-boosting experience in the low-stress environment of college would be finding out that one’s parents paid millions of dollars to bribe their way in to these universities! And even if these students already knew, it still has to be an absolute joy to have all of your peers watching you all the time and wondering if you could have gotten on your own.

At this point, between bribes, tutors, coaches, and everything else, it’s hard to even say what it takes for one to “earn” a spot at college. We can’t all have Nobel Peace Prizes or Olympic medals, so where does that leave everyone vying for an exclusive spot at these prestigious universities? It makes one wonder what these students will even learn at their various institutions and whether it may be too late for them to differ from their parents’ example.

But in reality, is how to use money to get ahead really the most unrealistic lesson that these parents could teach their children?

Riya Sood ’20 is a Statistics concentrator in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.

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