College Admissions Scandal: A Different Perspective

Phoebe Martin, Co-Editor

I was shocked when the news broke that approximately 50 parents, SAT/ACT administrators, proctors, and coaches were charged in a nationwide college admissions cheating scandal led by William Singer. At this point, I am sure most people are familiar with the basic story: William Singer helped wealthy families ensure their children admission to elite schools by helping them cheat on standardized tests and fabricating athletic profiles for the applicants. He also created the World Key Foundation to launder the money he received from parents to pay off college coaches and test proctors. Initially, I was surprised by the story, but as I found myself engaging in more conversations about the topic, I became more invested and developed stronger feelings about the subject. After reflecting upon the issue for the past few days, I’m eager to express my thoughts on the matter.

Firstly, there is the issue of wealth and privilege. Many of the articles I read focused on how people who “already had an advantage” were further cheating the system. While I cannot deny that higher-income families are granted many privileges in the college process, this issue is slightly more complicated. Affirmative action is the idea that disadvantaged groups should receive preferential treatment, and it arguably makes it more difficult for white students to be admitted over minority groups. For example, if there were two equally qualified applicants, race would be a factor and the applicant belonging to a minority group would likely be the one admitted. On the contrary, full-paying students can be given preferential treatment because colleges rely on tuition to fund their school. A student at Bronxville High School might have the ability to invest in tutoring, consult college counselors, pay full tuition, etc., but these are advantages that many other students in his class also have access to. Most top colleges will take a few students from each highly-ranked high school in the country, so we compete against our classmates more than anyone else. It just goes to show that sometimes, the better the school, the higher the level of competition. My overall point is that I think the media likes to stereotype “the privileged elite” and make it seem like they have all these “advantages”, but these applicants are also being held to higher standards where certain privileges become insignificant when all their peers have them too.


Second, the SAT and ACT cheating was made possible because Singer helped families fake learning disabilities in order to grant them testing accommodations such as extra time or private proctoring. In the indictment, Singer is quoted saying, “What happened is, all the wealthy families that figured out that if I get my kid-tested and they get extended time, they can do better on the test … so most of these kids don’t even have issues, but they’re getting time.” It has become increasingly difficult for students with real disabilities to get approved for accommodations because of how many people are taking advantage. When people who do not need extra time are getting tested and approved for it, that encourages more people who do not have learning disabilities to do the same because now certain test takers are getting an unfair advantage. The Learning Disabilities Association of America wrote in a statement, “accommodations are about leveling the playing field and not about bestowing an unfair advantage.” Students with genuine disabilities get hurt the most because something that was created to allow them to be equal with regular time test takers is being exploited by people looking to cheat. The ACT and SAT clearly need to develop better systems for requesting accommodations so that only people who really need it receive it.


Third, I sympathize with the children of these high-achieving parents. It must be humiliating to find out your parents did not have the confidence in you to get into a college on merit or did not approve of the college you actually qualified for. I cannot imagine what it felt like to find out via the media that your scores and college acceptances were not genuine. In the indictment, a parent asks Mr. Singer if there is a way for his son to take an SAT at home so his son thinks he is taking the real SAT when in fact, the father had hired someone to take it for him. In other cases, children may have known about what was going on, but the prosecution has explained that they view the parents and other defendants as “the prime movers of this fraud.” Many of the schools involved, however, are considering punishing the students who received admission based on false information. It seems justifiable that these students should no longer be enrolled in the school if they were not, in fact, qualified to begin with. On the other hand, it seems the admissions process at large is more to blame than innocent children who were not aware of the fraud and lies associated with their application. U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said that “for every student admitted through fraud, an honest, a genuinely talented student was rejected.” Perhaps these students should be unrolled to make room for more deserving applicants. Another question I had was if there would be any implications for students who have already graduated. Are they still deserving of their college degree? One must also consider that regardless of how they were admitted to the school, many of these students likely contributed in positive ways during their time there.


Lastly, and in my opinion, most importantly, Singer and his associates were only able to conduct this scheme because of a severe flaw in the college admissions process: college sports. Ironically, the most upsetting aspect of this scandal was what was legal. I have never understood why athletics played such an important role in admissions for a position that is supposed to be focused on education. If someone had learned about the scandal, not having been made aware of the intense importance of college sports in this country, he would not understand why applicants who posed as talented athletes were able to shortcut the standard application process, guaranteeing acceptance to some of the most exclusive universities with greater tolerance for low scores and grades. The fact some of the smartest kids in the country are rejected because of educationally under-qualified applicants who happen to be good at sports is absolutely perplexing. When did college become a competitive sports league rather than a school? Likely when the NCAA, a “nonprofit” proved it could generate a billion dollars in annual revenue. Not to mention that many “student-athletes” are held to lower academic standards in order to keep them playing on behalf of the school.


Overall, although this news is extremely disappointing, it brought to light a lot of serious issues with the college process and how certain people are taking advantage or are disadvantaged as a result of the current system. Sometimes it feels like applying to college is like a game of poker: one must play strategically and access risk, but ultimately you play with the cards you are dealt. No one has every advantage in this process, and the best option is to present yourself as honestly as possible because it feels much more rewarding to know you were accepted, rather than a factious version of you. Furthermore, we must remind ourselves that our worth is not determined by the name/rank of the college we go to, it’s about what we do with it. As seniors expect to hear back from colleges about regular decisions, and juniors begin their college visits and application, it is important to keep that advice in mind…