By Rain Ji ’19
William “Rick” Singer might not have been a familiar name to anyone months ago, but he is now the center of the biggest college admission scam in the country, which was successfully uncovered by Operation Varsity Blue on March 12, 2019.
Rick Singer, along with famous business leaders and Hollywood actresses, were part of “the largest college scam ever,” as the Department of Justice called it. According to federal authorities, Singer used funding from parents to bribe athletic coaches, an athletic administrator and others to secure admission for applicants to some of the most selective universities in United States. Schools involved include Stanford, Yale, UCLA, Wake Forest University, and USC, although schools were not accused of any wrongdoings.
According to The Key, Rick Singer’s company, he wants to help others during the admission process because “he has seen the stress that the college admissions process can put on a family.” The Key, according to him, “provides one-on-one support for students to help them design and ultimately realize a life plan.” Although this company seems to advertise itself as a life coaching company that helps young teens to find their passions and pursue them, the reality is much uglier.
Parents gave money to “Key Worldwide Foundation,” a charity organization used to avoid taxation, and the money ended up in the hands of coaches, administrators and Singer. The scams usually involved either a college entrance exam (SAT/ACT) cheating scheme or a college recruitment scheme. For SAT/ACT cheating schemes, standardized test supervisors would help kid cheats during exams, or kids might fake a learning disability in order to receive extra time on the test. In college recruitment schemes, coaches accepted photoshopped pictures that made kids look like varsity athletes. According to an investigation document, Singer called a parent saying “We [The Key] help the wealthiest families in the U.S. get their kids into school.”
These schemes were expensive. The New York Times noted that parents paid 1.2 million dollars to send their daughter into Yale as a soccer star, although she does not play soccer at all; other parents paid at least 50,000 dollars so their son could take the SAT with a conspiring supervisor and extra time; a third set of parents paid 200,000 dollars to make sure their daughter got into USC as a rowing athlete. Evident from the high price tag, these parents are all elites: television star Lori Loughlin, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, actress Felicity Huffman and other successful business leaders. In total, from 2011 to 2018, 25 million dollars were paid to Singer in order to fraud college admissions.
The victims of this scandal are clearly the hard-working students who were not accepted at top colleges because their spots were taken by less qualified students who literally bought their way in. Every time the former Yale soccer coach Rudy Meredith accepts a bribery, an honest and qualified student who comes from a less-privileged background might be rejected because his or her place is taken. Unfortunately, what this scandal revealed is only a part of how the college admission process favors the elite.
In many cases, parents don’t have to rig the process and get caught by federal agents to send their children to top universities. For instance, legacy admission, which often disproportionately favors wealthy students, is a common practice at many top universities.
According to a survey that was sent to all the incoming members of the class of 2022 during the summer at Harvard University, 14 percent of the class is made up of legacy students. They can afford expensive private institutions or top public schools in fancy neighborhoods, which often leads to better college matriculation; they can hire test prep tutors and buy test prep books, which help their children receive better scores on the SAT and ACT; and they send their kids to different summer camps and on volunteer trips, which show their unique academic or social passion. These actions aren’t illegal, but they still create advantages for the wealthy.
The truth is, in comparison with applicants from certain public high schools, we as students at The Gunnery already have significant advantages in the college process. The Gunnery offers many AP and honors courses, and also has a college counseling office that gives each student individual attention. We have a long history of sending students to selective universities all over the country.
Let’s recognize our privilege, and keep in mind that we can make the process a bit fairer by not taking any shortcuts. We can choose to not cheat during SAT/ACT, we can choose to not make up experiences to fill the activity list on the Common App and most importantly, we can choose to be honest during this entire process and lay bare our vulnerabilities.
Although no one knows what’s behind your admission decision – hard work or hard cash – your integrity in the process will nevertheless give you strength in the future. Standardized testing, GPA, extracurriculars, leadership roles, and essays are difficult, stressful and overwhelming, but that should never be the reason you give up your integrity and find the easy way out.