Admissions bribery is reprehensible

Illustration by Susan Edgley | Parents allegedly involved in the recent college admissions scandal paid their children’s way into top-level universities that others had to work to attend.

By Susan Edgley
Art Director/ Layout Editor

The college admissions scandal, in which parents allegedly paid millions of dollars to get their children into college through an illegal back door, is appalling. On March 12, William “Rick” Singer, a former Brookhaven College student and the mastermind of the scheme in which bribes were funneled to college coaches and test administrators, pleaded guilty to racketeering, money laundering, tax evasion and obstruction of justice. Federal authorities indicted 50 people, including 33 parents, who allegedly participated in the scam.

As a parent of a currently enrolled college student, I know the college application process is grueling and stressful. It’s not enough to make good grades in high school or score well on college entrance exams to get into top universities. College applicants must also submit strong résumés documenting leadership, extracurricular activities at school and in the community, awards and work history. They have to write unique, compelling essays without grammatical or punctuation errors and submit letters of recommendation.

The process might be suitable for high-achieving perfectionists. For my son and me, it was overwhelming.

We quickly realized his mistakes – not volunteering enough, not much work history, minimal leadership roles and few awards during his previous three years in school. Although his GPA was good, he was just shy of being in the top 10% of his class. He didn’t take an SAT prep course. And I didn’t hire a writing coach to help him with his essays.

We hoped his achievements were enough to get him into a university or program he was content with. 

We talked about other options: attending a community college and transferring or taking a year off to work.

My son decided to attend a four-year institution. He had his heart set on a specific university. When the rejection letter arrived a few months later, it stung. It was emotional for the entire family.

The good news is that my son was accepted by all of the other schools he applied to. He made his final choice, and today he is happy.

Despite the challenges, he made it into a good school on his own merit. He followed the rules.

What is shocking to me is how far other parents allegedly went to get their children into college: bribing officials, falsifying test scores, fabricating athletic activities and doctoring photographs.

We felt incredibly anxious during the college application rounds, but we would have never considered any of those illegal measures to get my son into college.

I understand wanting your children to succeed and shielding them from hardships. The admission process is daunting. Rejection hurts.

Everything these days is competitive – school, sports, jobs. There is a perception that the top companies with the top jobs recruit from the top institutions. There is pressure to be the best, be prosperous and look good while doing it. Biases exist. We are a material society. No one wants to be a loser or be on the losing team.

However, cheating and lying are not the solutions. It is not OK to be dishonest. As parents, we have to model good behavior and integrity. We need to follow the ground rules and demonstrate right from wrong.

Cheating devalues education. A degree signifies a completion of study, as well as hard work, determination, independence and self-worth. If everyone cheated, what would getting a degree mean?

My son is pushing himself harder than he has ever had to. When he graduates, he deserves to be recognized for his accomplishments.

I don’t want anyone to diminish his efforts because someone else cut corners and broke the rules.

Shameful too is the obscene amount of money allegedly spent by these parents — far above the cost of tuition, disguised as charitable contributions. So many families and young adults need financial help to enroll in college. A better use of the alleged illegal payments would have been to fund tuition or scholarships for other students or donate to the college.

As parents, we have to let go at some point and let our children forge their own paths. Not every student is a straight-A student, the captain of the football team or the student council president. Mine wasn’t. And that is OK. My son is not attending an Ivy League school. That’s OK too. He found a solution that is working for him. And I have to trust that he will flourish by his own definition of success, not mine.