College admission scheme exposes flaws with the admission process


Reina Makimura

College admissions can feel impossible. Students put years of work into their applications– getting good grades in school, studying for standardized tests, taking those tests repeatedly, taking workshops on essay writing, etc.
But even with all that work, colleges admissions aren’t fair– something that became entirely too apparent with the recent arrest of dozens of people involved in an admissions scandal. The scandal centered around William Rick Singer, who pled guilty to money laundering and conspiracy, among other charges, on March 12, 2019.
Singer ran the college preparation program known as The Key, which attracted the wealthiest of American parents– celebrities, CEOs, fashion designers and others. CNN stated that Singer was paid around $25 million to guarantee students admissions into top ranked schools. Parents would “donate” this money to his fake charity, the Key Worldwide Foundation.
The scheme was simple, but extremely effective. Essentially, there were two options parents could choose when working with Singer. The first involved the dreaded standardized tests that almost every college bound student takes.
Singer would arrange to have tests at a separate or fake testing location. He would then bribe test proctors to turn a blind eye while a third party took the test in place of the student. In other situations, test proctors were bribed to change a few answers on students’ tests, in order to get the score Singer promised.
Another form of cheating involved special accommodations. Some students are given accommodations on these tests that may include extra or double time. These accommodations are supposed to only be given to students with legitimate reasons for needing them, such as having diagnosed anxiety or ADHD. However, Singer advised his students to “act slow” during an evaluation to determine if these accommodations were necessary.
“The goal is to be slow, not as bright, all that, so we show discrepancies,” Singer advised one parent in a statement released with the 269-page indictment. “…all the wealthy families…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.”
Both ways distort students’ scores on the test. For example, one student received a score that was 400 points higher than a previous SAT with a different proctor.
In addition to cheating, the blatant abuse of special accommodations give a bad name to all students who need them. For example, a student might genuinely need extra time due to a learning disorder, however other students might suspect this to be cheating. While college admissions officers are not informed if a student used extra time on a test, this scandal could make students hesitant to take accommodations if they know peers might look twice at it.
The second way that Singer helped students cheat their way into colleges involved sports recruiting. College sports coaches do not have an official say in acceptances, but their recommendations are taken into account. Singer would bribe coaches into recommending his students to be accepted into their dream schools.
This went so far as to apply to students who do not play any sports. For example, according to the indictment report, one father Photoshopped a photo of his son onto a Stock image of a waterpolo player and sent it to Singer. Singer then sent the fake image to college recruiters, who then recommended the student for admission. Several college coaches have been fired or placed on administrative leave, and the University of Southern California has launched an internal investigation.
The admissions scheme was a hard wake up call for many students applying to those same top colleges: however hard one works, there are people who have the ability to cheat the system. The students involved in this scheme all come from upper class backgrounds and their parents had the funds in order to pay millions for acceptances.
For example, the “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin paid $500,000 in order to get her two daughters recruited for the crew team at USC. “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman paid $15,000 for her daughter to cheat on the SATs. While they may just want the best for their daughters, it’s undeniable that this scandal is an example of wealthy people using their money to take advantage of a process that is supposed to give every student a fair shot at their dream school.
This is the most extreme example of cheating, but the admissions process has been called unfair before. Some families can pay for hours of SAT tutoring to get a higher score, while others only have the money to take it once. Some students can pay admissions officers to let them in, while other students just have to go through the hours of work.
This scandal has shown the flaws in the admissions system. Those involved went to great lengths to cover up their cheating, and so it is hard to catch those who are paying off college coaches and SAT proctors. However, there does need to be change in this system. College is supposed to give opportunities to all students, regardless of their financial background, and the process needs to be better streamlined in order to protect that ideal.