College admissions scandal reflects power wealth plays in acceptance

By Ruby Van Dyk & Anna Goorevich || Editor-in-Chief & Opinions & Editorials Editor

Photo courtesy of latimes.com

A few weeks ago, federal officials charged dozens of powerful figures for participating in bribery schemes in order to earn their children guaranteed spots at top universities. Among those who were charged were famous figures like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, along with executives and wealthy business owners. The parents allegedly bribed a college coach to assist them in faking test scores and athletic recruit information. Some of the schools involved include University of Southern California, Stanford, Georgetown, and Yale. The aftermath of this scandal raises questions about the fairness of the college admissions process in general. 

What these parents did is blatantly illegal and has shocked the American news circuit over the past couple weeks. However, these actions are not uncommon. They are simply part of a larger pattern of how the wealthy are able to exploit the college admissions process for their advantage. Rather than focusing on the bribery and fraud that these specific celebrities and executives have committed on behalf of their children, what should be discussed instead is the plethora ways that many wealthy students have a foot up in the college admissions process that are completely legal. 

One way that many parents contribute to securing admission to prestigious schools is by making large donations to the school prior to their students acceptance. Schools pay attention to the amount of funds that parents have contributed and can contribute in the future. Private colleges are businesses at the end of the day. They rely on fundraising. Parents who make significant contributions also oftentimes sit on boards for colleges, and are able to exert their influence and power in admissions decisions. Colleges want to keep their donors and board members happy. If that means admitting their child, then they will oftentimes do it. 

Another common advantage that wealthy and upper-middle class families can grant to their children is the use of tutors that can assist in ACT/SAT prep, college application essays, or college counseling process. Especially in a college admissions process that places significant value on a standardized test score, where a few points can make a huge difference in a person’s qualifications to attend a university, those who can afford these tutoring services are at a significant advantage. Tests scores for the ACT and SAT are most of the time dependent on practice opportunities. If a student of a lower socioeconomic class is unable to pay or dedicate the time necessary for these services to practice or train for the tests, they are at an extreme disadvantage when compared to other students whose parents potentially pay thousands of dollars for individualized tutoring. 

The exploitation of the ACT/SAT’s extra time services, meant to accommodate students with documented disabilities or those without English proficiency, is another common advantage that wealthier students use to improve their scores. Since the ACT and SAT are both tests with significant time constraints, any bit of extra time is extremely influential on one’s scores. From both writers’ personal experience, parents of students who did not have legitimate disabilities were able to get doctors to provide documentation for extra time on these tests. Especially in a time where almost any student can make claims for the need for extra time due to test anxiety or ADD/ADHD symptoms, the only factor necessary to gain those valuable minutes is financial abilities. 

The use of tutors and extra-time not only reveal the undeniable advantages that wealthier families have, but they also expose the flawed college admissions process. Since most colleges place high value on those test scores as a means of deciding who gets admitted to the colleges, it is concerning that wealthy families can essentially pay their way to higher scores, all while disadvantaging poorer students. 

Students who attend private schools often times gain an advantage from the heightened amount of resources they have access to. Private school college counselors are trained specifically to help students get into prestigious schools in ways that many public school counselors are not. Often times private schools are smaller, which results in more individualized attention in the classroom as well as the college application process. Many private high schools or preparatory academies have prestigious reputations that also aid students in their quest for college success. If you graduated from a prestigious private high school, the amount of access you had to college prep resources was most likely significantly different than someone who attended a large public school in the inner city. 

 Many private colleges and universities prioritize admitting the children of alumni when reading applications. Whether or not someone’s mom or dad attended the institution can sway the chance of a student’s acceptance. This is again connected to fundraising and donations. Colleges need to ensure that their alumni are satisfied and willing to donate. 

These are all ways in which wealthy students have a significant advantage in the college admissions process. This college admissions scandal is a small piece of larger story about education in the United States. Wealth reigns supreme in assisting students in attending prestigious institutions because the system is built for them. Students who don’t have the same resources, yet have the potential to be exceptional students, are left competing not against the intellectual capabilities of wealthier students, but simply their dollars. 

Sophomore Ruby Van Dyk is the  Editor-in-Chief. Her email is rvandyk@fandm.edu. Sophomore Anna Goorevich is the Opinions & Editorials Editor. Her email is agoorevi@fandm.edu.

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