I love the college admissions cheating scandal (“Operation Varsity Blues”) for presenting us with so many “teachable moments” and opportunities to address widespread myths and rumors about college admissions, and even the topic of a college education more broadly.
However, it has made me worry about my students, and everyone else even thinking about preparing for college. Because it is generally poorly understood (due to the salacious nature of most of the media coverage) people seem more freaked out than ever! The scandal has served as a prism, focusing and magnifying cynicism and fear surrounding the college application process that was lurking in the dark corners of so many minds.
So, take a deep breath, and please try to replace your anger and fear with these five facts. You and I will both sleep better as a consequence!
5 Facts About the College Admissions Cheating Scandal
1) This affects almost no one
The scandal involves a teeny, tiny number of people, and an even tinier number of colleges. This is not the tip of the iceberg, it is not widespread, and its impact on any honest student’s college process is virtually zero. Parents screaming to reporters about how much this has deprived their non-cheating children of their rightful place at Whatever University, and how “the system is rigged” against them is nonsense.
2) This is not normal
While the college admission process is neither flawless nor perfectly fair, this is not “how things are done”, or “business as usual.” College admissions staff work incredibly hard to make the process as fair as possible, within the context of the inequities which characterize our society as a whole, and their institutional priorities. Colleges need students, and admissions folks put in unbelievable hours to make the best possible decisions for both students and their campuses.
3) This is not really an “admissions” scandal
Not a single person in a single admissions office was accused or even suspected of any wrongdoing. Every situation involved either cheating on standardized tests, and/or bribing a coach to commit fraud by convincing an admissions office to accept an unqualified student. Admissions offices are essentially victims, tricked by the colleagues they must rely on to provide them with accurate data about students. So, despite the name given by the media, this is more of an “athletic recruiting and testing scandal” than an “admissions scandal.”
4) This shouldn’t change anything about how you think about your college process
Hard work, being a good person, and pursuing your authentic interests are still what matter most to colleges, and will help the right colleges know to invite you to their campuses. Keep up your grades, engage and challenge yourself with what interests you both in and outside the classroom, and work as hard as you can to learn more about who you are and what you are curious about. In other words, continue to be true to yourself and your dreams!
5) This is a great reminder that which college you attend matters very little
Where you go to college will certainly shape you, but can never define who you are. All the data (and there is plenty) shows that your long-term success and happiness are strongly predicted by how deeply you engage on your campus, and not at all by the rejection rate or name recognition of the college you attend.* Just as in high school, how you take advantage of the available opportunities has a much bigger impact on your life than the name brand attached to those opportunities.
I hope this helps demystify the ideas swirling around this scandal. Yes, it is definitely a bad thing and there is work to be done to close the loopholes these criminals and cheaters crawled through, but it is not as scary, dark, depressing, and dangerous as it might seem.
Virtually all people working in any aspect of admissions chose their careers because they care about kids and believe in the transformative power of the right education for every student, and are working their tails off to help students make their dreams come true.
Keep your chin up and stay on track!
* The one exception to this is for students at the lowest socio-economic levels, for whom the social capital available on highly visible campuses cannot be accessed through their families and neighbors as it can for everyone else.