Pay-to-play admissions are a scandal – they’re SOPs too


Netflix’s recent look at the Rick Singer scandal has given a clear idea of ​​how very wealthy parents bribed their unskilled children at prestigious colleges. Outrageous as his crime is, Singer is a small gamer in the multibillion-dollar industrial admissions complex, a world filled with paid legal crook games.

Relying on the uncertainty that pushed parents into Singer’s arms, thousands of sellers compete in a global pre-college tutoring and counseling marketplace teeming with unpredictable prices and few rules beyond maximization of profits.

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Fanning the fear parents have about their children’s futures, the consultants are fueling an industry that thrives on what one expert has described as “a bottomless resource: parental love and anxiety.” . They all seem to be selling the same message: you will fail without us.

As more colleges make high-stakes admission tests optional, scams are sure to grow. In the absence of test results, colleges will prioritize testing and activities, metrics consultants will easily massage. Parents can no longer count on guidance counselors from public schools to help their children with their requests. Counselors advise about 500 students each, twice the volume of 250 students recommended by the American School Counselor Association.

Unless applicants attend wealthy private preparatory schools that offer a dizzying array of admission counseling services unavailable to everyone, families usually have to go it alone. It’s no wonder that anxiety is palpable even among families of teens heading to state colleges, where nearly 80% of all applicants end up.

The cost of public degrees has increased 230% since the Reagan administration, while public spending per student has declined 5%. Free market lawmakers have continued to cut funding and increase tuition fees, making it more difficult for families to afford unworthy public universities for scholarships based on grades, results of tests, trials and activities.

It’s no wonder parents are looking for help in the unregulated $ 1.9 billion education counseling industry. With so many people selling so many bogus perks, the odds are stacked against families hoping to find high quality help at reasonable prices.

“We got really bad advice,” said the mother of a Los Angeles public high school senior who applied to college with a 4.06 GPA. She earned a 4.3 GPA, eight Advanced Placement and Honors courses and placed 60th out of 600 in her class. The family paid $ 4000 for 10 months of helping two PTA moms with a local consulting business and a 5/5 Yelp rating. “It was extremely expensive. We had swallowed it. But we thought it was insurance. We’re going to have to pay a lot for college, so we might as well invest now. It didn’t work for us at all.

With the consultant’s help, her daughter applied to 22 colleges in the United States and overseas, including seven of the University of California’s nine public campuses. Although her daughter performed well on standardized tests, the consultant advised against taking SAT or ACT during the pandemic. In the essays, the consultant “guided us and did revisions,” producing finished pieces that were “authentically written by a 17-year-old,” the mother said, in contrast to the essays of some of her friends who ” did not feel authentic at all. . ”

Colleges rarely verify the authenticity of applications, prompting unethical applicants to inflate essays, activities, and community service. “Who’s going to verify that a kid started a non-profit organization and raised $ 5,000 to help save animals?” said the mom. One consultant urged another candidate to “characterize herself as a struggling Latino lesbian to enter UCLA.” It’s like the [Singer] college admissions scandal only on the lower end, ”she said.

Her daughter was turned down or put on the waiting list at all University of California campuses except UC Merced, a college with an acceptance rate of 72%, the highest in the world. system. She begins at the University of Miami in the fall with a merit scholarship to cover part of the $ 73,712 annual tuition fee. More than two-thirds of students enjoy a 35% reduction in tuition fees in Miami, where costs rose 450% to $ 53,682 from $ 9,624 in 1988.

The family now sorts the loans to make up the difference between the forgiveness and the cost. “Raising tuition fees and then offering scholarships is a well-calculated strategy. It definitely put some schools in the foreground for us. It also makes the kids feel like they’re really wanted, ”she said. “But at the end of the day, it’s just marketing.”