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What Should We Learn From the College Acceptance Cheating Scandal?

The mega college scandal, involving Felicity Huffman, should make us rethink the college experience

Regardless of how entertaining a scandal may be, once in a while, it’s worth taking a closer, personal look.

In a massive college admissions scandal that's become international news, for instance, tabloids and news agencies alike have presented us with more than 30 wealthy parents were caught bribing their children into top-tier and even Ivy League schools. Allegedly, parents collaborated with fraudulent admissions coach, to forge their offsprings’ way through elite colege doors by learning disabilities, grades and rankings, athletic prowess, and even paying up to half a million dollars to secure their children's acceptance into schools like Stanford, Yale, and University of Southern California.

William "Rick" Singer was allegedly hired by the implicated parents—among whom include famous actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin—to penetrate the 'side doors' of elite universities and peddle the kids of high-paying parents inside. Beyond allegedly bribing coaches and helping children falsify disability diagnoses, he allegedly arranged for the wealthiest of children to take college entrance (SAT and ACT) tests under the supervision of associates who help them cheat.

Singer purportedly sold himself as a CEO and "master coach," moreover a guru of college admissions. He guaranteed outcomes, abandoning all ethical process, and about $25 million was paid to him from the parents who were sure their kids' natural performance wasn’t enough—parents who apparently believe so-called first class and Ivy League schools aren't merely necessary for their child's existence into adulthood, but also serve as status symbol. Attending a top tier school is representative of upbringing and home life to those who were raised in a time when fraternities were cool, not creepy, and these parents are reluctant to change their minds. So unwilling, in fact, it's going to cost them jail time.
This isn't the Full House reboot we wish came to Netflix. This a real-life scenario that reeks of classism and racism. 
Sure, the tabloid fodder this week is especially entrancing and when Aunt Becky is involved, there are just so many memes to be made! But let's focus. This isn't the Full House reboot we wish came to Netflix. This a real-life scenario that reeks of classism and racism. Low-income students only account for 3 percent of America's top tier universities and access to college tutoring and counseling is chiefly unavailable to students whose families aren't rich and/or white. A recent study estimates white-dominant school districts acquire $23 billion more than lower-income areas, the bulk of whose students are non-white. Paying—up to $500,000 for your kid to beat the system (as Loughlin did) doesn't just illustrate how broken the school system truly is, top to bottom, it verifies what a purely white, juvenile, privileged problem it is to worry about your child succumbing to a conventional path and potentially enrolling in a school they actually earned entry into. God forbid the child of wealthy parents registers at a state school.

Both college admissions and the so-called "college experience" in America are antiquated. It's understood that top universities admit kids on behalf of their families—a 2018 investigation into Harvard's admissions revealed legacies were five times more likely to be accepted than a regular kid legitimately applying to their dream program. Top schools also admit students for fiscal purposes; wealthy parents possess more capital to donate to the school, thus making their children that much more appealing as candidates to the admissions board than kids from lower-income households.

And, really, does where you go to college actually matter all that much? When I tell people I did my undergraduate program in Texas, they automatically assume I attended the University of Texas (one of the colleges Singer fixed a student's entrance into) probably due to my credentials, and largely because that's the school to attend if you live in Texas. While trust me, I felt significant fear of missing out (or "FOMO", as the kids say) throughout college for that very reason, those who assume I went to UT couldn't be more wrong—I went to the University of North Texas: a sleepy, cheap school in the tiny town of Denton, about 30 miles west of my parent's house in McKinney, Texas.

The point is: parents or admissions offices should not mislead anyone into thinking their worth is proportionate to attending the "best" universities in order to achieve success.

I was only a 40 minute drive away because it was the closest school in a 50-mile radius—If there had been a college in my hometown, I would surely have gone there instead and lived at home. Having graduated at 17-years-old, I wasn’t quite ready for the independence college requires. My grades in high school were wholly inadequate: my entire junior year of high school I didn't do homework. And not, like, "I forgot homework every once in a while"—I literally chose to do none of my homework. I was in an abusive relationship that became a full-time job for me outside of high school. I frankly didn't have time for academics, and my boyfriend, who dropped out his junior year, would grow angry with me for devoting myself to studies if it meant taking time away from caring for or doting on him. I was trapped and couldn't think about my future: when you're in an abusive relationship every day feels like infinity and your main priority is survival—not which university I'd be partying with my friends at in the coming years.

However, a year and a city-relocation later, I was in a better environment and able to raise my GPA to around a 2.5 my senior year. That's not good, by any stretch of the imagination—notably when you're helping your valedictorian buddy write his big speech. Still, it improved, and I had teachers who enjoyed my presence in class enough to write me recommendations. I expected I'd live at home for a few years and just figure it out, but my parents convinced me to apply to "at least one" nearby program. So, I wrote explaining why my grades sucked in high school and when I was waitlisted I was beyond appreciative to be deemed worthy of even that. So following my admittance a month later, I took college pretty seriously. Following my first semester, I'd decided I someday wanted to go to graduate school and stopped drinking and maybe attended a total of six parties. Most of my time was devoted to studying and preparing for the GRE.

I was nervous I wasn't at a good enough school to be admitted into a graduate program for what felt like such an unimportant field of study: Russian history. But I plugged away at my studies and applied, again, to only one school: St. John's University in Queens, New York. They not only accepted me, but paid me to attend. I received a bi-weekly stipend for working as a research assistant three times a week, and in return, my schooling was free. It wasn't the coolest school on the planet, but neither was the University of North Texas. And yet, I was happy to be there: they'd even admitted me without my having started or completed a single internship. In fact, my only internship took place during my last semester of graduate school, where I registered an extra semester just so I could take the opportunity, which was commensurate on college credit.

The point is: parents or admissions offices should not mislead anyone into thinking their worth is proportionate to attending the "best" universities in order to achieve success. After all, the U.S. News & World Report's esteemed college rankings have been discredited as frequently inaccurate and based on reports from folks at the colleges themselves to keep students applying. And of course, rankings and numbers are embellished: money is involved not only in admittance but in the application process, which can cost kids thousands if they don’t have parents providing for them. Stanford University, for example, has the highest application fee in the U.S. at $90. It's a privilege to even apply! Stanford states 43,997 students applied in 2016, meaning they raked in nearly $4 million in application fees alone. Why bother? Their acceptance rate is solidly locked at around 5 percent. There are plenty of dedicated, inclusive-minded teachers at schools nationwide willing to give you an equal if not greater education.

The truth that no one should care what school you went to. It would be silly to say no one cares; Lorne Michaels has a rumored habit of plucking kids from his Ivy League alma mater for Saturday Night Live fame. But most of my friends didn't finish college or even apply and still receive tons of paid opportunities. To employers, college is now seen as more of a cherry on top and less of the actual sundae. Gen Z is a lot more entrepreneurial than its predecessors and can make the same amount of money online accumulating a following as most students with a B.A. make during their first post-graduate jobs. And money is a huge factor here because top tier schools aren't just impracticable, they're simply not worth it.

A Harvard graduate, for example, published an article Wednesday expressing how he amassed $160,000 in student debt at Harvard and would not do it all over again if given the option. The stigma on community college should be lifted as well—it's free in nearly 20 states. Smaller, cheaper schools sure beat attending the best university in your state, or worse, attending an out-of-state school and battling student debt until your late 30s. What's the point? Millennials' student debt is already 300 percent greater than Gen X-ers. Learn from our mistakes. Don't spend half your life slowly chipping away at your paychecks just so you can have what your grandma would call a fulfilling college experience. Tuition costs are only rising, folks.

It's all—as the rich and famous have so un-subtly revealed to us this week—one hefty scam.

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