College admissions were never what they were supposed to be
April 3, 2019
Lori Loughlin, or as I remember her, Aunt Becky from “Full House,” paid half a million dollars for her daughter Olivia Jade to illegally get into USC because Olivia could not do it on her own. When the scandal broke, I was not at all surprised. Parents paying their child’s way into college is nothing new.
Institutions have accepted donations coinciding with student applications for years. Visit the website of any university, and you can donate as much as you want to their various funds. President Trump’s son-in-law and White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner attended Harvard after his father, Charles. pledged $2.5 million to Harvard when Jared applied to the extremely selective university. Jared was accepted even though his academic merits were not up to the standards of Harvard. Whether they exert their influence illegally or legally, extremely wealthy people like Loughlin and Kushner have an advantage in the college admissions process.
College is supposed to be a meritocracy but no matter how hard institutions try and make that possible during the review and selection process, students are never all going to be on a level playing field. Outside of donations and bribes, wealthy families have access to resources not available to middle or lower income students, the most popular of which is private college counselors. Students at Los Altos and across the country hire expensive counselors to review their essays, prepare them for their standardized tests, and to choose extracurricular activities that will catch the eye of admissions officers. Private college counselors exist to essentially help guarantee students what cannot be guaranteed.
I do not fault students for seeking out the help of college counselors. There is a monumental pressure on students, whether it is applied consciously or not, to not only get into college, but to get into lots of colleges and name brand ones at that. Many of my friends had college counselors look over their essays and found them helpful. I supported my friends as they supported me as we all went through the application process, but I did not hire a college counselor. I also did not get into my dream school. Would a college counselor have made a difference? I am not sure, but would have thousands of dollars been worth answering that question?
In this sense, college admissions are a game; a toxic game of chance. Students know the rules: you have to have a high GPA, you have to play a sport, you have to volunteer, you have to hold some leadership position, you have to have some life struggles that you can milk for your Common App essay, etc. You roll the dice when you submit your application, and then months later, you find out if you are a winner or a loser. If you win, “Congratulations, [student]! [College] is pleased to offer you admission for fall 2019.” If you lose, “Dear [student], we regret to inform you that we cannot offer you admission for fall 2019.”
In principle, college admissions should be about the students, their character, academic goals, and work ethic. However, it seems as if the admissions process has become less about the qualifications of individual applicants and more about who can best finesse a secretive and uncertain system.