Competition, corruption, and getting into college

Misha Canin '22 explains why generations of pay-to-play practices have derailed the legitimacy of the college admissions process.


Paying as much as $75,000 to falsify their child’s SAT score? Illegal. Paying Division I coaches in order for their child to receive fake athletic credentials? Also illegal. Paying $1.25 million for a college grooming program beginning in the eighth grade geared towards acceptance into an Ivy League college? Completely legal. Donating $2.5 million to Harvard shortly before your child is granted acceptance? Also completely legal.

Recently, many well-heeled colleges have been caught up in a massive cheating and bribery scandal involving admission being granted to applicants who would otherwise have been unlikely to earn admittance. It was revealed that William Rick Singer, the CEO of a large college preparation company is the one who orchestrated this.

Parents who worried about their children not being accepted into top colleges would go to him, and he would then help their child in one of two ways. The first was by paying test proctors to cheat for the child on their SAT and ACT exams. The second was a much more complicated process. Singer would use his connections to Division I coaches and fabricate fake athletic credentials that included photo-shopped stock photos of the student playing whichever sport he or she had been deemed a “top-recruit” in. The craziest part? Almost all of these students had never played competitively in the sport for which they were recruited. And not only that, but these students also took away a spot from a well deserving, hard-working, and qualified “fellow” athlete.

While pay-to-play practices have been going on behind the scenes for decades these recent allegations have once again thrust the legitimacy of the college admissions process into the spotlight. This forces us to ask ourselves one question; just how corrupt is our higher education’s admission system?

One could argue that the playing field for student admissions has never been level, with students from wealthy families at a much greater advantage for acceptance into the most selective colleges. Anyone who takes a close look at the process, and the many ways money can influence it would have to agree. It is considered completely legitimate for parents to donate extravagant sums of money only for their child to be accepted a few years later. This is not so different a principle from the bribery of coaches, where money buys a student an (often) undeserved spot in an incoming class. As long as someone isn’t having to abide by the same set of rules as everyone else applying, the situation is unjust, and that student will have an advantage over other students who are applying.

Money should not influence admission decisions or cause admissions officers to overlook the fact that a student does not meet their school’s academic standards. Not only that but in lots of these situations, parents fraudulently gaining their child admission is actually harmful to the child. If the parents want so badly for their children to be accepted, and in order to do so have to work the system, chances are the student is not going to be prepared for the rigorous and competitive environment of the school when they are thrown into it. This can lead to a whole other set of problems later on.

If a college does not think a student is prepared academically to attend their school, they should not be accepted. Whether donations were “legitimate” gifts to a school or bribery of an individual on staff at that college, money corrupts the process and should never change that central principle of a college’s admissions decisions – that students who are not qualified should not be admitted.

In light of the magnitude and high profile of this recent scandal, there is no better time for colleges to address inequities and loopholes in the admissions process and fix what is unjust so that future applicants can regain confidence in the legitimacy of a process that is central not only to the lives of prospective students but also to the view society at large holds about the merits of higher education.

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