I know I’m a bit late posting about this, but I really wanted to take some time to digest and think about as many different angles as possible before I wrote something straight from the gut. If anyone has been living under a rock, last week a major scandal came out regarding students applying and getting accepted to Universities throughout the United States. It has come out that wealthy families were working with a company that helped families cheat to receive increased SAT and ACT scores along with providing false participation in sports as well as extracurricular activities that boosted their standings with many collegiate admissions boards. My initial outrage and shock has tempered over the week and quite frankly I’m surprised at my new feelings of “I get it!”. Let me be very clear, I get why the parents took the path that they did, although I’m sure all of them regret it now. I DO NOT, and let me repeat, DO NOT understand or agree with the company, colleges and coaches who have cheated these young people.
If we are being honest with ourselves, this isn’t the first times that parents have leveraged their wealth to provide a better opportunity for their children. Isn’t that the American dream after all? To provide a better life to our children than we had? I remember a young woman I went to high school with getting into a University that quite frankly she had no business applying to due to her grades and SAT scores. However, she was accepted and there is a building on campus that now support her family name. This has been happening for decades and, as much as it sickens me to write this, will continue to go on in the future, regardless of how much buzz this story has in the media. My statement of “I get it” is not complicit to the actions, just that I understand the way parents feel due to the fact that the collegiate landscape has changed so much. When my parents went to college they were the both the first people in their family to get an education past high school. Simply by getting the degrees they were elevated over the general public. When they went on to get post-graduate degrees they placed even more distance between themselves and others they were competing against. When you compare that to my generation, the question wasn’t IF you were going to college, but WHERE you were going to college. Having a degree has changed from elevating you over the competition to now being a minimum requirement. Really it is simple supply and demand in work. When there is a skill set desired that very few people have, the ones that have it are more desirable. If the pool is filled with people who ALL have a degree, how do you get noticed in a competitive job market? It is no longer enough to just have a degree, but it now matters WHERE you get your degree from. What distinguishes you from everyone else? With that thought in mind, families are starting earlier and earlier to prepare their children to get in the best school possible.
Living in South Carolina, I can think of no better example than Clemson University. Growing up I was fortunate enough to be selected to participate in the TIP program in 7th grade and ended up scoring just below 1000 on that SAT. At that time my score would have put me right around the 50th percentile of students being accepted to Clemson(please forgive me if my memory is off, I’m getting old). When you compare that to the data found on Prep Scholar for Clemson now, you’ll notice that their BOTTOM 25th percentile is over 1200 and the picture should become more clear. Not only are more students going to college, but the scores needed to be competitive are increasing at an incredible rate. Heck, my score of 1430 in 99-00 compared to the top 75th percentile at UNC now just barely gets me there! At its core, this is truly why I believe more and more families are looking for help and are willing to push the limits to help their children gain an advantage in the admissions process.
Am I saying that cheating is necessary to get in to a good school? Of course not, it just means that the game has changed and that we need to be aware of it as soon as possible in order to put ourselves in a position to succeed. Families need to start thinking outside of the box and start preparing earlier than ever to get their student recognized. I worked with a young woman last year who is now a senior in high school. She started a non profit when she was in 9th grade to raise money to help feed the hungry. She is a competitive swimmer, volunteers, is a member of many clubs at school and had a rock solid GPA. We worked together and she was able to raise her SAT score by 130 points. Is it a surprise that she has been accepted to 6 universities and now has the opportunity to choose which school is the best fit for her? Of course not. The difference is looking at her entire body of work. I’ll be real, I’m not 100% positive that her increase in SAT scores put her over the edge. Did it help? Of course. However, it was her entire body of work that really got her to the point she is at now. While I know that SAT scores are a large component to getting accepted, families have to step back and take a look at the big picture. Where are the gaps? What areas can be worked on OUTSIDE of school? If your GPA and SAT scores are solid, you may be better off focusing on other facets to show the Universities how amazing you are. If your extracurriculars are exceptional, then maybe you should focus a bit more time on increasing your SAT scores to stand out amongst the crowd. A dear friend of mine who I went to high school and college with is an embodiment of this. He ended up as a Morehead scholar at UNC. Did he score a 1600 on his SAT? Nope. Did he have a 5.0 in school? Nope. While his GPA and SAT were very strong, it wasn’t that on it’s own that got him admitted. He was class president, involved in many clubs, his mother helped him get involved with organizations outside of the school to show how well rounded he was, he played guitar and sang in a band, and he rode the bench for our state champion soccer team. (I still give him the business for being a benchwarmer lol) When you step back and look at his achievements, it is no wonder he was able to accomplish his goals and receive the honors that he did. He didn’t rely on one metric, but showed through his actions that he was able to accel in many different venues. So when it came time to apply not only for college, but also for scholarships he elevated himself over those in the same pool. At its core, I believe this is the reason we are seeing this scandal. Families do not start early enough preparing for college admission. They put themselves in a position where their back was against the wall and I’m sure they felt that their only option was to “pay their way” in to school. Again, I’m not saying that agree with their actions, just that I understand. If you gave any of these families an opportunity to go back in time and change, do you really think they would make the same choices? What if instead they could go back to 9th grade and have a strong plan put together to reach their goals? That is my biggest take away from this whole mess, a lot of the needless pain that they are going through now could have been alleviated by simply working with a professional whose goal was to help them improve through hard work instead of looking for the easy way out.
In conclusion, I want to urge families and students not to give up or be too upset by this news. Is it terrible and do the criminals who perpetrated these acts deserve to be punished? Absolutely. Will this be the end of wealth helping families get preferential treatment? Nope. There is a quote that sits above my desk in our office that I think is pertinent to this conversation and I urge all families to digest...
Instead of worrying about what others are doing, look inside, be honest with yourselves and make changes. Some will benefit from extra help in class or getting a better SAT score. If that is you, go with someone you can trust, someone who has a plan, and gives realistic expectations for score increases. While I would love to promise everyone I work with that their school scores will go up 30 points and their SAT scores will increase by 500 points just by working with me, that is the exception rather than the rule. It is all about getting better every day and taking incremental steps to not only improve your grades and SAT score, but focusing on other aspects that can be strengthened to increase your chances at admission.
What are your thoughts and feelings on this whole situation?