On College Admissions: How Far Would You Go To Get Into Your Dream School?
Most everyone has a dream school, but as it is with most things in life, there's no certainty that anyone can simply get in. For some, the reason could be that they aren't ready for the financial commitment. People who ache to study in certain schools here or abroad may not have the means to do so just yet. For others, the requirements needed to meet acceptance could be difficult to fulfil or the applicant could simply have plenty of self-doubts. There is a multitude of reasons that hinder people from receiving the much-coveted acceptance letter.
Of course, the story is different for some. In the United States, those who can afford it want assurance, even when it comes at a hefty price tag.
"Operation Varsity Blues": The College Admissions Scandal of 2019
On 12 March 2019, reports broke that roughly three dozen people were arrested. Among these were Full House actress Lori Laughlin, her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, and Desperate Housewives star, Felicity Huffman (Huffman's spouse was not indicted). All were apparently involved in a conspiracy to commit mail and honest services fraud by allegedly scheming to get their kids into university. These parents were said to have participated in a scam that involved paying millions of dollars to a man named William Rick Singer who ran a business that helped ensure children would get accepted into top US universities.
Huffman, a mother of two, had been accused of fixing the conditions for her older daughter's SAT test. She'd apparently also considered inflating her younger daughter's score but had decided against it. Justice Department records had noted that Huffman's older daughter had scored a 1420 in her SAT, which is 400 points above her PSAT score. Huffman claims that her daughter had no idea about her mother's involvement in her exam scores, and had even asked her: "Why didn’t you believe in me? Why didn’t you think I could do it on my own?" Huffman's older daughter has since been accepted into Carnegie Mellon University on her own. Her younger daughter is set to attend Vassar.
Because Huffman's daughters have remained largely lowkey, the backlash towards their family remains comparatively mild in contrast to the Giannulli family. Most notably, Olivia Jade, Laughlin and Giannulli's daughter, had come under fire for her insensitivity and past social media posts. Olivia Jade currently holds a strong presence on both Instagram and YouTube. At the time of the scandal, she was enrolled at the University of Southern California (USC) as a student-athlete. Her choice of sport? Rowing.
As the scandal unfolded, however, people online were quick to find videos of Olivia Jade saying that she "hates" school. In one video, she even said that she didn't "care" about school but was looking forward to "the experience of like game days, partying". After the backlash, Olivia Jade became silent on social media only to return a few months later with a since-deleted Instagram photo of her with her middle finger raised towards the camera.
Olivia's older sister, Isabella Giannulli, had also entered USC as part of the rowing team. Both sisters have had photoshopped rowing photos leaked to the press. As of writing, Isabella and Olivia are no longer enrolled at USC.
The involvement of high-profile names in the case has overshadowed many of the others who were charged in the scandal. However, The New York Times had earlier published a list that included parents, athletic coaches, and private instructors who were also co-conspirators.
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How did they do it?
Bribery is at the core of the entire scandal. Sums of up to millions of dollars were spent to ensure an unfair advantage for the children of those who could afford it. In some cases, these bribes gave families leeway to have another person take the SAT or ACT exams for their children. Sometimes, students taking the tests were given the answers for the questions beforehand or the exam moderator would simply revise their answers afterwards.
While the SAT and ACT are often taken in large groups, parents who've paid can easily fabricate a reason for their children to take it alone. To do so, however, would require deception about their children's learning abilities or schedules.
But ensuring a spot to top universities oftentimes requires more than just a good exam score. Lori Laughlin for example, banking on USC's specially designated slots for student-athletes. As with most schools, requirements for student-athletes are oftentimes less rigorous than for the traditional student, making it a "side door entrance" for some. A fake resume, created for Olivia Jade, has since surfaced and details an exaggerated account of her athletic career in high school. There have also been reports of staged photos where faces of students would be photoshopped onto bodies of real athletes engaged in sport.
Heat over the college admissions scandal has since been reignited as Lori Laughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli have since pled guilty. Loughlin has been sentenced to two months in prison and must pay USD150,000 in fines aside from completing 100 hours of community service. Giannulli received a more severe five-month prison term, a USD250,000 fine, and 250 hours of community service. Huffman, for her part, had pled guilty to charges last year and received a lighter sentence of 14 days; she only served 11 days.
At the beginning of March 2019, as the scandal was unfolding, some of those involved were quick to plead guilty, hoping for a lighter sentence. However, some such as Loughlin and Ginanulli had originally fought the charges. Updates on those who are not as high-profile are harder to come by although USA Today had noted that most have already pled guilty.
An Unfair System
Many people are rightfully angry at the whole incident. Students around the world work incredibly hard to be able to get into their university of choice. Oftentimes this means a loaded schedule of working on academics, extracurriculars, sports, even job applications. While the educational system in the Philippines is vastly different from that of the United States, it's not difficult to sympathise with people who are angered that they may have been cheated out of a spot for a scholarship or admission.
One mother, for example, had originally filed a five billion dollar lawsuit against both Laughlin and Huffman claiming that her son had been unfairly denied access to college. A group from Stanford University had also filed a separate lawsuit amounting to five million dollars. They say that they were deceived when they agreed to pay the fees required with each application. The lawsuit had claimed that the students "did not receive what they paid for - a fair admissions consideration process."