College planning is a journey to take; not a payment to make.
You may have heard about the man who influenced so many affluent parents, test proctors, college coaches, and administrators into a scheme allowing underqualified students to be accepted into elite universities. They all took away a chance for well-deserving students to get an education at one of those universities.
However, I’m not shocked that these families were desperate for college admissions. Last year a family from Vietnam was charged $1.5 million for help applying to elite U.S. colleges.
On Tuesday, March 12, FBI Agent Laura Smith filed an affidavit indicting about 50 people with being a part of a bribing scandal (dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues”) involving college entrance exam administrators, college varsity coaches, and others using the façade of a charitable organization to funnel payments.
Yes, this happens.
No, this is not indicative of college admissions professionals, college coaches, or independent educational consultants (IEC) who work in the career and college planning industry.
Ethical IECs would not stoop to bribing or coercing college admissions officials on behalf of a student. They would work with that student to recommend majors, programs, and colleges that are the right fit based on their personal vision for their career. They would not do the work for them, but would coach them, like an athlete, to be their best self.
The Chronicle of Higher Education asked Arun Ponnusamy, chief academic officer at CollegeWise, a college-advising company based in California, about William Singer. “This guy was a fixer, not a counselor,” he said. “It doesn’t resemble the work that 99 percent of people who call themselves counselors do.”
The work required of a student to attend a college or university includes visiting colleges, completing the applications, writing essays, filing the FAFSA, submitting portfolios (artists, athletes, etc.) applying for scholarships, comparing financial aid award letters, and more. College-bound students work with their school counselor and some hire an IEC for additional, personalized guidance. In their 2018 trends report, 93 percent of HECA members said they “provide pro bono consulting to clients in need.”
Many IECs are former educators, school counselors, college admission officers, ministers, musicians, and athletic directors. College admissions organizations like NACAC, TACAC, HECA, IECA, and CEP have strict membership requirements along with a code of ethics. Here is the NACAC Code of Ethics and Professional Practices. HECA, IECA, and CEP require members to visit colleges each year, take ethics quizzes, and demonstrate knowledge of the ever-changing college admissions industry. Colleges like UCLA, UC Irvine, and Rice offer certificates in college planning. (I am a member of NACAC, TACAC, and HECA and have received my college counseling certification from UCLA.)
Here are a few thoughts for parents about desperate college admissions.
Parents don’t have to be desperate about college admissions when they teach their students how to earn their seat in college.
Teach them, coach them, tutor them to take personal responsibility or hire a teacher, coach, or tutor to help them. There are many desperate “drone parents” (you know, the parents who hover, watch their students every move, get too nosy, etc.) who are just as guilty as William Singer. These parents are writing their kids admission essays (or paying someone to write them). These parents are pushing their kids to live the life they didn’t. These parents are not teaching their kids to be responsible adults.
Parents can teach their students how to earn their seat in college through hard work, failure, grit, character, deadlines made, deadlines missed, and frustrated tears. You’re helping them grow and setting them up for success in life.
If your kids don’t attend college, that is okay. College does not define them or their value.
Parents don’t have to be desperate about college admissions when they understand their kids’ true value.
Your child was created in the image of God to bear good fruit. If your daughter was born with learning disabilities, adopted as a teenager, or just became the spelling bee champion, she has value. If your son wants to bypass higher education to operate a crane, he has value.
Their value is not embroidered on their pocket or their annual salary ten years after graduation. Don’t compare them to someone they were not created to be. Love them for who they are. Love them because he or she is your child.
In the FBI investigation titled “Operation Varsity Blues”, they learned that the scam involved cheating on standardized tests or falsifying athletic records.
Standardized Testing: In a conversation with Gordon Caplan, Cooperating Witness 1 (CW-1) said the kids who didn’t think they would perform well on the test did better than they thought. So, they would call CW-1 “and say, ‘Maybe I should do it again. I did pretty well and if I took it again, I’ll do better even’. Right? And they just have no idea that they didn’t even get the score that they thought they got.”
Most families don’t realize that over 1,000 colleges are test optional. Meaning you don’t have to submit (or even take) the SAT or ACT.
College Athletics: In other cases, CW-1 created fake athletic accounts for students so they could be admitted to the university as an athlete. Many colleges have lower admissions requirements for athletes than academics. So, students who had never attached a boat to a mooring buoy or served an ace in a game 6 tie breaker were accepted to the sailing and tennis teams.
This is one of the soft areas that allow students admission to a college. Now that it has been exposed, higher education will have to address this weakness and change the way athletes are recruited.
Parents don’t have to be desperate about college admissions when all students are required to enter the same door as everyone else.
The Michigan Union on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor was originally built in 1919 as a social center for male students. Women could only enter the building if escorted through side doors. Women could use the front doors in 1957 and second floor billiards in 1969. Today, everyone enters through the same door. As everyone, everywhere should.
In this college recruitment scheme, it is reported that CW-1 assured over 800 families that “he could facilitate their children’s admission to certain universities via what he termed the ‘side door.’” This was a way for students with below average grades to be guaranteed admission.
THERE ARE NO SIDE DOORS!
No window. No underground tunnel. Everyone should enter the same door to college – that is what the admissions requirements provide. Massachusetts U.S. attorney Andrew Lelling, emphasized that “there will not be a separate admissions system for the wealthy. And there will not be a separate criminal justice system, either."
The higher education community knows that wealthy donors and alumni can influence a decision based on the promise of a hefty donation to a university. It also happens in private high school education. Need new science equipment? Admit my daughter and you’ll get your equipment. None of that is illegal. But is it ethical?
NACAC’s executive director for educational content and policy, David Hawkins, shared with Education Week that "we have to do a better job of stressing the importance of fit in the process, not that [acceptance into a selective university] will make or break your life. Your future success will depend more on how you will take advantage of your college education rather than where you got in."
Parents don’t have to be desperate about college admissions.
There are almost 2,500 four-year colleges and universities that will let your student in the front door. Twenty million students will attend college this year. Your student has to meet the requirements for admission just like every other prospective student. If you’re among the 44 percent who did not get accepted into a four-year institution, you can enroll in one of the hundreds of two-year colleges and transfer. Just like I did!
Remember, when your student is taking a standardized test, trying out for a sport, or applying for college, they don’t have to be desperate.
Neither do you.
Combining my youth ministry and educational consulting experience, I guide students to connect higher education with God's calling.