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From Netflix’s Operation Varsity Blues – how much does it actually take to get into an elite college

Updated: Jan 12, 2022

Operation Varsity Blues, released on Netflix March 2021, features the outrageous scandal of how Rick Singer has helped privileged families get their children into elite US colleges by falsification and bribery.

The three doors to prestigious universities

Singer’s scandal revealed three ways to get into elite colleges and universities: the front door, the side door, and the back door.

The front door admits students through the regular process, where admission officers give out offers based on the concept of holistic admissions and evaluate students’ grades, standardized test scores, extracurriculars, profile, fit, and merit.

The back door is for the sons and daughters of ultra-high net worth individuals, where families would make tens of millions of dollars donations to universities. A donation is absolutely legal, but admission offices would NEVER guarantee admissions purely based on monetary contribution. Students must still go through the regular admission process.

The side door was revealed from the FBI’s investigation into Singer’s illegal admissions processes. Under Singer’s influence, wealthy parents paid to cheat on SAT/ ACT, photoshop pictures of their children into sports teams they weren’t in, bribe college athletic coaches to recruit non-qualified students as athletes through sports admissions.

Taking shortcuts

After watching Operation Varsity Blues, I found the action of these wealthy parents unbelievable. In many cases, the children themselves were unaware, and probably won’t approve, of their parents and Singer’s actions. Singer had even designed to have the children’s ACT/SAT result fabricated without the kids knowing or suspecting!

This whole ordeal exposed how certain parents have a complete lack of confidence in the kids- they didn’t believe their kids could build strong profiles under proper coaching and hard work. Not only are these parents’ actions illegal (a lot of these incriminating conversations were all tapped by the FBI), they undermined the very values that were taught to our high school students. Commitment, trust, and integrity are central to a young adult’s personal growth, and taking shortcuts, particularly illegal ones, are not the lessons parents should be teaching to their children.

The college admissions reform

Since the college admissions scandal, top US universities are working on reforming their admissions. While US colleges stay true to the concept of holistic admissions, most universities have worked to close any loopholes. This includes monitoring donations to prevent them from affecting admissions decisions, improving the process of verifying and explaining admissions decisions based on athletics or other special talents, and working to identify potential conflicts of interest in admissions.

A lot of the top universities are also committing to meeting the financial needs of students from low-income households. Last year, USC launched an Affordability Initiative that would help students from families making USD 80,000 or less to attend USC for free. In general, college admissions policies are shifting towards more support to minorities and low-income families.

So, what does it actually take to get into a top university?

So, how do students get into top schools such as Stanford, USC, or UCLA? The answer is quite simple, having a good counselor to guide you through the process.

A good college counselor spends time with his/ her students crafting profiles and essays, showing unique personalities and character strengths. To avoid picking an unethical counselor (such as Rick Singer), families can always look out for counselors with proper credentials (i.e., professional memberships such as Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA)) and ask for further references.

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