The college admissions fraud scandal sheds light on how parental wealth and influence got undeserving students into elite universities. Kayla Glaraton writes on the larger issue of how the admission system works against specific groups of students.
When the news broke March 12, 2019 that dozens of parents, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, had bought their children’s way into college, I was honestly not surprised. Well, I was a little shocked when I read that test proctors had been bribed to change answers on major tests. Every proctor I met was a little scary and looked like they could spot cheating a mile away.
The scheme, run by admissions consultant William Singer, was catered towards a specific group of parents. It is just one example of the academic advantages that come from wealth. College is supposed to be this great equalizer, a way towards realizing the American dream. It cannot function that way as long as the admissions process is so inequitable.
There is no way to know if these students would have gotten into schools like the University of Southern California on their own merit. They should not be blamed for the bad decisions their parents made, unless they were aware that their applications were full of inaccuracies. But the focus should ultimately not be on them.
Intelligence Does Not Always Translate To Strong Scores
The use of test scores as a major deciding factor in college admissions is unfair. Not everyone enters the testing room equally. Some do not use the official SAT or ACT practice books or receive tutoring their peers can afford. Others have test anxiety, which can make harder to focus and score well.
My sole focus in life during my junior year of high school was the ACT. Just hearing the name raised my stress level and watching my smart, highly capable friends receive average scores terrified me. Looking back, I now know that our ACT scores were not reflective of our academic ability, but rather our testing ability.
According to its website, the ACT “motivates students to perform to their best ability.” It suggests that students who did not think they could get into college reconsider their future when they do well. Of course, having a strong ACT or SAT score is not the only factor that families must consider when determining if college is a possibility.
Standardized testing is helpful in identifying areas where a student is struggling and watching out for students who may not take tests well. However, it should not be used in determining whether or not a student gets into a specific university or even attends college at all. That is because these tests cover many general subjects, rather than specific skills.
It is important to have a basic understanding of certain topics. However, it is not absolutely necessary in the long run. The ACT is the most important thing in a student’s life for two years and then is never discussed again. Its use in admissions is ultimately not necessary, as it does not actually determine how successful a student can be in their chosen major.
Money Is All You Need
The anger surrounding the college admissions scandal stems from the fact that parents essentially bought their children’s way into school. Bribing rowing coaches and test proctors is wrong, no question. Yet, the nation should be just as upset over cases where a family’s large donation to a university boosted their child’s chances of admission.
Dozens of talented, intelligent, qualified students were not accepted to elite universities because of Mr. Singer’s illegal work. How many more lost their chance to attend USC or Harvard because they did not have the right last name or bank account total? The country, it seems, is only concerned with the secret, deceptive ways money factors into college admissions, not the socially acceptable ways.
Most high schools do not offer rowing or other highly specialized sports. Students in lower-income neighborhoods or working-class families have no opportunity to try and become a talented fencer and gain a unique college scholarship. A student’s path is not just determined by their parent’s wealth, but also the funds their middle schools and high schools receive.
The inequality in school resources provided to students is a problem that I believe is ignored in America. College cannot be a great equalizer between the social classes if lower-income students are not provided with equal resources from the beginning. With the help of tutors, admissions consultants, and other purchased help, wealthier students are starting the race miles ahead.
Factors beyond a young student’s control shape their path to college, including what last name or connections they have. Being a legacy student boost the odds of someone being accepted. This is inherently unfair because college admissions should be based solely on the student’s academic merit and not the achievements of their parents or siblings.
The process of getting into college has never been fair in the United States. An overemphasis on standardized testing, academic ability, wealth, and connections remains unchecked while bribery and fraudulent applications are condemned. It is time to overhaul the admissions process and perhaps consider the be-all and end-all concept of a college degree in our country.