The recent college admissions scandal reveals something we already knew


Harvard University which was found giving preference to students of donor families. (credit: Harvard University)

Christine Pang, Staff Writer

With recent news of the rich and elite paying vast sums of money for their children to be illegitimately admitted into college, most students cannot say they’re surprised. Investigators found parents paying bribes to test proctors, coaches, and admissions officers in order to falsify information about their child’s academic and extracurricular achievements. While the brazen efforts of numerous families to get their children into elite universities are illegal, many other methods of the wealthy are not.

It’s widely known that families that donate large sums of money to colleges are often given priority in the admissions process. Former admissions officers even mention “automatic admit” lists for students whose families have strong financial ties to schools. Reports came out in 2018 of emails from former dean of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, David Ellwood, to the dean of admissions, William Fitzsimmons, detailing families who had funded the construction of new buildings and the expectation that their children would be admitted.

There are other methods that wealthy families can cheat their way into top schools; the influence of legacy and elite high schools is widespread. Applicants who hold generations of legacy at a specific school are given preferential treatment and may be held to lower standards than other prospective students. Attending an Ivy League “feeder” school is another gateway in; these prep schools cost tens of thousands of dollars a year in tuition and have strong connections to Ivy League schools. Only the affluent are able to attend and considerably boost their chances of being admitted into top schools.

Every one of these methods, while unfair and unjustifiable on the principle of college admissions being a measure of merit and fit of an applicant regardless of socioeconomic background, are completely legal and occur every single year. It’s an open secret among college admissions boards, yet there has been little push to end these practices. They are intensely disparaging to all students who are not afforded these advantages, particularly lower-income and minority students.

The recent scandal has brought light to the efforts of wealthy families to bribe their way into universities, but in effect, the same practices take place in a different form through perfectly legal avenues. If these crimes have garnered outrage among students and families worldwide, the same should go for the “legal” methods. These instances only reinforce the idea that money ultimately takes precedence over effort and that some people enter the world on an elevated platform while others struggle to even build the ladder. If college admissions are to continue as a respected and fair process, there must be greater transparency and an end to the prevalence of old-money influence.