There isn’t a lot of “breaking news” in the Admissions world.
I mean, every year, some college accidentally sends out acceptances to hundreds of denied students (not us), or realizes that their application fee was mis-programmed as $1 (definitely not us), or accidentally congratulates someone at an event who hadn’t been admitted (maybe us). But when it comes to truly newsworthy events, Admissions is not on anyone’s front page. When I woke up two weeks ago to 12 “@Shannon, WHAT?!” social media tags, I was confused.
I’m sure you’ve heard the news—a bunch of rich people paid a guy to get their kids into college.
“Uh yeah, doesn’t that happen all the time?”
Ugh—it does. But this group of people didn’t utilize the traditional shady way to buy their kids’ college admission—donating $70 million to establish an Arts/Technology Academy (looking at you, Dr. Dre)—they established a new shady way—pay someone to manipulate your kids’ college applications to make them “must have” students. Still costs you, but not as much as buying a building…and it also involves fraud. #oops
It’s pretty clear that the parents who orchestrated this fraud should be held accountable (get it together, Aunt Becky), but opinions vary on whether the students themselves should face consequences. Colleges are left with the unenviable task of uncovering if the students were in on the scam. It seems pretty clear in some cases. For example, if my main interests are “YouTube” and “not college,” my mom asks me to pose for a couple casual photos of myself on a rowing machine, then tells me she submitted a college application on my behalf, I’d have some questions. But if I submitted an application with SAT scores from September, would I ever know that my application had been updated with new October scores, even though I hadn’t taken the test again? It’s hard to say. When a student gets an acceptance letter from us, they don’t call and say “Hey, so was it the test score from September, the only time I took the SAT, that got me in??”
Long story short, if it’s clear that the students were in the know, it makes all the sense in the world to dismiss them or revoke their degree. The damage is done—they took a seat from an actually qualified student—but they shouldn’t be able to reap the benefits that come with having “USC” on your resume. If it’s not clear that the students knew, though, it’s a harder decision. They still took a seat from a qualified student, but are they responsible for something that happened outside of their control? If we were in that boat (still thankfully indictment free over here, y’all!), we’d go back and evaluate the application without the fraudulent information to determine if their admission was based on that—would they have been admitted if they didn’t have that score from the exam that someone else took for them? If the answer was no, I’m not sure what we would do.
Either way, it’s disappointing that the wealthy have worked up yet another way to privilege their already-privileged kids. These students already had the benefit of endless access to college prep resources and never having to worry about student loans, grants or book money. They showed up to college with cars, iPhone Xs, and all the shoes/clothes/money-for-burrito-runs. And all of that privilege would have followed them into the job market, whether they had USC on their resume or not. I can only hope that the very public consequences faced by these celeb parents cause others to at least think twice.
Anyway—if you’re worried that your parents paid someone else to take the SAT for you, just come by my office, and I’ll show you all your scores. But odds are if you applied with an 1180 and a last-minute 1430…we’ve already talked.
Shannon Hutchison Caraveo is the Director of Undergraduate Admissions.