Back in March, nearly 50 people were charged in a nationwide college admissions scandal, in which wealthy parents paid exorbitant amounts of money in order to assure their children’s acceptance into prestigious universities like Yale, Georgetown, Stanford, as well as the University of Southern California.
That the college admissions process in the United States is based on wealth and influence rather than merit did not come as a big surprise, but the baldness of the cheating (Photoshopped water polo pictures; having SAT proctors feed students the correct answers; Felicity Huffman typing “ruh roh”), and the fact that celebrities were caught up in the sting, made the scandal into a story that continues to dominate headlines nearly two months later. The Cut spoke to four college students about what they thought of the scam, and whether in changed their views on higher education.
Magda, 21- Syracuse University
Getting into college for me was a miracle. I am a first generation Polish-American who has lived alone with my mother since I was 10. College wasn’t just a goal for me; it was something I had to get into in order to fulfill my family’s expectations. We did not have much money after my father decided to take his own path, so it was very important for me to do well so I could get scholarships to pay for college.
My senior year of high school was one of the most stressful times of my youth. I wasn’t hearing back from any of the universities that I had applied to and my college counselor began to try and persuade me to look into applying to community colleges in the area. She was certain that I was not going to get accepted. But then I received my acceptance into Syracuse University. I was ecstatic. There was not one particle of energy in my body that was not excited. Of course, I had to report back to my college counselor about my acceptance in order to be advised as to what the next steps had to be. I sat down and shared with her my great news. She didn’t even crack a smile. She assured me I was not going to get any financial aid for my tuition and would therefore not be able to afford to go to my dream school.
I left her office close to tears and felt hopeless. I honestly did not know what to do. When I finally received my financial aid package later, I swear I could have imploded with joy. I found out that S.U. was offering me almost $50,000 dollars per year as a part of my package. My mother looked at me and her face made me feel like I had done everything right. It was that moment that I knew I had done my family justice.
The recent scandal is not something painfully new to us. I think we are more surprised that the people involved got caught. We all knew this was happening behind closed doors, and this scandal only brings a small percentage of the inequality into the light. In our society, money is power. If you don’t have money, then you will have to work very hard for what you want, to say the least. However, working hard does not guarantee success.
This scandal does indeed only reinforce our views about higher education in the United States. However, we are so numb to it that we just shake our heads in disagreement while witnessing this. It makes the dynamics of the campus community feel unbalanced and ultimately unfair. Perhaps we are glad that this has hit the media’s attention. With the power that the media has, maybe something can be finally done about it
Trent, 20- Chapman University
Getting into college was a weird experience for me. In high school, I was always of the notion that I would not go to college, but not for the reasons you may be accustomed to. Rather, I did not really believe that college was the place where true knowledge was found. Growing up with the internet, you start to realize that all the information you could ever want is out there for the taking, and for free! (e.g. nearly all Harvard courses are videotaped online for free). So college to me always seemed to just be a very expensive piece of paper, whether or not you actually learned anything.
When I first heard of the college admissions scandal it really did not surprise me, but it did send me over the edge to drop out and pursue what I am actually passionate about: music. (I am the frontman and manager of the band Aqua Seca.) The scandal showed me that college is just a big Ponzi scheme for schools to harvest more money in order to pay professors higher salaries along with their administrators.
The college admissions scandal has only reinforced my views of higher education: that is a corrupt system feeding itself off the backs of poor students that think the only way to success is to get a college degree. So they get huge students loans, compete for admissions spots in increasingly competitive (and corrupt) pools of students, and once they are there, they fuel themselves on an endless bottle of Adderall just in order to get a reasonable grade.
It is mindless, it is ridiculous, and it needs to be stopped. And the best way to stop a corrupt system is to stop feeding the monster. As I have chosen to do.
Cayla, 20- Northwestern University
The process of applying to college was very daunting leading up to my senior year of high school. At the time I had certain dream schools in mind but the costs associated were very terrifying. For the longest time, my dream school was NYU. I ended up getting accepted without a scholarship, and it was just too expensive to attend. It wasn’t worth it. I received a substantial financial aid package from Northwestern, and I haven’t had to pay anything to attend here because of scholarships and aid. Everything seemed to fall into place.
The college admissions scandal was shocking to me. I was a huge fan of Full House when I was young and loved Aunt Becky! I was just shocked once again by the things that people with extreme wealth and social mobility are able and willing to do. I had a long conversation with my best friend (who is also low-income) about how out of place we feel at Northwestern, yet we worked so hard to get here. I think the college scandal overall reinforced my views about higher education in the U.S., and I’m glad that the scandal brought to light how privilege plays into success. I get so angry when people tell black and brown students that Affirmative Action is why they got into a top institution, while on the flip side much more students get into top universities because they are legacy students or just have a lot of money.
In a way, the scandal has made me feel empowered about my place here. I am aware every day that the odds were and still are stacked against me but I’ve worked so hard to get to the place I’m currently at. Low-income and first generation students are so resilient, and I am sure that we deserve our spot here more than anyone else because of the adversity and challenges we’ve had to overcome.
Heidy, 19- Tufts University
When I first heard about the scandal I was shocked to learn that it wasn’t just Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman involved, but it was an entire operation that was well organized and had obviously been going on for years. I read an article about how Lori was always very impressed when people got their kids into good schools, so I was really upset about how much we as a society care about status SO MUCH, to the point that some would do something illegal just to be regarded with more respect
I always figured people around me with connections get into the school of their dreams because of their privilege, so the scandal just reinforced my views about higher education. I can’t say I’m surprised. Rich people love flaunting what they have and proving their status. It’s frustrating that rich people’s kid who don’t even want the education, and who are already going to be successful because of their connections, take opportunities away from people who genuinely want to study and who don’t have as many opportunities to succeed. Educating rich people who don’t want to study is a waste of resources, and I understand that colleges need money brought in to sustain themselves, but the bottom line is that our system is so unfair and broken.
These responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.