Our Scandalous College Culture


Last week, we were told to think carefully about academic integrity. But I’m sure many of you have wished that by some miracle you could write a flawless paper with no effort at all when you were up late with 3 homework assignments left and a paper due the next day. Some look for that miracle in very shady ways. Students, when stressed and running out of time, can violate academic integrity for the smallest of assignments, so I was not surprised when the news about the college admissions scandal broke last year.

 College is what students tend to think of as the end-all be-all of life. In fact, many elementary schools hold college spirit days so 5 to 10 year old kids can rep their favorite colleges. As early as 8th grade, my peers had “dream schools.” So it’s no surprise that some parents sought out a miracle to get their precious child into a dream school. As our seniors inundate themselves with college applications and Felicity Huffman stares down a 14 day prison sentence for, as CNN reports, paying $15,000 to raise her daughter’s SAT scores, it’s time to examine what caused the college admissions scandal. Was it overly-ambitious parents with too much money on their hands? Or simply victims of stress, the main cause of our academic integrity violations? For those of you who need a refresher on the college admissions scandal, here’s some background. 

Last March, federal prosecutors began to reveal the results of “Operation Varsity Blues.” Many colleges were scammed by over 50 wealthy parents hoping to give their children a leg up in the admissions process, and, they hoped, in life. They paid the scam’s mastermind Eric Singer huge sums of money to cheat their child’s way into college. According to Forbes.com, parents paid about $25 million in total to bribe their kids’ way into schools like Yale, Stanford, and Georgetown.

The temptation to up your chances by whatever means possible is particularly clear when applying to schools with low acceptance rates like Yale and Stanford. Even if every applicant were equal, the odds would not be in your favor to get into one of these schools. However, not all of the bribed schools were among the best colleges in the country and only one of these schools, Yale, is part of the prestigious Ivy League. 

A lot about the application system is unnecessarily stressful. How much of a difference will an Ivy League or other elite diploma actually make in your future? I’ve been wondering about this question as the college process looms ever closer. It’s clear that if the hype about certain colleges and the pressure to attend a “good” college is strong enough to drive people to break laws to get into a certain school, there’s probably something wrong with the system. 

We’ve all heard that the students who cheat do it out of stress, not malice, so the same is probably true with the parents-turned-criminals of the college scandal. I’m not defending the parents who were entitled enough to believe that their child deserved an unfair advantage in a difficult system, but I think that the college scandal was caused not by parents and students, but by our collective overhyping of certain schools. Now, maybe some schools are actually worth breaking laws to get into, but I highly doubt it. After college, you still have countless opportunities in graduate school and the workforce to make yourself successful. The college admissions scandal is a direct result of our obsession over certain schools and our broken college process. 

It shouldn’t have taken a scandal to raise awareness on the toxicity of the college process. At Milton, we need to spread the message that college doesn’t actually determine your entire future. You have lots of options. There’s a great school somewhere for each one of us, and reducing the toxicity of our college culture will go a long way towards avoiding another admissions scam. And seniors, as you apply to college, just a reminder: if you don’t do crew and your parents ask you to do a photoshoot on an erg, maybe you should think twice.

Image courtesy of neatoday.org

Image courtesy of neatoday.org

Mark Pang