An overview of the college admissions scandal

By: Beth Casteel

For any high school senior, the prospect of going to college is scary. Between the taste of freedom, sleepless nights and long hours of work, it feels as though there’s a constant pressure of finding the perfect school. And when you do, that pressure is quickly turned into the anxiety-filled question: “Will I get accepted?”

For some, that college acceptance letter means everything, so what happens when you find out that some of those dream universities are a part of the biggest college admissions scandal in the United States’ history?

In the early hours of March 14, several news organizations, and social media users began sharing news posts detailing a curious story on a college admissions scam.

As many of these reports revealed, prosecutors announced that they would be filing a lawsuit against a select group of people that were believed to be a part of a college admissions scam. The scam in question would apparently allow students to gain acceptance to a high-profile school of their choosing, by either cheating on their entrance exams or faking an athletic background.

Unfortunately, the answers to most of our questions are still in the process of being revealed, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some information already coming to the forefront.

Here is what we know so far.

Who was involved:

The recent college admissions scandal had many high-profile people behind it.

As of right now, 50 people — which include some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, CEOs and college coaches and administrators — were involved with the scam. Of those involved with the scandal, actresses such as Lori Loughlin (who played Aunt Becky on “Full House”) and Felicity Huffman (who plays Lynette Scavo on “Desperate Housewives”) are facing federal charges for their role in the scandal.

In addition to some of Hollywood’s elite, nine coaches at various universities, an exam proctor and two SAT/ACT administrators are also facing charges.

How the scam worked:

According to a report from CNN, the scheme was the brainchild of William Rick Singer, who is the CEO of The Key, a college admissions prep company.

There were two different types of fraudulent activity Singer and his company was selling to these families: a scam that involved cheating on the ACT and SAT exams or one that provided fake athletic credentials to universities of the parent’s choosing.

Once they picked out the type of scam they wanted, the parents would then pay anywhere from $15,000 to $75,000, per test taken, in order for their child to score a better grade on the exam or get accepted in the college with a sports scholarship.

In order for this scheme to be possible, prosecutors shared that Singer would have another person take that person’s test and replace their answers with the correct ones.

And the reason he never got caught switching the tests out? Singer also made sure that SAT and ACT test administrators in certain areas would accept bribes, which allowed the third- party person to take the exams.

As for the athletic credentials, some of the parents elected to allow Singer to talk Division 1 coaches and other athletic officials to recommend their children be accepted into the college through that specific sport.

So, how did this happen?

The answer still remains foggy, but it appears that payments parents sent to Singer and his company were listed as charitable donations and contributions to something called “The Key Worldwide Foundation.”

This organization, which was listed and made to look like a nonprofit organization, was Singer’s way of being able to launder the money his clients were sending him.

The aftermath:

News from this college admissions scandal won’t be going away anytime soon, and it seems as though the people behind it will be dealing with the consequences for a long time to come.

It’s still fairly early in the case, but as The Washington Report notes, a class-action lawsuit was filed for applicants that were denied admission to the universities as a part of the scandal. It’s noted in the lawsuit that the schools involved didn’t take sufficient enough steps to ensure fraud like this wouldn’t happen.

With the case now out in the open, it appears that several universities and the high-profile people involved are attempting to do damage control. As CNN reports, many of the colleges involved are looking at the case and seeing what needs to be done in order to right some of the wrongdoing. The measures are different for each university, but among each of the schools in question, it appears that parting ways with those involved in the scheme has been the first step.

As for the students, it’s unclear as to whether or not they will be affected with the lawsuit. Until then, Vanity Fair has reported that many of the students involved are remaining quiet, some even going as far as deleting social media.

Students’ perspectives on the scandal:

What do you think should happen to those students involved in the plot?

It’s hard because some students knew about the scam and others didn’t. Regardless, if they wrongfully got accepted, I think the students should be pulled from the universities. Like I said before, it’s not fair to those who actually gave it their all to get into a good school to not get a spot because some entitled rich kid’s parents bribed their way in.

Being a college student yourself, how did it feel to hear about this story?

I felt disappointed but not surprised. It’s crazy that kids can cheat their way into college with the help of their rich parents, but people who actually worked hard for their grades and actually value college might not have gotten a spot because someone (or their parents) scammed their way through and took it. It’s infuriating.

What steps do you think need to be taken in order for something like this to not happen again?

It’s hard because stuff like this probably happens all the time, and it’s impossible to control everyone’s actions. When it comes to college admission tests like the SATs, the rules for taking those tests should be stricter to prevent something like this from happening again. However, some of these kids faked learning disabilities in order to get “special” treatment for taking these tests which is just gross because people who actually have learning disabilities may have a harder time taking tests like this if they change the rules of how it can be taken.

As more information comes out about this, what do you hope the takeaway will be?

I hope the takeaway from this is that everyone understands that white privilege is a real thing that needs to be discussed. Rich white people think they are invincible, but they’re not. Fraud is fraud, and these people need to be held accountable.

-Lilly Blasko, a sophomore (at Youngstown State) social work major


What do you think should happen to those students involved in the plot?

It’s kind of tricky when it comes down to the students. We all know of parents or have parents that will go to the end of the earth to give their kids what they want. It would be naive to say none of the students knew what their parents were doing because let’s be real here. You either have the grades, extracurriculars and drive – or you don’t. Getting into a prestigious school and knowing you didn’t really work for the spot would make one complicit in a way. Speaking from experience, I have been offered some opportunities to which I’ve turned down based solely on the fact that I felt I didn’t deserve it or would be the best fit.

It teeters on a question of morality. At the end of the day, the actual crime was not committed by them, but the crime wouldn’t have been committed without their influence – unless the parents were hellbent on their kid attending a particular school beyond their will. This is a wicked issue and for that, I can’t declare a 100% justified punishment or resolution when it comes down to the students involved.

Being a college student yourself, how did it feel to hear about this story?

As a low-income black student, I was not surprised or shocked in the least at the story. White people with money have the world in their hands. It’s frustrating because college and other forms of academia could be the only way out of poverty and into an opportunity for many people, and this situation emphasizes that our pitfalls could still hinder us. If anything I’m surprised it blew up to this extent to which judicial systems are involved. College is a business and money talks.

What steps do you think need to be taken in order for something like this to not happen again?

To answer this question is to assume this wouldn’t happen again. Let’s be real – this has probably been happening for years and will continue to happen. These are just individuals that got caught.

As more information comes out about this, what do you hope the takeaway will be?

This isn’t a tabloid story or reality Tv segment.  there are actual students that worked hard to get into certain schools and did deserve to go, but didn’t because their seat was purchased by more well off individuals. The same well off individuals that hammer in the motif of “working your way up” and not taking any handouts. Now we must question more things, such as Did I not get in because someone bought their way in? Are the average test scores for this school high because parents paid for test scores to be changed or completed by someone else?

Even with admission to a school, you won’t know if your student body is composed of those who worked for it or bought it. Class differences affect almost every aspect of life, even parts in which we are led to believe are separated from the amount of money you make.  I hope people takeaway that this is another instance of class and privilege being utilized to propel forward.

-Angelica Houston, a Senior Biology Major


What do you think should happen to those students involved in the plot?

It’s a tricky situation because you could subpoena the students involved and see if they knew which if they did know about it, then I’m sorry, but you deserve to be kicked out of the college you’re in. On the flip-side, if the students involved had no knowledge of what happened then it’s really not their fault and I feel it warrants no punishment, except they will be heavily scrutinized from here on out.

Being a college student yourself, how did it feel to hear about this story?

I didn’t have a strong reaction. I was more humored than anything, and even laughed at it, but it also ticked me off hearing that these celebrities tried using their influence in such a way that would compromise the collegiate learning system.

What steps do you think need to be taken in order for something like this to not happen again?

I think tighter screenings at the bigger universities need to happen obviously, really looking into things and make sure there’s nothing shady going on, especially seeing as how some of these schools are very prestigious such as Stanford, Yale and University of California Los Angeles.

As more information comes out about this, what do you hope the takeaway will be?

I feel a takeaway could be the fact that in the long run, this could potentially be harmful to students who have legitimate learning disabilities and need accommodations on tests. It’s also going to impact the credibility of the schools involved and invoke changes in the admissions offices.

-Matt Horning, a senior journalism major


What do you think should happen to those students involved in the plot?

That’s a tough one. I feel like the parents should know better not to do something like that because you have other parents who are actually trying to support their children financially [in order] to help them pay for school, and they’re doing everything the right way. It’s like they want their children to live an honest life, and by parents doing [scams like this one], they’re teaching their kids it’s OK to lie, which isn’t OK.

Being a college student yourself, how did it feel to hear about this story?

I think it’s wrong. I had to be able to pay my way through school, and it took a lot of time and a lot of hard work, but I had to go through it. If everything was always easy for students to try to get through school, just because there’s a way to go around it, it makes it feel like people aren’t learning what it takes to work hard for something. I think it’s a shame that this happened, and I feel like more students and parents should be able to understand [what happened with this scandal] to know it takes a lot of hard work [to be accepted into college].

What steps do you think need to be taken in order for something like this to not happen again?

The policy should be stronger. They should be getting more information from the students or the parents about why your child needs to have [added time or what have you]. They should also have another person in the room [when tests are being taken, so] that person can be held accountable.

As more information comes out about this, what do you hope the takeaway will be?

Hopefully, it will be able to open people’s eyes [so they can] understand that this scandal was wrong. [I hope it makes] people be aware or conscious that things like this are not worth it. [You] don’t want to place [yourself] in a situation where you can’t get an education or a better education, and you don’t want to ruin your chances of getting a better education.

-Daysean Scott, a junior psychology major


What do you think should happen to those students involved in the plot?

I don’t think the students should get kicked out [of the university they’re enrolled in], but I think they should be re-tested on their SAT or ACT tests. That way, they can at least have another chance to [prove themselves], and if they fail those exams this time, they should go somewhere else.

Being a college student yourself, how did it feel to hear about this story?

I was really shocked, especially after hearing huge celebrities like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman were involved. [The story itself was surprising] because they used money that could go to something more important, like a house, on their kids to go to school. It’s kind of weird and it made me feel like the parents didn’t believe in their kids enough to make it on their own.

What steps do you think need to be taken in order for something like this to not happen again?

[This is something I think can happen again, and to avoid that], I think schools should put more rules [and regulations on how tests are administered]. They also need to be careful about who they network with, and those organizations should have [more extensive] background checks taken.

As more information comes out about this, what do you hope the takeaway will be?

I hope that people, [especially those involved in scams like this, will learn] to do stuff on their own and not cheat, or pay, their way into a college. It’s not cool, and it’s kind of insulting to those who can’t afford to pay their own way into college. I have a friend who is in high school, and she can’t afford to go to [the college of her choice, and it’s upsetting to know that] people are just bribing their way in. It’s just insane to me.

-Chau Tang, a senior journalism major

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