How a college student feels about the college admission scandal

Ella Schuellerman, Arts & Life Editor

This week in E’s Editorial, I give my take on the college admissions scandal that sent shock waves across the country. In March, Netflix released a jaw dropping documentary giving a play-by-play to the insane things A-list parents thought they got away with when trying to get their kids into college. (Ella Schuellerman)

Created by the filmmakers behind the infamous “Fyre” documentary about the epic failure of Billy McFarland’s Fyre festival, the new documentary “Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal” takes on an even more scandalous topic in my eyes college admissions.

Operation Varsity Blues is what the Federal Bureau of Investigation dubbed the 2019 college admissions scandal. It was the largest college scam the Department of Justice had ever worked on; this college scam was not about a parent baking chocolate chip cookies for the rowing coach or taking an administrator out to a fancy dinner. No, this scandal took down the Heiress of Hot Pockets and Aunt Becky of Full House.

Dozens of parents, test proctors, college coaches and officials were involved in Rick Singer’s “side door” scheme to get average students into elevated, prestigious universities. The Department of Justice charged two SAT exam administrators, an exam proctor, one college administrator, nine college coaches and 33 parents who paid enormous, egregious sums of money to get their child into an elite college. Despite being the puppet master, Singer received a decent deal from prosecutors.

As a college student who works like a dog, I was appalled when this FBI coup was released to the media.

As someone who went to a well-funded public school, I was well aware that the college application and admission process was difficult. I remember getting invited to my high school’s scholarship ceremony when over 100 scholarships were given out to my class of 2017. I sat there with hundreds of my classmates while we watched the same five or six kids sweep the floor. It felt like a joke. I felt like a joke. The person sitting next to me, who was also invited yet did not receive anything said it felt like a joke. 

Filmmakers took the raw audio from Singer’s bugged phone as he was the man at the center of the conspiracy and had actors portray the very real exchanges tapped by the FBI. Gregory and Marcia Abbot, Todd Blake, Jane Buckingham, Gordon Caplan, Peter Dameris, Robert Flaxman, Manuel and Elizabeth Henriquez, Felicity Huffman, Bruce and Davina Isackson, Karen Littlefair, Robert and Marci Palatella are just 15 of the 33 parents charged for various crimes in the college scheme. 

The name Operation Varsity Blues was dubbed by the FBI as the perfect investigation title when covering their high-profile college admissions scandal. (Canva )

Hearing millionaire parents like John Wilson ask Singer how to get their son to pretend to be a water polo player in their Hollywood Hills home, without the son knowing what he was posing for, was pathetic and desperate. 

It was upsetting to see an entitled class attempt to rig college admissions to get their children into prestigious schools. They took the phrase “A parent would do anything for their child” too far. Plus, the scandal and trial showed where money can get you in life, which was belittling those of us who don’t live so grandly. 

I remember hearing about Tanya McDowell’s resurfaced story at the same time as the Operation Varsity Blues. McDowell received 12 years of jail time for sending her 6-year-old to a Norwalk, Connecticut, elementary school even though she lived in Bridgeport. She was homeless and had no address to put on her child’s school paperwork. 

Actress Lori Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli pled guilty to paying $500,000 to guarantee both their daughters admission to the University of Southern California as crew recruits, even though they never participated in the sport. Their daughters, Olivia and Isabella, took photos posed on rowers to send to USC. Loughlin and Giannulli were given two- and five-month sentences. Loughlin was let out early.

If parents like McDowell are held accountable to set an example, then chief executive officers, chief financial officers, actors, heiressis and designers should be held accountable too. The 2020 release of “Operation Varsity Blues” serves as a reminder that college can be a pay-to-play, who-you-know game. 

In my hometown, parents pay thousands of dollars for ACT and SAT prep to give their children an opportunity to be more equipped for standardized testing. While tutoring is one thing, some students would even give their friends their ADD medication before the test to focus more. I will never forget hearing a peer brag in my AP statistics class about how he looked at the test sheet of the girl sitting next to him because she “looked smart,” and he received a 29 on the ACT.

Hate to break it to you — that is not an ethical or righteous accomplishment to brag about in public. 

Even without a ridiculous $500,000 donation or fake water polo pictures, the college admissions process is already distorted for the students who work every day to get into their dream schools. I witnessed it with my own eyes well before this A-list scandal broke. Operation Varsity Blues, fueled by wealth, privilege and not enough accountability, showed exactly how twisted the college admissions process can be.