To Earn That Spot You Must Have The Earnings: The College Admissions Bribery Scandal

On March 12, 2019, news broke of 50 prominent public figures using their wealth and status to bribe the admissions boards of elite schools, to rig standardized tests such and for their child to be “recruited” on teams for sports their children never participated in. Two of these prominent figures include actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman.

For some, this scandal comes as a shock. For others, especially with experiences in “elite” spaces, this is a tale as old as time and arguably the worst kept secret within these institutions. Especially since the alternative routes are not illegal nor scandalous. To make a long story short; if you- your parents have the earnings, congrats! You’ve “earned” your spot.

Graduation cap on top of a pile of money


It is somewhat of a running joke in private high schools as well as top tier colleges and universities to say that the parents of certain students paid their way into the institution. Sometimes it is based on nepotism or legacy. It is a reality that has frustrated many students for decades. It is a race with no holds barred and income is one of the determining factors of how much of a head start a student receives.

Having attended a private high school with many of my classmates coming from upper middle class and higher earning families I have witnessed this phenomenon up close and personal. A number of my former classmates had access to professional tutors for standardized tests and every subject in between- even life coaches to prep them for everything college related. Some students were even evaluated for attention deficit disorders such as ADD and or ADHD and even dyslexia, thus granting them more time to take standardized tests. The ordinary student does not have access to such things. This is not a knock on their intelligence nor is it to discount the ways in which they worked hard, however, it is a nod to the boosts that they are afforded due to their parents’ wealth and status.

Men shaking hands above table and exchanging bribes under the table


The glaring difference between the route that my former classmates and many others have taken and the details of the current scandal simply revolves around the legalities and big names that surround these methods. These actions are illegal as they coincide with money laundering, fraud, and bribery.  In this case, wealthy parents paid CEO of the Key Worldwide Foundation, William Rick Singer, anywhere from $15,000 to as much as over $6 million to utilize his connections to coaches at Division I and top tier schools to “recruit” their children or to essentially cheat on the SAT and ACT for their children. The transfer of these funds would be done under the guise of charitable donations to the Key Worldwide Foundation to help economically disadvantaged students get into college- oh the irony.

Granted, there are more students who have earned their admission into top institutions without economic boosts and some of the children of these high profile figures may not have been aware of their parents’ dealings. This scandal will lead to a lot of finger pointing and side eyes in addition to damaged reputations. But one question remains. Once all of the press coverage surrounding this current college admissions scandal has died down where do we go from here?

Do we go back to the status quo of silently knowing that the “holistic” admissions process of many institutions is a mysterious and highly rigged game where the wealthy have a leg up?

If their parents are found guilty, will Olivia Jade Giannulli, Sofia Grace Macy and the other children whose parents have been indicted in scandal be expelled from their institutions or have their degrees revoked? Will there be any consequences at all?

Dave Bedrosian/Future Image/WENN

A personal question for me and other PoC is will Affirmative Action continue to be the go-to reason as to why some- namely minority students were admitted over others? Will the spiel of working hard and studying until our eyes bleed in order to be a sure-fire candidate for the college or university of our dreams continue to hold the same weight? Time and time again the blame has been put on students of color, grades and other quotas as to why a student who “did not earn their spot” was admitted over another. For example, look at the Fisher v. University of Texas case in which Abigail Fisher accused UT Austin of denying her admission due to Affirmative Action. Insinuating that her admissions slot was given to a (minority) student who did not “deserve” that spot over Fisher. That is another silent revelation amongst this scandal- entitlement.

As many of the people indicted are celebrities, CEOs and politicians it is common knowledge that they possess the resources to help their children legally earn admission into prestigious institutions. They have the money to hire top Ivy-League SAT and ACT tutors for their children. They have all the wealth and prestige to legally help their child succeed throughout high school and college. It makes one question why they would choose this illegal route to get their children into college. Did Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman, and the 48 other parents feel so entitled by their wealth and status that they could bypass the legal and honest routes most students must take?


This scandal is not nearly as shocking as it is revealing. It reaffirms silently held truths that there is no true formula to ensure admission into college but money, status, and pedigree are definitely advantages that keep the playing field uneven. With this scandal, there is no other clear endgame other than reprimanding all those involved. In a perfect world, the revealing nature of this scandal would open up a larger conversation about economic and educational disparities that students across the country must compete against in order to stand out in the “holistic” college admissions process. In a perfect world, there would be a call to reexamine and to reform these admissions processes in order to even the playing field and to truly base admission on talent and or merit across the board. In a perfect world, this scandal would be more shocking based on its nature rather than celebrity involvement.

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