In early March of this year, news broke about a group of extremely wealthy parents  paying millions of dollars to cheat the normal college admissions process and get their children into highly sought after universities. This has become the largest college admissions scandal in United States history. Over fifty people are being charged in the scheme, including parents, college athletic coaches, standardized test administrators, and the ringleader of the scandal, William Singer. These parents are accused of paying Singer millions of dollars to get their children into elite universities including the University of Southern California, Wake Forest University, Stanford University, Yale University, and more. Singer was able to cheat the admissions process by bribing college coaches to pass the children off as athletic recruits and by helping parents better their children’s scores on standardized tests, among other things. The parents are among the wealthiest in the nation, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman.

Singer ran a fake charitable foundation called the Key Worldwide Foundation that he would use to disguise parents’ payments, some of which were upwards of $500,000. Parents could pay to improve their children’s test scores by having Singer pay someone else to take the ACT or SAT in place of the student, guide the student to the correct answers during the test, or correct their answers after the test. Parents could also pay Singer to bribe college athletics coaches to recruit their children as athletes for a sport, often one they did not actually participate in, which encouraged admissions teams to accept these “student-athletes” into their school. Fake athletic profiles were created for these students, some of which included doctored photos of them participating in the sport they had never actually competed in. Those involved in the scheme are facing multiple charges including money laundering and conspiring to commit fraud, and could face anything from community service hours and a hefty fine to twenty years in prison.

This scandal has caused outrage across the nation for many reasons, with many people calling out the broken college admissions system. There have been several big stories relating to the unfair process of college admission in recent months, and this most recent scandal adds fuel to the fire. It shows that no matter what a student’s accomplishments and merits may be, money will always win. These well-to-do parents were able to fork over thousands upon thousands of dollars to get their children into “name brand” universities like Stanford, Yale, and Georgetown, while many students who were accepted to these schools on their own merit may be unable to attend because they simply cannot afford the rapidly growing cost of a higher education. According to Forbes, the cost of college tuition is growing nearly eight times faster than wages in the United States, forcing many students to limit their college options to in-state schools closer to home. “[The scandal] makes me realize that some students have to work harder than others to get where they are,” says Michael Verdeguez-Schardt (12), who applied to Wake Forest University earlier this year. It is clear that being well-off financially has always given students leverage when applying to college, with special consideration taken when looking over applicants whose parents are able to pay the full sticker price of tuition and room and board without the need of any financial aid, or whose parents have donated large sums of money to universities in their family name. “Nepotism is a big thing in our country and it makes sense [that] people [would] want to use all their resources to help their family succeed,” says Verdeguez-Schardt. This scandal shows that the higher education system in the United States values money over merit. It appears that colleges have been weeding out all but the most elite, taking opportunities away from deserving, honest applicants. The parents involved have exploited their privilege in extreme ways, feeling the need to cheat the system that is already so bent in their favor.

Many of the children who were the subjects of their parents’ criminal activity were unaware that any of it was occuring. One student was pitched to an admissions team as a top track and field athlete by his parents and the school’s coach without his knowledge, but had never participated in the sport and became suspicious when an admissions counselor questioned him about it on a college visit. His mother, one of the parents accused of involvement in the scandal, did not want him to know about the fake sports profile that had been created for him. The scandal serves as an example of what the New York Times is calling “snow plow parenting.” These parents seem to have little faith in their children’s abilities to handle their own challenges, choosing to clear their way of all obstacles by any means necessary. Many of the students involved were under the assumption that they had been fairly admitted into their top choice of schools, not knowing their parents believed them incapable of admittance by their own merit.

The scandal also shows a possible excessive fixation of many students to get into these “name-brand” schools. “The most elite schools in the country have held their elite status for years. I believe that parents, and our society in general, perpetuate this elitism,” says Holly Vaughn-Edmonds, a counselor at Franklin. Students strive to be able to tell their future employers that they graduated from Yale or Stanford, believing that a public education pales in comparison to a degree from an Ivy League Institution. The actions of the parents involved in the scandal show that they believe their children are “too good” to attend any school other than the most sought after institutions, clearly a flawed idea, given that their children could not get into those schools without unfair assistance. While degrees from these schools are impressive, college can be what a student makes of it, no matter where they attend. “It’s up to the student to go after the numerous opportunities that every college offers, like internships, travel abroad [programs], [and] alumni networks,” says Vaughn-Edmonds. Whether it be a highly selective, very expensive private university or a large, comparatively more affordable public school, attending college anywhere is an accomplishment. The perceived hierarchy of college institutions is overrated and students should feel proud to attend any college.