Ambitious students are forced to cope with the reality that the prestigious colleges and universities they aspire to attend don’t handle admissions fairly in light of the largest prosecuted college admissions scandal in United States history.
The FBI investigation has resulted in dozens of people being charged, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. In the actresses’ efforts to buy their children’s way into university, they were charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Also among the accused are business executives and a fashion designer, all people who can afford to bribe administrators, counselors and coaches through the guise of donation. Rich parents can give their children the opportunity to achieve the most prestigious degrees, while the top universities can build things such as new libraries without digging into their coffers. The investigation revealed that this influx of unearned admissions has been going on since 2011, and perhaps longer.
With anecdotal accounts of shifty admissions practices springing up through the years, and the fact that most attendees of Ivy League universities hail from rich families, the scandal is more disheartening than shocking. Usually, Ivy League universities admit less than 10 percent of applicants, meaning good students full of potential who have worked hard their entire lives to maintain a high grade-point average can be edged out by students who bring millions of dollars in donations with them. Currently, no universities have been charged, but coaches have allegedly given students fabricated histories in athletics to make them more appealing as applicants.
Many students still believe in the American dream, the idea that hard work and perseverance can lead to prosperity. But opportunity is not fairly distributed. Students who are not affluent can’t afford to wait for years hoping they make the cut one lucky semester, regardless if they barely lost their spot to an underperforming library builder. While colleges are commonly understood to be places of academia, brilliant applicants who aren’t edged out by corruption may still be rejected in favor of athletes.
Surveys have shown that most Americans believe in meritocracy, the idea that opportunity and success should be afforded based on a person’s merit. Most people believe in the logic that people are entitled to what they fairly earn and shouldn’t have their opportunities usurped by a less competent person. If universities put an end to underhanded admission practices, they still wouldn’t be able to have a system based purely on meritocracy because of the prevalence of affirmative action.
Affirmative action started in 1961 as an executive order to prohibit institutionalized discrimination. But it quickly turned into a tool for universities to maintain admissions quotas for gender and race. Universities have strived to meet these quotas, whether or not each race or gender offers enough candidates who meet its academic standards. Schools such as Harvard have been sued over admitting students for diversity, not only accepting the best applicants of that race, but a mix of elite and lesser students.
Not accepting only the best ensures the university is not forcing all applicants of the same race to compete with each other, but can lead to genius students being turned away. Harvard claims it does not enforce quotas, but a lawsuit against them threatens to remove race from the application process so students may be judged solely on merit.
Diversity and donations that improve the quality of life on campus are great things, but both have been attained through dubious means by universities for decades. Students should strive to seize their potential and never forget that merit does still carry weight in admissions. But with the astronomical number of applicants Ivy League universities receive each year and the shifty admissions practices that have been brought to light, students should be prepared for rejection and always have a backup plan. Keeping an open mind about which university to attend and improving grades are a student’s best hope of getting a quality education.