Admit One for $: College
BY SAHASRA CHAVALI '26
The air cools our cheeks, frost bites at our fingers, and a new graduating class experiences an age-old rite of passage: college admissions season. For some, this pressure manifests as attending the same university as generations of your family; for others, this looks like fulfilling the “American Dream”—whether it be your own or your parents’—by attending an elite higher education institution. University acceptances are symbols of hard work, tenacity, and perseverance that cement your hard-earned achievements into a tangible result. But for the elite, prestigious universities are a ticket to being a part of an even more exclusive club, with attendees earning alumni titles essential for networking, social climbing, and reaffirming their statuses. In the pursuit of these prestigious higher education institutions, some wealthy might try to enter a “back door” to universities by donating exorbitant amounts to certain schools. But when familial wealth starts dictating acceptances instead of student qualifications, the admissions process skews unfairly in favor of unqualified—but wealthier—candidates. At the root of this issue lies universities’ prestige: the only reason why the wealthy turn to cheating the otherwise meritocratic system of college admissions is because of the reputations that follow schools like Harvard, Stanford, and Georgetown. Through reducing the value that we place on these institutions, we can circumvent the usage of “back door” methods to get students admitted to universities.
In 2019, 53 people—some household names—were accused of taking extralegal measures to guarantee their children’s admissions into elite universities. One case followed Desperate Housewives actress Felicity Huffman, who paid to replace her daughter's SAT score with a fraudulent score. More infamous may be Full House actress Lori Laughlin, who fabricated a fake athletic profile for her daughter, Olivia Jade, so that she could be recruited to the University of Southern California as a crew athlete. In total, Laughlin spent $200,000 on bribes, and though these individuals’ crimes have been exposed, that doesn’t mean that these methods of attaining admission have been fully curbed.
How do these scandals affect other individuals? Most people attend university in hopes of securing a bright future with a well-paying job, but with the wealthy spoiling an intended-to-be fair process, their actions rob this supposedly accessible process. For many low-income and first generation students, watching wealthy individuals pay their way through college for prestige invalidates the hard work and sacrifice they put in to pursue higher education. Further, admission scandals undermine the American Dream’s egalitarian message, suggesting that due to a system that condones connections and bribery, students who seek to uplift their families and achieve financial stability will face an uphill, if not Herculean battle.
Moreover, while perpetrators of these scandals face repercussions, their actions rob genuinely hardworking students of a seat at these colleges: a seat that is only going to be taken by a far less qualified student. These college spots are so precious because they can offer amazing futures, but qualified, yet rejected, students are left wondering about where they are lacking. This need for a prestigious legacy is driving both parents and students to adopt immoral principles to ensure a seat. However, who’s to blame isn’t always the kids of wealthy parents, but rather the parents. Most of the kids taking these rigged SATs are unaware of their unfair advantage; the bribed proctors appointed by their parents fix it secretly. These people chasing after these prestigious legacies are willing to go so far as to lie to their children, and cheat them as well, further highlighting the extremities that they would reach.
Though this might feel like a faraway, removed issue for many, the cycle continues when we let schools’ prestige dictate our actions. We should remember that it isn’t the name of an institute that determines the worth of a degree: it’s what you do with the degree. And when we separate education from an institution, we can begin to combat the inequities that inevitably follow these schools.