Since news broke about the college admissions cheating scandal, I have been reading a lot of articles about it, and watching a lot of news programs. It has been encouraging to see that most people are truly indignant about all the harm that has been done by parents who have attempted to get their children into elite colleges through bribery and lying. Those parents have done untold harm to their own children and to students who have been denied admission to top-tier colleges. How will those students ever recover from this scandal in the years ahead?

At the same time, commentators have made a lot of surprising mistakes when reporting on the scandal. I heard one supposed authority on higher education say that the scandal didn’t matter much, because most colleges no longer require applicants to take the SAT and ACT exams. (Where did that information come from?) I heard another “expert” express the opinion that when a parent is paying for a child to be tutored to earn higher scores on standardized tests, that is the “same thing” as trying to bribe one’s way into a college. How are those two activities ethically comparable? They aren’t. I heard another commentator offer the opinion that, “It doesn’t make any difference where you go to college.” Of all the opinions I have heard over the last few days, that one is probably the least defensible.

But I have been thinking about another question too . . .

What is so special about elite colleges that people are willing to cheat and lie to get their children into them?

I earned degrees from two highly regarded institutions – McGill University and Yale. My brother earned three degrees at Princeton. And my daughter graduated from an Ivy. So I can offer these opinions – possibly well informed – about what is so great about attending an elite institution, and what is not:

  • The biggest reason to go to college is to learn about something. That’s obvious. What is less obvious is that the faculty members who teach at most all colleges – elite, non-elite, you name it – are usually quite good these days. So that’s democratizing. No matter where a student goes to college, the quality of the education is likely to be quite good. So why don’t those bribe-paying parents just relax?
  • One of the best reasons to go to college – and possibly the best – is to build a personal and professional network. People who go to Yale, for example tend to think that after they graduate, members of the “Yale network” will help them get jobs and provide other assistance. That is true. Yet the same is also true at Colgate, UT Austin, Fordham, you name it. So that is a great equalizer too. No matter where a student goes to college, he or she will usually be able to tap into a strong alumni network after graduating. So again, why don’t those parents just relax?
  • Well-heeled people like to attend elite colleges for social reasons. If you went to Harvard and you would like your son or daughter to marry someone who went to an Ivy institution, then you are going to do what you can to be sure your kid goes to . . . Harvard. It’s all about perpetuating America’s class structures and making sure your kid ends up where he or she “fits.” But you might also have noticed that kids are not like cattle – they have a way of finding and pursuing new directions in their lives. Perhaps the parents who paid money to buy their kids’ admission to elite institutions don’t understand that.

Parents, We Invite You Help Your Students Explore All Their Career and College Options . . .

Have your students participate in the National Career & College Pathway Study to gain new insights about making educational decisions that align with their interests, passions, and aptitudes. Students who complete the free career test for high school students will receive information on college and career opportunities which match their interests.

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