Commentary: Operation Fair Admissions

A.Osula/The Phillipian

Most of us are aware of the ruthless world of college admissions. When application season rolls around, a plethora of ‘packaging’ companies offer us the chance to build a better resumé and prepare answers to common interview questions. And even before we concern ourselves about actually applying to college, many of our parents have already enrolled us in countless extracurricular and tutoring courses. So in a world where academic merit in itself isn’t the only thing needed to gain acceptance into top universities, it’s obvious that those with more money to spend on tutors or AP classes are more likely to succeed. And yet, when my inbox starting filling up with various newspapers detailing how William Singer was able to earn more than 25 million dollars through fraudulently securing the spots for some of the best colleges in America, I was perturbed and ultimately disappointed by the sheer magnitude and severity of the situation.

For those who haven’t heard, 33 parents were indicted by the Justice Department last Monday for their unlawful means in getting their children into prestigious schools, such as Stanford University and Yale University. Through bribing coaches, faking standardized testing results, and fabricating accompanying evidence, Singer, one of the ringleaders of the operation,  allegedly coached and mentored thousands of students, according to The New York Times. Although most people who had worked closely with him were astounded and proclaimed that he simply seemed like a determined and ambitious admissions consultant, it’s disheartening to see that we can no longer tell apart legitimate counselors from fraudulent ones.

In any case, such events inevitably have massive repercussions on preparatory schools. When I first saw that the FBI had called the scandal Operation Varsity Blues, the name immediately reminded me of Andover. I don’t mean to say that anyone has ‘cheated’ to get into this school; rather, with the amount of stigma currently surrounding college admissions, those who are economically well-off will only find themselves facing more backlash. For these people, then, it becomes even more crucial for them to be aware of their privileged position and to demonstrate their academic and extracurricular aptitude. Now that most people are aware of the scandal and the tangible benefits being more wealthy may have on applications, they might be more inclined to assume that most wealthy students use similar underhanded tactics.

Even if we forget about this entire scandal, the fact remains that those who are more wealthy always have more opportunities to improve their likelihood of being accepted, no matter how hard current universities try to change their admissions policies. Take, for example, policies that allow those recruited for athletics to maintain a lower grade point average during their time at the school. Although this seems to be fair and equal across socioeconomic classes, due to the extra costs of equipment, transportation, and classes, it would seem as if opportunities to play tennis, row, or to fence are not abound in underprivileged communities. Coupled with other policies such as ones that favor legacy students or those that reward donators, it makes sense twice as many Yale students come from the top 5 percent of the income distribution as do from the bottom half, according to The Economist.

Ultimately, this piece isn’t meant to deride, insult, or offend anyone who may participate in any of the policies or activities I have stated above. Rather, apart from poking fun at a particular fencer that I know (you know who I’m talking to), this piece is meant to highlight the discrepancies in college admissions today. Although we, as students who stand to benefit from the system, may not be able to change it or even be tempted to do so, at the very least we ought to be aware of it so that we don’t neglect to recognize the positions of privilege we all hold.

Neil Shen is a Junior from Vancouver, Canada. Contact the author at