Open Thread About Rich People and Their College Admissions Bribery Scandal

I haven’t gotten out of my chair for two hours, since the college admissions scandal broke (lots of links on my twitter feed), and I need to get some exercise and lunch. But you all can talk about it here.


54 thoughts on “Open Thread About Rich People and Their College Admissions Bribery Scandal

  1. I just heard about it. Wow.

    I would love to see the coaches at prestigious colleges lose the right to designate admits. Let everyone be a walk on.

    Because if you think about it, if a spot at Yale is worth _at least_ $1.6 million (, giving coaches the right to designate a few picks is a huge temptation.

    And again, it looks like the College Board and ACT have egg on their faces for poor security.

    I hope they’re all convicted, and serve prison time.


  2. I’m feeling really outclassed on the mom front here.

    Sure, ANYBODY could make their kid do another SAT practice section or make sure they did their volunteer hours–but how many moms are willing to risk federal time so their precious pumpkin can get into her dream school?


  3. I recommend reading the federal indictment.

    Better than any novel. Cell phone conversations are reported in the transcript.

    Amy P: the question that rises to mind is, ok, they’ve uncovered one ring. It’s surely not the only ring.

    And, how many SAT/ACT proctors have been compromised? It would be interesting to look at the bank accounts of everyone in charge of a test center (i.e., high schools in this case.)


    1. Yup. It couldn’t cost that much to corrupt a procter, no? Aren’t they often volunteers? I’d be shocked if a parent serves jail time. My prediction is fines & fees.

      I think the issue is that the system depends on honor, and honor isn’t a very reliable when the stakes are too high. I feel that way about fraud in science, too.


      1. The parents are able to afford good lawyers, I’m sure. However, as I work my way through the indictment, the cell phone transcripts leave no doubt that the parents know that they’re bribing people. And if they claimed the “donations” to The Key’s foundation on their taxes, they’re guilty of tax evasion.

        IANAL, but shouldn’t the current indictments be regarded as a beginning, rather than the last word?

        I think college admissions testing should be moved to professional testing centers. Using high schools and low-pay proctors is turning a blind eye to cheating. The College Board should pay their executives much less, but testing centers (with computerized, random tests) much more.

        This would also have the good side effect that students could take SAT exams whenever fits their schedule. Even better, require random assignments to testing centers within a reasonable distance. It should have raised red flags for many high-scoring testers with special conditions to take tests at high schools far from home.


  4. I too have been stuck in my chair or on my iPad. I have so many thoughts. But, for pure entertainment, check out Olivia Jade (Loughlin’s daughter’s) you tube video. She’s an “influencer” and model. She’s going to college for the game days and parties (and, I suspect, doesn’t want to go to school at all).

    One parent is described as having their child sit for a “fake” ACT while a substitute took it for the real score. That one made me sad. How little can you respect your own child?

    I did scan the list to make sure that no one I knew was on it. Fortunately no one was. But, I do know kids who thought they could play soccer/tennis/row at the schools where the coaches were selling spots. In the scheme of the world, that’s tiny violins.

    But, I think systemically this shows the fissures in the non-transparent, holistic, application process we were hearing about from Harvard.


    1. bj said,

      “But, I think systemically this shows the fissures in the non-transparent, holistic, application process we were hearing about from Harvard.”



  5. I do think the colleges have to think long and hard about how they are complicit in this process. One solution would be to stop letting coaches give tips. But, they still have the problem that lots of other pieces of data that they use in evaluation could also be prone to bribery. They seem to have relied on the delusion that they will detect the fake recommendation or the essay written by someone else, or that those things are unlikely to happen. This case is pretty strong proof of delusion (potentially delusion that they don’t care about, because all it does is bring some of the tuition paying students they need).


  6. So, what I don’t get is that Wake Forest is a test-optional school? Why bribe someone when you don’t need the test to get in…


      1. “Wake Forest and not Duke was not what I would have expected based on a process of pure reason.”

        Not familiar with either really, but isn’t a school being VERY serious about sports a protective factor against this particular scandal? As people have pointed out, Notre Dame did not wind up on the list.


  7. I have heard rumours about similar “rings” with foreign student admissions to high schools and universities where people are hired to write the SSAT/SAT’s. Logically it makes sense. I’m sure most/all of us in Laura’s readership are fairly bright but how many of us could 1. not only learn a foreign language but 2. know it well enough to score high enough on an SSAT/SAT to get into a competitive high school/university? And then once admitted, write essays that earn A’s?

    I can’t imagine what it’s like for the students who earned their spots fair and square – it must be readily apparent from the quality of the discussion/debate in their classes who deserves to be there and who bought their way in. Pebbles might get her degree from Princestone but Bam Bam would get a MUCH better education at a state school with a higher proportion of fairly earned admissions.


    1. Sure, the only reason this came out as quickly as it did, is the universities weren’t getting their cut. Look at how universities go after the whistle blowers about harassment (Vanderbilt) and protect the harassing men. This is about protecting the university’s reputation, they don’t want people to know that they can be bought.


      1. The Vanderbilt story is dreadful. McLaughlin is a neuroscientist so I am listening in on details like her level of grant funding compared to others in her department. From the steps remove I’m seeing, the story looks so much like classic whistleblower retaliation that I don’t understand what Vanderbilt thinks it is doing. One wonders if there’s even more to hide.


      2. Reminds me a bit of the refusal to ground the Boeing planes. Maybe folks at places like Boeing & Vanderbilt think the Tucker Carlson/Fox refusal to engage will work for them. I don’t think it does, though.


    2. “it must be readily apparent from the quality of the discussion/debate in their classes who deserves to be there and who bought their way in”

      This premise imagines a much greater ability of the schools to define merit than actually exists. In studies of grant applications, for example, people have generally found that the top 25% of the pool can accurately be predicted (say, for example, by looking for concordance among different evaluators). These schools are making fairly arbitrary decisions among their pool of applicants.

      And measures that appear more quantitative (i.e. standardized testing) are only accurate in differentiating given equal opportunities to learn and break down in their evaluation of merit (to the extent that they measure it) when different students have prepared differently. That includes economically disadvantaged students who don’t have resources or time or familiar knowledge. But, it also includes rich kids who are unwilling to prepare. Each might contribute in discussion and debate.

      Someone before my time once did an analysis in our science graduate program and found no real correlation among the students they thought were the “best” when evaluating their applications and what they accomplished in the program. As with the Google analysis, though, the pool was highly selective to start out.


  8. There’s been a lot of criticism of scandals in major college sports, but what this demonstrates is that the minor college sports can also be dirty and need some scrutiny.


    1. Alternatively, that minor sports can also be a way to make money. I always assumed coaches at academically-oriented schools were not good enough at coaching to make big money.


  9. Some of you may remember this anecdote, but I feel like it’s worth dusting off for today.

    I’m a USC alumna from back in the 90s. Years ago, my husband was interviewing for a job there.

    Husband: My wife went to USC!

    Interviewer: Our standards are higher now.

    I presume that the higher academic standards contributed to today’s scandal.


    1. I am going to reveal that in our crass young days at another southern california school, USC was referred to as the University of Spoiled Children. I’ve argued that’s not true any more, but, they sure are coming off that way. Although I feel guilty about directing people to Olivia Jade’s you tube (where h** has broken out), my head spun a bit to hear that she was literally on the yacht of the USC President of the Board when the news broke.


      1. bj said,

        “I am going to reveal that in our crass young days at another southern california school, USC was referred to as the University of Spoiled Children. I’ve argued that’s not true any more, but, they sure are coming off that way. Although I feel guilty about directing people to Olivia Jade’s you tube (where h** has broken out), my head spun a bit to hear that she was literally on the yacht of the USC President of the Board when the news broke.”

        That was quite the detail.

        On the other hand, to be fair, they couldn’t lower their standards for applicants without having standards.

        Back in the early 90s, there was a popular t-shirt on campus that said something about USC being a 4-year party with a $100k cover charge.

        It’s almost $280k now…


  10. I still do not even know what to think. But I did learn that in one of her emails to this Edge guy, she said “Ruh-roh!” Or as someone tweeted, “im just loling at the fact that felicity huffman typed out “ruh-ro!” as she was committing mail fraud”

    Our family is well-off enough (obviously, as we are sending a kid to Cornell) but since I am cheap and I want my kid to suffer, I try to give her as little spending money as possible and I make her work. So she complains to me about how rich her friends all are. And Cornell is probably the lowest-class of the Ivies. (Ha, you should check out the wiki entry on Andy Bernard’s Academic Career: ) especially the very end.


  11. Wendy said,

    “Or as someone tweeted, “im just loling at the fact that felicity huffman typed out “ruh-ro!” as she was committing mail fraud””

    Given how much people text and email, when people misbehave nowadays, there’s almost always a huge amount of documentation of malfeasance.

    “Our family is well-off enough (obviously, as we are sending a kid to Cornell) but since I am cheap and I want my kid to suffer, I try to give her as little spending money as possible and I make her work.”

    Go, Wendy!


  12. My favorite tweet so far (paraphrased just slightly): “I work at a competitive college and the only thing that surprises me is that someone may get prosecuted.”

    I hope this is just the beginning, because I’m sure there is far worse going on.

    I hope it spreads to the industry that rents TOEFL test takers and provides fake essays for Asian applicants.

    I hope as people take a look at this scandal, it becomes clear that making a huge donation when your kid is applying is no more acceptable or ethical or fair.


  13. Jeff Selingo tweeted:

    “The last 4 months I’ve been sitting with admissions readers/committees at 3 selective campuses for ‘The Choice.’ Given volume of apps entire system is built on trust. Readers don’t have time to be detectives. Question is what level of fraud exists in apps, scores, recs, etc?”

    You can spot check things, especially in the applications on the “almost approved” pile.

    For example, does the organization that the student supposedly created actually exist?

    I’m a little creeped out by saying this, but you could look at the student’s social media or google them and see if what turns up is consistent with their application. For example, was the kid recruited for a sport in that sport in high school? Of course, people can work harder at faking, but at least make them work for it…

    My teens don’t do social media and are pretty low profile online, but if you google their names, you’ll come up with a long, long history of real contest results and activities from the sponsoring organizations and local newspapers.


    1. If spot checking of social media becomes a thing, the fraudsters will create fake social media profiles with suitable links.

      I agree, though, given the stakes, it would be easy for universities to appoint admissions department people to check the details of _all_ admitted athletic recruits. There aren’t that many. Reading the documents, the fraud would have been uncovered if admissions had looked up their stats online. “Tennis recruit” who won no contests??

      But other changes should be made. This can’t be the only ring operating like this. First, flag all extended time tests to colleges, especially those administered away from home. Second, it would be a good idea to make all ACT/SAT tests computer administered, at randomly appointed sites within a set geographical area. Said test only to begin when the person taking the test sits at the console; it ends when the test taker leaves. The computer takes pictures of the test taker at random intervals during the exam.


    2. The problem is that the colleges themselves have little reason to invest any resources. Say one of the egregious examples, in which the Georgetown tennis coach gave all three of his tips to bribery clients — how does that affect Georgetown? Not at all. They got three rich kids who can pay for full tuition and all the amenities and maybe even provide a couple of connections. Maybe the tennis team is a bit worse, but maybe they still have one and maybe the coach even had enough recruits coming who wanted to play tennis, so it didn’t matter that he didn’t use his tips for actual players. One could even argue that the purpose of these sports (tennis, water polo, crew, women’s soccer, sailing) is to attract rich (and yes, white) kids to the school (not necessarily to produce competitive players or teams), so Singer’s “side door” served the school’s purpose, as well.


      1. Do you think the admissions people don’t know? I think they consider this the real purpose of giving the coaches this ability. The schools built the side door.


      2. Don’t you think they’d prefer that the kid could row or play tennis and had good stats too? There are plenty of those kids around.


      3. I think the colleges allowed for coaches to set aside picks in order to get around the regular admission process. That’s the whole purpose – avoid the regular process.

        Do you think the admission people or the college president actually care about the women’s water polo team’s record? Coaches might care, but we can clearly see that at least some of them care more about money.


      4. I think many affluent parents like colleges with competitive sports teams. So the college leaders care that enough teams win often enough to please alums and potential applicants. There are also kids who are admitted because they will improve the team’s academic average. They warm the benches, but their test scores and grades are included in the team’s stats.

        Once the students were on the admit list at each university, it would have been possible for the admissions teams to double check that the students actually played the sports. One of the families (Huffmann?) were worried because an admissions person not in on the deal called the high school directly.

        The coach I do feel for was the Stanford sailing coach, who used the bribes to support his college’s women’s sailing program. There are better ways to raise the money, but I have to wonder what went on there.


      5. Do we think these are the only students to get in this way? No one noticed they weren’t playing? Why not?. People knew, and did nothing. Why would you expect them to do something? People knew about Penn, and about USA gymnastics and did nothing.


      1. MH said,

        “Fabric softener is basically dumping grease on your cleaned clothing. Makes no sense at all.”

        I agree 100%.

        What are these people—time-travelling 1970s housewives?


  14. Wow, for sheer dumbf*ckery, this can’t be beat:

    “The College will provide a set budget of at least $500 per semester to: (list of identity groups)” followed by:
    “The student body will in no way pay for these funds. ”

    *Head Desk*


  15. I am absolutely ashamed of you people. twenty-seven comments and nobody yet has cited the Wisdom Of The Blagojevich: “I’ve got this thing and it’s fucking golden, and, uh, uh, I’m just not giving it up for fuckin’ nothing. I’m not gonna do it. And, and I can always use it. I can parachute me there.”


    1. Took a moment to get what you at, but, I don’t think it applies. If you read the transcripts, you see the coaches being tempted with the fruit. Though, eventually, they are circulating the scam info with each other. There’s Singer developing relationships (the USC women’s soccer coaches seem like a nucleus — they actually produced fake “bios” for the other coaches, presumably ’cause they couldn’t field their entire team with non-players).

      Blag was looking to sell, and, actually, didn’t really seem to be finding buyers. In this case, the buyers came looking.


  16. This whole thing is so fascinating to me. I get the cheating on the ACT/SAT for a better score. (I mean, it’s horrid – but I understand why someone would think it was a worthwhile crime.) But I can’t imagine why anyone would think pretending their kid played a sport they never played was a good idea??? And why would that matter? Do they really need more water polo players on campus? And how does that work when the kid gets there – do they immediately quit? (and then how could you say the kid didn’t know about it?)

    My HS sophomore is an athlete and college coaches are reaching out already. I never played a sport in my life, so I’m finding the whole recruiting process to be a surprisingly intense process. (My non-sports-playing eldest didn’t even begin her college search until late in her Jr. year – and kept it very low key.) But, we, as parents are completely uninvolved – the coaches reach out to him directly. None of them have ever contacted us.

    My current argument with friends is regarding the college app “coaches” – my point is that if your kid can’t manage the application process, they are in no way ready to manage living on their own at college.


  17. Kristennel — having watched the sports process peripherally, I do understand the need for adult intervention in sports recruitment. I don’t know what your goals are or what sport, but the process does appear intense and one in which a 15-16 year old could be taken advantage of (even if they have the skills to live in college on their own). This scandal is showing that some coaches literally take bribes.

    (And, yes, the kid quits. That’s detailed in some of the transcripts)


    1. bj said,

      “I don’t know what your goals are or what sport, but the process does appear intense and one in which a 15-16 year old could be taken advantage of (even if they have the skills to live in college on their own). This scandal is showing that some coaches literally take bribes.”

      And give bribes, too.


    2. Lots of real college athletes get injured, or can’t keep up in their courses, and choose not to play. Of course, real athletes are quite likely to choose to apply to less prestigious colleges because they like the coaches.

      There are rigid NCAA rules about who can contact a high school recruit. That may also lead to this scandal, as lots of things are controlled by the coaches, especially the head coaches.

      I love this story. It’s the feel good story of the year. (I have a very dark sense of humor.) Really, the master of the universe types who are never, ever satisfied.

      The “ethical investor” (McGlashon.) Oops. ‭The finance titan (Hodge) who sits (sat?) on two prestigious private school boards. The advice book author, whose ex-husband wrote the book, _First, Break All the Rules_. He is not charged. If I were casting a movie, she could be played by Uma Thurman, while he would be Channing Tatum. (really!)

      And there may be more charges! Because the bribes were run through a fake charity, and these types of people claim the charitable deductions and itemize their taxes! Which means that the IRS just has to pull up the records! This may only be the tip of the iceberg! Bwahahaha!


    3. I think I shouldn’t have used the word “coach” in that second part – we have acquaintances who are hiring consultants to help their kids fill out their college applications – that’s what I was intending to refer to. (nothing to do with sports in that sentence!)

      The rules around the sports stuff is mystifying to me. Some coaches can contact him; some can only respond if he contacts them. Some can contact him this year – some can’t reach out until late next year. My goal is simply to get him to a college that is a good fit for him that we can afford. I didn’t expect that sports would play a role at all, so this is all a bit surprising to me. I assumed that recruiting only really happened for the “big” sports (basketball/football) and only from the big schools. I have a lot to learn. (I didn’t even know water polo was a collegiate sport until this week…)

      So, the sports part of this scandal have been particularly interesting to me. I need to go read the transcripts!


      1. The rules around the sports stuff is mystifying to everyone, everyone. That’s part of why people hire college “coaches”. I don’t know enough to provide any real de-mystification on this topic, but don’t think that it’s just you who is confused. Those highly sophisticated MBAs who are uber-competitive are confused, too.

        The College Confidential threads can be useful and there are people there who will provide useful advice on reaching the goal you describe, some of it sports specific (good fit, affordable — the affordable is huge, and can shape your choices). I urge you to be involved, because I do think kids can be mislead by coaches and what they might be promising (adults, too, but even a really high functioning kid would have difficulty parsing the code).

        Oh, and a college app coach isn’t a simple solution, because they can be hucksters, too.


  18. And, — I don’t understand cheating on the tests, because it seems like a bit of concentrated practice should be sufficient. But I do understand what being a tipped waterpolo player could do for an application, and a bit of concentration won’t turn a kid into a recruitable athlete.


    1. I understand cheating on the tests. If you always hang out with really smart people, it may seem that practice would help. However, it seems clear that a number of these students had learning issues of some sort.

      The interesting thing is that it is rumored that lots of students at certain private schools have qualified for extended time on the tests. It would make a cynical person (me!) wonder if there might be more than one such ring operating.

      And it is fascinating that Huffmann’s daughter was on the board president’s yacht. What are the odds? Is it possible that at USC it really was a “side door?”


    2. That yacht thing, if someone wrote it in fiction, I’d be complaining that it was completely implausible. I’m surprised that Singer’s reality show audition didn’t get picked up. Maybe there will be one now.



    “As for Sephora, the company told NBC News in a statement: “After careful review of recent developments, we have made the decision to end the Sephora Collection partnership with Olivia Jade, effective immediately.”

    “Giannulli, 19, is a YouTube star and was a collaborator and paid influencer with Sephora. She released a bronzing powder palette with Sephora in December 2018. The $28, six-color Olivia Jade x Sephora Collection Bronze & Illuminate Palette was no longer available on the company’s website Thursday. A search for the palette returns a message saying the product is not carried.”

    Ay yay yay!

    I think it’s really terrible that her parents’ machinations cost her the thing that she actually cared about and was good at–in order to get her something she probably didn’t even want.


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