Massive college cheating scandal reveals the underbelly of privilege

Andrea Perng

On Tuesday, it was revealed that a massive college admissions cheating ring involving over 50 people, some of which are well-known CEOs and actors, had been bribing nearly everybody involved in the college admissions process in order to get their children into top-tier colleges like Harvard and Yale. The case has been described by the New York Times as “stunning in its breadth and audacity,” and after reading up on it, I can’t say I disagree.

I’m sure I echo the sentiments of many when I say that reading this news was a complete slap in the face. Every all-nighter I’ve spent, every hour that I spent in a college counseling office or taking a practice SAT, every conversation that I’ve had with old childhood friends that weren’t spent catching up but rather talking about college apps what was all of that for? What was all of that for, when there are richer kids than myself whose parents will shell out tens of thousands of dollars, not even for a new building but simply to cheat their kid’s way into college? What about the kids who have mentally destroyed themselves trying to get into a good school only to be rejected in favor of someone who went through nothing? What the hell is the point?

I’m infuriated. I’m incredibly angry that this is something that happened in the first place and frustrated that my own work seems pointless in comparison. Worst of all, I’m not surprised by anything but the magnitude of the scandal.

Frankly, I’m sure bribery is one of those things that everybody kind of figures is happening, just out of their sight, but never really actually knows about until something like this comes to light. The amount of money you have, or the amount that your parents have, can be directly traced to how likely you are to get into a top-tier college. If you’re well off enough, you might have already seen this in action: your parents spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on college counselors, SAT or ACT prep and college essay tutors. If you can cough up the dough, you have an entire team of people dedicated to ensuring that your application is good enough to get you into the school of your choice.

It’s well known at this point that being born into privilege puts you at a greater advantage in college decisions, especially with higher-ranked colleges like Harvard. In fact, its own student publication reported that students who were related to Harvard alumni were five times more likely to get in than non-legacy students. With the most recent available data showing a paltry black admit rate of about 14 percent, this means that more white legacy students, at 27 percent, are admitted to Harvard than black students as a whole.

But the amount of sheer privilege and wealth that nearly every aspect of this story exudes is overwhelming. It’s one thing to hire tutors to help you develop a strategy for how to tackle the SAT, and it’s one thing to make a donation to a university that at least goes to fund a program or a new building, having your kid ushered in as small compensation for large benefits. It’s another to not have worked a day in your life and have your parents literally bribe and cheat your way into a spot that nobody in their right mind would say you deserve.

If nothing else, I suddenly feel grateful for my upbringing. Not just because I had the opportunity to access tutoring and multitudes of other resources that many other students don’t have, but because I had parents that valued hard work and drilled those values into me. It’s those values that have allowed me to get into colleges on my own terms.

At the end of it all, I find it difficult, even impossible to feel any kind of sympathy for the kids that did know what was going on. They knew of their privilege and took full advantage of it in a way that benefited absolutely nobody but themselves and whoever was enough of a degenerate to accept the bribe money. As a result, they literally cheated more deserving applicants out of their spots, and to do what? Party all day long with no regard for their academics? I can’t and won’t find it in me to care about what happens to those students. They don’t deserve to be where they are, full stop.

On the flip side, I feel really bad for the kids who didn’t know that their parents were cheating their way into college. To have parents that have so little faith in you as a student that they have to resort to underhanded tactics and straight-up fraud to convince themselves that you’re worth something, I can’t imagine having that weight on you. Those kids would likely have been overwhelmed in whatever school they were going to, constantly feeling inadequate as students with much higher, legitimate stats outpaced them in every way.

In light of everything, take a moment to be grateful that you worked hard to get into a good college and didn’t need to cheat to prove your worth. The acceptances are your victory, not your parents’.