March news of the college admissions bribery scandal exposed dozens of parents for the illegal means by which they had arranged for their children to attend elite colleges and universities. The first 33 accused parents paid an estimated total of $25 million to either bribe college officials or doctor standardized test scores. Though these parents—many well-known businesspeople or famous actors, all with immense financial privilege—are now facing criminal charges of fraud and money laundering, the scandal raises questions that apply to any family with a college-bound student. To what extremes will parents go for the sake of their child’s entry into a top college? To what extremes will our parents go?
Every year, college admission, especially at so-called “elite” colleges, becomes increasingly competitive. While the number of high school graduates in the U.S. has grown steadily, total undergraduate enrollment to degree-granting postsecondary institutions have fallen off, showing a 7% decrease from 2010 to 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. It is evident that a growing applicant pool is vying for fewer and fewer spots in college freshman classes. As the coveted college education becomes less obtainable, parents feel more pressure to find ways to maximize the appeal of their child’s application. If that increased pressure devolves into desperation and compels parents to compromise their integrity and ethics in the hopes of snagging a college acceptance for their child, we have a problem.
The Vanguard thinks the college admissions process should not be a source of undue stress, but rather an opportunity for students to nurture and develop an understanding of their own interests and passions. Parents can play a critical role in ensuring that. As our survey in this issue shows (“How involved is too involved?” pages 10-11), many parents at the school are already conscientious about how they use their potential sway and are reportedly careful about where they offer help or give their opinion. Still, even among those, there’s uncertainty about to what degree they can or should let go of control during the application process, and there’s even resignation, if not bitterness, about the admissions landscape.
“The system is already rigged,” one parent wrote. “All the rich people are doing it,” observed another. “If I had this kind of money,” one respondent said, “I would do it in a second to save my child. I blame the coaches and the institutions.”
To enroll a child at a school like BB&N indicates that a family values education. Our parents invest money and time in our high school education and certainly have an equal, if not greater, stake in how we continue our learning post-BB&N. Whether giving advice, paying for test prep classes, reviewing applications and essays, or bribing crew coaches, parents can undeniably influence our college admissions process. However, we do, after all, have a team of college counselors whose role is to help us through the college admissions cycle. These friends and professionals keep the process student-driven, as it should be, and, without breaking any laws, they help us manage the competitive atmosphere. The privilege we have from our high-quality education, coupled with the support of our college counselors, already gives us all an advantage in the process, so our parents’ support, not interference, is all we need.
To all who have the college admissions process on the horizon—especially parents—please take the time to evaluate how the process can be navigated in the most sane way possible. As the school’s College Counseling Handbook says, “We don’t advocate for parents removing themselves from the process; instead, try to be the passenger rather than the driver.”
—Julian Li ’20