In Defense of the Operation Varsity Blues Kids and Parents

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily relfect the views of Her Campus.

It’s safe to say that colleges hold the attention of the country, now that news has broken out of a large cheating scandal dubbed by the FBI as "Operation Varsity Blues."

First: who comes up with these titles?

Second, to recap: A college placement firm in Newport, run by Rick Singer, offered parents the chance to get their kids into dream colleges at a certain fee — from $200,000 to $6.5 million, to be precise — deposited in “donations.” The firm offered a variety of aid; for some, that involved forging SAT test scores with the help of testing prodigy Mark Riddell and corrupt test administrators. For others, it meant securing an admissions position through the athletic system: coaches willing to take a bribe marked students down as sporty talents for under the radar activities like rowing and water polo.

After a parent alerted authorities to the scheme, hoping to cut a deal for a reduced sentence in an unrelated crime, a massive fallout occurred. Operation Varsity Blues has been called the biggest college-related cheating scandal in history. Lawsuits have formed, and names have been dropped…names like Olivia Jade, a young teenager who just saw a hit to her thriving social media business and now faces the arrest of her parents.

When uncovering corruption in systems that are already rampant with it, it is hard not to start a head hunt. But this is no Harvey Weinstein scandal. The individuals wrapped up in Operation Varsity Blues are minors, some of whom may not have even been made aware of the deals cut for their college acceptance letters and parents willing to do anything for their children.

Ostracizing them from society and destroying them in more ways than one will do nothing to fix the problems with the growing behemoth that is the higher collegiate system, mostly because it is rigged in ways that are beyond “rich kids’ family’s bribes.”

Transitioning from high school to college is a black hole that can be difficult to overcome for many teens. It’s a stressful experience with no clear answers, in part due to the the random and ever-changing ways each college selects its students. There’s also a sort of hype, as an 18-year-old, to the names that head the admissions letters that end up in your mailbox as the determiner of worth. It was glaringly evident at my high school. Prestigious university names decorated the sweatshirts of the popular kids -- a sort of declaration of what their target school was -- and hung on flags in the halls overhead. 

It didn’t really matter whether or not Harvard held a better future for you than UCLA, to be honest. It just mattered that the name held weight when parents and their respective kids got together to discuss their admissions successes. Ivy League schools were at the top of the hierarchy, and lesser-known colleges earned a certain degree of shame. There was nothing pragmatic about it — just gaudiness. This gaudiness is hyped by universities that build up a magical and mysterious kind of presence to parents and kids. This is accomplished by little things, such as consistently wasting money on ongoing and unnecessary construction projects to build up the illusion that their school is on an aggressive growth path; and the big, top-league schools force their admissions numbers down to infinitesimal amounts in order to keep up appearances as places that only accept the best and the brightest.

For the parents that are suing top-league schools for denying their children fair admission in light of the scandal, here’s the important news: admission wasn’t necessarily fair in the first place. Your 18-year-old’s case rests on a decision between his 4.2 GPA, track team, animal-shelter-volunteering application and another applicant’s 4.1 GPA, chemistry club president, nursing-home-volunteering application. 

Moreover, there’s a fine line between what’s cheating and what’s not in the SATs test prep world. The logic test relies on reasoning and logic — the test itself only goes up to an Algebra II level — and the questions in it rely on a strange sort of independent pattern (hint: it’s not the kind that can be gleaned from a math textbook or a dictionary) which can be sorted out by serial studiers of the test. This is where the real test prep courses come in. “Tutors,” who dedicate enough time to learning the tips and tricks of the SATs pass them onto their students for a fee which ranges from painful,but doable, to a thousand dollars an hour. 

Quite a lot of money is fed to the Collegeboard corporation at this point, and to the surrounding individuals in the test prep business; for an extra fee, you can buy exam prep books, take an official prep course from the giants themselves, or take the test again.

In this case, it’s safe to say that the money you invest directly increases your score. If you or your parents aren’t in the know, well, you’re plum out of luck. Next step: fees for admissions applications.

Most of the hurdles set up in front of aspiring college students are completely pointless. For one, a freshman who missed out on the chance to go to their dream school can easily apply as a transfer student the next year, where transfer applications are a quieter and less bloodthirsty affair, or even wait until graduate school, when applications start all over again. Two, the requirements that many high school educators insist you must have are sometimes not even what colleges are looking for -- proving a willingness to think outside the box may trump a commitment to the volunteer spirit at one university, where at another, it might just be the key factor in a rejection decision. 

In short, parents and teens face the pressure to do what it takes for a situation where failure seems like death — the kind that translates to a job at Wendy’s and social immobility. The college system feeds on this fear, opening avenues for parents to spend their money, and in sum, creates an entire market out of the scheme. 

The Operation Varsity Blues scandal is not about the rich versus the poor, nor is it about race (or a lack of affirmative action, as some have noted). Far from it. This scandal only highlights the way the college system is unfair to all. It’s a massive market that has grown overly powerful due to scant attention and its overemphasis in society as a sole determiner of worth. 

We can ostracize teenagers, destroy their futures and their names, and tear apart their families in a bid to accomplish absolutely nothing beyond a quest for self-satisfied righteousness — or we can actively work to improve upon a system that already plays a major hand in our society.