For some context, I went to Palo Alto High School in Palo Alto, California – for those who are unfamiliar with that name, we are one of the high schools right next to Stanford University. This location is in the Bay Area and is referred to commonly as “Silicon Valley” which is an extremely expensive place to live with many comfortably wealthy people residing in million dollar homes and many profitable and tech based businesses started and/or housed there – HP, Facebook, Netflix, and Google are just a few companies who have businesses present there. For those who went there or live in Palo Alto, our high school was commonly referred to as “PALY” (pronounced “Pal-Lee”) and has an A+ rating on Niche and is ranked both well as a California school and as one of the schools in the nation. Our requirements for graduating with a diploma from PALY were the same requirements that fulfilled the University of California (or UC’s) standards – these are the schools such as University of Los Angeles (UCLA), University of Santa Barbara (UCSB), and others. You can imagine that this brought about a competitive environment starting as freshman where students worked tirelessly pulling all nighters, volunteering for five different organizations, interning for companies during their summers, playing three different sports, and doing whatever they could to stand out as an applicant in preparation for college application season.
My grade at school was referred to as the “guinea pig” year due to the changing SAT, the new and improved “holistic” overview of college admission candidates, the weighted GPA vs. unweighted GPA debate and finalized decision, and many other adjustments that changed the system in which our college admissions were decided in. For us during the year we applied, college admissions was a losing gamble – especially with the rumors that we were going to get the downswing of acceptances, meaning that they over-accepted candidates from the year above us so they were going to under-accept our year in an attempt to counter this. I can’t verify whether or not that is factually true, but truthfully, many of us who were qualified on paper and had exceeded the known statistics for many colleges, especially the UC’S, ended up getting rejected. As a result, very few of the people I came to know during my high school career went to the school that was their first choice.
As college admission decisions started to roll in so did the rumours of parents and students alike guaranteeing their way into the college they desired. There were many individuals in my grade who became targets of these rumors with people spreading around that donations had been made, family ties to ivy and other well-known schools leveraged, and many other ways that students, mostly through their parents or other family members, were able to turn the odds of the application process in their favor. There are a few well known cases at my school, but the truth is, nothing was done about it and it was joked about more than it was taken seriously. These individuals weren’t treated any differently, it wasn’t some huge scandal that followed them, they wore their college apparel on decision day, graduated and went onto their college of choice like most of us.
For me personally, I was on the other side of this. At the time of the beginning of my senior year when I started applying to schools, my father, who was the sole earner in my family, told me that there was more than enough to cover any tuition cost for any university I was admitted into. As a result, I applied to many schools that were well known and rather expensive thinking that my tuition was guaranteed. However, two days after I submitted my final application, my parents filed for divorce and the money for my education or any money that could be funneled towards it was gone by the time I chose a school in early April. I remember looking at the schools I was accepted to, a few being in California and others being on both coasts and having to choose the one that financially was possible for a seventeen year old girl. Thankfully, I was offered a generous scholarship to the University of Maine which I attend now, but you can see that I really didn’t have the luxury of choosing where I went to school – let alone having the ability to pull every string to get into it. I have talked with many individuals at my university who admit that they did not have to work as hard as I did in order to get an offer from the University of Maine for college admission, and at times, it has felt as though I was at the wrong type of school for the education I worked so hard to attain through my high school career and I wonder how it would have turned out had I been able to gain admission into a different school.
So although, as frustrated as I am by those who got into better schools that I did by cheating the system, due to myself having a completely different experience and not many resources at my disposal, I do understand it. As I stated before, the college admission process when attempting to get into top ranked schools, especially applying as a student from PALY and many others across the country, is a gamble. There are absolutely no guarantees no matter how excellent of an applicant you are and how much you’ve stacked on your resume, so I understand both parents and students wanting a guarantee. That being said, I do think that the ability to manipulate the system in one’s favor is completely unfair to all the other applicants who don’t have the means to do the same, as they are being treated as every other applicant and others are not. However, the college admissions system is a system and it’s vulnerable to corruption and manipulative tactics and is not likely to change anytime soon, even with the charges coming down on those who participated in this scheme.