Cash for College? Delving into the Largest Prosecuted Admissions Scandal

Unless you’re living under a two ton boulder, you’ve probably heard about the college admissions scandal, a story that’s plastered all over the internet. Over 50 people have been charged in what is quoted as the largest admissions scam prosecuted by the Department of Justice, including high profile members of society such as Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli and Full House’s beloved Lori Loughlin, affectionately known as “Aunt Becky.”

As a first-year university student myself, I thought it would be interesting to look at the scandal from a student's perspective, a sharp contrast to media’s attention on those who orchestrated the scam,  the parents and school faculty.

Surprisingly, two of the students who gained admission to college through the scam are famed in their own right: Olivia Jade Giannulli and Isabella Giannulli, the daughters of Loughlin and Giannulli. Known on social media as Olivia Jade and Bella respectively, the sisters are well known in the lifestyle and beauty guru community. Olivia Jade in particular has been celebrating success after success, from partnering with Sephora for a palette release, to gaining brand deals with multimillion dollar companies such as Amazon and TRESemmé, to releasing her own clothing and merchandise lines. She films weekly vlogs, clothing hauls and luxury trips, creating a widespread fanbase of 1.9 million subscribers on Youtube and 1.4 million followers on Instagram.​

     Pictured left to right: Olivia Giannulli, Lori Loughlin, Mossimo Giannulli & Isabella Giannulli

So needless to say, I was shocked when I heard she would be enrolling at University of Southern California (USC), a college that boasts a 17.7% admission rate and particularly high entry requirements. As she’s stated in her a recent video she isn’t interested in academic opportunities, but wants the “college experiences” of frat parties and game days, and she’s already built a strong brand of her own. Wouldn’t it be easier to attend a college that would be more flexible with her schedule or more closely aligned with her goals in life?

I think the reason why she attended USC sits as the underlying foundation of this entire scandal. Many privileged kids, especially those whose parents haven’t had the same opportunities in their childhoods, are pushed to meet certain expectations. You need to look presentable in public, you need to network with the right people and you need to form a “good” reputation, and a part of this is attending a prestigious college or university. In order to achieve this goal, parents enroll their kids in private schools or schools that offer rigorous programs, sign them up for sports and music lessons, and make sure they sign up for volunteer and charity. Copious amounts of money are spent to fund these objectives, from tutors to tuition.

And to some extent, I can relate. My parents signed me up for swimming, dance, gymnastics, skating and flute lessons in addition to weekend tutoring. I studied in the International Business and Technology program in middle school, and completed an International Baccalaureate diploma in high school. Academic achievement is imperative in my family, and my parents have given me many opportunities through many sacrifices, especially advantages they didn’t receive, so I can work towards where I am today and where I will be in ten years.

However, that’s probably where any similarity ends.

No matter who or where you are, you might have some advantage over someone else. Maybe you have emotional support from friends and family, or the financial freedom that aleves the burden of certain expenses, or you have the social networks to climb the ladder, or you were given the opportunity to build your skills. Even having a roof over your head and food on the table can put you ahead of millions of people.

The fact that these individuals are affluent aren’t the problem. Acknowledge your privilege and use it to improve yourself, thus becoming an active contributor of society.

Unfortunately, the tremendous effort placed on getting into the aforementioned prestigious  schools can go awry, and there’s a pretty good chance you won’t get into Harvard or Yale. Life isn’t Legally Blonde or Gossip Girl. That’s where the parents charged with bribery come in—through different measures, from false photos in athletic poses to longer times on the SATs.

Fortunately, this scandal reveals several key points to consider. Firstly, there needs to be more transparency in the admissions process, and further regulations. It will never be a perfect system, but it should be always working towards fairness. Secondly, you should plan out your life the way you intend to live it. College may not be for you—maybe you’ll take certification courses or enroll in diploma programs, or build on your experiences over time and work your way up.

Finally, it sheds light on privilege in society, and how we should be mindful of it.

So, paying cash for college admissions? Probably not the best idea - you’ll be better off, and happier, to do what you want, with what you gained with your own merit.


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